We as humans have an important role to play when confronted with an issue which is in any way concerned with our relationship to nature. Although we coexist on this planet with numerous other species of life, ours is the only one whose decisions can potentially have a significant influence on the status quo of the delicate system that is Earth. Our attitudes and connections towards nature are important because they directly affect how we will realize the goal of sustainability. Nonetheless, in order to begin this task we must first ascertain what it is exactly that we are working with. The words ‘nature’ and ‘sustainability’ are often used but rarely defined, therefore an interdisciplinary approach is required to provide a working definition of these terms, because we will not know whether we have achieved our goal if we never truly understood what it was.
Nature, it is all around us, or is it? What is nature exactly? (Sternberg 2009) conceptualizes it as a biophysical reality or fact, something quantitive that can be measured or observed. In his text, the word nature was used to describe the small stand of trees visible from the patient’s bedside window, leading to Ulrich’s conclusion that patients with ‘natural’ views from their window recovered faster than those who had views of a brick wall. In (Sternberg 2009)‘s use of the idea, objects such as the brick wall which we have modified from its raw state are not included within the boundaries of nature. Does he mean to exclude humanity from nature? Although it is true that we have made technological advances that can be seen to have set us apart from nature, there can be no argument that we are here due to evolutionary processes. When we compare (Sternberg 2009) with (Cronon 1995), the different interpretations of nature are apparent. Although (Cronon 1995)’s opening idea would seem absurd to many, one of his main arguments points out that we cannot think of ourselves as separate from nature. His stand against the likes of (McKibben 1989) is commendable, and I support the idea that we simply cannot allow ourselves to think that we are responsible for ‘killing’ nature. (McKibben 1989) suggests that as a result of our unintentional manipulation of the atmosphere, nature as we once knew it no longer exists. While dealing with different interpretations
of an idea, it is important to consider and evaluate every view, but at some point we need to draw the line where we think the boundary lies. I agree that nature as we once knew it has changed due to human influences, but that is not to say that it no longer exists. “Nature is all around us if only we have eyes to see it” (Cronon 1995 pg. 86). How could McKibben have denied the existence of nature when there are places on earth that can be explained with no other word? Does he mean to challenge the ‘naturalness’ of sunlight and rain because it has passed through our ‘unnatural’ atmosphere? I believe that a working definition of nature can be found with the integration of both (Sternberg 2009) and (Cronon 1995)’s ideas, as they are concepts which we can accept and work with. Hence nature can be seen to include all that has not been intentionally altered by humanity from its original biological state, from the “tree in the garden” (Cronon 1995 pg. 88), to the “tree in an ancient forest” (Cronon 1996 pg. 88). This view of the idea excludes humans and artificially created objects, as suggested by (Sternberg 2009), but includes (Cronon 1995)’s idea that nature is indeed all around us, and therefore provides a working definition that sets a distinct difference in terms of what is nature and what is not.
The definition of sustainability evokes the same amount of controversy as nature, if not more. This is due to the many perspectives from which it can be approached, thereby leading to different interpretations. For example, “a social definition of sustainability might include the continued satisfaction of basic human needs;...
References: Sternberg, E., 2009. Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-being. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Cronon, W. 1995. ‘The trouble with wilderness: or getting back to the wrong nature’, in W.Cronon (ed.), Uncommon ground: toward reinventing nature. New York, USA: W.W.Norton and Co.: 69-90.
McKibben, B. 1989. The End of Nature. Anchor Books, New York, USA.
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