Is this a question for science?

I increasingly read articles or hear it said that we must learn (or remember) that humans are part of nature too.

This is because, it is often argued, we share so much with other animals. The differences between us are only matters of degree, not of kind.  Those who argue for this on the environmentalist side then often conclude that we all in the same boat. We will survive or perish more or less together due to our common biological needs. Some writers even tell us that science has now discovered we are part of nature — this apparently being thought of as new knowledge.

Much of this might be true, but it is a mistake to say we (human beings) are part of nature,. Furthermore, science can never discover or prove we are part of nature. There is no objective fact that keeps us from being part of nature, it is simply the result of the definition of the word, the concept of nature.

A simple definition of nature is “that which exists without human beings or civilization.” A more comprehensive definition is “the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations.” [emphasis mine]. There are also secondary definitions, of course, such as the “the nature of a thing” or “he was by nature naturally indolent.” We don’t need to bother here with these uses of the word.

Properly speaking, the only place for science in deciding if something is natural or not is determining if it is, or was created by, or depends on human actions. Remember that the opposite of natural is artificial, or maybe unnatural, although just what the word “unnatural” refers to is not clear, it being a curious word that is both descriptive and a condemnation at the same time. Unnatural is a deviation from what we expect, from normality, and probably in an unsettling way. At any rate, we ourselves, human activities and their effects are by definition artificial.

Does any of this matter? Yes, because nature and natural are powerful, emotive words. They connote things to people. These connotations make us have feelings; usually good ones. They can move us to action.

When people use “nature” to make arguments or appeals, at least a subtle manipulation is often present. Rachael Carson wrote, “But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.” Environmentalists will probably applaud this quote, but it is not clear to me that it makes sense because by definition, man is not part of nature unless you are using a non-standard definition of nature. Carson makes her point by making man part of nature, which by definition we are not.

More often today the statement that we are part of nature is used to carry an anti-environmental message. For example, here is one such anti-environmental use of “humans are natural, a part of nature”:

“We are part of nature, and every bit as natural as a sea slug, redwood, or grizzly bear. All are made of the same biological stuff — cells, proteins, DNA, etc. With the rise of humanity there evolved a unique natural ability to think and create — humankind. Since we are part of nature, why should anyone say we are harming nature with those projects we undertake with our unique natural capabilities? If we do things that cause wildlife to die out, for example, it must be a natural thing because we are nature in action. Extermination of the passenger pigeon was natural.

If pressed, the proponent of this view might say, “do you think the extinction was supernatural? That is the alternative.”

It is important to list how many weak spots this kind of rhetoric has. I leave it as an exercise, and also to discover how many versions of this “hey it’s natural” argument exist, e.g., think of certain arguments used to justify inequality, racial prejudice, and subjection of women. Those who use this argument do back off a bit when it comes to allowing humanity to destroy life on Earth. They don’t like to say, “well, it must also be natural for us to destroy the life on our planet.” More likely, however, is they will carefully change the subject and perhaps say, “well, after all, nature is resilient.” This view of nature assumes, however, that those things that exist without us are pretty much all of one piece (nature as a whole) when it comes to their possible alteration or destruction by our actions.

This picture of nature is clearly not so. For example, it looks like killing all the elephants is now going to be hard for us to avoid. The elephant population left is not resilient. However, killing all the microbiota living down in the rock layers miles underground (called endoliths), organisms we have only recently discovered, would be very hard to do. This kind of nature is resilient. The ability of live nature to survive our pushing and pulling is actually quite variable.

We don’t know the bounds of nature. Think of the size of the universe. When we think of all of nature we might seem small, maybe utterly insignificant. This king of thinking makes us fell alienated from nature and so perhaps wish to abolish our separation from it. Despite the urge, it is important not to be tricked or to trick ourselves into thinking we can reduce the gap by redefining ourselves as part of nature. Muddled thinking, confusion lie down this road of thought.

Human beings are an end result of a long natural process of evolution.  We are obviously enfolded in nature and natural processes support our very uniqueness, but we are not nature or natural by definition. What we need is not some new confused definition of nature but a change of attitude toward it. Ending our alienation with nature is not accomplished with a word trick. It requires an actual change in attitude and behavior.



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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

54 Responses to Are people part of nature?

  1. Mareks Vilkins says:

    Human beings are an end result of a long natural process of evolution

    well, it should be reminded that that concept ‘evolution’ does not apply to language (that is, to the thought process). One can get an explanation on this topic from Noam Chomsky.

  2. JB says:

    We debate this topic each year in my grad class. The debate usually ends about the time someone asks, if humans are part of nature, what is unnatural? That is, if humans are part of nature, everything is part of nature, and if everything is part of nature, the term loses its usefulness (it doesn’t differentiate any one object or entity from any other).

    I think people who say ‘we’re part of nature’ really mean that we’re dependent upon it (e.g., we’re subject to natural law, we’re not masters of natural/ecological processes).

    • WM says:

      Well, there is that camp that believes none of the above. They say humans have a right because of their mostly unique curiosity, and ability to think and adapt to environments quickly, with some motivated by “divine” intervention in some cultures, are entitled to “dominion over the earth (nature). Think the Crusades, or even in more basic terms the reign of Genghis Kahn. Combine this with Maslow’s Hierarchy of human needs, and all is explained.

      Nature, they would seem to say, is subservient to humans. Indeed, because of our unique capabilities we humans are capable of imposing our will on nature to the point of complete destruction of it at an ever accelerating rate….or, perhaps if we acknowledge the erros or our ways, changing it without destroying it. We are on the cusp of this dilemma and have been since the discovery of uses of petroleum and harnessing the components of the atom for good and evil. Now if we could only direct our innovative and adaptable species away from religious dogma, innate urges to control each other by amassing destructive power over those who disagree with us, and to consume less, there might be a chance for humans and nature to co-exist. But that would seem to be against human “nature,” and apparently universal laws that govern all species – survival of the fittest.

      What is the “nature of man?” Philosophers and pragmatist politicians [think Machiavelli consultant to the Medici in the 1500’s in what is now Italy as an example; later John Locke, Hobbes and others] have struggled with this and still are.

    • Ralph Maughan says:


      My point exactly!

      The same kind of analysis can be expanded to similar statements, like “atheism is just another religion.”

    • Louise Kane says:

      I agree humans are not a part of “nature”. Humans are also uniquely unnatural in their extraordinary population numbers, their lack of natural instinct to limit reproduction and their destruction of other species.

  3. Leslie says:

    If you go to a large natural history museum, you will see lots of odd looking mammals that were once part of nature, yet for some reason didn’t quite make the cut and are now extinct. Humans are probably in that definition of ‘part of nature’.

  4. Ida Lupine says:

    I think we were part of nature, but there’s something about us, our intelligence, our need for shiny things (there’s a line in a song that sums it up well ‘drain the whole sea, get something shiny – thank you Hozier), our need to dominate, something that makes us unable to live in harmony with Nature (Mother Nature would say in her garden/sandbox, we don’t play well with others) – but we’ve tried for centuries to combat nature and bring it into submission that now I think we’ve succeeded in separating ourselves nearly completely. Some of us have completely lost whatever connection there was, and don’t know what to do with nature anymore. Put a price tag on it! That’s all we know. Perhaps there can be a reconciliation? Or will Mother Nature write us off one day?

  5. Ida Lupine says:

    I always think that during our hunter/gatherer days, and even in the beginnings of agriculture days – we were more a part of nature, had respect for the natural cycles and our place in it. How do adapt to lean times, etc.

    As things began to take off technology-wise, we began to put more distance between ourselves and nature, and overcome it. I am a climate change believer, how could 7 billion plus of us not leave an imprint, but today it seems people are so comfortable and isolated we are shocked at extreme weather events like drought, and have to put some of the blame on things being out of whack, when we’ve been able to control a lot of our environment for generations.

  6. Linda Horn says:

    Humans may be a part of the natural world, but we’d never survive in nature unaided. Case in point. Go naked into the wilderness and pick up a stick. You’ll be a part of nature all right. Wolves call it lunch.

  7. mikepost says:

    Bob, I think labelling humans as “unnatural” which is what you are really saying, (you have to be natural or unnatural) you play into the hands of all who would type cast us all as tree hugging nut cases. I get the philosophical issues but as others have pointed out, it is kind of a “how many environmental angels can dance on the head of a pin” type question. There is no black and white answer. Perhaps the bigger question is: do natural humans, because of our advanced evolution, have an ethical responsibility to “nature” that simpler animal forms do not have even the ability to contemplate.

    • Linda Horn says:

      Many animals aren’t “simple”. Most humans consider them simple and inferior because they don’t speak our language or adhere to our culture. For example, recent research on chickens indicates they experience not only sympathy, but also empathy. You can communicate with more evolved animals and be part of their society (predators not so much), but you have to do it their way. You can even become the leader of prey animals like horses. If you want a horse you can trust, it has to trust you as its protector. It’s called “join-up”.

  8. Leslie says:

    I just watched a show on the Sea World abuse of Orcas and an orca researcher said each pod of Orcas have their own complex language, and they are more socially dependent than humans, and other Orca pods probably cannot understand another pods language. They also can live up to 100 years.

    Although we might be near the top of the evolutionary ladder as far as complexity, we certainly haven’t learned to live as part of nature like our Orca friends.

    I’ve always thought our three main advantages as a species are that we are clever, have an opposable thumb, and we are incredible generalists able to live and adapt anywhere. Canines have two of those three traits. If they had the third, just think….

  9. Ida Lupine says:

    At the risk of sounding like a tree hugger (who cares?) I beg to differ:

    We aren’t dependent upon nature, at least as much, except in the most basic of ways. We can just about artificially recreate anything, including ourselves, in a petri dish. We ‘manage’ other life forms for our own convenience to reduce their populations to make more room for more of ourselves including our own kind if need be, and see nothing wrong with that. (Wm, we don’t need to go back as far as the Crusades and Genghis Kahn to see it, there’s manifest destiny.)

    So we may have started out as the naked ape, but we’ve removed ourselves from nature in the modern era. We can put fish genes into plant DNA. We can extend our lives and cure disease. We’ve explored space. We can put blinking, glow-in-the dark genes into mice and fish, and we think that is pretty cool for some reason. We do things because we can, not because we should.

    We may not be masters of all ecological processes (yet), but we’re sure trying. If it means we worship ourselves, isn’t it just another religion – we don’t think there’s a god because we think we’re gods (we must think so, because we consider every other life form inferior and not even worthy of life, just our own), or that some higher being appointed us to be the highest life form. What we are doing is artificial and unnatural in the modern era.

    • rork says:

      I object to the atheists-think-they-are-gods strains. This atheist has much humbler and far less exalted views of humans – DNA has evolved code to make them, a highly circuitous route of replicating but not illegal. It’s more depressing than you may realize.
      I further object to thinking we can live without ecosystem services, and I think you likely agree but are just complaining about the underlying human stupidity that imagines we can, and are expressing it sarcastically. I think I get it.

      • Ida Lupine says:

        But you do think that human life is ‘more important’ than animal life – I think you have been a proponent of animal experimentation for the advancement of human medicine, and managing wildlife for human convenience? You’ve said that you would like to remove non-native and invasive species that you personally do not like in favor of those you do personally do like! Another person would believe differently, maybe they don’t like wolves and want to remove them from the landscape so that they can add sheep to the landscape for a ranch, right in the middle of wolf country. Just clear the landscape of the offending wildlife so that they can do whatever it is they want to. I personally believe that whatever we want does not matter, we have no right to change the landscape to suit ourselves, but need to work within it.

        So that must logically be the in-between step between man and god? Demi-god? How else could we describe how freely we take animal life for our own purposes, no matter how trivial, no matter what the suffering? If you ask someone, or read a cross-section of comments on animal-related topics, you will find people who say ‘people are more important’ than animals, so for example, getting rid of sharks is the right thing to do.

        I don’t think you have to be an atheist to feel that you are a god, but in general, we do think mankind’s achievements are superior to any other on earth. We tend to minimize any of our less than moral behaviors and exalt all of our achievements.

        I’m more of a questioner, but I will say that if I thought mankind is all there is, I’d be extremely disappointed. I hope there’s more, and I need a spiritual sense. The modern-day creative interpretation of atheistic spirituality ‘finding your own personal bliss’ is just more human selfish rationalization.

        • rork says:

          When I kill invasive plants or animals it is usually at the request of state biologists and is always intended to save rare or even endangered native animals and plants. It is in favor of “nature”. Please weigh deaths of individual (invasives) against extinctions of species, like of Kirtland’s warbler or Mitchell’s Satyr. This alteration of the landscape I call stewardship, and it’s not merely whimsical.
          At work, we cause mice to die that would never have existed had we not caused them to exist, and they have good care (they are 100-1000$ mice), and far longer lives than wild mice on average. Perhaps that I’ve seen scores of human kids who’ve died of cancers (and treated with horrible drugs) make my views different, I’ll grant.
          In either case I’m not sure belief in afterlife or deities would really help me decide what is ethical, since I figure what religion I might have wouldn’t be so simple as to hand me an answer to such complicated questions. That is, most people are in the same boat, trying to puzzle out their ethics. ALso, though it’s argument from popularity, neither view is lunatic fringe. Maybe your’s are. If you think atheists are worse on environmental or biologic-ethical issues, point me to some data, rather than “personal bliss” straw men of your own construction.
          Grizzlies are worth way more than people. The only debate might be how much more, and what actions we take need that to be costed out. I’m willing to sacrifice human welfare and lives (at this time) to better protect some of our rarer species.

          • Ida Lupine says:

            No I don’t think that at all about atheists, there are some very serious, humble non-believers. But I do get the impression that it can be a little faddish, for some, just like vegetarianism.

            Testing on animals has morphed into an entitlement that extends all the way to household cleaning products and masacara, which aren’t matters of life and death.

            I just think we have become too free with taking the lives of other animals for ourselves – and any testing, if absolutely necessary, ought to be done for the most life threatening of diseases, not dirty windows and pale eyelashes, or taking baby animals away from their mothers ‘to see what happens’.

            • Ida Lupine says:

              If I can, I’ll try to show some data. But for me it used to be either you believed or you didn’t, which is fine by me. The last time I looked there was an entire a la carte menu of atheist beliefs. Actually, I’m rather grateful to one non-believer I talked with who knows more about religion than I do, and he told me exactly what my crazy belief system is – omnitheism! And I’ve been proven wrong about atheists too. It may be the opium of the masses, but I need spirituality. 🙂

              I guess the point I am making is that religion doesn’t seem to make a difference in ethics or lack thereof. Wars have been fought for resources and land also, not just beliefs. As I said in one of my (numerous) posts, it’s something about our human ‘nature’.

          • MJ says:

            Rork, This is why compassionate conservation is so important, are we helping when we assume the role of nature?

            LINK to paper ~

            • MAD says:

              That was a great example in the article about using the Maremma sheepdogs to protect the Penguin colony. But of course, livestock owners will say this concept could never be adapted to their situations.

              So, I’m considering opening up a car dealership. I’m not going to put up any fencing or barriers around my car lot. I’m going to leave the doors opened and the keys in the ignition of all the cars. Then I’ll put a sign on the windshields, “C’mon in anytime for a testdrive, the keys are already in it!”

              And then when those non-native Canadian thieves steal my cars (because you know those Canadian thieves are more voracious than our local Montana thieves), I’m going to complain to the Police that they didn’t protect my cars, and scream for reimbursement.

              • Yvette says:

                Hey MAD, no worries since the feds will reimburse you for your stolen cars. Then the state will go kill a bunch of known thieves. It doesn’t matter whether they get the thief that stole your car. A thief is a thief ya know.

              • Linda Horn says:

                Burros can be used to protect livestock as well. Those taken from the wild frequents make good guards, because of their exposure to predators. If you know someone who wants guard burros (there should always be at least two), please ask them to consider adopting from the BLM. Btw, burros and mules aren’t stubborn. They just think about things before proceeding.

                “But burros are not only good pack animals. They can also help calm and control nervous horses and guard sheep and goats on farms. Robin Rivello works with the New Jersey chapter of the American Mustang and Burro Association. She says burros have protected farm animals even against bears.


            • Linda Horn says:

              There are a number of breeds who protect livestock from predators. For instance, Great Pyrenees protect sheep and are often raised with them from the time they’re pups.


            • rork says:

              “there are limits to the ability to predict the outcomes of human intervention in ecosystems” is what I think the main point actually is.
              Saint Aldo taught us that. 1933. I don’t even think compassion is required, and I think it a weak argument, one I never want to use even if I feel it myself, because it can completely fail on some people, whereas long-term self-interest is more sure to convince. Most biologists provisionally accept coyote, despite their not being historically present in MI. The calculations on whether that’s smart or not are complicated.

              • rork says:

                Hmm, that might sound like I never want to argue for using more humane methods if you are going to kill things, and that’s not true.

              • Immer Treue says:

                “Nature” abhors a vacuum. Coyotes move in.

                • Barb Rupers says:

                  I look forward to the rare day when I see a coyote in the yard; usually about 6 times a year. A treat this morning with two of them leisurely moving around the perimeter of the house area in tall. grass.

              • Louise Kane says:

                but changing the mindset and evolving past value equated to self interest is important, no?

                Problems with relying only on self term interest arguments to preserve or conserve is that there is no way to expand the discussion (no progressive evolution), those that value compassion are not included and this rationale supports valuation of things under the umbrella of value to humans and how can that be quantified.

    • MJ says:

      That is an important question, can we live without nature if we develop science enough? Or will we lose that contest

      Medicine seems to be pointing to no, our greatest causes of disease are related to replacing nature with man-made industry and “unnatural” choices. We understand superficial principles in how nature works as we try to replicate it, as we choose industry over preservation of natural resources.

      This leads to questions about religion, the original sin was our knowledge of good and evil. There is growing medical practice that works on the premise that we have to work with nature because we can’t understand all of her subtleties.. (eg. the number of neurotransmitters that we can identify are a small fraction of what we estimate exist, so we need to come back to healthy lifestyles to have healthy regulation)

  10. Kathleen says:

    Humans are primates in the Animal Kingdom, right? We share about 99% of our DNA with chimpanzees–not sure if anyone would argue that chimps aren’t part of nature. And just like chimps (and birds and insects) we depend on nature’s ecosystem services (gawd I hate that term!) to survive. One could argue that definitions of nature that exclude humans are meaningless given the fact that definitions are written by, ahem, humans who, more often than not, have an exceptionalism complex and who can come up with self-serving, hubristic terms like “ecosystem services” and “renewable resources” when referring to other sentient animals because, after all, it’s all about us.

    You know that saying, “history is written by the winners” and so we get the winners’ version–which isn’t necessarily entirely accurate…well, maybe that also goes for definitions of ‘nature’ written by humans.

    As an aside, having mentioned chimps, the New York County Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a first-of-its-kind hearing in the “Hercules and Leo” chimpanzee rights case filed by the Nonhuman Rights Project.

    • Ida Lupine says:

      +1! Yay for the Non-Human Rights Project!

    • Kirk Robinson says:

      In my opinion, chimpanzees are part of nature in the very same sense that human beings and earthquakes are part of nature – in the sense that everything is part of nature.

      However, the term ‘nature’ used in this comprehensive way, as Ralph and J.B. rightly note, includes everything and is for that reason uninformative. It’s like saying “Everything is something,” which is a tautology and is devoid of cognitive significance.

      However, as Ralph has also rightly pointed out (in my opinion), there is another common use of the terms ‘natural’ and ‘nature’ that has for contrast the terms ‘artificial’ and ‘artifact’, which apply to things that human beings make – artifacts such as violins, herbicides, and hydrogen bombs.

      Are arrowheads natural or artificial? How about nuclear weapons? I would say that they are both equally unnatural in the sense of being artificial. How about a bower bird’s nest? Natural. – Though one could invent another term to cover such things as bird nests and beaver dams and the like so that we don’t lump them in the same category with animal tracks.

      Natural languages strike me as a unique and interesting case, probably best thought of as natural, rather on a par with bird nests and the like, as opposed to the artificial languages that we purposely construct. Similarly for natural versus artificial “intelligence”. As a passing observation, I think this difference is fundamentally one of kind, not of degree. I think it has to do with what philosophers call intentionality.

      Some of the most prominent anthropoceniacs make the elementary logical blunder of taking the comprehensive sense of ‘natural’ to be somehow logically more basic than the more restricted sense that contrasts with ‘artificial’, such that even nuclear devices are, as a matter of fact, just as natural as anything else – and therefore (so they conclude) not in any way contrary to or adverse to nature. Here is a quote from anthropoceniacs Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, founders of the Break Through Institute (I am quoting from something I wrote, so I’ll forgo the actual references):
      “. . . our technologies have always been perfectly natural. Our animal skins, our fire, our farms, our windmills, our nuclear plants, and our solar panels – all 100 percent natural, drawn, as they are, from the raw materials of the Earth” (Nordhaus and Shellenberger, 2012). Also: “The politics we propose breaks with several widely accepted, largely unconscious distinctions, such as those between humans and nature . . ” (Nordhaus and Shellenberger, 2008, page 15).

      • Ralph Maughan says:

        Thank you, Kirk Robinson. You are part of minority who understood what I wrote.

        The type of argument made by Nordhaus and Shellenberger is exactly the use of the word and concept “nature” I was saying must result in confusion and could be the result of deliberate manipulation of language.

        I sometimes think the relationship between humans and the not-human-modified or influenced rest of the universe that we have named “nature” might be misconceived (think of the implications of quantum mechanics), but if in some way the separation of “man and nature” is not a useful way of thinking, then the word “nature” should be abandoned for some uses. A new word should be used.

        However, the idea that human technology is natural (Nordhaus and Shellenberger) is in exactly the same category as the square circle and 5 = 2.

  11. Immer Treue says:

    Sure man is part of nature, but man has tried to take the “natural” out of the nature. Ashes to ashes dust to dust have turned into steel and concrete sarcophagi. We are the first species to turn upon ourselves for the belief in abstract, supernatural deities… My god is better than your god, pretty damn unnatural.

    • Nancy says:

      Posted this awhile back, worth posting again for those that might of missed it 🙂

      • Immer Treue says:

        “How curious,” said the lemming. “The one thing I don’t understand is why you human beings don’t.”

      • Barb Rupers says:

        I missed it before. Thanks

        Seems like a more consederate way to go than wars, famines, and disease.

      • MAD says:

        I have to be honest – I absolutely HATE when people post stuff that perpetuates the stupid, ignorant myth of lemmings marching off into the sea, throwing themselves off the cliff into oblivion.

        Look up the history of that bogus Disney fable. It’s pathetic and quite sad that anyone would think animals would do such a thing.

        • Immer Treue says:

          To be honest… Thurber wrote this little piece in 1941, and the knowledgeable reader most likely understands lemmings don’t perform this act … Yet one might also “pick” on lemmings can’t talk…

          Whether one looks at it as metaphor or not is up to the reader, and how informed the reader might be.

          The whole thread on are humans part of nature invites metaphor and philosophy.

          Henry Beston

          “For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”

    • Barb Rupers says:

      Good point, Immer.

  12. Yvette says:

    Thought provoking essay and I’ve thought about it off and on all day. The first time I read it I found it perplexing that anyone would question whether we are part of nature or not. How odd and foreign. How can we not be? We are a part of this earthly world. I thought the question was one that can’t be fully discussed without a spiritual context addressed. I read it again. I think it is brilliant that you began with one question: “Is this a question for science?” Perhaps, but if so, only partially. It can’t be answered without a philosophical and spiritual component and that means we will never have a definitive answer.

    I’d ask, what happens to the physical body when we die? We deteriorate or we become someone’s meal depending on circumstances. That is being part of nature. We are one species of this natural world.

    A quote from Chief Dan George:

    One thing to remember is to talk to the animals. If you do, they will talk back to you. But if you don’t talk to the animals, they won’t talk back to you, then you won’t understand, and when you don’t understand you will fear, and when you fear you will destroy the animals, and if you destroy the animals, you will destroy yourself.

  13. Scott says:

    I believe to understand the context of this debate you need to go back to the source.

    “The first duty of the agriculturalist must always be to understand that he is part of nature and can not escape from his environment.” – Sir Albert Howard

    Now what Sir Howard was getting at is this:
    Humans can be a benefit to natural ecosystems or destructive to natural ecosystems. Yet in the end, that decision will come back to either benefit or harm human society. We can’t just sit in our cozy houses and pretend humans are immune to worldwide destruction of biomes. We are part of nature and the degree to which we harm nature, we harm ourselves.

    • Ralph Maughan says:


      He could make the same argument without saying that we are part of nature. By definition we aren’t. He could say instead that our ill effects on the natural systems of the Earth will kill us.

      • Scott says:

        Right, he could have said that, but he didn’t. The reason being is that mankind is not necessarily destructive to natural ecosystems. Often we are, but it is a choice. The change in perspective opens the possibility for positive interaction with nature, of which we are a part and inextricably linked, for good or for bad.

        • Nancy says:

          “The reason being is that mankind is not necessarily destructive to natural ecosystems. Often we are, but it is a choice”

          Love it when the “choice card” is flipped out there so carelessly.

          Curious Scott, where do you live?

          Sensing its somewhere out here in a western state, a place that was “modified” over a century ago by our species, when we moved west and started laying claims to lands that were actually, already claimed (and been settled) by a host of other species, for a few centuries.

          A good read:

          For too long, the economy, in too many western states, has been defined by its expendable “natural” resources, which translate to (unfortunately) at the expense of other species.

          • Scott says:

            Actually Nancy I do live here out West. Oklahoma to be precise. There isn’t a day I go out that I am not reminded of the huge ecological harm that turned this once beautiful land into a “dust bowl”. Damages that our local ecosystems have still not recovered from.

            You are wrong though about me throwing the “choice” card carelessly. Quite the opposite. My entire life is dedicated to the concept of “the good steward” and I am personally involved in ways to regenerate healthy ecosystems. Particularly starting with soil health, which is the foundation on which all terrestrial ecosystem rest. I made my choice, and it was carefully considered.

  14. Mareks Vilkins says:

    Q: If a moral and rational being from outer space was looking at all that you are describing do you think they would conclude that it is insane and immoral?

    NC: I think you have to distinguish between individual and institutional insanity, and stupidity for that matter. The individuals involved may be perfectly sane, but the institutional structure in which they are operating is insane. That is a fact. Institutional stupidity is much harder to get rid of than individual stupidity. And we are trapped in it. And in fact, we are now in a lethal trap. If we don’t get out of it soon, we will be gone.


May 2015


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey