Nature’s Relationships: We Are Imperiled From Within

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“It makes far better sense to reshape ourselves to fit a finite planet than to attempt to reshape the planet to fit our infinite wants. — David W. Orr.”


A conflict rages between two groups of conservation scientists.  That conflict centers on how we humans must conserve our Earth. As far as I know, no one within these two groups disagrees that humanity is facing a terrible crisis that could affect our very existence. That crisis centers on our inability, as humans, to identify, take seriously, and act upon  a set of environmental problems that have been created by ourselves. These problems include climate change, the voracious unsustainable consumption of limited natural resources, and running out of agricultural space to grow more food because of human population growth. Both groups believe that their point of view can lead to a solution to the crisis. But, in reality, these groups are “putting their cart before their horse” and failing to address the real problem.


Both of these groups argue and theorize about what to do while forgetting about a fundamental driving force that continues untouched.That driving force is humanity’s negative worldview about Nature. worldview is a collection of commonly shared values. Pointless and unsustainable consumption is an example of one destructive worldview held by modern humans.


Human strategies for conserving our Earth will fail unless we first deal with mankind’s destructive worldviews about Nature.


These worldviews include the idea that man is separate from Nature, that man can control Nature,  and that man can redesign Nature to fit infinite human desires. We fail to understand that as a living system, Planet Earth is not going to be under our control. 


Jeremy Lent suggests that humans need a culture shift that  redirects humanity’s path to a flourishing  future. He says:
“Each culture tends to construct its worldview on a root metaphor of the universe, which in turn defines people’s relationship to nature and each other, ultimately leading to a set of values that directs how that culture behaves. It’s those culturally derived values that have shaped history.


The Scientific Revolution was built on metaphors such as ‘nature as a machine’ and ‘conquering nature’ which have shaped the values and behaviors of the modern age.., many of which we accept implicitly even though they are based on flawed assumptions.
Continued growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is seen as the basis for economic and political success, even though GDP measures nothing more than the rate at which we are transforming Nature and human activities into the monetary economy, no matter how beneficial or harmful it may be. The world’s financial markets are based on the belief that  the global economy will keep growing indefinitely even though that is impossible on a finite planet. ‘No problem,’ we are told, since technology will always find a new solution.
These underlying flaws in our global operating system stem ultimately from a sense of human disconnection. In our minds and bodies, reason and emotion are seen as split parts within ourselves. Human beings are understood as individuals separated from each other, and humanity as a whole is perceived as separate from Nature. At the deepest level, it is this sense of separation that is inexorably leading human civilization to potential disaster.”
This crisis of human separation from Nature is being totally ignored by conservation scientists. As a result, their individual strategies will fail because they lack the support of modern humanity. Indeed, we must first resolve the crisis of human separation from Nature.  But, how do we accomplish this much needed unity?  According to David W. Orr:


It makes far better sense to reshape ourselves to fit a finite planet than to attempt to reshape the planet to fit our infinite wants. …. It is not education, but education of a certain kind, that will save us….we routinely produce economists who lack the most rudimentary understanding of ecology or thermodynamics. This explains why our national accounting systems do not subtract the costs of biotic impoverishment, soil erosion, poisons in our air and water, and resource depletion from gross national product. We add the price of the sale of a bushel of wheat to the gross national product while forgetting to subtract the three bushel of topsoil lost to grow it.”


The answer lies with our youth and environmental educators. The greatest gift that we can give our own children and our world’s youth is a safe and sustainable Earth. This is not the case right now because we adults of the “me generation” are incapable of modifying our worldview that is focused on economics and  consumerism. We are using using up the finite resources of our planet. We are leaving nothing for future human generations.The hopes of  a sustainable future for humans on earth may cease to exist by 2050 — only some 30 years away. The power to change this trend must come from our youth and from the environmental educators who guide our youth. 

Many people and groups are beginning to realize that building a new environmental awareness can happen only in our children and in our youth. The main message that we must present to our youth is:
  • Nothing on this earth exists solely on its own. Everything is dependent upon everything else.
Understanding this fundamental idea of interdependence in Nature is a crucial first step to effectively conserving our planet. Through the legacy created by hands-on, place-based education and guided by environmental educators, we can help our youth develop a consciousness for the interdependency of all forms of Nature. Legacy building means empowering our youth to become environmental stewards. And through this new consciousness, corrections can be made to the current Western worldview. Only when we are able to revise the current unsustainable  adult worldview about Nature are we ready to think about the possible value of conservation methods such as those proposed by conservation scientists.

This essay is the first in a series about Nature’s interdependence and the need for systems thinking if we are to understand Nature’s relationships.

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself,  or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.
If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

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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.

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