Earth as we know it is an incredibly complex and fragile network of interconnected systems that have developed slowly over the last 4.5 billion years or so. From the ashes of the Big Bang this planet emerged as a mass of energy and elements. From that newly born mass of energy and elements evolved structured, dynamic systems of solids, liquids, and gases. The evolution of this planet continued to unfold over billions of years in such a unique way that eventually conditions arose with the ability to foster life.
From the smallest microorganisms to the largest animals, all life on Earth has a common ancestor. Everything is connected to everything. So how is it that our species has come to dominate the landscape in such a short period of time? Furthermore, what gives us the right to do so? In 3.5 billion years of life on Earth everything has followed a natural course of evolution. However, our rapid success as a species has begun to affect this natural order. With our population at seven billion and climbing, we have played a tremendous role in the disruption of the Earth’s natural systems. As we continue to grow and have a greater impact on the Earth’s systems, it is imperative that we address our role and relationship with nature.
The ability of humans to manipulate the landscape and recognize the consequences of doing so puts us in a peculiar position. As a species we are assigned the duty to provide and proliferate. Our goal is to achieve stability for ourselves and our kin. However we also have an obligation to maintain the environment, as we depend on the resources and services it provides. The question then becomes: what is our role in nature? Do we have the right to manipulate the land, factory farm animals, and pollute waterways? Or do we have an obligation to reduce our numbers and merely subsist? In order to answer these questions we must rely on our knowledge of Earth, evolution, and our influence on the environment.
Our relationship with nature has historically been one of imbalance and overuse. Nearly every step in human history has unfortunately been accompanied with a leap in environmental degradation. At first, humans were incredibly in-tune with their surroundings. Nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes used to roam the lands, following the ebb and flow of the seasons. These tribes had a measurable impact on the environment, but their influence was relatively manageable due to their population size. With advancements in technology and agriculture though, humans began to find more efficient ways of sustaining themselves. These advancements allowed for more permanent settlements, which led to rapid population growth and a distancing from nature.
As society evolved, populations grew and more and more resources were required to fuel the expansion. With breakthroughs in agriculture, settlements became more permanent and cities began to take shape. This shift to city life inadvertently led to a distancing from nature. While many people were still in-tune with nature on a subsistent level, the need for more and more resources began to change our regard for nature.
Although our distancing from nature began several thousand years ago with advancements in agriculture and social order, it is the age of industry to which we owe our modern regard for nature. The growth of cities allowed for a separation between people and nature and our obsession with convenience and efficiency beckoned a new perspective on the environment. With technological advancements, nature became something we were no longer apart of and entirely subject to, but something that we could control and profit off of. The growth of industry enabled humans to truly dominate the landscape and disrupt the natural systems that have been in place for billions of years.
As we have removed ourselves further and further from nature, we have developed a willing ignorance of our role and relationship within it. With the growth of cities and trade we have moved from a subsistent, sustainable economy to one of greed and exploitation. Humans have always had an impact on the environment, but with the age of industry that impact has been ultra-magnified. Population growth has been exponentiated, cities have become the primary place of residence, and the majority of the world is now out of touch with the workings of nature.
Although every species plays a unique role in the biosphere and inherently has its own impact, not every species has the cognitive ability to measure their influence or the capacity to change it. Humans are unique in that respect, which is the root of the problem. We are capable of understanding our influence over nature, but we tend to ignore the Earth’s reaction to our presence. I am not arguing that we purposefully degrade nature, but that environmental degradation is an inherent trait of our population’s perpetual progression. We know we are crippling the environment. We have the ability to do something about it. Therefore, we should make change where change is necessary.
The size of our population and its incessant desire to expand has an obvious impact on the environment. However, that impact is magnified with the demands of industry and capitalism. In his book, Regarding Nature, Andrew McLaughlin identifies industrialism and the capitalist mindset as being especially influential on our regard for nature: “The economic systems that we construct and live within are, I suggest, the primary immediate causes of our relations between society and the rest of nature” (Regarding Nature, P. 12). Further causing a perceived division from nature is the economic structure we have allowed to infect most of the world.
Capitalism is an especially destructive force in our regard for nature as it encourages a monetary-driven social hierarchy based on the encroaching exploitation of our world’s resources. Our relationship with nature has now become purely economic. We do not associate ourselves as a part of nature because we use it for profit. Forests are cut down for the profits of the lumber industry and to make room for livestock. Animals that we are undoubtedly related to, that have senses and the ability to socialize are slaughtered by the billions to feed an increasingly carnivorous population. Resources such as oil and food are all unevenly distributed throughout the world and therefore used as a platform for profit. All the while the environment bears the grunt of our greed.
We not only encourage a division amongst ourselves through the commoditization of the world’s resources, we encourage a division between man and nature. In order to reconstruct our views of nature and understand our place within it, it is important to reconsider our relationship with each other and our surroundings. As Aldo Leopold puts it, man “…has not learned to think like a mountain” (A Sand County Almanac, P. 11). We have to consider ourselves as part of a bigger picture. Industry and capitalism rely heavily on ignorance and individualism. However, the reality is that we are all dependent upon each other in one way or another.
IV. Time for Change
Humans play a vital role in nature just like everything else. What separates us from nature though, is the ability to understand our place within it. This cognitive capacity of ours has historically been the cause of a perceived division between man and nature. However, in order to achieve a sustainable future in which humans assume a more natural role and have less of an impact it is imperative that we reconsider our role and relationship with nature. A change in the way we regard nature has obvious political, economic, and social repercussions, but our cognitive ability obliges us to reevaluate our position in the world rather than continue to degrade it.
There are a number of ways in which we can begin to reconsider our relationship with nature, but all of which require an enormous effort. Through a universal education curriculum, it is possible to encourage people everywhere to consider themselves as part of a larger picture. By teaching people about the environment, evolution, and ecology, we can provide them with the tools for change. Lewis Mumford imagined a social revolution brought about by a change in values through educational reform: “The humanizing of technology and the protection of diversity were both contingent on a fundamental change in values” (Minding Nature, P.219). In order to bring about necessary change it is critical that people take action. Through a universal environmental education program it is possible to galvanize people into forming new ideas and opinions of the world and to understand their place within it.
A universal education program would go a long way in encouraging change in how we view each other and our environment. Changing attitudes are a primary component in achieving a sustainable future – one in which nature is allowed to run its course without human intervention. Gregg Easterbrook discusses a similar future in his The Ecorealist Manifesto: “…the long-term purview of nature might be combined with the short-term insights of the genus Homo in ways that allow people, machines, and nature to work together for each other’s mutual benefit” (The Ecorealist Manifesto, P. 1). In order for the Earth to retain its balance, it is important that we not overstep our bounds as a species. This requires a universal effort to reevaluate our relationship with nature and make adjustments as needed.
After thousands of years of societal evolution, we find ourselves at the peak of technology and pollution. We are already seeing the effects of our industrial ways through the extinction of species, the melting of glaciers, and the destruction of the landscape. As we continue to disturb the world’s natural systems we are recognizing a rippling of consequences. Our recognition of these effects suggests that our role in nature is far more influential than it should be. Therefore it is necessary that we make major changes and that we make them soon.
Our role within nature should be one of subsistence rather than commercialization. We have exploited the world for too long and the consequences of doing so are everywhere. As everything is related to everything, we have no right to infringe on the livelihood of any other species. In fact, our cognitive ability and understanding of nature obliges us to maintain the integrity of the environment. So we must change how we influence the land. We must respect the natural order of things and find a way to live accordingly.
Although a change in attitudes would require a complete overhaul of our current economic and political structures, it is something that must be done. As history shows, if we continue to encourage expansion and development it is very likely that we will see major effects in climate and ecology. We have seen the destructive nature of industrialism and capitalism. We can predict and measure the effects of our actions on the environment. We know we are headed in the wrong direction and we are expecting major consequences. So why don’t we do something about it?
- McLaughlin, Andrew. Regarding Nature: Industrialism and Deep Ecology. Albany: State University of New York, 1993. Print.
- Leopold, Aldo, Charles Walsh Schwartz, and Aldo Leopold. A Sand County Almanac. With Other Essays on Conservation from Round River. New York: Oxford UP, 1966. Print.
- Macauley, David. Minding Nature: The Philosophers of Ecology. New York: Guilford, 1996. Print.
- Easterbrook, Gregg. “The Ecorealist Manifesto.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 1995. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.
Nature is constantly changing, even before the dawn of humanity. From the breakup of Pangaea to the extinction of dinosaurs, from the Sahara Pump to the Ice Age, Earth has completely changed from what it was millions of years ago. Beyond these spontaneous events, initiated by Nature itself, Humans are continuously adapting the Planet to accommodate their needs through careless interaction with their surrounding environment.
The current situation
The influence of anthropogenic factors is now intruded into every aspect of the environment. Emissions of chemical compounds into the air have greatly altered and modified the composition and energy balance of the atmosphere, thereby accelerating the pace of climate change. Additionally, the expansion of human activities into the natural landscapes, mostly manifested by urbanization and agriculture developments, has led to the reduction and fragmentation of wildlife habitats and loss of valuable Fauna and Flora. Furthermore, the discharge of industrial and agricultural runoff has contaminated rivers and streams, which severely disrupts the natural food-chain in the aquatic ecosystem and reduces the amount of freshwater, something that is indispensable for the survival of the species. It seems that human beings, who are always regarding themselves as the dominant species because of their cleverness and inventiveness, are pushing the earth into a danger zone.
Human-induced environmental issues are not new. The problem of deforestation, desertification, water pollution, climate change and the extinction of species have been present throughout the antiquity. However, with today's advanced science and technology, people can do greater damages to the nature and do it more quickly. The impacts are further compounded. On the other hand, due to population growth, humans are prompted more than ever to exploit natural resources to meet the demands of the blooming population. But most of all, the effect of human-created environmental modifications are no longer restricted to a local or regional level, but are extending through the whole planet.
Root of environmental degradation
The cause of environmental degradation is deeply rooted in human culture. Through hundreds of years of industrialization and exploitation of natural resources, humans are acting on the assumption that we are the dominant species on earth. because of our cleverness, science and power and the pursuit for materialism has deprived human of due reverence to nature. In a world emphatically and unabashedly upholding materialistic standard, people are motivated to exploit more natural resources, since personal wealth is becoming the ultimate measure of success in the eye of society.
At the same time, the emergence of scientific materialism has fostered the belief that nature is nothing but physical matter rationally organized according to physical law but devoid of any spirit, soul or inner purpose. As stated by French philosopher Rene Descartes, the main theme of modern science is to equip humans with the tool to conquer over matter and become lords and master of nature.
Why should we protect nature?
Nature is not simply a warehouse of resources to serve human needs. Rather, it is a highly integrated, interdependent functioning system upon which all life forms, including the soil, water, plants, animals and humans depend for survival. In fact, Modern science has provided extensive empirical evidence which indicated that nature was a complex collection of water, air, soil, animal, plants and human beings. The components were sufficiently interdependent that the failure of one part of the system could undermine the productivity of other parts. As a result, it is necessary for us to treat the natural environment with love and respect because the failure of the system would ultimately threaten the subsistence of human beings.
Aldo Leopold, the father of American conservation movement, has mentioned a thought-provoking story in his essay, "Thinking like a mountain". In the 1930s, when Leopold was working as an officer for the U.S. Forest Service in Arizona's Apache National Forest, he was actively advocating the killing of wolves. He believed that "fewer wolves meant more deer, that no more wolves would mean a hunters' paradise." However, the eradication of wolves in the mountain didn't lead to a hunters' paradise as Leopold expected but to a hunter's nightmare: rapid increase of deer and elk herds led to overgrazing and soil erosion, followed by overgrazing of plant life and erosion, eventually resulted in starvation and population collapse. In response to the ecological predicament, Leopold changed its position and began to advocate preserving the wilderness and forest and protecting the wolves.
The wolf hunting story is not a unique case. There are thousands or millions of cases like this where humans presumptuously made a decision to alter the nature for its own benefit, but the results are always bleak. The truth is nature integrity is the basis for economic prosperity. For the society to truly flourish, it is obliged for us to fulfill our responsibility to preserve nature. Nature is feelingless, but it shows leniency and generosity to humans all the time by providing us with abundant resources and enduring the ravage of our exploitation. Thus, we should be grateful in our hearts, but not tread on nature's vulnerability.
What can we do?
The problems we are facing now are tough. However, the good news is that, you don't have to be an expert or a millionaire to save the Planet - everyone can help to do their bit for the environment. In other words, if each of us can be more conscious of environmental issues and willing to take some simple steps to save the Planet, we can make a huge contribution.
Nowadays, with increasing environmental awareness among the public, people around the world are coming together to fight for a greener future, and the effort has achieved great results. As a pioneering member of environmental advocacy community, Better World International is always committed to improve and take care of our surrounding environment, by providing practical tips to its members on the things they can do to live more sustainably and save the Earth .
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