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.
The way that planet Earth is treated varies from one person to the next. One might recycle every day, drive an electric car, and eat food that is produced in an environmentally friendly fashion. Others, however, might not sort between trash and recyclables, might drive an emission heavy vehicle, and might eat whatever is available without a second thought about how it might affect the world around them. The way in which the world reacts to the way we treat it does not vary. It cannot discern the difference between the just and unjust. It reacts, in often violent and deadly fashion, in the direction of all who surround it, innocent and guilty alike. When we choose to see ourselves as separate from nature, we lose sight of the way in which we can all benefit as much as we can all suffer from its natural processes. However, when we choose to see ourselves as one with nature, I believe we begin to breed the love and care necessary to preserve its health, and as a result, own our health.
I think we as a collective species have benefited beyond our wildest imaginations by using some of Earth’s bountiful resources. We have industrialized our societies, developed man-made food and clothing, and have contorted Earth’s natural look to suit our traveling needs and desires. In short, Earth has been pretty kind to us. Despite that, we, as a species, have not been as kind in return. We have continued to pollute this planet beyond reasonable measures, as well as designate certain parts of it for our trash and landfill. Unfortunately, it is not difficult to comprehend how this imbalanced and somewhat parasitic relationship has formed.
When a child is born, he or she has no natural inclination to care for its parental units. It uses its parents as a source of food, comfort, and any other necessary trait to ensure survival. It cannot comprehend how much sleep it may have taken or how much money it may cost a parent in the next 18 years to keep it alive and well. When we choose to view nature as separate from ourselves, I believe that we adopt the same relationship a child has for his or her parents during the first couple years of life. We gladly take and take, and often ask for more even when it is not feasible to take more. And despite being told that we should not have any more, we tend to find ulterior methods of getting what we want, just as a child behaves when he or she wants some sort of candy or toy. I do not believe that we see the Earth as mortal as we see ourselves when we choose to separate ourselves from it.
Unfortunately, it seems that people are unaware or unwilling to recognize the nature of their relationship with Earth. I think when we separate ourselves from nature, we develop a keen defense mechanism by finding a multitude of ways to excuse ourselves from additional efforts to take up environmentally friendly practices. For example, one might proclaim, “I’ve had a long day at work, I do not have the time to separate my trash from recyclables. If I didn’t have to work, I’d recycle all the time and maybe even contribute to some eco-friendly awareness events.” This might not be everyone’s sentiment, but I think it captures some people’s ability to exclude themselves from having to consider the effect they have on nature.
When we see ourselves as one with nature, however, I think an important shift in perspective is made. To understand this shift, let us revisit the relationship a child has to his or her parent. At some point in most of our lives, we realize that our parents require the same sort of love, affection, and care that we do. We realize that the resources they provide for us are not easily replenished and that they are just as mortal as we are. Hence, we develop a drive to provide for ourselves, as well as begin to look out for parents in whatever way we can. We see the same need and desire to survive in them as we do in ourselves. I believe that when we see ourselves as one with nature, we notice not only what we have reaped from it, but we develop a desire to preserve it for as long as we can. As such, I think we begin to direct innovative forms of actions toward the goal of preserving nature’s health, in the sense that we dedicate more time and effort into developing environmentally sustainable practices to support our everyday needs and desires. But that said, seeing ourselves as one with nature might be easy, but the actions necessary to carry out that sentiment might not be.
Seeing ourselves as one with nature might provide us with the necessary lenses to see our role in preserving nature’s well-being, but it does not guarantee that we will find the motivation to do something about it. We might recognize that our parents need more help when they age, but when other responsibilities come about, those needs might not be so easily addressed; one might have to place their concern for their parents on hold to attend to a more urgent matter. I think that’s the difficulty we still face, even when recognizing that we and nature are one and the same. It becomes paramount that we not only recognize our role in nature’s well-being but also recognize how important our attentiveness is in the fight for its preservation. If we simply learn something but choose not to put it to good use, what was the point in learning it? By overcoming this dilemma, which is not always going to be easy, I think we can begin to see this mutualistic relationship our well-being shares with that or Earth’s in a more productive and rewarding manner.
If we view ourselves working in conjunction with nature and all its processes, the nature of our relationship might become a little less parasitic, and a little more mutualistic. We can still acquire the necessary resources needed to sustain a generous and plentiful way of life. At the same time, we can recognize the mortality of the resources we cherish and begin to adopt simple and easy forms of maintaining it, just in the way that we would begin to care and look after our parents in their hour of need.