Restoring our Relationship with the Natural World: A Statement from the 2018 Muskoka Summit on Environment
In 2018, humanity faces environmental challenges of epic proportion. Through our success in building an enormous global population and a similarly large and dynamic economy, we have created a complex web of interacting problems that threaten the continued reliability of this planet as a place in which humans can live their lives. Our actions have made us a major driver of the substantial environmental changes now taking place: changes to the climate, the landscape, the structure and dynamics of natural ecosystems, the availability of essential nutrients and that of numerous pollutants, and both the abundance and the genetic and biological diversity of life itself.
Ironically, we mostly understand what we are doing, and how we might correct our behavior. Yet we are failing to mobilize sufficient will to act to make the changes that are necessary. Telling people about the problems and asking for corrective action simply is not working.
The goal of this Summit was to examine our relationship with the natural world, and ask whether, and how, we might change it to build a greater commitment to act to bring the human enterprise into harmony with the biosphere. Each of our speakers brought a particular perspective; this statement sets out the problem, and possible solutions.
Our prevailing attitude to nature – that we own it, have dominion over it, or are entitled to use it – both objectifies nature, and sets us clearly outside it. With nature objectified, environmental problems become minor ones, even irrelevant when compared to political, economic or other societal problems. The reality is that humanity is one of many living parts of a complex, interconnected system that sustains life on this, the only planet known to support life. We are inside nature, not outside.
We must do a much better job of informing people of the many ways in which environmental problems impinge on human well-being. In this way we can better convey the urgency with which the environmental crisis must be addressed – ignoring it directly impacts our own lives and those of our children. We must also do a better job of reporting environmental successes and describing solutions to present problems.
In other words, we have a major communication problem, rather than a science problem before us. We can solve that problem using a coalition that draws from a broad range of expertise and experience to convey the reality of humanity in the 21st century — that we are a part of the biosphere, and that pragmatic self-interest, rather than tree-hugging naiveté, drives calls to alter attitudes and behavior. Taking this approach, we should find far more success in reaching out to other people for whom the natural world is still a set of things available for our use.