Sustainability and our connection to nature

By Jacqueline Loos

Sustainability is said to be a holistic approach of how we can satisfy our needs today without cutting off the same possibilities for future generations. There is a lot of discussion about the concept of sustainability – for example, if it should contain three pillars (named ecology, economy and social) or if it should also include politics or culture…

While scientists and politicians refine and newly invent reasonable definitions for this powerful word, we still get lost on our way to the aim – living well without destroying our environment.

Most people don’t intend to harm nature or species diversity – in some cases they just make the wrong decisions, because of a lack of knowledge about the consequences. We cannot calculate and predict everything that will happen in nature, but if we are aware of the unknown we can still take the responsibility and use the insights we already have to decide what might be best for our environment. The knowledge we already have results from work by thousands of people; we have many channels to communicate; and many ways to know what happens around each one of us on many different scales. It is irresponsible to justify our ignorance by bad management, or too little time or money.

People in the western world are standing under an immense pressure to perform, which is increased by media and the available wealth. Many people work many hours per day to earn more money than they need, and to work their ways up to a position where they feel they could have more influence, more power, or more satisfaction. Other people have problems in finding a job, are sick, or are busy with living their everyday life, and they have few options. Either way, nature and sustainability still are a low priority for our society – maybe because we invest our energy in different, more tangible subjects.

Though we know that nature and its biodiversity is threatened, we don’t see a direct connection between our activities and mass extinction. This is not because we are bad people, but because we don’t feel the connection. Environmental problems, scientific reports and the warnings of nature herself are far away from us. We don’t know the ecosystems that are most endangered and we cannot visualise the abstract numbers of decreasing species richness.

Our disconnection is even reflected in the word NATURE: you will often find definitions that describes NATURE as “what is not made by human-beings”. Why do we exclude ourselves from the concept of nature?

We evade the forces of nature, and even the rhythm of day and night by building houses and taking shelter in them, by heating and by using artificial light. Isolation from nature and its services increases, because we are used to buy all-year-round available food, because we can cheaply move our residence and we can choose whether we want to have sunshine or snow in our holidays. And, it is a good invention to slip out of natural processes, so we can live a life quite independently from seasons and natural events. We have created for ourselves a long, secure and comfortable life. Nothing is bad about this, but unconsciously, we have developed an anxiety of nature and its rough laws.

Nature has an interest. It wants to live. There are many conflicts between living creatures, and in many cases, the stronger and the most adaptive species or individuals survive. We already used our strength and our tools to influence most parts of nature around us. Now we should acknowledge the interests of nature and instead of forcing our anthropocentric world view and put ourselves on top of the hierarchy, we should see human beings as part of nature. Instead of subordinating nature into our life we might try to re-integrate ourselves into nature. We can start doing this simply by using our perception, our common sense and our mindfulness.

If our aim is sustainable development, we should give respect to nature and feel empathy with it. With more consciousness about our direct dependency on a healthy environment, we will be more likely to care of nature – and give it the priority it deserves.

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