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.
On a hot summer day, while I was playing with my cousins, it began to rain. I quickly got upset because I knew it was time to go inside, but my cousins had a different reaction. They stood there happily and let the rain fall on them. What they thought at that moment was relief; their parents’ crops were going to grow and their source of income had arrived. They were more conscious of their dependence on nature.
Born in the city, it is easy to feel completely disconnected from nature. Resources being available so easily makes us forget how much we depend on nature. When we compare this person to someone who has grown up in the middle of nature, there is a significant difference in the perspectives they have of topics such as climate change and environmental sustainability. There seems to be a better understanding of the impact there is on the environment for people familiar with nature.
I compare myself to my cousins. I grew up in the city and my closest encounter with nature as a child was probably a local park. My cousins, on the other hand, grew up in an agricultural setting, where they knew how to plant crop seed by the time they were five. By the time that I was beginning to understand the importance of soil and water for a seed, my cousins were already aware of which soil is best, what pesticides and compost material had a healthier effect on the plant, and were already learning how to harvest their hard work. While I would read about foxes, coyotes, and mountain lions, my cousins had already seen and heard these animals and probably witnessed an adult hunt one of these animals. My cousins had a higher understanding of nature and its effects on their lives than I did. The time I went to visit them, I felt so out of place. They would tease me because I would get excited whenever I would see something new, constantly saying “it’s like on TV,” or “just like in the books.” Aside from the difference in knowledge, there was a difference in connection to nature.
Now that I am older I am more aware of things. My constant visits and communication with my cousins have made me as, if not more, aware of our dependability on nature as them. Something that has changed drastically from the time I was a kid to now is my care for the environment. Certain habits I had as a kid have changed to ensure my actions do not harm it. But the reason I care heavily for nature is that I see the connection we have with it. As I learned from my cousins, nature can give us everything from shelter to food, and if we take advantage of this and abuse its resources, nature will stop producing.
The problem with people today is not the fact that we see ourselves separate from nature, but that we see nature belonging to us. We feel a sense of ownership, we are the dominant species, therefore, nature has to serve us. If we continue to see ourselves as superior to nature, we are going to suffer when nature decides it has had enough. Sadly, nature has shown signs that it is getting irritated by us with climate change and small environmental changes. If we do not change this relationship soon, we will have to find a way to replace nature, which is something impossible to do.
Some of the most visible things we have done to nature is pollute it with waste, ignore the maintenance it deserves, and abuse its resources. As someone who comes from the city, it is a normal thing to just walk down the street and find old cans, worn-out plastic wraps, dirty pieces of cardboard and an infinite number of other abandoned packaging material. Aside from it being the normal things, we have found a way to make cleaning the street seem like it is something wrong. There is a reason it is a punishment sentence to send people to pick up garbage on the side of the road on Saturday mornings. Aside from your low criminals, the other common group that is seen cleaning up the litter on the streets or parks are students working on a mandatory assignment or for some other reason that offers that option as an incentive. The amount of people who genuinely go out to clean for the good of the environment is such a small percentage and even then, it is not a daily commitment. When you compare it to the people who are daily committed to littering it is a very unbalanced relationship. This is one of the simplest issues that can be easily fixed, but since they do not see the consequences in the city, they have no concern for it.
As a city kid, it was normal for me to find all this litter on the streets, but to my cousins, it was a crime to throw litter on to the road or grass. As soon as they saw something that did not belong, they were quick to dispose of it properly. Anytime I would go out with my cousins and uncles, my uncles would buy us snacks. As soon as we left the town to the fields, the first thing they would tell us is keep hydrated and the second thing would be, pick up after yourselves because that ends up in the water and the animals eat it and it’s bad for them. The reason they were so concerned about disposing of things properly was that it was one of the core values given to them as they grew up. This is what drove their passion and their connection to nature. And this is why they learned to care for it so heavily.
When we see ourselves apart from nature we do not see the consequences of our actions. We are careless about what happens to our environment. That it is why we must see ourselves as part of nature, not as the owners of nature. We depend so heavily on it, but if we abuse its resources and do not put our part, one day it will not be able to support us. And we have to change this mentality soon before it is too late. We need to start looking happily at a rainy day rather than calling it a gloomy day.