My views and ethics of land use are a mix between anthropocentric preservation and biodiversity. I strongly believe that we are a selfish species and will only take steps towards saving nature for our own benefit. I do not mean this in a demeaning way since I want to save nature for my own use as well. I love being out in nature and think that it is a wonderful way to spend time with family or alone. Because my mind is scientifically driven, I appreciate and want to preserve nature for the advancements that we can make by studying it and the organisms that reside in it. These organisms have the ability of helping us create cures and treatments that can lead to a more comfortable life. Nature also has a rejuvenating power that is not found anywhere else. Being that I am not the athletic type, I personally love the healing power that the wilderness has on the soul. I feel that since we originated in nature, we will always have an irresistible pull towards nature. Throughout this piece I hope to persuade others to take a stance on nature and how it should be used. I hope to convey my thoughts and how I believe that we should go about using it in a sensible way so that we might also be able to preserve it.
The uses and misuses of wilderness and its biodiversity has been a controversial topic for many years. It is something that many disagree on and even worse is something that some don’t even consider or have a position on. Most of these stances take an anthropocentric stance though the extremity of this view varies. Some believe that the wilderness is there to be taken and used not only for man’s needs but for their whimsical desires as well. This set of ethics is known as the “Frontier Ethic” and states that the land is there to be conquered. Another view that has become more popular in recent history is the “Preservation and Conservation Ethic”. The Preservation and Conservation Ethic is a set of values that advocates that we must preserve the land and resources that we already have and use these resources sparingly. While the values of preservation and conservation may seem like they are strictly for nature’s well-being, most of the people that take this stance are trying to save nature so that they may continue to enjoy it and its wonders. There is only one set of ethics that focuses on saving nature for nature and that is the “Biodiversity and Ecological Ethic”. This ethic states that we must save wilderness so that we may save the multitudes of organisms that it possesses and the ecosystems that these organisms inhabit. (Bergstrom, Bowker, Cordell) All views must be analyzed thoroughly before any steps can be taken towards a solution or compromise. My own views are found at a crossroads between the Preservation and Conservation Ethic and the Biodiversity and Ecological Ethic with an anthropocentric twist. I strongly believe that the wilderness and its organisms must be preserved for the advancements of science and the health of humanity both physically and spiritually.
Many good things can come out of preserving wilderness and all of its creatures. I firmly believe we must preserve biodiversity so that we may continue to discover new organisms and research them. This belief may stem from the fact that I am a biology major or that my intended career is in medicine but I am thoroughly convinced that without biodiversity in wilderness we would be scientifically lost. Our advancements in the natural sciences would be limited to discovering things that we had in the past and trying to expand on the little we had left. In E. O. Wilson’s “Biodiversity”, Wilson examines the current state of biodiversity and the loss of it. During his analysis of the diminishing biodiversity and its causes, Wilson brings to light that there are three major circumstances that we must deal with today that has never before been an issue. These circumstances include the explosive growth of the human race and the directly proportional depletion of nature and mass extinction of organisms due to the loss of their habitats. (Wilson, 3) Considering these conditions the question at hand is what do we do? To answer simply, we must take strides to preserve what we have not already ruined or killed by leaving as little of an impact as possible on the environment surrounding nature. We must identify the most destructive things that we do to nature and analyze them so that we can find a solution. The beauty of this mission is that it is possible to make big changes in this area by doing small things if everybody participates. An example of how this movement has already been put into effect on some levels is the use of reusable filtered water bottles and recycling instead of throwing away plastic bottles. This may not seem like a large contribution but in the grand scheme of things thousands of tons of plastic will be kept out of the environment every year just by making this simple change. In 2011 alone 2.6 billion pounds of plastic was kept out of landfills through recycling. (Plasticsrecycling.org) By keeping this plastic out of the environment there is less direct litter and pollution in the natural habitats of organisms which keeps them safer. By reusing the plastic that is recycled, we are also able to reduce the amount of energy and resources that we use when making completely new plastic items. Reducing the amount of energy and resources that go into making new items also leads to the reduction of waste that is produced. Recycling of plastic is only one example of how one small change can spark a domino effect and lead to something amazing if we all participate.
If larger steps were taken to keep the pollution out of the environment then we would have the possibility of saving thousands of organisms that we may not have even known existed from extinction. According to biologists there are still millions of organisms that have yet to be identified and described. It is speculated that thousands of these organisms will go extinct before they are discovered because of our recent extinction crisis. It has even been said that dozens of species go extinct daily. This crisis has been named by many as the Earth’s sixth mass extinction and is accredited to human influence on the environment. If we do not take action to preserve the wilderness and its biodiversity, we may lose some of the most biologically and medicinally important organisms that are found on this earth. Imagine if the cure to cancer was found within a plant that went extinct before we discovered it. What if the fungus found in antibiotics today had gone extinct before its uses had been discovered? We would have had to find another way to treat many bacterial infections that were proving to be fatal. It is true that we might have found an alternative method of curing but there also the disastrous possibility that we may not have. The concerns have been raised that if we try to discover and research organisms then we could cause their extinction. This concern is a valid one and one that has solid ground to stand on given our history with over harvesting. An example of this is the recent evidence of the endangerment of a medicinal tree found in the Himalayas that is used in chemotherapy treatment. (Gersmann, Aldred) While we all know that the research and use of these organisms are to help our species live more comfortably, we could unintentionally be destroying nature as well. The truth of the matter is that by overusing something, even if it is for research, we could cause a shift in the organisms cycle that it may not recover from, which could result in extinction. We can avoid this unfortunate turn of events however, by studying the organism as much as possible in its natural habitat. We must also limit the amount of the organism that we take from the environment to research so that we can preserve the organism and still do research on it. We may even find that it is possible to create an environment that the organism can live in and cultivate it like we have been able to do with the fungus used for antibiotics.
In my personal experience most people express thoughts of concern with the need to preserve an organism but I have also had some ask how we know that we are supposed to preserve organisms. How do we know that these organisms weren’t supposed to go extinct in order for the biological world to continue to evolve and progress? My response to this question is that if the extinction is meant to occur then it will eventually happen no matter what we do, just at a prolonged rate. If we are only prolonging the process then we are not offsetting the balance any more than if we were to speed up the process by continuing to pollute and destroy the organisms habitats. I believe that it is much more harmful to the organism and its environment to take it away before it is meant to go extinct than it is to prolong its life. If we make an organism go extinct before its time then the ecosystem may not be equipped to handle such a large and rapid change and could collapse. It is in the best interest of the organism, the ecosystem that it is a part of, and potentially for us as humans if we do our best to save all organisms from extinction.
Strict Biodiversity and Ecological Ethic believers say that in order to truly preserve wilderness we must remove ourselves from it completely. They argue that we should not use the wilderness for such whimsical purposes as hiking a mountain trail but I would like to ask why not if we can control or ideally eliminate the pollution that accompanies these recreational uses. I do not believe that we need to go to the extremity of completely removing ourselves from the wilderness to keep it safe as long as we do our best to not leave a trace of our endeavors. The wilderness provides places that groups can gather and enjoy their time together and places where somebody can go to find solitude. It provides many choices for recreational uses such as hiking, camping, and swimming. No matter how selfish it may seem to want to preserve something for my own enjoyment, I believe that many can relate because they themselves have used and would like to continue using nature for recreation.
For each adventure I have taken into the wilderness I have been presented with challenges from the environment surrounding me. These challenges have been both physical and mental and have helped me grow as a person. After adventures of hiking on icy trails up a mountain and jumping from car sized rock to car sized rock I have grown to doubt myself and my abilities less with each challenge that I have conquered. I know that no matter what obstacle may be in front of me I can assess the situation, adapt to environment around me, strive to achieve my goal and ultimately overcome anything that I may face. This strategy is worded as adapt to the environment instead of destroy or manipulate the environment even though this would prove to be much easier and instantly gratifying. The concept of adapting to our environment is on that applies to all aspects of life whether it is problems with work, or taking precautions for being out in the wilderness.
Although many use nature and wilderness for its physically rejuvenating aspects, others use it for its healing effects on the psyche or soul. While some may only see this at face value, I believe that because we are natural organisms that originated in the wilderness, we feel an irresistible pull towards it. Wallace Stegnor explains the idea in his “Wilderness Letter” that nature is not meant to be used for recreation and is definitely not meant to be destroyed at our desire but should be used as an “intangible and spiritual resource”. (Stegnor) Even though I have already stated that I do not agree that wilderness should not be used for recreation, I do agree whole-heartedly with Stegnor’s view of nature as a spiritual resource. Many people, including myself, need the wilderness to help them identify with their spiritual self. I use my time and experiences in nature as a way to reach into myself and find peace. Without it I would drown in my own thoughts and emotions. No matter how small the piece of nature is, I find myself automatically feeling a sense of relief as soon as I enter it. I am able to let go of some of the stressors of everyday life for a short and glorious amount of time. Whether I am sitting on a bank of a small pond or on the peak of a mountain, I am enjoying each moment of blissful mental and emotional relaxation. Throughout my life up to this day, if I am ever conflicted about something, no matter how petty it may seem, I will go outside and let my mind settle from the rage of thoughts swirling in my head before I try to sort through them.
A reading that caught my attention when thinking about how nature helps shapes our mind and soul is Aldo Leopold’s “Thinking Like a Mountain”. He describes his experience watching a wolf die and realizing that the wolf has an important duty to fulfill in this world that seems to only be known to him and the mountain that has guarded his ancestors for so long. (Leopold, 130) This shows how we are all interconnected and must remain that way as peacefully as possible. The concept of coexistence is one that can only be truly accepted and lived if we are at peace with ourselves and with others. Wilderness holds the ultimate truth that we have tried to find since the beginning of our time. It shows us how to obtain this truth with everything that it does and sometimes with such exaggeration that we must be blind to miss it. Each experience that we have with nature gives us examples of a harmonic way of life if we take the time look and listen to it. If we watch and absorb what is surrounding us we can find the key to this bliss. It is not enough to see these examples though. We must learn from them and learn to think like a mountain so that we may then apply these values to our everyday lives and to how we interact with nature.
For many, the spiritual effects of the wilderness do not correlate with a religion but for others (again including myself) their spiritual self and their religious view coincide with one another. Many of these religious people need the wilderness to find refuge from the conflicts and temptations of everyday life. It is hard to say that we would not be lost within our human self without this safe haven. For me and my scientific mind, nature is the single thing that can challenge my beliefs and reinforce them at the same time. Research and studies make so many compelling arguments with facts that challenge my religious beliefs that it sometimes takes an awe inspiring site to shake my science driven brain back to my true convictions. These sites have often been so amazing that I just have to stop what I am doing and gaze at it. One of my newfound favorite examples of this is the Hebron Rock Colony in the mountains of North Carolina. It is a colony of rocks ranging from the size of a smart car to the size of a tractor trailer. They are arranged up a river bed so that water flows through them so beautifully that I had to sit and stare for a few minutes in wonder before I could begin making my trek up. It is sites like this one that reinforce my convictions so strongly and with such a bold statement that I am bewildered at how I could have ever questioned them. Ansel Adams eloquently describes a similar experience that he had in a letter to his friend saying “I saw a big thundercloud move down over Half Dome, and it was so big and clear and brilliant that it made me see many things that were drifting around inside of me…” He continues on down his letter about how nature has helped him find truth in areas that he may not have discovered otherwise. (Adams)
As you may see, I strongly believe that we have much to learn from the wilderness and that we must take action to preserve it so that we do not lose nature and all that it has to offer us. Even if we cannot find it within ourselves to preserve nature for its own well-being, selfish as it may be, we must find a way to save it for our own benefit. We need the wilderness and all of the biodiversity that it holds to advance in medicine and treat those in need. We need it to show us its wonders so that we may grow as individuals physically, mentally, and spiritually. Without nature we will surely be lost to a technologically centered world that would destroy us spiritually and would eventually result in our total down fall. In a letter about the wilderness idea Wallace Stegnor states, “We need wilderness preserved–as much of it as is still left, and as many kinds–because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed.” (Stegnor) I cannot agree with him any more than if he said that the sky is blue. We, as the human species, have grown out of nature and have molded ourselves and our values from it. Nature has been so kind as to have taken care of us for so long that it is only fair and long overdue that we begin to return the favor.
Thinking Like a Mountain: Aldo Leopold and the Evolution of an Ecological Attitude toward Deer, Wolves, and Forests. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994.
Adams, Ansel. “Ansel Adams on Love, Friendship, and Art.” Letter to Cedric Wright. 10 June 1937. MS. N.p.
Stegnor, Wallace. “The Wilderness Letter.” The Wilderness Society. N.p., 11 Apr. 2008. Web. 4 May 2013. .
Wilson, E. O. “Biodiversity.” National Academy of Sciences. The National Academic Press, 1988. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.
“THE EXTINCTION CRISIS.” The Extinction Crisis. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2013. .
Aldo Leopold “Wilderness”
“2011 National Post-Consumer Plastics Bottle Recycling Report Released.” 2011 National Post-Consumer Plastics Bottle Recycling Report Released. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 May 2013. .
Gersmann, Hanna, and Jessica Aldred. “Medicinal Tree Used in Chemotherapy Drug Faces Extinction.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 11 Sept. 2011. Web. 05 May 2013. .
Rome, Adam. “Conservation, Preservation, and Environmental Activism: A Survey of the Historical Literature.” Nps.gov. N.p., 16 Jan. 2003. Web. 3 May 2013. .
Cordell, H. Ken., John C. Bergstrom, and James M. Bowker. “Chapter 4-An Organizing Framework for Wilderness Values.” The Multiple Values of Wilderness. State College, PA: Venture Pub., 2005. N. pag. Print.