Jump to the following topics:
- What is ecology?
- Humans are part
of the environment.
for enhancing our experience of the environment.
What is ecology? It is a study of:
- The living things within our environment, along with the
inanimate forces (e.g., climate, geology) which affect those
- The relationships of things within our environment.
Ecologists examine the interactions among plants, animals, humans,
and the inanimate forces.
- The environment as a whole.
- Humans' activities within the environment: resource
management, pollution, populations, food supplies, and --
philosophically -- mankind's position and role in this
Humans are part
of the environment. In many ways, we are simply one species among
many. The Cartesian, anthropocentric view of the universe sees nature
as something to be fought and conquered and consumed; contrarily, the
standpoint of "deep ecology" is ecocentric, in which each member has
dignity and value in its own right. We are intimately related to and
interdependent with those other members not only through our constant
interactions, but also through our common heritage, whether we
believe that heritage to be one of evolution or divine creation (or a
combination of both, whereby evolution has been directed by divine
inspiration). We can learn to sense more than a dynamic
relationship to the other components of the environment; we
might intuit a common essence in the transcendental substance of
spirit. If we accept the value of other species in their own right,
we might be able to develop a relationship in which humanity can
develop its unique qualities, and fulfill its potential, without
disrupting the development of other life-forms. As humans, we base on
concept of uniqueness upon various foundations:
- Technology. However, most of our technology is an attempt to
compensate for our inadequacies; we are not the fastest,
strongest, or toughest species, so we have needed to develop
tools, weapons, and clothing simply to survive. In that sense,
technology might be a sign of our inferiority, not of our
superiority. Functionally, for example, a modern apartment
building is no better than a beaver's humble home of branches. And
who is to say whether a television set is more entertaining to
humans than a treetop is to a bird? Or whether our ability to
build a submarine indicates preeminence over a fish which can swim
underwater without technology?
- Language. We simply don't know how much communication is
happening among other species. Obviously, animals communicate
through sounds and behaviors. However, we cannot judge the
intricacy of their language, because we know little about it; when
we hear nothing but a "meow" or a "quack," other members of that
species are probably hearing subtleties which convey much data.
Communication might be occurring via intuition, or through a means
which we have not discovered (like the animals' radar and sonar
which we did not discover until the 20th century). Plants, too,
might be able communicate somewhat -- as indicated by George
Washington Carver, Luther Burbank, and people who have the type of
sixth sense which grants them a "green thumb"; the plants'
awareness is a type of communication, even if it is not an
- Intelligence. If intelligence is indicated by rational action,
humans can hardly claim it as one of their special qualities. My
definition of intelligence is "the capacity to process data," but
we don't even know what type of data is processed by
other species, nor how that data is processed by some type
of "thinking." We have selective standards of intelligent; just as
a person can be labeled "intelligent" if he or she is skilled in
math but weak in verbal skills (for example), we tend to judge
animals "unintelligent" if they are not skilled in human-like
mental operations while we might be discounting those animals'
unique non-human means of processing information. For
example, humans wield enough intelligence to be able to navigate
by reading a map, but some birds can navigate by "reading" the
- Introspection, religion, and philosophy. However, we do not
know the "inner life" of other species. Humans have developed
sophisticated religions, but the goal of those religions
is some type of intuitive, non-verbal connection to a greater
power; plants and animals might be experiencing that same type of
connection. Human religion is unique in its development of
religious concepts -- but that conceptualizing is the
element which leads to neurotic intellectualizing and religious
intolerance, and not necessarily to the spirituality which poets
have discerned in nature's harmony, vitality, and peacefulness
(although, of course, nature also exhibits violence, death, and
- Art. Although animals' behavior might be viewed as purely
utilitarian, we cannot know whether, for example, a beaver
believes that its dam is "beautiful." And when we listen to a bird
expressing itself in tones which are so delightful to human ears,
we might be correct in believing that its verbalizations are not
merely intended to attract a mate or assert territoriality; the
bird could truly be "singing" for pleasure.
- A sense of distinction. Perhaps crows or cockroaches believe
that they are a special species, thoroughly different from the
others, not an "animal" at all, and created by a god which gave
them authority over all other species. Or perhaps humanity is the
only species which sets itself apart -- in ignorance, and in
arrogance, and in fear of such realities as mortality, "animal
passion," and commonness.
for enhancing our experience of the environment.
- We can spend time in natural surroundings. Many people enjoy
activities such as hiking, camping, gardening, and bicycling.
Although hunters and fishers might be viewed as exploiters of
nature, many of them are zealous conservationists; some people use
hunting or fishing as a respectable excuse to go into the woods
when their real reason is to enjoy the contact with nature.
- We can have pets and plants in our home. They remind us that
we, too, are simple living creatures, despite our human concerns
of money, career, possessions, deadlines, and social position. We
realize that animals are not so different from us; they seem to
have exactly the same emotions and feelings (e.g., affection,
anger, loyalty, fear, boredom, jealousy, etc.); they think (with
skills such as problem-solving, learning, memory, and recognition
of human words); and they display most of the same behaviors
(e.g., eating, sleeping, fighting, mating, etc.). Our human lives
seem to be different only because we dwell so heavily on our
human-specific interests (e.g., working overtime when we could
instead be "playing" at home like our kitty).
- We can explore our body's integral role in the physical world.
While our thoughts are in another realm, our body is composed of
the same chemicals as those of the trees and the rocks; the atoms
themselves were forged in stars. When we breathe, we inhale
molecules which have been a part of other people's breaths, and
plant's respiration, and ancient campfires. We consume foods and
liquids; later, we release them back into the environment. And
when we die -- despite the metal casket which is supposed to
separate us eternally from the earth -- we will indeed return all
of our physical substance to the ground.
- We can develop a lifestyle which takes less from the
environment. We can recycle, and we can reduce our use of water,
electricity, gasoline, and other consumables. If we become
discouraged by a realization that our small contribution makes
little difference in the scope of the worldwide ecological crisis,
we can adopt the perspective that, at least, our actions express
and deepen our own love and affiliation to the earth regardless of
anyone else's actions.
- We can work for the environment. We can help with regard to
issues as acid rain, pollution (of the air, water, or soil), soil
conservation (i.e., reducing erosion), nuclear power plants (and
radioactive wastes), deforestation (of rain forests and other
woodlands), population control (through family planning and other
means), endangered species (of plants and animals), chemical
spraying, animal rights, global warming, land-use issues and
planning, alternative power sources (e.g., wind or solar power),
toxic wastes, ozone depletion, noise pollution, nuclear-weapons
issues (e.g., nuclear testing and disarmament) -- and local
problems such as the destruction of a nearby stream.
- We can discard any belief that our physical life is unholy. In
order to emphasize the value of the transcendental spirit, most
religions teach (explicitly or implicitly) that the physical world
is a distraction from "spiritual life," that it is tainted and
evil, that it is composed of obstacles and temptations, that is
merely an illusion. However, the concept of "the physical world as
illusion" means only that our regular perceptions (including those
of the physical senses) are not discerning the essence; the world
is still "real" as something to be loved and lived intimately.