“All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in the community but his ethics prompt him to co-operate (perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for).” –– from Aldo Leopold “A Sand County Almanac” 1949
WIthout A Relationship With Nature, We Have No Life
We commonly think of the word “relationship” to describe a personal, romantic, or passionate attachment of some kind. One might say: “I have a great relationship with my daughter”. Or, in your Facebook profile, you might state “I am in a relationship with Sandy Smith”. But rarely do we hear or read about the most important kind of human relationship that is so critical to the maintenance of life itself. This kind of relationship is a relationship with Nature.
Perhaps one reason for this omission is that much of humanity does not see Nature as a relationship of dependency. In our “me” societies, our hubris suggests that we can control Nature. This arrogance prevents us from admitting that, while Nature can survive without us, we cannot survive without Nature. Many scholars point out that the unchecked, exponential population growth of the human race will result in the resources of the Earth being unable to supply food for humans within the next 50 years. This dire prediction has come about because humanity has failed to look upon Nature as a relationship.
Some years ago, Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi published a seminal book entitled “The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision”. In this book, the authors stated that:
“sustainable society must be designed in such a way that its ways of life, businesses, economy, physical structures, and technologies do not interfere with nature’s inherent ability to sustain life.”
What follows are some important quotes presented this book.
Prior to 1960, modern science operated under the assumption that complex objects or phenomena can be best understood by separating and studying their smallest constituent parts. In other words, an automobile could be understood by disassembling the car and laying out the parts on the garage floor. A tree could be understood by cutting it apart and analyzing each cut up piece. This worldview is called “reductionism”
Since the 1960’s, modern science has undergone a major paradigm shift by recognizing that:
“the material world, ultimately, is an evolving and ever-changing system in which complex structures are developed from simpler forms. Nature is a network of inseparable patterns of relationships. The planet as a whole is a living, self-regulating system. A central characteristic of this systems view of life is that all living systems are complex networks where there are countless interconnections between the biological, cognitive, social, and ecological dimensions of life.”
An ecosystem is greater than the sum of its parts. It cannot be defined by looking separately at each of its interconnected parts. In addition, the high complexity of an ecosystem makes it impossible to predict.
The problem is that the society of mankind is unable to grasp this fundamental truth. Humanity fails to see that we are part of the relationship. We cannot stand aside from something that we are part of. If we affect Nature, we affect ourselves. For example, if we pollute the air, we might suffer climate change.
The human concept of economics is another powerful example of how we might end up damaging or destroying relationships within human society by damaging Nature.
“The outstanding characteristic of most of today’s economic models – whether they are promoted by economists in government, in the corporate world, or in academia – is their assumption that perpetual economic growth is possible. Such undifferentiated and unlimited growth is seen as essential by virtually all economists and politicians, even though it should by now be abundantly clear that unlimited expansion on a finite planet can only lead to disaster. Since human needs are finite, but human greed is not, economic growth can usually be maintained through artificial creation of needs by means of advertising. The goods that are produced and sold in this way are often unneeded, and thus are essentially waste. The pollution and depletion of natural resources generated by this enormous waste of unnecessary goods is exacerbated by the waste of energy and materials in inefficient production processes. The continuing illusion of unlimited growth on a finite planet is the fundamental dilemma at the roots of all the major problems of our time.”
Indeed, we humans are an integral part of Fritjof Capra’s systems view of life.
What does the term “systems view” mean when it is applied to life? It implies looking at a living organism in the totality of its relationships. But clearly, the idea of a relationship of interdependence with Nature is ignored by most of the human race. Instead, we pursue a reckless dominance that might wipe out our species.
Environmental educators hold the key to altering humanity’s misguided worldview about Nature
Is there any hope of altering this worldview? I think so !! Despite the irresponsible ignorance of a large number of humans, many of our children and future generations do not hold this destructive point of view. Their minds are fresh and responsive to awe and wonder. Through environmental education programs that emphasize Earth’s web of life, they are likely candidates for embracing the idea of relationships and connectedness. And by being shown how to identify and protect energy connections in Nature, they become effective stewards of our Earth. Through hands-on, place-based education:
- Ask each student to describe his or her relationship with a plant or animal.
- Ask students to draw a complete food web diagram, INCLUDING THEMSELVES, of the ecosystem that they are observing.
- Have the students play the Web of Life game that includes themselves.
- With care, guide the students away from consumerism.
Hopefully, with these ideas and other ideas, our children can develop a “relationship consciousness” and become Nature’s evangelists for future generations.
Why Do I Write These Essays?
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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.