As climate change intensifies and human activity affects every corner of the planet, repairing our world means increasingly realizing that our destiny is intertwined with that of other animal and plant species – not isolated from them. – And we should think and act accordingly.
If it wasn’t already clear, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it abundantly clear that our lives are intertwined with the lives of other animals. Our health depends on them, not only because viruses can enter our bodies from them, but because we survive because of the soil on which they fertilize and the plants they pollinate. And as climate disruption increases, it’s clear that many animals are protecting us from its worst effects, maintaining ecosystems that absorb carbon and helping to mitigate the effects of sea level rise. We do.
Conservationists have long cared deeply about the existence of other plants and animals, often for reasons that go beyond selfishness. But sociologist Carrie Frese, a researcher at the London School of Economics, speculates that in this era of interspecific crises, conservationists and others will be driven more and more by a sense of multi-species solidarity – a deeper understanding, as did Rachel Carson. warned in 1963. , humans are “affected by the same environmental influences that govern the life of all thousands of other species.”
Anticipating such a change is optimistic, to say the least. But our modern habit of distancing ourselves from other forms of life is not as deep as it often seems. Throughout human history, many societies have maintained mutualistic relationships with other species, and many still do. It’s not impossible to rediscover a sense of connection for those of us in industrialized societies—call it togetherness—and one way to do that is to drop “nature” from our vocabulary.
In recent decades, many scientists and authors strongly argued That if there ever was such a thing as the “natural world”, it has been around for a long time. The collective human footprint is now so large and deep, they say, that it affects the entire planet, even in places where humans do not inhabit. While all of this is true, the word “nature” just isn’t wrong. The ambiguity of the concept allows us to believe that humans exist outside of it. And if we can imagine that nature is there, far away, we might even think that the damage we are doing is tragic but not dangerous.
For most of human history, the notion of nature as a collection of things was a strange idea.
The term “nature” as used today has a relatively short history. in one Analysis Published last fall, French ecologist Frédéric Ducarme and his colleagues trace the origin of the word and its equivalents in 76 languages. They found that linguistic patterns suggest that the concept of “nature” as a more or less passive set of objects, distinct from humans, followed the Roman and Islamic empires as they expanded in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. , and were adopted by many cultures whose existing sense of nature was more dynamic. For most of human history, the notion of nature as a collection of separate things was a peculiar idea—not impressive.
Philosophers and naturalists of various traditions have long struggled with the perceived division between humans and nature, knowing full well that their species is not really separate from the rest of life. Ducarme, in related paper, points out that Aristotle struggled to define “nature” and that the mathematician Jean d’Alembert and the philosopher Denis Diderot in their 18th yearth-century Encyclopedia, described it as “this rather vague term, often used but hardly defined, that philosophers use very much.” Today, ecologists and conservation biologists avoid this, often substituting the term “biodiversity”. certain uncertainty of one’s ownThe meanings of “wild” and “forest” are equally elusive, beyond the legal definition of wilderness that exists in the United States, and are further obscured by cultural differences.
when i started writing my book cute animalsIn A History of the Modern Conservation Movement, I challenged myself to avoid the words “nature,” “wild,” and “forest” unless I was quoting someone or clearly defined the term. could do After using these words for decades as an environmental journalist, I thought it would be difficult to put them apart, but it was not. Restricting them from my vocabulary just forced me to think about what I wanted to say. When I reached for “nature”, did I mean all species, including humans, or some kind of species – vertebrates, say? Did I mean species and their habitats? Was I describing the categories rather than emphasizing the relationship between them? When I wanted to use “wild,” or “forest,” did I mean places where people did not currently live, or places where people lived Never used to live? Was I talking about animals that were never domesticated, or independent animals that were not currently confined by humans?
While I often had to use an additional word or two, and also define some of my replacement words – “species”, for one, is notoriously slippery – I rarely had trouble finding more precise alternatives to “nature” or “wild,” and the practice sharpened both my thinking and my prose. In the years I worked on the book, I found that the habit changed my own perspective as well: I now find it easier to remember that my human family is part of an ecosystem—populated with a variety of species that live and are supported in relation to each other.
Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution began to close the fable between humans and nature, hinted at the possibility of multi-species cohesion in his 1871 book. Manu’s descent. For generations, he observed, “empathy” homo sapiens “became more tender and widely spread, so as to spread to men of all races, the foolish, the crippled, and other useless members of society, and finally to the lower animals.” (Darwin may have been drawing on the work of his contemporary William Leckie, an Irish historian who conceived of moral development as an extended cycle of duties.)
The sympathies of different societies have changed in different ways and at different speeds, and they can shrink as quickly as they spread. Yet for many groups of human beings – women, children, people of color, people with disabilities, people without property – rights now widely considered inexcusable in industrial societies were, not so long ago, ridiculously out of reach. was seen as Now, there are other species and their habitats legal rights have begun. In some cases, these innovations are based on indigenous traditions that view “nature” as a web of relationships – relationships that involve people.
The most meaningful way to express multi-species solidarity would, of course, be to stop destabilizing our common climate and stop destroying our shared habitats. But achieving those systemic changes begins with the recognition that these support systems are, in fact, shared. As Fries explains, the young climate activists who filled city streets around the world in 2019 and continue to press for change are fighting for both their own future and the future of other species. They know, better than most of us, that we are all in this together.
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