Our Role and Relationship With Nature | Environmental Topics and Essays
environmental philosophers to know how their concepts and debates relate to those . foundation for a balanced relationship between humans and the land. Environment Environmental Pollution Preservation - The Relationship humans had to the environment that surrounded them is one that is shrouded in debate. cerning man-environment relationships exhibit many similarities as well as certain differences. In response ical approaches to man-environment relation- ships since op. cit., footnote tion, there are always the perennial debates.
Animals that we are undoubtedly related to, that have senses and the ability to socialize are slaughtered by the billions to feed an increasingly carnivorous population. Resources such as oil and food are all unevenly distributed throughout the world and therefore used as a platform for profit. All the while the environment bears the grunt of our greed. In order to reconstruct our views of nature and understand our place within it, it is important to reconsider our relationship with each other and our surroundings.
We have to consider ourselves as part of a bigger picture. Industry and capitalism rely heavily on ignorance and individualism. However, the reality is that we are all dependent upon each other in one way or another. Time for Change Humans play a vital role in nature just like everything else. What separates us from nature though, is the ability to understand our place within it. This cognitive capacity of ours has historically been the cause of a perceived division between man and nature.
However, in order to achieve a sustainable future in which humans assume a more natural role and have less of an impact it is imperative that we reconsider our role and relationship with nature. A change in the way we regard nature has obvious political, economic, and social repercussions, but our cognitive ability obliges us to reevaluate our position in the world rather than continue to degrade it.
There are a number of ways in which we can begin to reconsider our relationship with nature, but all of which require an enormous effort. Through a universal education curriculum, it is possible to encourage people everywhere to consider themselves as part of a larger picture. By teaching people about the environment, evolution, and ecology, we can provide them with the tools for change.
Lewis Mumford imagined a social revolution brought about by a change in values through educational reform: In order to bring about necessary change it is critical that people take action. Through a universal environmental education program it is possible to galvanize people into forming new ideas and opinions of the world and to understand their place within it.
A universal education program would go a long way in encouraging change in how we view each other and our environment. Changing attitudes are a primary component in achieving a sustainable future — one in which nature is allowed to run its course without human intervention. Gregg Easterbrook discusses a similar future in his The Ecorealist Manifesto: In order for the Earth to retain its balance, it is important that we not overstep our bounds as a species.
This requires a universal effort to reevaluate our relationship with nature and make adjustments as needed. Conclusion After thousands of years of societal evolution, we find ourselves at the peak of technology and pollution. We are already seeing the effects of our industrial ways through the extinction of species, the melting of glaciers, and the destruction of the landscape. Our recognition of these effects suggests that our role in nature is far more influential than it should be.
Therefore it is necessary that we make major changes and that we make them soon. Our role within nature should be one of subsistence rather than commercialization. We have exploited the world for too long and the consequences of doing so are everywhere. As everything is related to everything, we have no right to infringe on the livelihood of any other species.
As for the second aspect of the problem, we might claim that although future generations will benefit from our environmentally destructive policies by their very existence, they will nevertheless have been harmed. After all, cannot one be harmed by a particular action even if one benefits overall? To illustrate this point, James Woodward gives the example of a racist airline refusing to allow a black man on a flight that subsequently crashes Woodward, Even if we do decide to grant moral standing to future human beings, however, that still leaves the problem of deciding just what obligations we have to them.
One set of difficulties relates to our ignorance of who they are. For not only do we lack information about the identity of future people, but we have neither knowledge of their conceptions of a good life, nor what technological advances they may have made. For example, why bother preserving rare species of animal or oil reserves if humans in the future receive no satisfaction from the diversity of life and have developed some alternative fuel source?
Our ignorance of such matters makes it very difficult to flesh out the content of our obligations. By way of reply to such problems, some philosophers have argued that while we do not know everything about future people, we can make some reasonable assumptions. For example, Brian Barry has argued that in order to pursue their idea of the good life - whatever that happens to be - future people will have need of some basic resources, such as food, water, minimum health and so on Barry, Barry thus argues that our obligations lie with ensuring that we do not prevent future generations from meeting their basic needs.
The Human–Nature Relationship and Its Impact on Health: A Critical Review
This, in turn, forces us to consider and appropriately revise our levels of pollution, resource depletion, climate change and population growth. This unfortunate fact points to a further problem that all future-oriented anthropocentric environmental ethics must face.
Just how are the needs and interests of the current generation to be weighed against the needs and interests of those human beings in the future? Can we justifiably let present people go without for the sake of future humans? Clearly then, the problems posed by just a minimal extension of moral standing are real and difficult. Despite this, however, most environmental philosophers feel that such anthropocentric ethics do not go far enough, and want to extend moral standing beyond humanity.
Only by doing this, such thinkers argue, can we get the beyond narrow and selfish interests of humans, and treat the environment and its inhabitants with the respect they deserve. Animals If only human beings have moral standing, then it follows that if I come across a bear while out camping and shoot it dead on a whim, I do no wrong to that bear.
Of course, an anthropocentric ethic might claim that I do some wrong by shooting the bear dead — perhaps shooting bears is not the action of a virtuous individual, or perhaps I am depleting a source of beauty for most other humans — but because anthropocentrism states that only humans have moral standing, then I can do no wrong to the bear itself.
However, many of us have the intuition that this claim is wrong. Many of us feel that it is possible to do wrong to animals, whether that be by shooting innocent bears or by torturing cats. Of course, a feeling or intuition does not get us very far in proving that animals have moral standing.
For one thing, some people hunters and cat-torturers, for example no doubt have quite different intuitions, leading to quite different conclusions. However, several philosophers have offered sophisticated arguments to support the view that moral standing should be extended to include animals see Animals and Ethics.
Peter Singer and Tom Regan are the most famous proponents of the view that we should extend moral standing to other species of animal. While both develop quite different animal ethics, their reasons for according moral status to animals are fairly similar. According to Singer, the criterion for moral standing is sentience: So, while Regan and Singer give slightly different criteria for moral standing, both place a premium on a form of consciousness.
For Singer, if an entity possesses the relevant type of consciousness, then that entity should be given equal consideration when we formulate our moral obligations.
Note that the point is not that every sentient being should be treated equally, but that it should be considered equally. In other words, the differences between individuals, and thus their different interests, should be taken into account. Singer then feeds his principle of equal consideration into a utilitarian ethical framework, whereby the ultimate moral goal is to bring about the greatest possible satisfaction of interests. This means that such entities have a value of their own, irrespective of their good for other beings or their contribution to some ultimate ethical norm.
In effect then, Regan proposes that there are moral limits to what one can do to a subject-of-a-life. This position stands in contrast to Singer who feeds all interests into the utilitarian calculus and bases our moral obligations on what satisfies the greatest number.
For example, imagine that it is proven that a particular set of painful experiments on half a dozen pigs will lead to the discovery of some new medicine that will itself alleviate the pain of a few dozen human beings or other sentient animals.
However, for Regan there are moral limits to what one can do to an entity with inherent value, irrespective of these overall consequences. But what does all this have to do with environmental ethics? However, extending moral standing to animals also leads to the formulation of particular types of environmental obligations.
For example, even if clearing an area of forest were proven to be of benefit to humans both in the short and long-term, that would not be the end of the matter as far as animal ethics are concerned.
The welfare of the animals residing within and around the forest must also be considered. However, many environmental philosophers have been dissatisfied with these kinds of animal-centered environmental ethics. Indeed, some have claimed that animal liberation cannot even be considered a legitimate environmental ethic Callicott,Sagoff, For these thinkers, all animal-centered ethics suffer from two fundamental and devastating problems: As for the first point, it is pointed out that our concerns for the environment extend beyond merely worrying about individual creatures.
Indeed, the over-abundance of individuals of a particular species of animal can pose a serious threat to the normal functioning of an ecosystem. For example, many of us will be familiar with the problems rabbits have caused to ecosystems in Australia. Thus, for many environmentalists, we have an obligation to kill these damaging animals. Clearly, this stands opposed to the conclusions of an ethic that gives such weight to the interests and rights of individual animals.
The individualistic nature of an animal-centered ethic also means that it faces difficulty in explaining our concern for the plight of endangered species. After all, if individual conscious entities are all that matter morally, then the last surviving panda must be owed just the same as my pet cat.
For many environmental philosophers this is simply wrong, and priority must be given to the endangered species Rolston III, Animal-centered ethics also face attack for some of the implications of their arguments.
For example, if we have obligations to alleviate the suffering of animals, as these authors suggest, does that mean we must stop predator animals from killing their prey, or partition off prey animals so that they are protected from such attacks Sagoff, ?
Such conclusions not only seem absurd, but also inimical to the environmentalist goal of preserving natural habitats and processes. Having said all of this, I should not over-emphasize the opposition between animal ethics and environmental ethics. Just because animal ethicists grant moral standing only to conscious individuals, that does not mean that they hold everything else in contempt Jamieson, Holistic entities may not have independent moral standing, according to these thinkers, but that does not equate to ignoring them.
Moreover, the idea that animal ethics imply large-scale interferences in the environment can be questioned when one considers how much harm this would inflict upon predator and scavenger animals.
Nevertheless, clashes of interest between individual animals and other natural entities are inevitable, and when push comes to shove animal ethicists will invariably grant priority to individual conscious animals. Many environmental ethicists disagree, and are convinced that the boundaries of our ethical concern need to be pushed back further. Individual Living Organisms As noted above, numerous philosophers have questioned the notion that only conscious beings have moral standing.
Man and Society
The thought experiment asks us to consider a situation, such as the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, where the only surviving human being is faced with the only surviving tree of its species. If the individual chops down the tree, no human would be harmed by its destruction.
For our purposes we should alter the example and say that all animals have also perished in the holocaust. Would this individual be wrong to destroy the tree? According to a human or animal-centered ethic, it is hard to see why such destruction would be wrong. And yet, many of us have the strong intuition that the individual would act wrongly by chopping down the tree. For some environmental philosophers, this intuition suggests that moral standing should be extended beyond conscious life to include individual living organisms, such as trees.
Of course, and as I have mentioned before, we cannot rely only on intuitions to decide who or what has moral standing. For this reason, a number of philosophers have come up with arguments to justify assigning moral standing to individual living organisms.
- The Human–Nature Relationship and Its Impact on Health: A Critical Review
- Environmental Ethics
One of the earliest philosophers to put forward such an argument was Albert Schweitzer. This, after all, would require some kind of conscious experience, which many living things lack.
However, perhaps what Schweitzer was getting at was something like Paul W. For Taylor, this means that living things have a good of their own that they strive towards, even if they lack awareness of this fact. It is this value that grants individual living organisms moral status, and means that we must take the interests and needs of such entities into account when formulating our moral obligations.
But if we recognize moral standing in every living thing, how are we then to formulate any meaningful moral obligations? For example we need to walk, eat, shelter and clothe ourselves, all of which will usually involve harming living things. Of course, this simply begs the question: Taylor attempts to answer this question by advocating a position of general equality between the interests of living things, together with a series of principles in the event of clashes of interest.
First, the principles state that humans are allowed to act in self-defense to prevent harm being inflicted by other living organisms. Second, the basic interests of nonhuman living entities should take priority over the nonbasic or trivial interests of humans. Third, when basic interests clash, humans are not required to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others Taylor,pp. As several philosophers have pointed out, however, this ethic is still incredibly demanding. For some, this makes the ethic unreasonably burdensome.
No doubt because of these worries, other philosophers who accord moral standing to all living organisms have taken a rather different stance. Instead of adopting an egalitarian position on the interests of living things, they propose a hierarchical framework Attfield, and Varner, Such thinkers point out that moral standing is not the same as moral significance.
So while we could acknowledge that plants have moral standing, we might nevertheless accord them a much lower significance than human beings, thus making it easier to justify our use and destruction of them. Nevertheless, several philosophers remain uneasy about the construction of such hierarchies and wonder whether it negates the acknowledgement of moral standing in the first place.
After all, if we accept such a hierarchy, just how low is the moral significance of plants? If it is low enough so that I can eat them, weed them and walk on them, what is the point of granting them any moral standing at all? There remain two crucial challenges facing philosophers who attribute moral standing to individual living organisms that have not yet been addressed.
One challenge comes from the anthropocentric thinkers and animal liberationists. For example, while plants may have a biological good, is it really good of their own? Indeed, there seems to be no sense in which something can be said to be good or bad from the point of view of the plant itself.
Our Role and Relationship With Nature
In response to this challenge, environmental ethicists have pointed out that conscious volition of an object or state is not necessary for that object or state to be a good. For example, consider a cat that needs worming. It is very unlikely that the cat has any understanding of what worming is, or that he needs worming in order to remain healthy and fit.
Similarly, plants and tress may not consciously desire sunlight, water or nutrition, but each, according to some ethicists, can be said to be good for them in that they contribute to their biological flourishing. The second challenge comes from philosophers who question the individualistic nature of these particular ethics.
As mentioned above, these critics do not believe that an environmental ethic should place such a high premium on individuals.
For many, this individualistic stance negates important ecological commitments to the interdependence of living things, and the harmony to be found in natural processes.
Moreover, it is alleged that these individualistic ethics suffer from the same faults as anthropocentric and animal-centered ethics: Once again, however, a word of caution is warranted here. Often the equilibrium of these entities is taken extremely seriously See Taylor,p. However, it must be remembered that such concern is extended only insofar as such equilibrium is necessary in order for individual living organisms to flourish; the wholes themselves have no independent moral standing.
For Leopold, land is not merely soil. Instead, land is a fountain of energy, flowing through a circuit of soils, plants and animals. While food chains conduct the energy upwards from the soil, death and decay returns the energy back to the soil. Thus, the flow of energy relies on a complex structure of relations between living things.
For one thing, it seems that Leopold jumps too quickly from a descriptive account of how the land is, to a prescriptive account of what we ought to do. Mental Health Mental health studies in the context of connecting with nature have also generated a growing research base since the emergence of the Biophilia concept in the mids Supporting research has been well documented in literature during the last few decades. Similarly, further mixed-method approaches and larger sample sizes are needed in this research field.
This would enhance existing evidence gaps to enhance existing knowledge of variable interlinkages with other important sources e. Social Health In the last two decades, the relationship between people and place in the context of green spaces has received much attention in academic literature in regards to its importance for the vitality of communities and their surrounding environments One of the main limitations within this field relates to the generally perceived idea that public green spaces are freely open to everyone in all capacities This limitation has been, as already, highlighted from the emerging arguments in the field of environmental justice and economic—nature conflicts As such, many researchers highlight the need to maintain awareness of other barriers that might hinder cohesion and community participation e.
Further, there still remains a gap between academic research and local knowledge, which would otherwise lead to more effective interventions. Nonetheless, for such approach to be implemented requires sufficient time, cost, and an adequate scale of resources to ensure for aspects of coordination, communication, and data validation This in part owes to the increasing evidence accumulating in research literature centering on the relationships between the following areas: Such health-related effects that have been alluded to include chronic diseases, social isolation, emotional well-being as well as other psychiatric disorders e.
Reasons for these proposed links have been suggested to stem from various behavioral patterns e. Further, these suggested links have been inferred, by some, to be visible in other species e. Nonetheless, research within this field remains speculative with few counter examples e.
With a growing trend in the number of chronic diseases and psychiatric disorders, costs to the U. However, this anticipated trend is considered to be both undesirable and expensive to the already overwhelmed health-care system In concurrence are the associated impacts on health equity, equating to further productivity and tax losses every year in addition to a growing gap in health inequalities Furthermore, population growth in urbanized areas is expected to impact future accessibility to and overall loss of natural spaces.
Not only would this have a direct detrimental effect on the health of both humans and non-humans but equally the functioning and integrity of ecosystem services that sustain our economic productivity Thereby, costs of sustaining our human-engineered components of social—ecological systems could rise, having an indirect impact on our economic growth and associated pathways connecting to health As such, researchers have highlighted the importance of implementing all characteristics when accounting ecosystem services, particularly the inclusion of natural and health-related capital, as well as their intervening mechanisms.