By: Hayley Prihoda, Dunn’s Woods Project Intern
I recently read the article “Earth Stewardship: science for action to sustain the human-earth system” by F. Stuart Chapin and partners.” I naïvely assumed the article’s primary aim was to call humans into action; to raise awareness about the injustices we have committed against the planet in the past and suggest ways to remedy the situation in the future. I quickly realized I was wrong. The last line of the article’s abstract reads, “The goal of Earth Stewardship is not to protect nature from people; rather it is to protect nature for human welfare.” I did not believe what I had read and proceeded to re-read the line multiple times, the words “for human welfare” ringing in my head. Having questioned and examined all the possible implications of this statement, I came to the conclusion that the article meant exactly as it had said: the planet is only worth saving when it suits human needs.
How is it that a scientific journal, Ecosphere in this case, could publish an article that does not give any value to the planet simply for being a planet? Are not scientists the individuals esteemed for understanding the value and intricacies of all living organisms? If scientists, those that study the complexities and miracles of the living world, do not appreciate nature for its intrinsic value, will anyone?
Those of us who are interested in raising awareness about the limited nature of Earth’s resources often find ourselves asking these complicated questions, with one over-arching goal in mind – how can we get people to help change their actions and divert the planet from the collision course it is now on? Using this frame of mind, I began to wonder whether the scientists who wrote the “Earth Stewardship” article were of the mindset they presented, or if they felt this stance was the best way to articulate their agenda in a way that would inspire action by a larger audience. Possibly the authors do appreciate nature for its eternal value, but understand that this stance will not attract the general public. They chose to target the public by playing on the human tendency to act only when a situation seems to particularly threaten or impact one’s lifestyle. After reaching this conclusion, I re-read a few articles on similar topics to examine the method they used to make their material relatable.
In Bringing Nature Home: How to Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, author Douglas W. Tallamy attempts to encourage his audience towards sustainable efforts by targeting their particular interests. His book is pointedly directed towards individuals that are passionate about gardening. Throughout the book, he offers simple solutions on how to maintain the visual appeal of one’s garden while helping to restore it to a more natural habitat. By writing his book in this way, gardeners feel encouraged rather than attacked. While Tallamy may have larger goals then he presented, he chose to voice his opinions in a simple and non-threatening manner in order to target the reader.
The New Economy of Nature: A Quest to Make Conservation Profitable, by Gretchen C. Daily and Katherine Ellison, focuses on the economic profits in environmentally friendly business decisions. Their book demonstrates the long-term value of sustainable decision-making, using examples such as New York’s natural water filtration system. In this case, economic interests are used as the catalyst to encourage sustainable actions.
Each of these authors used a different method to direct their reader’s towards making more sustainable decisions. Whether they focused on individual interests, human selfishness, or economic profits, the end goal was essentially the same. As an active supporter of sustainable decision-making, I think this is one of the most difficult topics to understand. People will not change their actions simply because nature is in danger. While I may be distressed about the loss of biodiversity on the planet and the significant decreases in natural green space, nature’s intrinsic value is not enough to motivate large audiences. I think that it is important to realize that what an author is saying may not be what they believe. If changes are to be made, one of the primary objectives of environmental projects needs to be identifying new ways to build an audience.
Last thoughts – I really wish the message from the song “Colors of the Wind” in Disney’s Pocahontas was enough to encourage action. The song states,
“Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest,
Come taste the sun-sweet berries of the Earth,
Come roll in all the riches all around you,
And for once never wonder what they’re worth.”