Two Paradigms Surrounding an Exceptional Tree

Humans are driven by the promise of power and success, and—in our society at least—these things come along with economic growth. Our desire to succeed sometimes blinds us to the consequences of our actions. In the case of big business and industry, these oversights typically come at the expense of the environment.

In the context of industry, sugar maples are prized for their sap. There are certain guidelines in place that protect the well-being of maple trees when they are tapped for their sap, although the trees’ health depends on tappers’ adherence to these guidelines. In the interest of profit, it can be tempting to tap a tree past its healthy bounds. But doing so exploits the tree, and jeopardizes its health.  The over-harvesting of sugar maples’ sap is one example of how humans think themselves “above the law” when it comes to our relationship with nature.

20151202_133248_resizedThis belief system, succinctly referred to as the Human Exceptionalism Paradigm (HEP), holds that nature is merely a pawn that we can manipulate however we see fit. HEP does not take into consideration the consequences that our human actions have on the environment; these side effects are not viewed as important, so long as we humans are able to use the resource to achieve our goals. When the only goal is to turn a profit, the sugar maples receive no thanks nor accolades for their work—industry simply does not have the time to offer such praise.

On Dickinson’s campus, no one is exploiting my sugar maple. The tree stands guard over the academic quad, and lives its life relatively undisturbed. The New Ecological Paradigm (NEP), which is sometimes thought of as the “opposite” of HEP, is a school of thought that treats humans’ and nature’s relationship as more interdependent; NEP recognizes the fact that nature is its own entity, and deserves our respect. If humans use nature as a resource, we must do so conscientiously and sparingly, showing gratitude for the resources and opportunities that nature provides to us. NEP, I feel, is the more common attitude on Dickinson’s campus. The majority of the student body seems to understand that their actions have an impact on their natural surroundings, and that nature’s resources are finite. My sugar maple has never had to—and will never have to—fear being exploited. On a college campus, the trees only receive love and adoring glances; people do not ask anything of my sugar maple, and in return it wears its joy as bright, vibrant leaves that shade the surrounding pathways.

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