I read a book titled “Wilderness and the American Mind” that was essentially the history of the human/nature relationship. Taking place over the course of many years it followed how the American public viewed the natural world throughout history.
We as a nation went through many opinions of the environment and some of them stood out to me.
There was a period where the American mind saw the natural untamed wilderness as it’s jewel but only when compared against England’s dark and built upon wilderness. Our vast canyons and thick forests opposed to marshland and crumbled stone buildings incited a patriotic sense of our environment. We were proud.
There was a period where the wilderness was a thing to be conquered and tamed. We built houses and felled trees and cultivated the land with our modern plant species showing man’s ingenuity.
And there was a time where the American mind saw the environment as a commodity. Trees and rocks and animals were all varying sizes of dollar signs.
Now, the book I read didn’t talk explicitly of our modern view, but I think we have an assortment of the opinions with one pervading theme; humanity and the natural environment are separate.
Sometimes we interpret human welfare and environmental welfare as separate issues. In truth, the health of both “worlds” mirror each other because they are part of the same sphere. Environmental health directly translates to human societal health and vice versa. Coexisting, working with human ingenuity and environmental processes together, that is where the American Mind needs to go. Our lives depend on it.
Originally, I wrote this as an Instagram post (everything above this sentence) because my Instagram gets more consistent updates then my blog usually gets. What I’d like to do is expand my ideas by way of explaining an ecocentric world view compared to anthropocentric.
An ecocentric world view is one where society is founded upon and worked around a nature-centered system of values as opposed to anthropocentric (human centered).
The world we live in now, human society as we know it, has been almost exclusively in the latter mindset as our species conquered and overcame many of the hurdles that the natural world threw at us. The more we vanquished diseases and grew crops and cut trees, the prouder we became of our separation from the natural world. The outdoors not only became out but also away from humankind’s indoor utopia with its sterilized plastics and chemically soaked wood products. I understand why adopting this was necessary for the survival of our species but we have managed to evolve past the point where our lives are regulated by normal biological processes.
We have been so successful with conquering viruses and food shortages that the only time we truly feel the effects of them is when there are mass epidemic.
We have gotten so good at fishing that many boats are able to “nuke” entire systems of fish and move on in the hope that their numbers will increase at a later date.
We use so much wood and plant so little to replace it that all types of tree growth begins to decline.
Granted, these statements may be pessimistic in a way, but I believe that the first step to fixing a problem is recognizing that there is one (sound familiar?) and that is best achieved by adopting a world view opposite to what we hope to change. (I.e. our global ecosystem is under attack, and so we must fix it) We must recognize our faults before anything gets better.
Look, ecocentrism does not connotate less value in the human existence, and I posit that it in fact means we place even more value on the quality of human life.
Ecocentrism is not an extremist view of our world, it’s realistic. It is the natural order of things.
Environmental issues work in the same order as the snowball effect where one event will trigger the collapse of others which will in turn trigger other snowballs to roll.
Here’s an example; our oceans are on the edge.
See, coral reefs provide the foundation for the clear majority of our fish species livelihoods as they act as both a home, a food source, and a natural water filter. However, coral is extremely sensitive to changes in the water from oil spills, raising temperatures, and changing Ph levels from the freshwater being flushed into it from melting ice. “Extremely sensitive” means that coral can and will die from these changes.
Small fish rely on the reef to raise young and without them the population of many prey species of fish significantly drops.
Which in turn lowers food populations for predator species which in turn lowers their populations as well.
Even while this is occurring, fishing boats indiscriminately scoop up the struggling populations until the amount of remaining fish is barely enough to feed the local residents much less the fish food industry.
What we do and the way we live needs to keep in mind the environment.
These are simple statements but true:
If there are less fish in the ocean, there is less food for people.
If there is poison smog blanketing a city, people will get sick and many will die (especially those who can’t afford expensive air purifiers or a house of any sort).
If pesticide is sprayed into the air and rivers and fields, we breathe it in, drink it, and eat it with our food.
The environment is not an easy fix. It’s not. That’s why we have to start now before it gets worse.
It’s not a preemptive move, because we’ve already been attacked, it’s self-preservation.
That is a very human response, to a very human accident.