There has been much discussion over the years about our place within the natural world; are we part of nature or apart from it? Some authors have suggested that while we were once part of the natural world, closely in tune with its shifting seasons and living within the landscape, we were separated once we became a predominantly urbanised society. Apart from a handful of ‘primitive’ communities still living within nature, deep in some South American rainforest, every other one of us has become removed (to varying degrees) from the natural world.
It is this removal, this act of seeing ourselves as standing apart from nature, that has driven our over-exploitation of the Earth’s natural resources. Divorced from the natural world we cannot comprehend the damage that we are doing; even when we are told about that damage it seems remote and intangible. Typing these words on this keyboard has a cost but I cannot see that cost; all I can see is the keyboard and the benefits that it brings to my daily life.
In some senses it could be argued that we are still part of nature; that our activities and the way they have changed the world are no different from what many other organisms are doing. The difference, and the thing that potentially does set us apart, is that we can comprehend the impacts that we are having. Understanding what we are doing and what the consequences of our actions are means that we have the option to do something about it. As individual organisms we can make a conscious choice not to exploit the Earth’s resources, to return to a position where we are closer to being part of nature.
It is at the level of society that this reconnection becomes difficult – some would say impossible – because society is driven by behaviours much stronger than those of the individual. Our consumer society has spiralled to levels where we are outstripping the resources available to us; yet we continue to see these resources as infinite. Societal change is needed but if it is to come it can only come from the individual or from nature herself, imposing on us a new way of living.