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.
Things are or they aren't and because of this, nature itself is not a debatable topic. The essence of nature truly is a culture of cause and effect elements. The essence of nature also involves abiotic and biotic factors, culminating in a vibrant mesh of life. It is not up to humans to decide nature’s intentions because we are not greater than it. Right now, when it is used in a sentence, most people instantly think of the wilderness, a place governed by the intrinsic rules of life. A chaotic system of beings ranging from plants to animals, all fighting for resources. But when asked the question of humanity’s place in nature, most people will turn a blind eye to the former definition. In reality, nature is a combination of those elements of wilderness and society. This idea that humans are not one within the same classification is simply wrong. I will say that the hierarchy of life in nature puts us at the top, but that is not to say we are separate from it. So in my opinion, it is physically impossible to consider ourselves as separate from nature, when we as humans are subsets of the bigger picture. And not only is it impossible to consider ourselves separate from nature, I believe that in doing so we are destroying the environment. One may think that the environment and nature are the same things, but I do not believe that to be the case. In my opinion, the environment is a subset of nature. The distinction between them is relatively vague, but it can be seen by looking at nature as how I described above. And contrast that to what the environment is, which is the biological interactions of all species.
Humanities' involvement with the environment goes hand in hand with people’s considering of themselves separate from nature. First, it must be understood that nature is the overall term of life abiotic and biotic factors. It is not the environment, the environment is a part of nature. The distinction between the two is such that one is a category of life that falls under the other. When humans think of themselves separate from it two different things happen. The first is the destruction of the environment. If humans do not see that we are a part of nature then this idea that we own the environment appears. This idea translates directly to a physical life threat to humans. This is because we rely on the environment to keep us alive, from water to air. For example, take a big company that produces a vast amount of waste, and that waste releases co2 or methane into the atmosphere. Amplify that by adding hundreds of other major companies doing the same thing, and the environment would eventually deteriorate. So if the question is what happens when humans see themselves as separate from nature, we can predict that the outcome is harmful to us and life around us. So why are we letting this happen? In my opinion, I believe it is a case of ignorance is bliss. For the individual, it is easier to keep going on the same route, than to switch to more environmentally friendly ways. Another reason we are letting this happen is because of money. This is because those big companies won’t stop their ways as long as they are making an obscene amount of money. This will all eventually bring us to the outcome of an environmental crisis; one that has been a long time coming and with plenty of warning signs. Also, we have had plenty of opportunities to reverse the effects and right the ship. But if we do not see that humans cannot survive as separate from nature then the inevitable will occur.
The second part is the ethical side. If we do not consider ourselves a part of it, then we will look at the environment as an expendable resource. Which by all accounts it is not. Ethically is it right or wrong to look at the environment in that way? If it was to benefit humankind, then I could entertain the thought of it being right. But in this case, we are ultimately hurting ourselves in the long run. So the immediate satisfaction is currently outweighing the sustainable long term. Because of this, my opinion is that it is very wrong to see the environment as a resource to be expended at humans’ discretion. It is most definitely an asset to us, but we must not expire it. Another ethical situation that appears when you destroy the environment is what happens to the ecosystems. All the animals that rely heavily on their different niche areas are potentially in danger. If a certain animal depends on a certain area or food source and that source is taken away, you do not only lose that animal. Potentially every other species that the animal was in contact with is in danger. The balance of life within the environment is crucial to maintain and humans are responsible for that. Because we are also responsible for the simultaneous destruction. If you do not believe humans owe it ethically to nature to ensure its safety, then the first part I talked about should be enough to convince you.
In conclusion, the term nature is not equivalent to the environment. With the question being what happens when we see ourselves as separate or a part of nature, I needed to make the distinction between what nature is and what the environment is. The term “Nature” is everything, it's every building, sidewalk, and person. One might ask, sidewalks aren't alive how are they a part of nature? Because nature isn't held by any constraints, everything that the earth provides is nature. If there is one takeaway from what I have written, it is that everything is nature. And when we see ourselves as a part of it, then we respect it more. We as humans are a product of it, and what we do with our hands and minds is automatically nature. Thus why the mindset of humans not being a part of nature is so deadly to society. Such a wrong thought process on such an immensely important topic. Earlier, I discussed how the environment is affected immensely. To understand why I thought it was important I had to first define what the environment is. The environment is the surrounding conditions of which an animal or plant lives. That is not a construct like nature, the environment is clear and definitive. The way that the environment comes into play with this issue is that if someone doesn’t believe they are a part of nature, there is a large chance they will not make environmentally friendly choices. Now amplify that on a global scale or even a societal scale. Now we are talking about those big companies not caring about where the waste goes, we are talking about politics, policies, etc. And the majority of decisions made within those groups affects the environment. Those are the reasons as to why I brought up the environment in the issue of humans considering themselves as separate from nature.