Published:  12:02 AM, 05 June 2020

Some thoughts on World Environment Day 2020

Some thoughts on World Environment Day 2020
On 5 June world is celebrating the Environment Day. But this year day is different from other years because of a pandemic disease. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has decided the theme of the day as the 'Time for Nature'. UNEP has asked all to re-imagine their relationship with nature. UNEP also thought that there is a relationship exists between the lack of biodiversity and the transmission of coronavirus. But the question is- Why does nature matter?

The problem to understand why does nature matter lies in that fact that it is not clear in our mind what is nature. Some say humans are the part of the problem, so humans cannot solve the problem. Some suggests that 'wilderness' is nature. Other suggests that the area where you cannot shop is nature. A nature reserve we want to preserve, but what it means? Is it a particular area?

Or is it the utility of a particular area? We do something naturally such as we go out to spend some time in nature, where there is no shop, street, homes or cell phone tower. When we think like this, we also consider that nature includes people. Each person is natural as any insect in the jungle. Humans like everything else are composed of molecules, atoms and subatomic particles. So, in that sense can we distinguish ourselves from nature?

The dilemma here is that when we humans destroy environment, we in fact injury us. So, one may argue that we cannot destroy nature because we are part of nature.  I argue that nature is the totality of existence, so human influence on nature is hardly significant. Think about some natural laws such as gravity, laws of gas or movement of electron. Now, think about the influence of humans on earth gravity. Does it make any sense? If nature is the whole earth, then can we really and meaningfully affect the earth? If we do not see, then we generally do not believe. This is the nature of human mind.

It is clear that human-nature distinction is difficult to comprehend. In his book, Thinking Like a Mall: Environmental Philosophy after the End of Nature, Steven Vogel suggests that because humans have affected so much of the earth, and we can no longer explain the behaviour of nature without talking about human action, so the 'nature as an independent realm separate from humanity no longer exists.' Sometimes our culturally driven human nature change in nature by using technologically enhanced aid such as spectacle. For example we get enjoyment watching bull fight or fox haunting. Here we use a species which is a part of nature for our own pleasure.

However, when we think nature as our part then context becomes important. Our context here is environmental crisis. So, people who are doing damage to the environment are damaging themselves. One million plant and animal species are facing extinction - some within decades. Every species plays an important role in keeping an ecosystem balanced and healthy.

Losses in biodiversity and habitat can increase the spread of infectious diseases and viruses. Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (2019) mentioned that "Biodiversity - the essential variety of life forms on Earth continues to decline in every region of the world, significantly reducing nature's capacity to contribute people's well-being. This alarming trend endangers economies, livelihoods, food security and the quality of life of people everywhere, according to four landmark science reports written by more than 550 leading experts from over 100 countries."

The five drivers of biodiversity loss have been identified. These are land use change, overexploitation of plants and animals, climate emergency, pollution and invasive alien species. In terms of land use change, our demand for food and resources is driving deforestation, changing patterns of land use, and destroying natural habitats across the globe. Available data suggests that one third of the world's topsoil has been degraded from acidification, pollution and land management practices. The over exploitation of resources including fishing, logging and wildlife poaching is threatening the existence of creatures.

Climate change and the increase in extreme weather drive habitat loss and degradation. The data suggests that by 2050 one in six species could be threatened with extinction if current warming trend continues. Intergovernmental Panel in Climate change (IPCC) report  suggests that heat wave, bush fires, monsoon flooding and drought in recent time has broke all records. These extreme events were related to higher than average temperature, which in turn linked to the climate change. Invasive species can threaten biodiversity by acting as parasites and altering habitats.

So, considering the totality of existence, we are part of the nature. Nature is the universal substratum of human existence. As we are the part of it, so thinking about just human domination on nature is hardly we can see as significant. When Voltaire wrote, 'men argue, nature acts', he did not separate men from nature rather thought about the action of men and nature, an act of indistinguishable form but a time lag on it.

Human kind has acquired technological brilliance and also surviving within a diverse and complicated culture. But it is not hard to see how we are connected to and dependent on nature that is 'neither technological nor cultural.' In his book, Thinking like a Mountain, John Seed, mentioned an action of an environmental activist, who was resisting loggers saying that 'I am the rainforest protecting myself'. As we value our own existence, we must value nature and protect it from destruction. In fact it is us, we are it. This is the way nature become matter.

The writer is an academic, environmentalist, columnist and
author based in UK

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