Learning from Nature


When human beings consider themselves to be the masters of the earth and have dominion over it they are more likely to abuse it and exploit it.


Much of our conventional education is learning “about” nature. We study nature as something separate from us and as an object which is useful to us. We seem to consider ourselves either masters of nature or, if more enlightened, then stewards of nature. We study nature because we wish to know our servant or our protectorate in order to make best use of nature for a prolonged period.


When human beings consider themselves to be the masters of the earth and have dominion over it they are more likely to abuse it and exploit it. Therefore, the environmentalists take a step in the right direction by considering themselves as stewards of the earth. Stewardship entails responsibility. In such a view of the environment people are more likely to conserve and care. However, both these views are anthropocentric. From both these points of view human beings are a superior species, having a higher status. Norwegian philosopher Arnie Naess has named such a human centred relationship with the natural environment as “shallow ecology”.


According to Arne Naess human beings are a part and parcel of the natural world as any other species.


No doubt human beings have their own outstanding faculties and qualities. They have their own highly developed senses, intelligence, consciousness and ability to communicate. But then other species too have their own particular, specific and unique qualities, which humans do not possess. Each and every species upon this earth, humans and other than humans, contribute in their own specific way, for the totality of existence, which evolves, unfolds and maintains its continuity. Therefore, all life, human and non-human, irrespective of their particular qualification, have intrinsic value. As all humans are born equal, irrespective of their class, status, education and wealth and as they have the right to life irrespective of their usefulness to society; in the same way all species have intrinsic value irrespective of their usefulness to humankind. Arnie Naess calls it “deep ecology”.


From this perspective human beings are not masters or stewards of nature but they are friends of nature The word friendship can be used in two ways; firstly, we consider those whom we know, as friends because we are acquainted with them, we go out with them, we spend some time together and support each other in time of need. But then there is another meaning of friendship; when we feel unconditional empathy and offer our affection without expecting anything in return, then we are in a state of friendship. In this second meaning of the word friendship is a sense of mutuality and reciprocity. When we are able to identify ourselves with the other, without any sense of superiority or inferiority, then we create a condition of friendship. That was the vision of the founders of the environmental organisation Friends of the Earth…


Satish Kumar (Editor at Resurgence, Writer and Lecturer, on the Advisory Board of Our Future Planet)