What is 'Nature'

-- and what are the consequences?


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Words are complicated.
The more common they are, the more difficult.
LIFE, FREEDOM, LOVE, HAPPINESS
Everyone has their own definition and most people think others mean the same thing when they use the same word. So we are very prone to make mistakes
I will try to analyse the word 'Nature' in this section to see the consequences.

Click on the thumbnails to enlarge them.

Old texts, especially relating to economics and land surveys, often imply that there are two Natures, one is a resource-base for society to use and the other a willing recipient for the garbage society rejects (in the picture the square 'culture' represents everything we humans do). This is a double view of Nature. We can refer to them as Cupboard Nature and Garbage Heap Nature.

More recently, there has been an increasing awareness that the two Natures are actually the same. If you put something nasty (garbage) into a lake, the fish (resource) will die. Chop down the forest and you will no longer find blueberries. Nature is some sort of cupboard and garbage heap combined .
The most important thing with this view is that Nature is outside Culture.
This is a simple and easily intelligible view of nature, we all use it - often. But it is important to recognise the subconscious way we view Nature. Look at our use of language:
"On Sunday I will be going into nature to pick some mushrooms".
"My flat is close to nature."
The planner: "Nature is scarce in our municipality "

It is simple and intelligible. But systematically it is a nightmare. If you claim that Nature is outside Culture, then where is the border between Culture and Nature?

Is it outside the walls of the house?
Is it outside the asphalt and the concrete of the city?
Does Nature cease to exist when you put concrete on it?

Furthermore, however you define the border between Nature and Culture, Nature will sneak over that border.
We use the life-support services of Nature all the time, - the production of climate, maintenace of gas balance in the atmosphere, the production of food, the ability to remove waste. This makes it very hard to imagine that you are outside Nature.
Put a plastic bag over your head as a test!

Compare the 'Earth without life' and 'Earth with life' in the table!

If you want to be truly scientific you must abandon the dualist view that Nature exists outside Culture and adopt a view, universally accepted among indigenous tribal people (and some ecologists), that Culture is inside Nature.
And note, in passing, that the survival time span of 'primitive' cultures are far longer than our.

This view is often called 'deep ecology'. To me, it seems obvious.

The unitary view leads to a more straightforward model of our relationship to Nature, but it also implies constraints: If you think that Culture is contained within Nature, you must also accept that Culture is a subsystem to Nature. And a subsystem, dependent on a super-system, is necessarily subject to a set of rules.

On being useful

To illustrate the reasoning: A cell in our body is a subsystem to the body, and is dependent on the body.
All the time, it recieves services from the body that gives it opportunities for a good life. It receives services from the body necessary for its life. An ideal temperature is maintained (37 degrees), the acidity exactly what it needs (pH 7.4), it gets a supply of oxygen, and its waste products are removed.
Suppose that the cell starts to reflect on its position and wants to make an Agenda 21 for itself: Which strategy should I choose if I want my supersystem to go on delivering these services?
It finds that there are only three principally different ways of behaving towards the supersystem:

  1. It can have a negative impact on the production of life-supporting services. Result:

  2. It can have a neutral impact on the production of life-supporting services. Result:

  3. It can have a positive impact on the production of life-supporting services. Result:

The same is true for any group of organisms in an ecosystem or the ecosphere (the Earth). Any change that will increase the usefulness of an individual or a group of individuals to their supporting system will increase the chances of survival.
This could be translated into an evolutionary paradigm:

Only win-win solutions will have survival value.

Are there any examples of this that include humans? Yes, you can find it in many indigenous cultures. A good example is Ladakh. It is situated north of the Himalayans at a high altitude (4 000 - 5 000 meters). Its 'natural' climate is a cold desert because the mountains form a rain shadow.
But the people moving into that region a long time ago created, by irrigation and other means, a landscape that is more lush than the 'natural'. This gave them a good livelihood (until we, westerners, started to help them. They didn't have any money, the poor fellows...), see the book by Helena Norberg-Hodges

A description of Ladakh

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Updated:
2013-01-06