Sunday, February 15, 2009

What is Nature, Anyway?

I have a confession to make.

I am an environmentalist, but I don't care much about "nature."
I put "nature" in quotes, because I have to be honest, I'm not sure what "nature" is. According to this dictionary, nature is defined as the world "as it exists without human beings."

Which leads me to wonder ... where does this "nature" exist?

Obviously, none of us will have seen it, right? Because if someone had seen it, it wouldn't exist without human beings?

It's that old tree falls down in the forest thing. If no one has seen it, and no one can see it, do we know it exists?

The truth is, human beings constantly interact with the world around us, in ways that we don't even know about sometimes. We interact with the world when we use face wash with plastic in it, we interact with the world when we set aside area for conservation, we interact with the world when we cull one species to save another ... or when we don't.

"Nature," is thus, somewhat ironically, an artificial concept.

So today, instead of celebrating nature, I'd like to celebrate our world as a whole. Some of it green and filled with trees, some of it is made of tall concrete buildings. But it is all of it ... our world. And I love every bit of this world, and its delights and imperfections, dearly.

Check out the APLS Carnival on February 20th at Green Phone Booth!


Green Bean said...

Interesting point. Nature is just a concept for us urban-dwellers, in a way, isn't it? But we love it all and want to preserve what we can.

Farmer's Daughter said...

Hmmm.... I disagree with your dictionary's definition of nature. I really feel like humans are a part of nature and we can't be separated from it. I guess to me, nature means the biosphere: air, water, soil, and living things (including us). Or sometimes just the easy definition of "outside."
But I guess in an urban area, my outside definition wouldn't really fit.

ruchi said...

Well, GB and Abbie I think you bring up the interesting point to me. I think humans are a part of "nature" whatever that is. And that means that the urban environment is just as much "nature" as anything else. Because it is created by "natural" beings.

So, I would argue that if nature means what you say it means Abbie, then nature is basically ... everything. The entire Earth is "nature" because air, water, soil and living things are everywhere.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Or, you could say that we evolved as part of nature, but moved beyond nature when we started to modify and create our own environment.

Anonymous said...

I know what u mean - i care about the environment and nature and animals, too, but i relly don't want to go for a walk in the woods or fields or so... :-) a little controversial

Unknown said...

Check out ecosystem services concept and the cost of replicating ecosystem services:

What are Ecosystem Services?

Healthy ecosystems provide a variety of critical goods and services that contribute, directly or indirectly, to human well-being. Ecosystem services are the processes by which the environment produces resources such as clean water, timber, and habitat for fisheries, and the pollination of native and agricultural plants. Ecosystem services are created by the interaction of living organisms, including humans, with their environment.

The recent Millennium Ecosystem Assessment classifies ecosystem services into four broad categories – Provisioning services, regulating services, cultural services, and supporting services.


Sam said...

I guess you wont' mind another essay to add to your plate, but I thought you might like this one.

Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, I pulled out my own dictionary and found this definition of nature: "The sum total of the forces at work throughout the universe."

That definition resonates for me. Humans are a part of nature but only one of the many forces at work. I love the "throughout the universe" portion. My thinking had been confined to this planet but of course we are surrounded by even more. But I can't even think about space trash right now!

Anonymous said...

Were you and I separated at birth or what?