Ed. Note: We are happy to share this reader response, which is part of a series developed by environmental science students at Loyola University Chicago from the course Environmental Sustainability.
When you’re looking down at your phone for the fifteenth time this morning to check to see who liked your post on Instagram, the thought of overpopulation probably doesn’t run through your head. When you’re running late for class or work so you ‘have’ to call an Uber to get there on time, the thought of carbon emissions probably doesn’t run through your head either. This doesn’t mean there aren’t people that think about this because there are, in fact, people whose jobs surround these very thoughts. They’re people who are trying to reconnect humanity with nature after years of separation. Separation that has led to immense damages to our home. I’m not going to go on about global warming and the scientific facts of the matter, because the question of what happens when we see ourselves separate from or a part of nature also affects us spiritually and emotionally, not just physically. Hopefully, this approach will appeal to people a little bit more because a dialogue needs to be started.
Are we unique? Unique from nature, unique from ourselves. What does it mean when someone says, “human nature”? I think there is a level of sophistication that we’ve grown accustomed to and that has greatly impacted our ability to appreciate nature and to feel a connection to it. It’s like when a child goes off to college and earns a degree, only to come home and realize they have become more aware or clever than their parents. There is a loss of blind adoration and reverence. We feel as though we’ve outsmarted nature with our progress and technology. But what happens when that child, who has now become an adult, still needs their parents? Their parents have passed on due to old age, so what is left, who is left to support that child? Their parent’s knowledge and teachings, not necessarily academia, but more so life lessons are the only things left. Humans have lost touch and take nature’s lessons for granted. This distinction we’ve created between our intelligence and the intelligence of nature is unhelpful and harmful. Sure, we can say ‘Hey Alexa, order more batteries,’ but Alexa can’t order us cleaner air to breathe or more icebergs for polar bears to live on.
The way we think of ourselves compared to other forms of life greatly impact our decisions and actions we take against or for them. Our superior, ‘top of the food chain’ attitude allows us to feel justified in destroying other forms of life to support our own. Our lives come before the lives of others. We tend to solve issues with our own best intentions, but without regard for those that are sacrificed in the wake. Imagine if trees could talk and had real emotions that we could understand. Before parents simply placed tablets in front of children’s faces and kids were forced to go play outside, I thought the trees were my friends. I felt connected to them. Now imagine a giant bulldozer with razor sharp teeth plowing through your friends and cutting them in half. Graphic, but effective. Hopefully, no one would still choose to cut them down, but the point is made. We abuse our power and obliterate other species in the name of supporting our own. It doesn’t mean these actions are taken in a malicious manner—wanting to help other humans survive is a normal thought—but the way we are going about it has taken a turn for the worse. For example, the past time of farming and providing for your family is impossible to find nowadays. We’ve evolved to more ‘sophisticated’ people, people who can order groceries on our phone and have them delivered to our doorstep in less than two hours. Of course, this is an incredible innovation, I’m guilty of using the convenience, but then a thing like factory farming has to also be innovated to provide for this. Factory farming has taken regular agriculture and turned it into a mass producing, profitable business at the expense of the animals. Old McDonald no longer has a farm because big corporations have taken the animals and stuffed them into cages with no sunlight because they have a deadline and a bottom line to get this product to the market. This isn’t even the worst of what we’ve begun to do to our planet.
We’ve become so separated from nature, that we dispose of our trash just about anywhere we can find room. The ocean covers more than 70% of the planet and at the rate, we’re going there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean. This destruction is what happens when we see ourselves as separate from nature. We lose appreciation for its brilliance and immense power. There will be a tipping point when nature has to do something to balance itself out. Nature is responding with hurricanes and forest fires and droughts, but there are still many people not listening and instead of working with nature, they are working harder to push it away. In some cases, nature is already so far away that no matter how bad it has gotten, some cannot seem to care in the slightest. Antarctica is very far away, but the effects of a melting iceberg will arrive very close to home. However, by the time it gets close enough for people to start caring, like the California wildfires, it’s too late to do anything about it. To resolve our issues we need mass and major change. We need to agree as a species to care for the one and only home we have. The future of living on spaceship-like planets is too far in the future, we need solutions for the now.
So to answer the question, what happens when we see ourselves as separate from nature? We forget it exists. We forget its value. We forget its importance. One day, we are going to die of old age and our children will have to keep on and remember our stories and tribulations. It is up to us to reintroduce them to our dear old friend: nature. Our planet won’t be able to sustain humans if we don’t reconnect with it.