What Actually Is Nature?

In addition to our mosaic courses, Global Climate Change and Global Environmental Challenges and Governance, I am taking an elective course, History of the Environment. This course takes us way back to the original hominids and the beginning of human interactions with the environment.

Contrary to popular belief, humans have been altering the Earth’s natural landscapes from centuries before the industrial revolution. If you feel bad about your environmental footprint, your ancestors are to blame. Our ancestors have been exploiting Earth’s resources since their existence, and yes that includes Native Americans. Even when humans aren’t transforming the land, natural occurrences and other organisms do. One of the debated topics in class is questioning What is nature? Is there such thing as “pristine” wilderness? Well, I hate to break it to you but there is no such thing as pristine wilderness, there are no places that remain untouched. Some people identify nature as a getaway from urban centers to the country or forests. However these “natural” places were created by humans. Most of the species that exist now did not exist before our time. Do you have a dog? Well, dogs did not always exist until humans selectively domesticated wolves. And that is just one example. The primitive hunter and gatherer societies caused the megafaunal extinction, and we will never get to meet any of the large species once served on a dinner plate…or rock. Since the discovery of fire, one of human’s greatest accomplishments, Earth’s landscapes have been forever transformed. Slash-and-burn methods, or fire-stick farming, have been a major part of human interaction with the land. The aboriginals in present day Australia were complete pyromaniacs and actually burned the land so intensely that today’s existing landscapes are a product of it. Some primitive civilizations exploited their land so badly it resulted in their own self-destruction.

So, the history of the environment has made me aware that the transformation of Earth’s landscapes is not at all a new phenomenon. Will history repeat itself? Is our present day society on its way to self-destruction?

As I now know nature is not defined as “pristine wilderness” I am still looking for a new definition. How would you define nature?


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