Thomas Jefferson inscribed in the Constitution of the United States of America:
“We hold these Truths to be self–evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”
Of course, we cannot lose sight of the fact that emphasis is placed on men, or the irony that these words were borne in a land entrenched in slavery. However, we can look at the last half of the sentence, that nation-defining, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, and extract fundamental drivers of worldview, and the role of self in relation to nature.
For some, nature serves an integral role in life, liberty, and happiness. To be without nature is to not be. Such communities depend on nature for fulfillment and recognize the role that natural resources play in maintaining life. Liberty stems from the immense and uniquely wild joy found within nature; the exhilaration of a mountain top, the silence of an old-growth forest, the clarity of a glacial lake, the energy of a coral reef… Happiness is found in the balance of life and liberty, and the grounding knowledge that the places that provide the necessaries of survival, also provide that liberating sense of freedom.
In contradiction, there exist those who view nature as the antithesis of a fulfilled life. Life, liberty, and happiness arise from the material world. Nature exists as the Other; a thing to be viewed in paintings and photographs. Life stems from nice restaurants and hospitals and manufactured remedies to perceived inconveniences. The power of a jet engine, the comfort of a penthouse flat, and the luxury of designer clothes become synonymous with liberty. In this reality, happiness coalesces at the intersection of life and liberty, perpetuating a cycle of materialism and resource degradation.
The result of these contrasting values is self-evident in history and cultural norms. On one end of the spectrum exists a world in which nature gains the upper hand and exists as an integrated part of society. Indigenous communities across time and space provide a glimpse into how such as world would function. On the other end, the natural world falls by the wayside of technological replacements, and the personal view of nature as Other is reflected in a landscape where nature and civilization are divided by distinct lines on a map. This second manifestation increasingly dominates the contemporary globe as Earth struggles to keep pace with exploding human populations, diminishing resources, and rapid development.
In reality, people and place fall along a gradient between these two extremes. Increasingly efforts seek to assimilate nature and wildness with the built environment, and people balance the integration of nature into their lives while accepting their separation from its truest form. Perhaps as a conservationist, then, my role is to tip the scales so that the future sees an Earth where nature reigns supreme in Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.