Monday, April 7, 2008

Should people interact with nature? Or should we just let it be?

Oftentimes this is a sincere question from people. Many people nowdays limit their outdoor activities to recreation and more passive pursuits. As our population has become urbanized or, worse yet, suburbanized, we lose a connection to the wildness of outside. With no consistent interaction with the wild, people become less and less familiar with the realities of nature, and their impacts upon it. Once luxuries, current physical accommodations like air conditioning and water are now commonplace, and people spend less and less time in variable conditions. Consider the typical day in the life of an American:

Wake up in a comfortable bed, under covers, in a room set to 65-72 degrees. Get up, walk to the water dispensor, drink cold water. Set the coffee pot, and soon have nice, warm coffee. Put some bread in a toaster. Get ready for the day of work or at school by showering in water set at 95-100, nice and warm. Get dressed, open the door to your garage (which may be 30-70 degrees or so), get in your car, turn on the heater, and soon, you are on your way to work. Park, jump out and walk inside to your climate-controlled workplace, typically set to 68-72 degrees, with air filters.

The average person must spend a good 2 minutes, tops, in a typical workday, actually outside under the sun, or in the rain, or feeling the wind. Any variation in temperature of ten to fifteen degrees, and we scurry inside. It is easy to feel completely separate from "nature".

No wonder people can feel as if the question above is a legitimate one. Alas, it is not: The word "should" implies a choice, and we have none. We, as physical beings, always must interact with nature. We just, unfortunately, don't always have to consider it.

Take the above typical day. Where is this house where the person awakes? What lives under it? In the same room as the person? Would the outside temperature be the same without the asphalt roads and rooftops? Where does this person's water originate? Was it shipped? Piped? Sucked out of the ground directly below the house? How does this impact local flora and fauna? The neighbor's water? And where does the shower water go? Does the soap impact? What of the waterfowl living in the spray fields where the water goes to be treated? What traveled across the road, or fed on last night's roadkill? How many bugs did the car kill? Would these have fed other wildlife? What is the workplace standing on? Where was its energy produced? The questions are nearly infinite.

Should implies a choice. We always interact with nature, as we are a part of nature, as we are a grand and powerful aspect of nature. We cannot abstain from our interactions, therefore we have no ethical obligation to not interact. We cannot "leave no trace."

So now we are faced with an ethical dilemma. Our actions have consequences; how do we therefore act most appropriately toward nature? We are never blameless, and so we are left with a mature responsibility, not a doe-eyed innocence, nor romanticism. We don't even necessarily have to minimize impact. Impact is not in and of itself a bad thing. But, what types of impacts are best?

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