“Going on the Side of Life”: Managing Humans to Foster Nature’s Resilience

By Madronna Holden

Given the extensive impact of human actions on the natural world, it is improbable that we can restore our environment to a previously undisturbed state-in terms of climate change, for instance.  Even if it weren’t for the current environmental crises, it is problematic to decide what our “restore” point would be.  In the dualistic framework of the modern industrial worldview,  “wilderness” is that which has no human impact.  However, some lands pioneers in the Pacific Northwest considered “wilderness” since they were not altered by western-style development were in fact the result of thousands of years of a human-nature partnership which fostered the resilience of the local landscape.

More than ever, in the modern age, we need such models to honor and support natural resilience: which I define here as the ability of natural systems to sustain, heal, and regenerate themselves. This is in line with a native grandmother’s words. At a meeting in which her Muckleshoot people detailed the ways in which their sacred sites had been ravaged by developed, she said, “I guess we just have to go on the side of life.” Life has a sacred meaning among many indigenous Northwesterners as it should for all of us: as the animating principle of the earth we share. I cannot think of a more powerful sense of nature’s resilience.

I want to suggest four guiding principles for managing human behavior toward this goal.

One key element in an environmental philosophy that supports the resilience of natural systems is reciprocity. Reciprocity casts human and natural interactions in terms of balanced and mutual exchanges: As such, it enjoins humans to take (food, energy, shelter, medicine) from the natural world only what they return. Though some institutionalized religions link reciprocity with a mentality of accounting, earth-centered societies link it with gratitude, moderation, generosity, and sharing-in which giving back to the circle of life is done without knowledge of how and when a gift will be returned. Enacting reciprocity with respect to natural systems inhibits human actions that undermine the essential vitality of these systems by drawing too much from them. notably, those mid-Columbia River peoples who saw life as a sacred animating principle of our world also saw reciprocity as a key ethical standard.

The precautionary principle or “forecaring” is a second element of a standard of human behavior that supports the resilience of natural systems. Its main tenet is that human actions (especially new technologies) must prove themselves harmless before being enacted. This principle compensates for the intersection of the limits of human knowledge with the power of human actions. As instituted in modern law, this principle protects natural systems from harm in a way that echoes traditional stories stressing the importance of care in human choices-care that extends to future generations. The precautionary principle is linked to environmental justice in the ethical prohibition against inflicting harm on those who share our world both today and in the future.

Honoring the flexibility and diversity of natural systems is another way of supporting their resiliency. Flexibility is essential to the ability of any system to respond to and recover from stress. “Edges” and interstices between ecosystems as fostered by indigenous practices in the Willamette Valley are the most diverse and thus resilient parts of ecosystems. The value of diversity to the resiliency of ecosystems weighs in against practices that create “blank slates” for human use — such as clear cutting, non-contoured plowing for mono-cropping, and wholesale bulldozing for construction projects. Today wilderness set asides might be used to balance some of the diversity lost through human use of the land.

It is important to note that indigenous peoples throughout the world traditionally managed their landscapes for biodiversity and this is one reason that they now steward some eighty per cent of global biodiversity. Another reason consists of the tragic homogenization of nature and culture that results from industrialized development.  In creating such homogenization, we are undermining the options for both ourselves and the natural systems we depend upon to respond to stress such as global warming.

A fourth essential element supporting natural resilience is partnership. Traditional societies enact their partnership with the natural world through ceremonial or diplomatic relationships with other natural beings: animals, plants, and spirits of place. Such personalization (as opposed to commoditization) of others has the pragmatic result of fostering the protection of these natural beings and the habitats upon which both they and humans depend. We might take a first step toward enacting the partnership ethic today by assuming a stance of humility in our dealings with the natural world-and respect for those others that show us how to expand our own humanity. We might also work to learn the “language” of our natural partners, as did contemporary Nobel Laureate Barbara McClintock. Importantly, the partnership ethic shifts the social Darwinian idea of “survival of the fittest” from competition to cooperation. In terms of the partnership ethic, those most “fit” for survival are those who support the lives of the most “others”-and thus the diversity and resiliency of natural systems upon which they depend for survival.

From a somewhat different perspective, the Resilience Alliance works with natural resource managers to  foster natural resilience.

For a more detailed discussion of my sense of the relationship between partnership and resilience, see my “perspectives” piece in response to Brian Walker’s essay at Ecotrust’s online journal:


You are always welcome to link to this post.  Note it is copyright 2008 by Madronna Holden. Feel free to contact me if you wish to cite it rather than link here. Thank you.

436 Responses

  1. Your point on the shift of the social Darwinian idea of “survival of the fittest” from competition to cooperation is dead on. It’s true that we will never be able to restore the Earth back to her original state, she will always bare scars from humans even when humans don’t exist anymore but at the same time if we manage or train humans in a sense to aid in nature’s resilience then there is a hope that we can make a difference in where the environment is headed. If we straighten up now, the future may not be as dim for all of nature; plants, animals and humans alike. The hard part is getting people to understand that even if we can’t restore our Earth 100%; it’s worth our best effort to do all that we can to help our environment bounce back from what we’ve already done to it. This is a concept I fear will not sink in. Society wants to see exponential results immediately to take any action.

    • Hello there,
      I too share your pessimistic view on our human abilities, the need to take action asap, and especially the fear the concept will not sink in!

      However, i do not share your pessimistic views toward the environment.Believing the earth is done for: doesn’t help anyone and actually only makes people less likely to be environmentally friendly. Science and knowledge is limited, so how could anyone know if the earth will not fully recover? This debate seems to be very similar to the debate between neo-Malthusians and cornucopians

      It’s true, “scars” like nuclear waste and the loss of species do seem insurmountable. And in our modern day issues like climate change, endocrine disruptors, persistent toxification, air pollution, desertification, and water pollution do need to be addressed SOONER rather than later.

      But I have a feeling the earth will fully recover one way of another. I am just not sure if humans will exist when it does recover.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful and caring response, Renee. Perceptive points. The Ecotrust folks are putting up a website with an online journal called People and Place. Their first issue is on resilience thinking (a philosophy developed for natural resource managers). They are a little slower than expected in getting the website up, but it should be coming in the next month of so– and you might be interested in looking into it.
    Obviously, as we have seen in Gaviotas, nature has tremendous potential to heal itself– if humans behave in such a way as to support this.

  3. I think a lot of people overestimate the Earth’s resilience. Because nature does have a beautiful way of healing and balancing itself out, alot of people take it for granted. For instance, because the oceans are so vast, it is often assumed that toxins dumped into them in small or great amounts will eventually be filtered out through natural processes. It seems that it is taken for granted that the earth has an unlimited capacity to heal and restore itself no matter what havoc humans wreak on it.

    Humans in modern societies are very good at the taking part of reciprocity, but not so great with the giving back part. We harvest food from the soils and give back chemical pesticides. We clear cut mass amounts of land for construction and give back concrete slabs for exclusively human habitats. We withdraw fossils fuels that represent millenia of nature’s handiwork, and give back suffocating amounts of carbon dioxide into the lungs of nature.

    The precautionary principle is a lot like preventive medicine. If we can convince governments and businesses to err on the side of caution and act with due diligence in regard to nature, then many disasters and ensuing clean-ups can be averted. An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure, right?

    Another old saying fits perfectly the idea of flexibility and diversity–” Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.”. It also works well for economic issues!

    I do agree that partnership is pivotal in creating an atmosphere in which humans support and aid in nature’s resiliency. Changing people’s state of mind with regard to the earth can go a long way in changing their behavior toward it. If you perceive the earth as being a partner in the adventure of your life, then you are more willing to respect and care for it.

    • Hi there,
      You are right ” an ounce of prevention is worth a tone of cure”. It’s evident in the fact countries that are less wealthy and “technologically (medically) advanced” can and do have higher rates of quality of life and life expectancy for their citizens than countries with more technology, money, and medicine. Case-in-point countries of Europe like Spain and Italy have higher life expectancies than the U.S., because their medicine focuses on prevention and we focus on dealing with the issue as it presents itself. The E.U. is now taking this precautionary stance towards their agricultural imports too(anti- GE/GMOs), which is encouraging!

      Nice job connecting the flexibility and diversity portion to “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. Personally, I see the global society putting all their eggs in the hope that human ingenuity and technology will somehow solve/assist the earth recovery process.

      However, I think you confuse overestimating the earth’s resiliency with human resiliency. I assure you, the earth will be fine and can/will fully recover by itself (at some point). Humans may not. This is because we haven’t taken to the four guiding principles, instead we ‘overestimate’ our resilience to the amount of chemicals we can ingest and the distance separating our human world with the natural world.

  4. I think the last is the hardest to accomplish, creating partnership. The problem is that the partnership has always existed we’ve just forgotten how to recognize it. Environmentalists are angry because society chooses itself over nature, while society views environmentalists as radicals because they choose plants and animals over people. Both sides lose because they cannot get past their dualistic mindsets. It has never been one against the other, and it doesn’t have to be now. It is possible for humans and nature to live in harmony. We just have to want to.

  5. Your observation on overcoming dualism is an important one, Tami.
    Taking up your last point, I agree that it is possible for humans and nature AND humans and humans to live in harmony if we “want to” badly enough to work to make it so.

  6. Great outline and response to each of these, Karen. I think you are absolutely right that it takes being proactive on our part to foster the resilience– we can’t just behave any way we wish and assume those systems will heal themselves– or continue to put out the natural resources we need to survive.

  7. I really identify with the concept of resiliency as defined and expressed by your post.

    The idea that humans temper their assault on our natural resources in order to encourage some recovery seems much more likely that a complete cessation of detrimental activities.
    Although it may be unrealistic to expect to restore the earth to a state prior to our interference, it is reasonable to take time out to allow the earth to repair itself.
    Over the millennia the earth has proven to be capable of adapting to, and recovering from the “stress” that is imposed on it by humankind.
    To this end, I believe the tenet of partnership holds the key to our continued existence, as well as the survival of the planet. I think it is also important to respect the concept of “carrying capacity” in our partnership. We cannot overload our resources by imposing a population greater than the environment can support, just as we cannot take more than the environment can give.
    If we work with the environment as opposed to against it, the opportunity for resiliency is much greater.

  8. Hi John, I think you are right about the idea of partnership. This approach could in some way be said to include the other three points. When I did a short “perspectives” essay for Ecotrust’s new online journal, People and Place (hopefully before the end of the year), I chose to focus on partnership and resilience.
    And of course using resources with appropriate balance is an essential part of the value of reciprocity.
    Thanks for your comment.

  9. I read your article as well as some of the posts and I agree that the Earth is probably more resilient than we give it credit for. If we could change our harmful ways i think we would see a change in our environment. I am glad that there are some movies addressing the idea that if we keep up the way we are now the world could end up a giant garbage heap…like in “Wall.E” or “Idiocracy”
    The idea of partnership is not hard to comprehend, but I think people are too jaded to think about their actions in respect to the rest of the world. The whole “I am just one person, how can I really change anything” comes into play when people hear about what they can do to salvage the world. Also inconvenience prevents people from change.
    Education about the earth and how to properly care for it and respect it should be implemented into school systems. The more we know the harder it is to ignore the problems we face.

  10. Thank you for your comment, Johni. I can imagine that your healing art adds to the change we need (which is certainly a healing as well).

  11. I realize this everytime I write a paper, If we were to change our worldview a little bit or respect Indigenous peoples’ worldview and regenerate some of the things (Just like ones that you listed), learn how to reciprocity and be partnership with them, we wouldn’t have so many problems as we do now. Now that this climate change has been issued with engineering, science, politics, non-oraganizations, and sociology. It’s a matter of time and how many people are going to give effort change how we are now. Soome things are reversible but it’s never too late to protect the rest. It’s better than regreting after we lose everything else. With the technology and knowledges we have, we know what we can do to change this and what kind of result this will bring if we don’t do anything else about it. Like Johni mention above, I thought of “Wall.E”. I hope the world does not end up like how it was presented. How greedy are we to use up all the earth and just leave the place provided us place to sleep, eat, and live? I wish there more classes for engineering and science majors that can address some of the things that are addressed here, I always feel educated after reading such stories that I didn’t know abuot.

  12. Thank you for your kind statement–and for sharing your hopes with us. As one of those working to educate others, my hope is that you will share your knowledge and values with others–and certainly, express is in your chosen profession. We need you to help us make the world better for your own lives and leave it resilient for coming generations.

  13. I feel most humans take a lot for granted and don’t think about the consequences of their actions have on our world. I think the majority of people’s idea of reciprocity is that nature will find a way to balance everything out. But there is a limit the earth can take to balance itself out. The atmosphere can only take so much pollution and emissions of greenhouse gases before it deteriorates and degrades the quality of air needed to sustain life. The oceans can only handle so much waste before entire marine ecosystems collapse. I feel a majority of the human race would rather stick their heads in the sand and wait for all the problems to go away and fix itself, but the world doesn’t always work like that. We have treated our planet so poorly that it needs us to replenish and fix it. We have nearly destroyed our planet with our modern lifestyles, poor habits, and industrialization.

    We need to adopt the mentality of cooperation rather than competition. I feel competition is what got us into this mess in the first place. Westerners believe they need to have the best electronics, cars, houses, jobs, and lifestyle to be happy and successful. As a result, they will do whatever it takes to get what they want. Corporations like oil companies and car manufacturers have made billions by selling their products to people, and they still want more. They feel like it’s never enough and they aren’t rich enough. Rather than think about this life, companies and corporations should focus on the future; and not a future when they can get even more money out of people. They should focus on a future where their grandchildren will have access to clean drinking water, land to live on, and be able to see animals and plants in their natural habitats. The world isn’t looking to good now and there’s no guarantee it will be able to heal itself after all the destruction we caused. However, if current populations adopt the idea of nature’s resilience and train future generations to continue in preserving nature’s resilience, the world will slowly return to a livable condition. The environment will never return to its pristine condition it was in before humans’ technological and industrial boom, but the world can be in a much better condition than what it is currently heading for.

    According to the model of reciprocity, what goes around comes around. We have not yet experienced the full consequences for our actions on how we’ve been treating the world. Some may believe the increase of natural disasters is linked to the theory of global warming, caused by excess amounts of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions. Extreme weather has had a devastating toll on our nation’s farms and food supply. Fresh water supplies are decreasing and leaving Third World countries dried out and thirsty. Humans are populating the world at an alarming rate, causing deforestation and taking over natural habitats of plants and animals, which lead to endangerment and extinction of species. We are destroying the world faster than the world is able to replenish itself. If we don’t change our habits now, there is no way the world can recover. What’s frustrating and sad is that for decades scientists and environmentalists have repeatedly warned the world of the destruction we are causing, and we have repeatedly ignored their pleas as we continued to pollute and destroy our world in the quest of unnecessary technological advancements and Western lifestyles.

    This class has been a huge wake up call to me, indicating I need to change my habits and urge the people around me to do the same. However, will my pleas be mocked and ignored in the same way scientists and environmentalists have been treated in the past? I really hope some huge, devastating, life-altering event doesn’t have to take place in order to get the entire world to cooperate rather than compete with each other for survival. We need to establish a partnership with the natural world and respect our environment as sacred entities rather than resources. By doing this, humans and the natural world will be able to coexist in harmony with the land and the living species within it.

  14. Thank you for a visionary statement here, Ashley. My hope is that the imperatives before us will teach us all the necessity of cooperation, as you indicate we so sorely need to learn.
    Life is such a precious gift: one that we need to learn to share and care for.
    You might like to check into this link to YES magazine’s issue on how many values we actually share: http://www.yesmagazine.org/article.asp?id=2836. There is also a summary of a few of these (suprisingly?) shared values and resources for how to speak to your friends and neighbors about your own values here
    Thank you for your care for our shared earth, Ashley!

  15. I really appreciate what Jenna said about more environmental education in fields such as engineering. Environmental awareness needs to be embedded in all aspects of our lives and in all vocations.
    I also agree with Ashley that our society is too focused on competition. In this time of economic collapse you can see where consumerism has gotten us. Yes, it’s true that some people are really having hard times, but a lot of people are acting as if the world is ending because they can’t afford to go to an NFL game or take their usual Caribbean vacation. Yikes, are we spoiled?

    However, it does seem that many industries are jumping on the “green” bandwagon now, which is great. What we have to do now as consumers is support those new products whether it is a phosphate-free household cleaner, a convenience food with less packaging, or something as big as a hybrid vehicle or solar heating system for homes.
    It will take a while for industries to invest the capital into changing their technologies, but if we demand it, they will build it. We are on the right path, but we have to stay the course. And I know in these tough economic times it may be easier for people to revert back to the cheaper, less eco-friendly way of doing things. But we have to show resolve. It’s in times of transition when we are tested most, but it will be worth it when we come out on the other side.

    Okay, I’ll get off of my soap box for now!

  16. To be honest Dr. Holden I wasn’t even familiar with the concept of reciprocity until I took your course and I find it very interesting to study. The balance humans must share with the environment is interesting and rather self explaining but I feel the real lesson we can take from the model of reciprocity is that of indigenous Hawaiian culture we’ve studied and the way they look out for each other. Where the wealthy share what they can with the rest of society who are less fortunate and everyone in that community continues to give what they can to support one another. I also like this model because it is realistic. The rich give not only to support the less fortunate, but also to maintain their status as a prominent member of society by continuing to give. Rather than making this model sound like a perfect, selfless system, it shows it is realistic with real human intentions. I would be very interested to read the full paper if it is published.

  17. Thanks for your comment, Ben. I like the way the practical and ethical often merge– thus, for instance, traditional storytellers among the Chehalis might say, “These stories will bring you to a place where you can take care of yourself”– as they related a story that had both ethical and practical repercussions.
    Thanks for the request to read the full version: this is as far as I have gotten to writing out the paper I gave orally at this conference. But if you want to take an excursion into folklore and traditional myth, my discussion of the idea of reciprocity here is in the most recent issue (winter 2009) of PARABOLA. A more detailed discussion of the links between partnership and resilience (though still quite brief) will be out as a “perspectives” piece in the new online journal published by Ecotrust: People and Places. That issue will focus on resilience. They had hoped to have it online by mid-September, but have run into computer glitches– when it’s up, I’ll post the link here (and try to remember to email you with it).

  18. If we could all take and use the model of reciprocity, perhaps our world would be a much better place. When we have a surplus of something, we can try to pass it on. If we have excess food, money, knowledge, why keep it for ourselves, when we could have a life changing experience on some one else. Same for the environment. Like you said, we need balanced and mutual exchanges. We cannot keep taking so much. It will be a very difficult path for people to change consuming habits, but soon we will not have that choice to change.
    Hopefully we can take some of your strategies, use them and share them with others

  19. I certainly agree with respect to the idea of reciprocity. It would be wonderful to see these strategies implemented wherever possible. I should add that though I have listed these strategies here, they are not mine alone.Some of them derive from ancient traditions.
    It certainly gives me hope to think that they could be both shared and utilized.
    Thank you!

  20. I believe that cooperation will also be they key component to re-instating resilience; this cooperation would be possible if we assumed a holistic approach on life and begin thinking about the interconnectedness of all life forms and ecosystems. Unfortunately, I believe it will be hard, if not impossible, to change our way of thinking due to our conditioned need to control and dominate our surroundings; as Gandhi once said “man are not at peace with himself till he has become like unto good;” Such way of thinking I believe is always present, specially among western societies, where we aim to maximize our economic development at any cost. Such “development” for the most part is at the expense of resilience, natural resources, and natural environments. I do believe that the application of reciprocity, forecaring, partnership, flexibility and diversity are key to re-instating resilience; the problem is how do we change the way of thinking of societies who are more identified with material things than with the natural world?

  21. You raise a serious concern, Dan. How we change our worldviews is a question each of us needs to answer as we (as Gandhi also said) become the change we want to see in this world.
    I certainly agree with you on the value of cooperation: I think we can see of the values in the list above as tied into this one.
    Perhaps a start on this will be to recognize our interdependence (as you point out in another comment here), so that we know that the ways in which we help others helps ourselves–and by ravaging our environment and taking from others we only harm ourselves in the long run.

  22. “Going on the side of life” is a very inspirational statement. It shows how decisions that are made on a small or mass scale should be made with relation to the effect of the action on the environment. Environmental philosophy should always depict ideas that have been studied in order for decisions to be made on the side of life not death. Reciprocity, or the balance of living things, is an essential idea in relation to any action which will have an effect on the environment. If the balance of living things is disrupted, then some living things will be extinct while other flourish. I believe that some living things must be sacrificed in order for there ro be progress. But, this idea does not go as far as creating a balance shift in the natural balance of an ecosystem.

  23. Thanks for your comment. I was certainly moved by this striking statement and the context in which it was spoken.
    Progress is surely not progress if it brings death to the ecosystems that sustain us: as you point, balance is a key issue here. And such balance dictates that just some life is sacrificed to sustain us, we need to make sacrifices to sustain the natural system in turn.

  24. I really like the idea of reciprocity when dealing with the natural world. It only makes complete sense to be able to put something back into the environment before you take it out. This creates a sustainable environment for animals, people and plants to live. However, I really am not fond of thinking of this in terms of accounting, which many people do. When you begin to think of the environment as an account or inventory that you need to keep balanced you lose your relationship with nature. You begin to treat it like money or a product that can be dispensed of without any thought. This makes many people not want to participate in reciprocity and pretty soon no one does. The earth-centered societies that follow reciprocity and view it as gratitude, generosity and sharing seem to follow through with the actions of reciprocity much better. I think that this is a much better way of viewing reciprocity. When you look at nature as a personal give and take relationship you have a better relationship and are able to live more peacefully with nature. I think that you could take the idea of reciprocity to many other subjects as well (i.e. relationships with animals, themselves, other people, careers, etc.). If you are willing to give something, for the most part, you will be rewarded with something in return (which does not have to be a physical reward but perhaps an emotional or mental reward). I think that the idea of reciprocity can be used all the time by people and could really improve their lives.

  25. Like you’ve said in here, it should be impossible to restore the environment of the Earth from it’s previous state, but it should be helpful at least try to recover and not to cause further damage on her. There are still some people who are thinking break-down of the Earth won’t happen, or they don’t care because it probably won’t happen during they live, or “improving” human technologies can solve this problem and restore the environment in future…and these people, their ideas and behaviors always scare me and make me very sad and angry.
    We, not only people in this nation but everyone who is living on this planet, should respect indegenous people’s worldviews and learn their daily practices more; as we’ve learned through our course materials, we should keep in mind that we are a part of the nature and become partners of the Earth and its environment, not only taking all the benefit from her.
    Ecologists and people who are taking opportunities to learn about environment and relationship between human and nature, like us, just have started learning about environment and the elements of the resilience of natural systems; we should seek the way to spread this idea and make other people to have opportunities to learn and experience these ideas.

    And, I like the definition of resilience written in here.

  26. Hi Samantha. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. The distinction between reciprocity as accounting versus relationship is a key one expressed in the world myth that takes up this topic.
    There are problems with carbon trading when everyone gets into it as a money-making (accounting) proposition. For one thing we aren’t that good at keeping track of complex systems. Though money data can help give us perspective in some cases— as in the recent accounting of the health care costs resulting from particular environmental choices responsible for human illness.
    I think the distinction you illustrate is indicated by looking at the partnership approach: the point in any intimate relationship in which we begin counting how much we are doing for another and what we are getting in return is the point which ushers in the doom of that relationship.

  27. Hi Miki,
    Thank you for a comment that obviously expresses your personal care–as well as a strategy that all of us can take up to help meet the challenges you outline. Spread the word!

  28. I believe the precautionary principle is one of the tenets that economists, politicians and scientists have ignored in their zeal to embrace new technologies. What happens to nuclear wastes from the wonderful energy-producing nuclear power plants? What about all the millions of cars that pollute the atmosphere with their exhaust and uglify (I made that up) the landscape when they are abandoned in junk yards or on the side of the road or in the forests? We create new technologies to “recycle” the leftovers of new technologies. Would it not be better to consider the impact on both the environment and the people living in the environment before we jump on the bandwagon–indeed, finally put the horse in front of the cart for a change. Fortunately, environmental justice is a new movement or field that has begun to address these issues. Its efforts need to be publicized more to the general public to awaken their awareness.

  29. Hi Kate,
    You certainly have a point about the precautionary principle.
    It seems to make the most basic common sense.
    And I also agree about the environmental justice movement: it is about time we addressed issues relating to social justice and environmental issues as interlinked in the way they are.

  30. These are all great points. I am struck by the failure of our government to recognize and adopt views that support partnership, reciprocity, and the precuationary principle. I heard recently that President Bush voted in favor of the Navy’s continued training missions using sonar off the California coast, which harms and kills whales and dolphins that migrate up and down the coast. In his view, apparently, national security is more important than marine life. While I acknowledge that is important to secure our borders against attack, national security means much more than protection from terrorism. Our security depends on a rich, healthy, vibrant ecosystem. It will not matter if we have the greatest Navy in the world if our oceans die, or if we deplete our natural resources that provide food and shelter. We regretfully seem to focus on small, immediate details and fail to grasp the bigger picture. This Earth is the only home we have. So much of what we do is expoitative, and does not recognize that for all we receive, we need to give back. We focus on borders and division rather than cooperation and partnership in a common goal. We plunge forward with actions that we know to be devastating to our environment with no thought for the future. Somehow our vision is narrowed to our own little lives, the brief 70 or 80 years we may live, and we leave future generations to deal with the consequences of our selfishness.

    I am also struck by Al Gore’s comment that if we fail to take drastic action to turn things around, we will be the most reviled generation in history. Our children will ask how we could continue to live recklessly and destructively in the face of what we know to be true. The situation is slowly beginning to be recognized, and actions are being taken to slow down the rate of destruction of our planet, but I fear that it is far too little, too late. We can’t afford the luxury of complacency. There is too much at stake, and the environmental clock is ticking.

  31. Hi Terry,
    The point about the ways in which our children will look back on us is a central one.
    You are certainly right about the short term versus long term perspective. You have a point about evaluating our real security.
    Indeed, we can’t afford the luxury of complacency. Thank you for being one of those who knows this!

  32. Your four strategies or concepts are spot on. I would like to argue that many of these concepts are beginning to catch on. There is an increased awareness of the impact of humans that I believe marks the beginning of a trend towards a partnership between humans and nature.

    Perhaps I cannot comment on every human, but I see the change in my circle of friends and aquaintences, as well as in myself. There is an increased emphasis on recycling and on minimizing the use of resources such as electricity, water, and oil. This is not just due to the cost, but more importantly due to the impact the excessive use of these resources have on our environment. Five years ago a person who drove a large luxury SUV was not viewed as wasteful, but rather extravigant. This view has certainly changed as the realization of the impact of these vehicles on the environment (and the pocketbook) become increasingly apparent.

    I do agree that we cannot return the earth to an untouched state, but I hope that as we continue to adjust our lifestyles to work with nature rather than take from nature a fair balance will be struck.

  33. Hi Justin,
    Thanks for a hopeful as well as caring statement. It is heartening to hear about the changes you see, not only for the sake of ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren.
    A sense of balance is most important– and perhaps, if we cannot leave the earth untouched, perhaps we might envision the ways in which our touch might make this a better place.
    I love the way this group of teenage girls, for instance, work for environmental reclamation with their motto, “We came, we saw, we helped”: http://www.wildthingsgroup.org/index.htm.

  34. I wanted to touch on the idea that you had mentioned about changing the Darwinian idea from competition to cooperation. For me, this was a little confusing because wouldn’t those who are most “fit” be the ones that are going to be the ones most capable of adaptation? Thus, the abilility to be diverse would eliminate those deemed “unfit” or not diverse. I think in this case, again, it is a question of competition but only by changing the definition of waht we would consider “fit”. Does that make sense? (*I am one of those analytical people at times that tends to get myself riled up and confused over the littlest thing. ;p)

    I was relived to finally see an umbrella term used to collect everything into one: resillience. I was unfamiliar with pretty much all of these terms before taking this course and I have learned so much, not only about environmental ethics itself but what my role in that has been and hopefully, with my new found knowledge, will be. I hope to be able to share some of what I have learned with other people that I encounter and teach people especially about reciprocity. I think that is probably the most important aspect of them all. While you can achieve all of the other points, unless you are giving back to the earth and lending that respect, the rest really hs minimal significance in the long run. Collectively its about incorporating all four: reciprocity, precautionary principle, flexibility and diversity, and partnership.

    Thanks for the hope. I have the goal to start with my own children and teaching them the relationship that they should have with Earth. 🙂

  35. What a wonderful gift for your children, Debbie! Your response has increased hope– that is the way it works.
    It is no wonder you are confused about the Darwinian point: Darwin himself focused on the idea of “fit” as “fitting in” (that is, adapting). It was Herbert Spencer who decided the “fittest” were those that got to the top by stepping over others and justified this as “natural selection”. At base, this does not make sense in an interdependent world, and so when you assess the logic of this, Spencer’s “social darwinianism” actually contradicts Darwin.
    It is about time we understand the priority of adapting ourselves to natural systems rather than trying to get them to adapt to our whims.

  36. In reading this article I couldn’t help but think of how powerful the beginning statement of resilience was described. I have to agree that life is sacred on its own and that very meaning that indigenous people have should be practiced by all of us. Life and everything that is living is all amongst a world that we share, a world that we must co-exist in.

    I tend to constantly go back and lean tremendously to the process of partnership and that it truly a supporting factor of natural resilience. In order to honor and respect the sacredness of life and all that is living in the natural world, we must realize the partnership we have with all, animal beings and botanical beings as well. We are partnered with them in this world and just as we respect our fellow human beings, we must have the same reverence towards all life.

    Each of these elements is extremely essential in the support of resilience. They serve meaning and purpose regarding our world and its importance. However, where it does boil down to would be the sacredness of all of life. I was raised to appreciate all of life, that everything around us living, had to be treated with respect. As I child you were not allowed to play with the plants and try to break them down, and we were also not allowed to disrupt of mistreat the animals. We were told that everything was a creation of God and it too was living. Though, it is of a different source and view, it is still the honoring of life and all that are living. I believe that if many of us have that respect, the survival of the natural world would be in a much better state than it is now.

  37. Hi Francine,
    Thank you for such a deeply feeling response.
    Great conclusion–and hope for all of us here.

  38. The “Resilience of Nature System” brings together the primary themes we have been studying. This article brings into focus thoughtful and practical ways that we all can approach the four key elements described here.

    I wonder if the term “survival of the fittest” shouldn’t be revised to “responsibility of the fittest”. Humans have ascended to the top of the food chain, and have the greatest impact on the natural world, but along with that lofty position comes great responsibility. We are only now beginning to accept some ot this burden. Reciprocity relies on “mutual exchange”, but our interactions with our environment have been decidedly one sided. We have compiled a massive debt to the natural world, and it will take all of our participation to pay it off.

    • I love the way you have used the idea of reciprocity here to indicate the responsibility for what we owe back to natural systems for all we have used there, John. Responsibility of the fittest sounds right to me!

  39. I’m very glad that you so clearly differentiated the idea of reciprocity as a task in accounting or as a sharing “without knowledge of how and when a gift will be returned.” I had never thought of that difference before, but now it is really clear to me how these two mindsets will create different relationships with nature. The accounting mindset is very much concerned with the idea that “you owe me.” That is a form of domination: the power of debt to wield over the head of another (or another part of the system). But with the attitude of mutual sharing, there is an implicit trust between all parts of the system, and a valuing of patience and long-term gain.

  40. I think the idea of learning the “language” of our natural partners is so simple and important yet so foreign to most of us here in the US. It makes so much sense that in a partnership each partner can have some means of communication and understanding of one another, otherwise how will the partnership survive? I realize that by saying “language”, Dr. Holden you aren’t speaking of language in the traditional sense such as English, Spanish, Japanese etc.. but a deeper sense based on understanding and respect. In today’s American society it seems that taking that step towards humility is such a big one, one that contradicts the popular survival of the fittest mentality.

    • Thank you for the great point about “language”; much indigenous myth is taken up the ways in which humans can learn and share such “languages” of other life. As you indicate, Jessie, such attentiveness to the distinctive voices and intentions of other natural life allows us to act with both wisdom and care.

  41. These terms and concepts interweave just as we are finding that the environment is interdependent with the actions and reactions of the natural world. As I was reading this I was thinking about the “Golden Rule”. If this was expanded to how humans treat the environment also then many of our problems would begin to be solved. This would certainly foster the essential points you mention. I think it might even have a major impact on the notion of diversity. As we see many corporations try to force production of a minute few of a species to the extinction of the many other varities of that species. There is a reason for each and every plant and animal in existence, even if we as humans don’t understand what it is. The natural world is much to interdependent to allow the forced destruction of any part of it. I like John’s renaming to the “responsibility of the fittest”, especially as the potential for the most damage comes from those considered “the fittest”. Resilience is a wonderful concept in nature. In this course we have seen many examples where nature has “taken back” its rightful place. I believe that it can and will continue. Nature is a powerful force but it is also our best ally in healing the environment. We just need to continue to follow the path of many before us and truly listen to what nature is telling us.

    • Hi Colleen, thanks for the hopeful comment that also says something about where we might (and should) be heading in terms of listening to nature and “responsibility of the fittest”. Nice to see you reading comments in different essays! And I’m glad to see that you get a sense of interdependence here!

  42. One of my favorite things about this class is reading about different indigenous peoples and their partnerships with the land. They provide an example of what our relationship with the earth could be like, and a realization that our relationship with nature is not intrinsically selfish, but just the result of many generations of learned selfish behavior.
    If humanity as a whole would embrace and adopt the four essential elements (reciprocity, flexibility, diversity partnership and the precautionary principle) not only would we restore the earth’s ability to sustain, heal, and regenerate itself, but humanity could be restored into an integral part of nature. While it is unlikely for our environment to be fully returned to its previous state, we do have the opportunity to embrace and be an integral part of nature, an act which would start the healing and restore the humanity of humans.

  43. Just as you, I do not think it is possible to return the world to an undisturbed state, but I do think we can take steps to become more responsible human beings. You list many ways to do this, but the idea of partnership speaks to me the most. If we start to live in partnership with the natural world, instead of in competition with it this will put us in a state of mind that will make the transition natural. I feel like if we can change our state of mind of one of partnership and equality with the natural world, the other steps you have mentioned would be encompassed. Action must be taken, and perhaps through the actions mentioned in the other steps, we may return to a partnership state of mind; but I believe once this state is achieved it will become human nature to respect nature.

  44. I feel that a lot or the majority of our people take for grandted on what they have. They dont understand for every action there is a reaction The law of reciprocity tells us that. I think that many people think that ” well i am only one person, I cant change the world” but if everyone thought that way we would be worse than we are now. Everyone keeps taking and taking but not giving back to our earth what they took. If we keep this up the earth is not going to be able to handle all of it. I think that the more and more the information is put out there , the more people will understand what we are doing to our enviroment. I know that you , Dr Holden have taught me so much during the course of this class and i am using this information to educate my family and friend. I think that little by little they are taking in what i am telling them and changing their ways. I know that i am “only” one person but I know that I can make a difference!!

  45. This pretty much sums up the most important lessons from this class, and with it coming to an end it is a nice refresher to remember what we can do to help sustain our surroundings. Reciprocity seems to be an ideal which I have fallen back on every week in our writings. Related to nature and our fellow human beings, if reciprocity is strived for and reached everything will take care of itself. The precautionary principle is absolutely vital today. It has not been used in so many aspects of life; land use, farming techniques, medicines, and countless other problems that have been acted upon with a hope and a prayer, that they would not come back and bite us in the future. I wish I could ask the bees and fireflies how that is working out for them right now. Flexibility and diversity, allows for the ability to respond and recover from stress and are essential in every way of life. We must be able to adjust and correct when things don’t go as we may have planned. The last ideal mentioned is partnership. We can learn so much about the partnership with the natural world through humility and respect from indigenous and other cultures who have thrived together in the past. Thank you for this class Dr. Holden.

    • Thank you for a great summary of these points–and for your gracious response to the class I teach– I am grateful to be able to teach it. Certainly having students such as yourself, Aaron, give me a powerful sense of hope for our future on this earth we share.

  46. I appreciate the consideration given to balancing the relationship between human and nature in this article. The development of mutual respect and responsibility to preserve the two parts is vital in any relationship. This dynamic reflects the importance of reciprocity and flexibility with a precautionary value to sustain life. I personally believe this value system is crucial for our world and definitely must be passed on to upcoming generations. Although much of the damage and mark of human inconsideration has been left on the earth, the responsibility remains. We must work together to establish nature as valued and priceless.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kaaren. Perhaps we have an added responsibility in the face of the damage that has been done to put in place the dynamics of a resilient natural world. It is hopeful to me that all these ways of managing human behavior are a long part of our human heritage– if not something we have yet put into place in the modern age.

  47. It seems the mainstream consumer mentality is all about taking. We take whatever we desire and then leave a heap of garbage, usually plastic with no thought about where that plastic will end up or what the overall cost is to our environment. Average Joe American is raised to think like a consumer and it seems there has even been a strong force at work to keep people from seeing the whole picture. It’s as if someone really doesn’t want people to get this, because if they do, everything would change in the way people spend money and do business. So who is behind this massive ignorance campaign? Are they actively pursuing ways to suppress people who care from getting a foothold to turn things around? Is it just a matter of getting corporations to change their habits, or will all this caring actually put them out of business and is this why they are so into hiding their practices? Just a few questions to ponder. If enough people wake up and refuse their products, they will see a reason to change. So it’s good that “being green” is becoming a fashion now…at least its a start.

    • Hi Leslie. Unfortunately, we have an economic system that rewards those (like the advertisers you cite) for social and environmentally destructive behavior. We can begin to change that by making choices as consumers that reward what we wish to reward– a substantial responsibility, since this involves personal responsibility for understanding both how the products we use are manufactured and their effects on the earth we all share.
      If people “get this”, some who are now making profits will lose them (as you indicate)– so I think you are right that certain corporations do not want people to get it. Certainly those involved in the intentional adulteration of food for the sake of profit (as in the various melanin scandals) do not. The FDA currently has an open comment period for suggestions as to how to stop this, since this practice is so widespread and dangerous.
      Interesting point about taking: Robin Kimmerer (a native botanist) said she heard from some of her elders that humans should only receive what is given to them, never take anything. There is a vast difference in perspective!
      Thanks for your comment.

  48. Just to add my littIe opinion, I know that earth has always “worked with” hundreds of years of human abuse. I would’ve said tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years of human abuse, but I’d imagine that the abuse it has taken in the pre-industrial time (if any) is insignificant compared to what we have today. Looking at things from this perspective (how much abuse we have squeezed into a short amount of time), I think we should seriously consider the principles mentioned in this article. In particular, reciprocity is essential for earth’s “survival”, which in turn we depend upon to survive! I think the flexibility and diversity principle is only a side-effect of reciprocity. If we let everything run in the natural way, and we give back as much as we take from our environment, then we *will* have a certain degree of (natural) diversity in the world.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Yousef. Your comments on the timespan here are well taken; they make it all the more imperative we begin to act with respect to the natural world we share. Thoughtful point on reciprocity/diversity. One point I had in mind what UNESCO is calling bio-cultural diversity, in which we honor indigenous knowledge, for instance. Of course, as per your point, if we acted with reciprocity such that we did not overrun other lands and peoples– or over-extract their resources, neither these cultures nor so many non-human species would currently be endangered as a result of the actions of modern capitalism.

  49. In reading this article, I could not help but think of Mother Earth and her resiliance. At the same time, we would all be kidding ourselves in saying that she can be nurtured 100% back to her natural health. So, the key item from this article to me is the need for a true PARTNERSHIP worldwide in:

    1. Preventing further damage
    2. Restoring the areas where possible

    To me, these are more outstanding examples where we can practice the Precautionary Principle as well as recognize NIMBY.



  50. In this post you’ve broken down the method of fostering resilience in nature into four different areas. At the beginning of this course, I would simply see reciprocity, partnership, the precautionary principle, and flexibility and diversity as four separate concepts, as you outline them here. Now, I think reciprocity is the kind of action we should take in our partnership with the earth, and the precautionary principle should guide our inputs in this reciprocal partnership. And to foster resilience, diversity is necessary in this system. These pillars guiding human behavior do not stand alone; of course, like everything else, they are interconnected.

    • Great perspective on the interweaving of these concepts here: perhaps it we took seriously any ONE of these stances with respect to the interconnected system that nature is, we would have to consider the others.

  51. It is amazing the earth’s resilience, but I also believe the earth has a breaking point, which I hope we never cross, that is scary. I agree that we will probably not get the earth back to a perfect state, but we need to kepp trying like we will. I think anything we do, along with the Earth’s resilience, will hopefully result in some very positive improvements for our planet.


    • You raise an important issue here, Troy. The natural world has amazing resilience– but humans don’t–and we continue to transgress natural limits, we may soon learn this the hard way.

  52. This essay reminds me of stories Ive heard from my friends from Germany. When I sat down and was talking with a student from Europe, I asked them what they thought of Oregon and how different it was here. They’re response was of how amazed how wild Oregon is. In Germany in some areas apparently the replanting of clear cut acres was not quite well understood and the trees were all placed in rows so that one may look for many yards into the “forest”. They also pointed out all the undergrowth we have and how amazing it is. It scares me to think as we speak were losing more and more of this in Oregon and how its fading away. In response to a restore point, we may never know what that true restore point is like. We are constantly losing time to restore nature and losing the knowledge of what it really was like. I think your 100% right in the fact that we need to find that thin line of balance were we take only what we can give back. Nature can only be so reslient before it collapses.

    • Good reminder about natural limits, Kevin. Paul Hawken often cites the resource of the last twenty years indicating that every natural system on earth is in decline. What we do have left of nature’s library is vastly precious; these guidelines for honoring natural resilience indicate that we must honor this: we cannot act in partnership with the natural world, for instance, if the integrity of that world is not protecting.

  53. Unfortunately, the dualistic worldview prevailing in the Western world regards wilderness to be the opposite of civilizations. Of course, such a narrow minded perception does not leave any space for other interpretations, which are more adaptative to the needs of a modern world. Nonetheless, there are many things which we perceive as beautiful, although they might seem to be a product of wilderness. One might plant flowers and trees, but they will start to grow one day in their own way without asking our permission. At the end of the day, one would not dare to call such plants ugly, because they grew according to nature’s desire and not our’s.

    • Thanks for the balance in this comment, Nick. I agree with you that one “would not dare call ugly” what comes from nature’s design-though all of us don’t look at it that way. It was a strange thing that even pest control companies (with the logos emblazened on their trucks) used to favor parking in the shade in front of my naturalized yard to eat their lunch. Given the opportunity, I think there are few that would prefer cement scapes.

  54. I believe we cannot be diverse and use cooperation because it is too hard to see beyond our own needs. Being naive is very comfortable, and it is much easier to not notice the problems in the local and distant world. We do not realize how much the oppression of one group of people or one species of animals oppresses our individual selves. Cooperation is the answer to many problems in our modern world, from our local community to the problems of war and poverty all around the world. It is a very revolutionary idea, however, and I think that is one thing that stops it from taking place. The feeling that this may be impossible is scary, and debilitating.

    Pairing the fittest with the weakest is a much better and potentially more effective ideal than “survival of the fittest”. Sadly, most people are not willing to help those with less, especially not those who are the most fit, and have the most to give up. Cooperation would come easily if we first had compassion, and I believe there is a place for this, if we can all try for it. Nothing will ever be perfect, but that does not mean we can’t try to fix what we can.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Erin. You are certainly right that we are not used to working in a cooperative fashion in this culture. I think we might even redefine “strong” and “weak” so that it is not hierarchical (a gift of the strong to the weak), as in the essay on misusing Darwin, vulnerability can be a gift, lesson, means for bonding. I like your idea about compassion. You also have a very important idea about not waiting for things to be perfect before taking action.

  55. Madronna, Thank you for another great many things to ponder. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the precautionary principle lately. It seems like such a commonsense idea that I have to wonder how it’s slipped so many of our minds for so long. I guess greed has gotten the better of many of us. Why else would we choose to not fully understand that which we put into our environment before we put it there? Why do we still choose to create substances that will exist for many thousands of years and have the potential to cause great harm during that time? I’m actually really asking these questions. I know the typical answers of power, money, wealth, control, etc., but what else is it that inspires our species to act so counter to what seems to be the natural flow of life?

    Is it naive of me to think that we would, like all other species, want to try and ensure our survival by not destroying our home? It is so difficult to have the knowledge of (and even some solutions to) the anthropogenic destruction taking place on the planet and to be told again and again that we need to take small steps to get to a more sustainable vision and reality: That we can slowly change our path to one that is more sustainable. That big business will catch on one day when they realize that there’s money in it for them too and THEN we will all be OK. It’s as if our home was burning down and instead of trying to do something about it, we are waiting for someone else to come and save us.

    What would happen if we made drastic, radical and immediate changes that support life!, biodiversity!, and preservation of the world that we all share? What if we all stopped driving our cars — tomorrow! What if we stopped clear cutting the rain forests immediately? We’re creative and sometimes clever beings, I’m willing to bet that given the opportunity we’d work it out. Do we really need to wait? And what will it cost if we do? (Thanks for “listening”!)

    • I appreciate your sense of imperative here: I often feel the same, Dazzia. I like William McDonough’s statement in Cradle to Cradle: if we are going in the wrong direction, going there 20 miles an hour rather than 60 is not likely to help up.
      You raise very important questions.
      And the precautionary principle is an absolute no-brainer as for as I am concerned. Besides profit, it takes away our license to be “frontierspeople” who can experiment on the natural world and use all before us to toy with. Sometimes profit is not as important as (false) perceptions of power: thus a number of corporations, including universities, have been willing to spent far more to fight suits pressing anti-discrimination measures then it would have cost them to equalize salaries.
      There is that “dominator paradox” which ultimately leads to disempowerment in an interconnected world– but it doesn’t seem rationality is the key player in the mind of the dominators (thus some continue to destroy the sources of their–and our lives). I think part of the problem is the dualistic framework that gives those in power the impression that they are somehow immune from the consequences of their actions.
      That old capitalistic frame of “externalizing costs” is a dangerous one indeed in this context.
      My hope is that the current environmental crises may teach us that we can no longer divide the world as humans/nature, rich/poor, powerful/disempowered–and my backyard/the rest of the world–and that this will give us the true power with which to move forward. There is an interesting thing about changes of mindset in history– it may seem like there are only small steps and nothing is happening–and then all of a sudden almost everyone seems to see the world differently.
      Whereas you are absolutely right about the sweeping changes we need, I think we must also not get discouraged by the “great man” theory of history that tells us that what has counted and still counts are immense changes made by a few stand-outs and what the rest of us do in our daily lives do not matter.
      Perhaps in this sense, what you are asking for is that each of us radically evaluate our own actions and change them to fit our values. Whatever we do has far reaching consequences in an interconnected world-because it also touches and models actions for others.
      In this sense, I can’t answer your question– I can only respond to it. For what you have asked here is a question to which each of us much respond with our own lives–and in such a way that we don’t have an untold story within us– as in Maya Angelou’s “quote of the week” here.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment–and your care for our shared earth.

      • Madronna, You make some good observations, thank you for your response. You mentioned how some people in power may feel like they are immune to the consequences of their actions. I’ve thought this too and it worries me, however, you also shared a good reminder of how important it is for “each of us to respond with our own lives.” This is what I continually come back to and ultimately all that we have the most “control” over. However, I get impatient with this idea when I see the life support systems of the planet being so compromised and the actions of our species decimating so many other species, and all of this done mostly by a select few.

        There is something to be said about telling our stories, and, as Johanna Macy teaches, retelling our stories. Perhaps now is the time to tell the untold story inside of us of the life that we all wish to see for ourselves. A life that ultimately is healthy, fulfilling, peaceful and loving. We won’t be able to tell this story, however, if we don’t also include the health and fulfillment of all life. And, yes, I am asking for all of us to radically evaluate our actions and the affects of our actions on all life. I dream of the day when we move away from the current anthropocentric view of life that is actually destroying life itself, to a more ecocentric and holistic view that encompasses all life.

        • Thanks for the insightful and touching response, Dazzia. Part of my solid hope for the future lies in those with the intelligence and commitment of those such as yourself.

  56. What is good about biodiversity? At a scientific level Is there something in particular that humans, flora, or fauna receive as a benefit to an increase in biodiversity? Or is the only benefit a moral one, where we walk away with a feel good sense of cooperation or guardianship?

    From what I see, living in a more reciprocal, precautionary, and partnering world has the greatest impact on our own nonphysical relationship with the natural world. The examples used in the essay of clear-cutting and mono-crop farming would reduce habitat for some beings of the natural world while increasing the habitat for others. It seems like the first argument should be to define what a good human-natural world relationship is and provide logical evidence for why that is. Eluded to in another section in this essay is using the human-natural world relationship that indigenous people have is the goal that we should all strive to achieve. But what makes anyone else’s relationship with the natural world “better” or “worse” than my own?

    • Thanks for your comment, Matt. Biodiversity is a key aspect of natural resilience at a scientific level: especially when a system is under stress–as every living system on earth currently is– biodiversity allows natural resilience by offering alternative opportunities to adapt. This is why the UN has stressed the importance of bio-cultural diversity in the face of climate change.
      From the perspective of the ways in which individuals value differing worldviews, we cannot say one is “better” than another–since whoever holds a worldview certainly values it. What we CAN say is that particular worldviews are linked to long term survival of particular peoples: as in the contrast of 10,000 years of stability of indigenous peoples with the 200 years it took to create environmental havoc following the industrial worldview in the Pacific Northwest. Particular values lead to modes of behavior that tend to support or undermine the resilience of natural systems. If our criteria is supporting the vitality of natural systems– as mine was here, we can certainly call particular worldviews “better” by the criteria of its consequences in doing or not doing this. On the other hand, our system at creating capital accumulation in the hands of a few than indigenous systems ever were. One way of thinking is only preferable according to specified results one is looking for.

  57. Unfortunatly it does seem that we have caused so much damage to the earth that the resiliance, i think is long past to help. We would have to take a long vacation from doing things such as deforestation and building constatnly. Unfortunetly i feel that the world as a whole can help this process and slow it down but im not sure it will ever come to a stop, i think doing everything we can like using the precautionary principle will help a lot, but i know in this world that never seems to happen and to get the effects we would like to see to the earth takes more than a third or even half of us. But to ever get to where we want to be, you have to start somewhere and thats where we come from doing anything we can to save the world a little at a time, wether it be recylcing or building your own greenhouse. If this effect of reciprocity is true then i think we are in for a world of hurt, if what we have done is supposed to come full circle. I think we are on the right track in becoming a better and healthier country and in that respect the world.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts here, Christian. It does seem that things move slowly when change is so imperative. But it begins with each of us moving toward the “better and healthier country” you envision here. And we each have that choice rather than magnifying the ‘world of hurt” that comes back to us when we hurt others.

  58. If only everyone could follow these ideas, oh what a better world it would be. These ideas are a model for better living, if everyone could live by the majority of these it could have profound impacts on not only the environment, but also with everyday life in general. You would become a more positve and grateful person which you would pass on to others.

    • Thoughtful response, Kelli. It does seem that throughout indigenous history, the care with which humans treated the natural world was linked to the ways in which they treat other humans.

  59. It is true that we can’t restore our Earth back to its original condition but then again, what exactly was that? The Earth is a living changing being itself and has been growing and changing for millennia. Much of that change, as you pointed out, was with the help of people. And that is what I think needs to be restored. Our ability to help our Earth grow and change in positive ways instead of the destructive path we’ve been on since the Industrial Revolution. It seems as though the world is finally waking up to that fact albeit a slow groggy response. I am seeing more eco-friendly options available to consumers and the more we as consumers opt to spend our money on these type of products, the more companies will have to become eco-friendly. Hopefully, eventually returning to a state where humans care and foster the Earth instead of destroying it.

    • Hi Allyson, you have hit on a central issue in restoring the earth back to some original condition–how do we determine such a condition or starting point for our restoration work? I very much like the idea of your state to return to in your comment– where humans care for the earth rather than destroying it!

  60. As I read through the section on reciprocity and you mentioned the accounting perspective I was reminded of something I read that stated that the television producers of the series 24 were going carbon neutral. Right, they blow up more stuff on that show than any other series and they think that buying carbon swaps with the profits they take is carbon neutral. Ughh. They obviously have no sense of the precautionary principal or they would just stop blowing things up in the first place.

    • I certainly agree with you here. I understand that 24 is also one of the shows that depicting the most violent person to person violence on television– in torture, for instance. So I’m not entirely surprised that they are still blowing things up. Carbon trading is a cynical environmental strategy if it allows us to transfer the responsibility of our destructive actions elsewhere by paying for it– not incidentally, with a fraction of what is earned by that bad behavior. We need regs that actually lead to a severe overall carbon reduction. As it is, this is certainly not true reciprocity.

  61. The title of this article, “Managing Humans…” grabbed my attention because the exact opposite seems to be true most of the time. We attempt to manage nature and its resources, when really what needs managing is us! While I do agree that the effects of the Industrial Age will take thousands of years to heal, I am also amazed at how nature can heal itself if we just leave it alone. One of the most visible acts of nature’s resiliency is the restoration of a forest after a fire. It looks horrible to the human eye, but actually in the spring, it will bloom with flowers, then bushes, and eventually trees, all of which provide essential habitat for certain plants, animals, and insects. While we may try to manage nature, nature already has it’s own (better) means of managing itself which kind of makes human attempts at management somewhat laughable by comparison.

    Yet, since human management and interaction with the land will not abruptly stop so that nature can show its resiliency, I agree that one of the best things that we can do is to use the precautionary principle. Not only will the environment benefit, but also human health since what often is bad for the Earth comes back to haunt us. I guess it could almost be considered the dark side of reciprocity. Yet, on the lighter side, what we care for now will benefit our children in the future.We do so much to care for the health of our children that it seem somewhat silly that we do not also care for the earth that they are going to inherit. What good will a healthy child be if they cannot breath the air or drink the water? Overall, I do believe that we are doing a better job of being good stewards of the environment, but also know that there is a long way to go before we can once again for a truly healthy reciprocal relationship with the earth. It is exciting to know that we are all capable of making the healing past wrongs to make the earth a better place now and in the future.

    • Hi Bekah, great perspective! I certainly concur with the emphasis on managing humans as opposed to managing nature–and with your sense that we need the precautionary principle as long as we continue to meddle in nature’s resiliency–since we need to inhibit our meddling to do the least harm.
      And as for our children, I too find it exciting and empowering that we can work to heal ourselves and the earth we share–and I think you have such an important point there. There is so much we do for our children, but it won’t help them if we leave out the most important thing of all–passing on an earth and vital natural systems within which to live full and healthy lives.

  62. The concept broght up at the end of this article was interesting to me. The idea that instead of the strongest being having the highest liklihood of survival the being that supports the lives of most others actually has a higher chance of survival makes sense. If other beings need something to support their own lives, it will be taken care of, instead of obliterated. For example, humans need oxygen to breathe and plants are what produce that oxygen. Although the rate that people are cutting trees down is alarming, it will not get to a point where it endangers our species. This life form sustains all life on the planet, therefore extensive measures would be put into place to protect it should there be a problem. Also, the idea of reciprocity and precautinary principle go hand in hand with one another. People must be careful to give to the planet what they wish to get back.

    • Hi Katie, thoughtful point about survival tactics here: as you note, if we act in such a way as to create good for others, they will be likely to support our existence. I certainly agree with you about the links between the precautionary principle and reciprocity. Seems like your own example is a bit about that: if we care for others (both in not harming them and in adding to their own lives), they will have a reason to care for us in turn. I think ethics are ultimately practical–and this is another example.

  63. I really feel as though the precautionary principle could save so much grief and disaster. Implementing a rule that everything we use must first be proven seems like such a novel and simple idea, yet we really don’t ask for all the facts when it comes anything in our society. I really feel like the other three go hand in hand. If we were to be understanding, thus flexible with one another we just might cooperate and behave in such a manner that seems to benefit everyone and all times rather then just a few at one moment in time. Illustrating a respect for everyone and everything would greatly improve our environmental circumstances such as climate change and could have possibly prevented certain things. I also think that we sometimes get in the way of ourselves and even in the way of nature. If we would be more appreciative of both we could possibly see a more vibrant environment surrounding us on a daily basis.

    • I agree with you one hundred per cent on the precautionary principle, Trevor. It really does just make basic logical sense. I like the way you illustrate the interdependence of these strategies for honoring nature’s resilience. I wouldn’t argue with the fact that we “get in the way of ourselves” either– time to change that, I think.
      There is much hope in your response: time to grasp that as well.

  64. Managing human behavior is hard to do. This is due to the difference in opinions and cultures we all have. The 4 points you bring up are good. In reciprocity I agree that there should be a balance. To connect it with use of money one can not spend more than one earns. In precautionary it would be responsible of us to investigate what possible side effects might occur with our action or inaction. With flexibilty there should be a time to recover. We should diversify our usage and not abuse one only. This would be an example of oil for energy. Partnership should occur to heal the land and life forms that live in it. If we sit and gather our thoughs we can overcome many problems through negotiations. In conclusion we have one planet to live in and our time here is short so we should not damage it for future generations.

    • Thee are certainly diversity of opinions, Al. Do you see any other reasons why we might not be assuming such responsibility for our actions in the modern day? I take it you mean moving away from our dependence on oil for energy? Thanks for your reminder about our possibilities-and the imperative that we put them into effect soon for the sake of future generations.

  65. This article was very insightful in that it outlined ways in which we can all make a difference. By adopting the precautionary principle, reciprocity, partnership, and honoring the flexibility and diversity of natural life we would finally be able to see why indigenous peoples have been so concerned about the planet for so many years. I think that too often people tend to think that the impact of their worldview would be so slight that it would be overlooked, or that they can’t make a difference, or that it is too late for change at this point. As the essay points out, it may not be possible to get back the vitality that the land once had, but if people truly believe in the value of nature and took responsibility for the impacts they have, a huge difference is possible. More important than anyone’s immediate physical acts is the worldview they hold. We could all learn a great lesson from the indigenous peoples of the world, much as we have in this course. If everyone received this education it is likely that great change could occur.

    • Thanks for sharing this very hopeful comment, Karen. I believe that actions flow from our belief and values-and that is why they are so important. A wonderful image that these values might allow us to glance the positive results that once flowed with human interaction with nature!

  66. I agree fully with you assertions. We, as responsible inhabitants of the earth, must realize the consequences of our actions. We cannot continue to take from the earth at our present reate. With the global population continuing to rise, we need to foster the notion of a partnership with nature. If we can learn to give back as we take from the earth, everyone will be greatly benefited.
    However, this is no easy task. Our current mode of operation would come undone and our foundation shook. If we are to actually implement a change as monumental as this, it will have to be a gradual process. The key to this all is legislation.
    By using laws to our advantage we can begin protecting the environment instead of exploiting it. In doing so, we ensure that our children and children’s children will be able to enjoy our world as we have. To not do so would be a crime against humanity.

    • Thoughtful assessment here, Arjun. Such a change would be monumental–and can be done bit by bit, as you say– a process which is already begun in some quarters. At the same time, we are pressed for time in addressing current environmental crises lest we perpetrate this “crime against humanity” on the generations that follow us by passing on a depleted earth.

  67. I agree wholeheartedly with your guiding principles to manage human behavior, but as a self proclaimed cynical pragmatist, I’m skeptical about our ability to bring those who benefit from maintaining the status quo into the fold. I’m intrigued by the possibility of linking the gorgeous philosophy of reciprocity with the rather mundane act of balancing the books however. It seems the only way to get through to the powers that be is by speaking the tongue of their Economic Religion, so maybe this could be a way to do some damage control? Only in the meantime of course, I’m still hoping that someday (soon!) they’ll all have an ecological revelation from within.
    I think that restoring diversity is proving to be the biggest struggle, though I hope that with regard to agriculture, people are becoming increasingly aware that diverse, organic farms are, in the long run, less expensive (fewer inputs) and more productive. Wrestling the control of the food economy out of the hands of big biz is a big big task however. That we have destroyed so much diversity in the name of industrial monoculture farming, clear-cutting, and bulldozing for construction is such a travesty.

    • These are issues of concern, Liz. There is that often quoted remark of social ecologist Murray Bookchin: “If we not do the impossible, we will have to live with the unthinkable.”
      Those who built the gardens you thought so inspiring in your last comment, certainly started with a task that seemed impossible from a practical point of view before they did it. Thus Paul Hawken’s recent statement at a commencement address: “Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.”
      Having said that, I agree that we certainly need those who roll up their sleeves and get busy. The balancing act you suggest here is actually being undertaken by those who seek to price the ecosystem services lost in particular kinds of development, for instance–and which, by rights, should be replaced.
      I do agree that corporate agriculture works against genetic diversity: a real issue tackled on a global level by folks like Vandana Shiva.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  68. These are ideas we all need to take to heart and actively attempt to make part of our daily thinking. The more we keep these ideas in our thoughts as we go about our daily lives, the more plausible it is that we can make them happen.
    Reciprocity is a place to begin I think for me personally. This sticks with me; it makes sense to me and it is something I do not do. I preach to my kids that we need to give more than we take. It always feels better to be on the giving end. But I had not thought about the giving to nature each time I need to takefrom nature. I will be thinking of ways in which I can teach this principle to my kids as well as practice it myself. The earth has shown its natural resilience, but it cannot continue forever without reciprocation.

  69. The idea of cooperation vs. competition is a beautiful concept that is seems to go against everything I was taught in school: competition is how one gets ahead, winning is proving one’s true worth. It is so refreshing to see humanity through the eyes of cooperation, that the more we help one another, the more solid and supported we become, and the more we compete the more broken and bitter we become. Cooperation with nature is the same result, the more we work with nature rather than against it, the more we will receive in the long run.

    I think one of the biggest challenges for the mainstream in embracing a partnership/cooperation with the natural world is the fact that many monotheistic religions give man dominion over the natural world and thus humans are seen as the owners of nature. Another is that many of the sky gods preach that the kingdom sought is in heaven not on Earth and therefore what happens to Earth is of no matter because a better place awaits.

    • Great outline of cooperation and competition in perspective here, Jessica. I think we do indeed face these worldview challenges in instituting cooperative partnership with the natural world. We have some learning and changing to do! Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

  70. There are many important points in this article, but the one I appreciated the most was its emphasis on speaking each others language. The words we use frame our way of thinking and the parameters of debate. By using terms like “survival of the fittest,” we automatically enter a competitive mindset, one that is counterproductive to much of the work that must be done. Framing the debate in inclusive language, one that does not seek to place one aspect of life above any other, we start from a more positive place, moving forward into the better world we can create.

    • Thoughtful point about the importance of speaking one another’s language, Tabitha–listening to the other on his/her own terms. I agree that our currently competitive emphasis in “survival of the fittest” sends the wrong message– as discussed in another essay on this site: “Misusing Darwin”.

    • I think we do need to focus speaking each other’s languages. While plants do not speak “english”, they do communicate in many other ways. I always think about how much better tasting home garden vegetables are compared to grocery stores. I think this “taste” is a way for the vegetables to communicate their love and appreciation for personally helping them grow and thrive in our own backyards instead of sterile and loveless corporate farms in which machines plant them. It reminds me of the doctor telling my sister that her son needs as much human interaction even though he is connected to tubes and leads, and in an incubator. The love and care of human interaction is so important that even plants can pick it up.

      • I love your point about the taste of well grown vegetables being a language that tells us something important, Danielle. Isn’t his a bit like the flowers gearing their colors to attracting certain insects that pollinate them? I think all of nature speaks to its kin in such “languages”– to which humans might also be attentive.
        And as for the baby in the incubator, babies without human touch (in orphanages) were dying around 1900– as a result of “failure to thrive” unless they were held daily by other humans. I’m glad you sister has a doctor that is alert to this (as I am sure she is too). In Eugene hospitals there are volunteers who come in and hold such babies everyday if their families do not do it.

  71. There is so much information contained here I struggle to narrow my focus enough to comment, but I am most curious about the mention of restoring “…our environment to a previously undisturbed state…”, and what would that undisturbed state look like? To discuss this it would be important to consider our environment in its pre-human state, or in its post-human state. Since most of the living species on our Earth today pre-date human (or at least the form that we have today) existence, and they lived apparently fine without us for millions of years, it can be safely assumed that they had reached a sustainable existence in their environment. Then humans came along and in a relatively short period of time we altered our environment to the point that we are rapidly decreasing the biodiversity of our planet, altering the global climate, and in a nutshell endangering the continuing existence of most of the species still alive. I think that the “restore point” will again be found at some point in the future after some globe-altering event occurs such as a massive meteor strike, global nuclear war, disease outbreak, the Yellowstone volcano erupts and blocks out the sun to most of Earth for hundreds of years, etc. The only questions remaining for me will be if humans in our current form will still be around to see the future restored paradise, or whether we will need to evolve yet again from our tiny tree-dwelling ancestors, and will we be smart enough to learn to live sustainably next time?

    • Interesting perspective, David. Actually, a good many of the ecologies on our planet evolved in concert with humans for the last hundred thousand years or so– the salmon, for instance, who are far older than human presence in the Pacific Northwest, yet for the last several thousand years they have co-evolved. This dynamic between humans and indigenous peoples is one reason the UN is currently stressing the idea of bio-cultural diversity: there are animals like the AFrican honey-bird who are in danger of becoming extinct without their ancient indigenous human partners. You might be interested in looking at Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’ The Old Way (quoted in quotes for this week here) for a fascinating discussion of the relationship between humans and lions in the Kalahari– where the author spent a number of years int the 1950s (her childhood years) among the then isolated Bushmen.
      On the other hand, industrial societies have managed to do all you describe in the last two hundred years– drastically undercutting their own survival potential as a species. That is why I argue in this essay that we must learn to manage our own actions better for the sake of our children.
      Your prognosis jives with many Native American myths that relate how humans previously tried to live on earth but their greed got in their way and so they did not survive.
      Have you seen Alan Weisman’s The World without Us?

  72. For some odd reason, I was thinking about our commercialized aspect we have with our land in the US. For many, farming is treated as a corporation, and goes against all four principles brought to light.

    There is no reciprocity. It is basically man takes all, and as much as possible from the land and the crops. The goal is to maximize the yield with no real intention of giving back to the land or crops.

    There is not much “forecaring” or Precautionary Principle. While mass production farming has made leaps and bounds in sustainable practices, there is not much investigation into all aspects of what the “farming” is doing. There is no insight into how it will change the landscape and the surrounding people and animals. Aesthically and psychologically, all will be harmed. I am sure the deer, racoons, squirrels, and many other animals feel a sense of loss when their homes are torn apart to make room for corn or soy fields.

    There is no honor for flexibility or diversity. Instead of a cooperative growth between all the plants, animals and people, man has taken to declaring what he wants most, and exposes it fully with no shame or respect. This is detrimental to all involved.

    And obviously, this is NOT a partnership. This is man’s greed. There is nothing bonding him to those commercialized corn or soy fields, except for a monetary gain.

    Perhaps this is another reason yet again to support local farming and urban gardens, to give a sense of connection and diversity, of partnership and forecaring to our generation and to future generations!

    • I think you have some perceptive observations here, Danielle. I especially like your point about money being the only tie to the land in factory farming– how different this is from those who, in the Eugene area, manage “century farms”, which have been in their family for at least a hundred years.
      I also think you have an important point in supporting local farming for its attention to diversity (and honor for more than human life) as opposed to the “one size fits all” of factory farming. Local farming pays attention to place–and each place is always different from another in key aspects.
      Thanks for this comment!

  73. There is a lot of important information in this article but I one key element that sticks out to me is that of the precautionary principle. Many times our own human actions that we choose today will indeed affect our natural systems in such ways that are both harmful and beneficial. Yet most of the time society chooses to only acknowledge the beneficial actions we take but completely ignore the harmful actions. I think it is important to understand that what we decide to do today as it pertains to our environment will indeed be seen in the future and I unfortunately believe they will tend to be more harmful than beneficial.


    • Thanks for your comment, Rita. I absolutely agree with you about the precautionary principle. I look forward to the day when our actions in the natural world tend to be more beneficial than they are harmful (which I agree with you, is the predominant case today). But to reach that point, we will certainly need to pay attention to the results of those actions on our shared future.

  74. “To have to go on the side of life” doesn’t really seem like an enthusiastic way to “go on” but maybe the Muckelshoot grandma was hoping for a better future. The longer we are alive on earth the longer we will have to figure out what life is all about and why it is in us. I think that for the Muckelshoot people to have resilience from the bad things that modern man has done to them is a way of adapting to their evolving environment. Life has always evolved and adapted but our world is getting smaller and now things need to evolve faster. There are many philosophies to life and everything needs to compromise a bit so we all can fit.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kelley. This elder said these words with serious determination and commitment. From my perspective, it is a very profound and far-reaching statement if one believes that natural life has a spark of the divine in it– and when so much in our current system creates death (out of violence and objectification) instead.
      How would you apply your sense of the necessity of compromise to some of the other ideas here?

  75. Compromising by taking only what one can return to nature instead of taking all that one can from nature. It is easy for humans to only think of oneself and of the present time. The precautionary principle needs humans to compromise for safety instead of immediate satisfaction. Humans need to compromise areas to wilderness if they are going to adapt other areas to monoculture. If humans want nature to continue providing in the future then we need to compromise and partner relationships with the things that cannot speak for themselves. It all seems like such an obvious choice that humans need to compromise and not be greedy and use up natural resources that are limited but some think of life as a race to consume more because it is legal to do so. They must realize that “you can’t take it with you in the end” and over consumption creates more problems than it solves.

  76. In order to truly start mending our relationship with the Earth, we must start with ourselves. We must look inside of our own hearts and our own minds and our own interactions with the earth and others, and the implications these consequences have. How do we like to be treated? When do we truly feel good about what we do?

    I think everyone likes to be treated with respect and compassion. If we make a mistake, we don’t want to be judged, hurt, or afraid. When we give, we feel good. When we take care of others and take care of the Earth, we feel good. I think it would help out tremendously if everyone just stopped to think about these things for awhile. Reflection is key. If you never reflect on or evaluate your thoughts and actions, you will never learn. Unfortunately, it seems a lot of people don’t take this time. They consider the past to be dead. Better to move on, right? And then they wonder why they’re not happy-why the things they do keep upsetting others or why they feel such a nagging sense of being unfulfilled.

    Wouldn’t that be nice if we could all gather in our communities and have a good old-fashioned pow wow? We could talk about reciprocity and how amazing the cycle of giving and receiving is. We could talk about the importance of being flexible and letting go of expectations, as well as the incredible surprises and elements diversity gives us. We could talk about what makes a partnership work, and how we shouldn’t do something if it could have possible negative implications for anyone else. If everybody could soak these values in, allow healing to take place, and adopt these principles as their own, then taking care of the earth would naturally follow. In order to heal the earth, we need to heal ourselves.

    • Hi Natalie, you have some wonderful points here. There is much insight about reciprocity and partnership here–and maybe we could have this gathering (or do have it already) in community gardens or our family kitchen as we are putting up our winter’s fare or prepared meals to share.
      I absolutely concur that in order to mend our relationship with the earth, we need to start with ourselves–and in order to “heal the earth, we need to heal ourselves”. Well said indeed!

  77. I love the idea of reciprocity and engaging in reciprocal relationships with the natural world. The concept seems so simple for how little it is practiced. The actions encompassed in worldviews of cooperation and interdependence focus on helping “others” rather than dominating them. In such actions, the circle is completed and we help ourselves. When I began this class, I found the idea of being “reciprocal” toward nature hard to conceptualize. My original thoughts were that if I take something from nature, then I must plant a tree. What I have learned is that, yes, planting a tree is a great thing, but reciprocity can be so much simpler than even that. Reciprocity can be practiced everyday through selfless actions of gratitude, moderation, generosity, and ethical treatment of the natural world. By being kind to nature, it will be kind to us and generations to come.

    • Thanks for your comment, Bree. I very much like your conclusion about the ways in which we might each practice reciprocity though “gratitude, moderation, generosity and ethical treatment of the natural world”– we are all learning together.

  78. Partnership with the earth seems to be an impossibilty considering humans cannot seem to enter peacefully into partnerships with one another. Will there ever be agreement on how we should interact with nature? What is taking too much, what is giving back too little? We have laws and regulations designed to protect the environment but also plenty of corporations and individuals set on subverting those rules. It really comes down to people deciding it’s important to do what’s right toward each other and toward nature. That shouldn’t be difficult but it doesn’t seem likely.

    • Thanks for your comment, Susan. I think it points out why we must learn to manage ourselves before we set out to manage the natural world–we have must self-reflection to do. And though we have much to change, I take heart with the wonders that some individuals have been able to create (see “How can you not plant a rose in wartime” here), and the ways in which some societies have lived in concert with the natural world and in cooperation with one another, as did the Kalahari Bushmen (whom we now know are the genetic ancestors of all of us) for fifteen hundred centuries. As Hegel put it, we can be the best of creatures because we can be the worst– it is our choosing that makes the difference. So time to chose differently.

  79. I very much agree with the principles that you set out in your article as the guiding principles for managing human behaviour toward achieving nature’s resilience. It makes sense that if we give back to the nature what we take from it, if we only use technologies that prove harmless to nature, if we give our environment enough time to recover from stress and aim our actions towards achieving biodiversity, if we protect other natural beings and the habitat upon which they depend, nature will be resilient. However, in order for these guiding principles to have sufficient effect, we all (or at least significant portion of our population) will have to follow the same principles. Therefore, a question arises how are we going to achieve that we all share and follow the same principles? I used to think that the biggest problem of environmental protection and conservation was not having answers to problems. Now I am becoming to see that we have all the answers – they have been around for thousands of years guarded by the indigenous peoples. And in all fairness – most of the answers are just common sense, rather than science. If we consume less and take care of our environment, the environment will be healthy – or at least healthier than it is right now. I believe that the principles of environmental protection and conservation, such as those that you mention in your article should become a part of school curriculum, so that people are aware of the need to take care of the environment on daily basis and so that such behaviour becomes a part of our lives.

    • Very nice summary of the principles outlined here in this comment, Iveta. I would love to see these become a part of school curricula– as they were a part of the education of those humans who lived in concert with their environments for thousands of years. In this sense, you are right, they are nothing less than common sense– though science can help us implement them, we need a foundation of commitment to sustaining our environment for the sake not only of our own quality of life but that of future generations. How do we all agree on this? I think that those like yourself, who feel them and communicate them to others, perform essential work in this. I know it is a very large task to change the worldview of modern industrial society from its current consumer track– but my hope is that we will be able to meet this challenge after we understand the consequences involved. And there are so many making changes already– as are those in the article on planting a rose in wartime that you just commented on.
      It will take as many of us as possible doing what we can in large and small ways. This is why the voices like yours here are heartening to me! Thank you.

  80. I thought that this essay was really interesting about how our plants and animals are disapearing because the world becoming more civilized. I also think that making of more buildings and deforestation is only helping global warming get a headstart heating the world up.

    • I think we maybe need to more closely define the world “civilized” here, Trisha. For myself, I would not want to call a process that causes the destruction of the life systems that sustain us a “civilizing” process. Thanks for your comment.

  81. I really like the concept of reciprocity in giving back to the earth what you take from it.

  82. It’s so interesting that for as advanced as we are today it amazes me how many times people forget to just give back. We take so much from our earth but blindly forget that we need to actual give back. I suppose it’s that people forget that nature and our earth are beings to. It’s so important to remind people that we just can’t continue to take as we have without there being consequences. There is hope that we will learn from our mistakes and this earth we live on will reap the rewards once we aren’t so materialistic.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jazmin. I guess I would want to define “advanced”– if our actions ravage the land that sustains us, I wouldn’t consider that “advanced” behavior. Having the power to do something does not mean that we are automatically more advanced– though we often assume that. I know you don’t feel this way, but your comment gave me the chance to express how I feel about this.
      And you are absolutely right that we must remind ourselves and other humans that continuing to take without giving back is a destructive course for all concerned. Thanks for your own reminder to us here.

  83. I’ve come across the term “resiliency” in many of my natural resources classes, but none of them outlined guiding principles towards this goal in such a way that this post did. Although I was already aware of each of these four principles, it was good to read about them being discussed towards a common goal. There is so much discussion about ideas and how we view ourselves in relationship to nature that I think we sometimes lose the action side of our goals—that is not to say we must think less, but that we must do more. This article presents a quantitative approach to action taken in four specific categories by breaking it down in such a way that shows how we can facilitate the resiliency of nature: reciprocity, the precautionary principle, honoring the flexibility and diversity of natural systems, and the partnership ethic. What I like most about this list is that combines thought based approaches with action based ones. I do not believe we can experience true change with just one or the other; we need both thought based and action based. That way, our intentions and goals are not lost in our thoughts but put into action.

    • Of course, this is my own “partnership” take on resiliency, Kirsten– it has, as you note, a whole range of perspectives of its own. I am glad you found this useful from your perspective as a natural resources student. I would not be in philosophy if I did not think that ideas and actions are intertwined! Thanks for your comment.

  84. Day 1 of kindergarden involves the introduction and acknowledgement of the golden rule: treat people how you want to be treated. Although this is focused to people, I believe that the general message is to muster the respect that would in turn be the same given for you. If this is such a cornerstone in learning as we grow up, why are we isolated in this asymmetric relationship with nature?

    I am especially attracted to this structure because it would work. I do not doubt it. There aren’t any asterisks at the bottom of this page in order to provide explanations for the harmful side effects for this relationship (such as cancer, death, depression, and heart attacks). I think people would have some serious adjustments to make, but that is okay. At the moment, nature has been making all of the adjustments due to the efficient and comfortable lifestyles people demand. I feel that if nature reciprocated the detriment, people would maybe change their song. Although, through global warming, the wage gap, and the exceeding occurrence of food related diseases, nature is subtly beginning to reciprocate the relationship. All in all, the golden rule needs to be thoroughly carried out. In a mutually beneficial relationship, we will have a full proof plan to respectfully co-habitate with nature and the planet.

    Great passage!

    • Isn’t is strange that we exact standards of behavior on our children that we don’t exact of the corporations we don’t hold to such standards of reciprocity, Dana? I agree with you about the need to carry out the “golden rule” with respect to all life forms. Nature, as you point out, can only adapt to us so far without adapting us out of an ecological niche (and thus survival).
      Time to change that: thanks for sharing your own hopeful vision here. It is very important.

  85. I think that you bring up a good point in the first paragraph above. I have been guilty of thinking that humans should have no impact on the natural world in order to live in harmony with it. However, I have since realized that this is impossible and that our future and the healthy future of the planet (at least while humans exist) is determined by how well we can work in a partnership with the natural world. Asking questions such as “How can our species enhance and contribute to the health and longevity of the planet?” or “What is my place in the natural world?” will be essential to our survival. All animals have some impact on the world. We just need to start being more conscious about what our species impact will be.

    • Great perspective: if we didn’t have an effect on the natural world, we wouldn’t have a place in it. What KIND of effect is something we must evaluate–and that does not mean we can’t set aside certain areas where human influence should be minimal. This happened in traditional societies in key areas that were considered sacred– notably, these might also be important areas for ecological stability, as in the “increase sites” in Australia.

  86. I agree with the article, and most who have commented, that the Earth can never return to its previously undisturbed state. Sometimes it just has gone too far for too long. I am hopeful however for positive change toward a healing and healthier Earth.

    I very much like the worldview of reciprocity in how humans and nature interact. That section reminded me of a speaker I listened to once. He asked if any of us ever let another car pull in front of us that was waiting to enter traffic, or held the door open for someone walking behind us. Almost all answered yes, of course. Then he asked how we reacted when they didn’t wave a “thank you” or smile and say so when walking through the door we held open. Most laughed and admitted to grumbling and being angry if they didn’t. Then the speaker pointed out how our anger and grumbling showed that we did an act of “kindness” not for the sake of doing good, but ultimately for personal recognition in some form; we gave in an attempt to get. That hit me hard!

    I believe the reciprocity principle between human and natural interactions should be the same. We must give without expectation of a “gift” in return. If I give only to gain from nature then I see only value in what I have done. Yet, if I recieve a gift without expectation then I can have true humility, gratitude, and love for what I recieve. I am trying very hard to do this, but admit it is not easy. As a western white women, I have been reared and raised on “me first” ideology.

  87. I feel so hopeless sometimes that those who have been in charge of our environment has not been very supportive of biodiversity, which is so integral to the survival of our ecosystems. The idea of large portions of the earth being seen as “blank slates” on which humans can do anything they want to, personally, makes me a little sick to my stomach. For me it shows how much tyranny and egoism, personal gain and instant gratification, has overridden our appreciation for our natural world, our empathy for each other. We need to see once and or all that we do not own the land, but we do belong to it. If we destroy humanity, the natural world will find a way to survive; if we destroy the natural world, however, we will, in fact, be destroying ourselves and our future.

    • Thanks for sharing both your passion and compassion on these points, Hannah. I do think that we will leave this earth as a species before we destroy life itself. That should give us some motivation for shaping up. It does take courage to face the kinds of things that you point out here, but that courage gives us a chance to change them– and nature is resilient if we modify our behavior. We can’t expect to live the way we are now, but I do have hope for change because there are so many, like you, who care.

  88. I love this idea of reciprocity, it makes so much sense to care for the earth and treat it as we would treat an actual partnership among humans. The way we treat our closest friends and family. We help each other and do good things for each other because of the love that we share. All the ways in which we give and take among the people who we are closest to are not done so that we may receive immediate or specific payback, it’s simply because we love and value those people. Because they share those same feelings towards us, it works out to be a valuable relationship in which we are constantly both benefiting from the people in our lives and they are benefiting from us. It is the same way with the natural world. If we seek to receive from the earth, we also need to give to the earth in return because we love and respect it.

  89. I found the idea of social Darwinism in this piece very interesting. In a partnership society can be seen as a women ran society and tying this in with social Darwinism is saying that only the strongest “fittest” women are the ones that will take care of everyone else who can support themselves. I think that is an interesting concept but very true for humans and for animals in nature.

    • Hi Jayne, my point was that social Darwinism does NOT exist in a women-centered or partnership society in which no one is “dominant”. “Fittest” in this sense is, as you note, the idea of supporting others.

  90. One thing that I believe is overlooked in today’s ecological paradigm is the idea of “forecaring.” It seems that much of what we are doing these days is trying to take back things that have already been done to our Earth, while enacting compromised and half-thought-out policies that will not stop us from falling down the slippery slope caused by our bad decisions. (My opinion only!) I think that we are so focused on the past that often times we forget to look to the future. I also believe that a principle of forecaring would help us to achieve this. Consider the modern drug industry. The modus operandi there seems to be “Release it fast and deal with the consequences later.” Examples of this can be seen in the numerous drug recalls that happen every year! Unfortunately, technology as a whole seems to go that route. We are so focused on getting the new thing out there for the gluttonous consumer to purchase that quality and ecological soundness goes by the wayside. Imagine if we WERE required to test things adequately before they went to market. Perhaps things would cost more. But we would think more about what we bought. It doesn’t work well with a capitalist mindset, but with an ecofeminist mindset, it seems like a beautiful solution. If costs went up for companies, they would, in turn, pass the cost onto the consumer. But the consumer would know and be secure in the fact that they now possess a product that is not only quality for them but will not harm the Earth. If such a policy existed, do you think that children’s toys would contain harmful phthalates, cadmium, lead, etc? This is indeed something to think about.

  91. We again go back to the concept of the “wilderness” experienced by early Western settlers. Humans were a part of the ecosystems they lived in and as such became the caregivers of their land. We understand the idea of diversification for strength, but we seem to fail in its application to the natural world. We know that stock portfolios must be well diversified in order to survive rough market conditions, but we do not consider the same when we view nature. Natives understood these concepts and they tended the land in much the same way a broker may tend to a stock portfolio. Nature was well diversified and therefore it offered them the best possible returns on their investment of time and energy. We came in as settlers and because we didn’t understand this complex system we thought we could break everything down into pieces and do things better. We failed to see how everything worked together in harmony and for that reason we lost that balance. Trying to develop a stock portfolio without considering how one stock may do while another suffers is a huge mistake. If you break the market down into individual stocks and only view them as individual investments, it is likely you will end up with no money left to invest. It is unlikely we will ever see our environment in the same condition it once was. We have lost species of plants and animals, lost countless acres of land, and created climate changes that will likely never change back. All we can do from here is develop a new plan on how we can get back to the level of natural diversified success 1000 years from now that we had a few hundred years ago. Isn’t it funny how thousands of years of work can be undone in a few hundred, but rebuilding it always takes much longer? Except that this time around we have lost the knowledge gained over those thousands of years, so we must now learn from our own mistakes, rather than learning from the mistakes of others.

    • Very nice point about the fact that we see “diversification” as a strength in stock portfolios, but not in the nature– or cultural worlds! Rebuilding something takes more work than not destroying it in the first place. This is why I think the precautionary principle is so important. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Damien.

  92. It is strange that the concept of reciprocity and sharing is so hard to grasp when dealing with the natural world. We are taught early in life to share and to get along with one another, but do not apply this to the natural world. Rather then living with the land, we live to use the land in whatever way we please. I feel that if we treated the land as we would a friend things would be much better off. With this mindset you would strive to help your friend so that you both may do well and succeed.

    • I agree, Travis, though I think we do not always do so well in sharing with one another, either– or we wouldn’t be the only industrialized nation without national health care nor would we have so many hungry children in our society.

  93. I think the 4 guiding principles noted here (reciprocity, precautionary principle, honoring flexibility and diversity of natural systems, and partnership) are all good guidelines to live by. If we all lived by these guidelines, our environment would be a much better place to live in.

  94. Although reciprocity has been a philosophy and form of guidance in my life, since taking this class my philosophy has not only been reinforced, it has amplified. I feel that it is one of the few plans of actions to help combat with our current environmental crisis that is full proof . Furthermore, these four suggestions for a just environment and society are well-said and sound. I have especially enjoyed learning about these ideas in addition to the ecofeminist mentality throughout this course; in fact I have begun to apply them to my daily relationships with my friends and family. I feel that it keeps me in check. I know I have mentioned this before, but if we abide by these philosophies, I do not think there would be any possibility to have such degradations such as: global warming, gender and racial injustices, monoculture, food insecurity, deforestation, and so forth. This is a way to foster resilience. On one final note, I appreciate that you mentioned the vitality in learning the language of indigenous cultures. I am an Anthropology major and one of our main obstacles and objectives in ethnographic research is to eliminate ethnocentrism to the best of our ability. We differentiate ourselves from other people every day, and that action in itself conflicts with these three suggestions.


    • Thanks for your comment-and your placing these principles in the center of your life, Dana. I can certainly see that from what I know of you. On your last point, I think it is fine to differentiate ourselves from others, accept and respect their differences from us– the problem arises when we attach values to others that put them down because they ARE different from us.

  95. I think the four guiding principles of partnership, reciprocity, the precautionary principle, and flexibility and diversity are essential to maintaining a sustainable environment where all life has the opportunity to thrive. I also agree that we can not expect things to return to the same state they were in prior to the era of industrialization. However, remaining eternally optimistic, I do believe that by simply “going on the side of life” may prove the resiliency of natural systems and we can once again live in harmony with the world around us. I do think that there is one issue that must be considered before the guiding principles mentioned above can completely take root. This issue was broached in Dwellings in which Octavio Paz was quoted as saying “as soon as man acquired consciousness of himself, he broke away from the natural world and made himself another world inside himself.” I think this separation of worlds may provide a significant hurdle to establishing these fundamental principles. But, we might also find that the application of the principles themselves may be what mends this chasm. Either way, I believe life will guide us to the answers if and only if we are willing to follow.

    • I very much like your idea of life guide us to answers we need to honor it– if we are only willing to follow, Jordan! You bring up an important point regarding separation here. Honroing the fact that humans are special creatures (as are all creatures in their own ways) is one thing: assuming we can place ourselves above nature in our separation from it is something else again. Thanks for the well considered response here.

  96. I feel that there is really an underlying issue within the western, modern civilization that keeps these four principles from being truly realized and practiced. But putting my finger on it isn’t exactly an easy task. One of the most pervasive mindsets is that of hopelessness and that of complete lack of concern. It seems that most people are so concerned with their own survival and their own accumulation of their “lot” in life, that they have no ability to look beyond themselves. These two frames of thought come up quite often when I talk with someone who could really care less about the state of the world, in social and environmental ways.
    I wonder how we might present these four principles of reciprocity, “forecaring”, diversity and partnership in way that would engage the people that aren’t already searching for ways to build a better world, those that have lost hope and vision for a better world.
    When I read these principles they resonate clearly with my heart, things like gratitude and moderation, but I also feel that these behaviors must be learned, or re-learned for most of society because we, as a culture, have been raised with Western Worldviews, to a point where these worldviews have been essential to survival within western culture and are not easily shed.
    It takes courage to act on these principles when society doesn’t encourage them (or should I say when one is not encouraged economically). When as a whole moderation isn’t seen as necessary, giving is only done so to reduce a tax and the Earth is seen as a commodity to be bought and sold, it takes an amount of awareness and courage to truly live these principles and to know that what one is doing is the good, the right, the ethical thing to do and that knowing this is the reward one receives back.

    • Great question about how to present these principles to thsoe “who aren’t already searching for ways to build a better world”, Jessica. What do you think about this? Michael Lerner has an interesting book called Surplus Powerlessness that discusses exactly the hopelessness that I think you are referring to. Interestingly, he documents the ways in which particular workplaces teach such learned powerlessnes to their employees to stop them from joining with one another to change untenable working situations.
      It is true that our worldview is far from easily transcended–but our own courage (as you put it) to act in these ways both empowers us (as acting on our values allows honors ourselves) and models a change for others. Thanks for sharing your own awareness and courage here.

  97. I think your four guidelines should be taught in every school grade through high school. It needs to be drilled into children’s head how important it is to support our earth, how it supports us and how we can give back. I still remember it being drilled into my head about how bad smoking cigarettes are for your health, now it’s time to instill some incite on the care of our planet. And they can pass that information on to their parents. We are fortunate that our school district takes the kids out into the wilderness at various times through their schooling to visit the wilderness and learn about it. But it needs to be passed on to the city kids too. I don’t think you can ever have enough nature trips.

    • Great point, Judilyn. It seems indeed that there could hardly be a worse crisis for chidlren to learn to avoid–an all out effort parallel to that directed to stopping smoking would be quite apppropriate.

  98. This is going to have to be taught in school. The environment isn’t a hot enough topic for the media. Unless they are trying to scare everyone with global warming. (I think that phase wore off, although the problem is still there.)
    I just don’t think the general public is getting the picture.

    Maybe a video game would stick in people’s minds. It could take place in a temple called Earth. The player has to perform certain tasks to discover the 4 guiding principals. Then a new level unlocks. It’s an ocean. The player has to clean out all the garbage and purify the water. It would go on with different levels until the player achieves Earthly enlightenment and finds a beautifully balanced Utopia.

  99. It’s interesting how you bring up nature’s resiliency but I actually question if nature is resilient at all. To me I feel that nature never really recovers from the harmful processes done towards it. Well I take that back. I feel that the earth can recover from its own harmful natural processes but it I feel it can’t recover from things that are unnatural. Unnatural processes such as the harmful unnatural chemicals we pump into the biosphere. This is why we find ourselves with the climate change crisis. It’s sort of scary to think that nature can’t recover from what we have already done to it. We seem to be digging ourselves into a deeper and deeper hole every day. Maybe I’m wrong but I do believe the four elements’ you provide will prevent humans from digging a deeper hole than were already in. I especially think partnership is the most important element you present. I feel we need to work with nature instead of trying to avoid it like we have done for so long. It seems like we have tried to make a whole another world separate from nature.

    • I agree that we should not make natural resiliency an excuse for continuing to abuse the natural world. And I also agree with you to the extent that we cannot re-create or reproduce environments (and species) lost to destructive human action. But there ARE ways to deal with nature that show it is more powerful and resilient than we think, Dana–as in the case of the revival of the rainforest through the actions at Gaviotas. Thanks for your comment.

  100. It is an arrogant western view to see wilderness as a place untouched by humans when indigenous cultures have been throughout this continent living in a partnership with nature. It is far too easy to turn a blind eye and pretend that what we do does not have a direct impact on our future as well as all who will follow because we do not see the damage we have done today. If people would just slow down and take the time to notice the generosity of nature is all around us, we just have to be present and patient enough to see it.

    • I like your perceptive about the generosity of nature, Stacie. I think you are right that seeing this goes hand in hand with slowing down–and looking carefully at the responses for our actions as the partnership model encourages us to do.

  101. I couldn’t agree more about reciprocity being a necessary model for living. I think that the current focus on being “green” is detracting from the issue instead of helping it. People do the bare minimum, maybe recycle a can or two or install those curly lightbulbs, and they think that they are helping to do something for the earth. It’s like a way to get rid of our guilt by doing things that we should already be doing. Now, recycling is great, and curly lightbulbs are good, but the idea that these alone are going to help us to “go on the side of life” is a ridiculous one. We need to think about maybe being environmental in ways that are inconvenient, not only caring about the planet when it is easy and popular to do so.

    The precautionary principle is also something that I am in total concurrence about. I think that in today’s society, we are wont to do first and think later. What needs to be happening is thinking first, doing later. This doesn’t fit in with the capitalist mentality of “get crap out there so we can make money,” and that’s a great thing. We need to stop doing things before we thoroughly think it through, and we need to consider the planet in our assessment, not just the people who live on it.

    • Great perspectives, Amanda. And since we are all interconnected in a reciprocal natural cycle, considering “the people who live” on earth is ultimately reliant on considering the earth itself.
      I totally agree with you that the precautionary principle should be a priority before making a quick buck (and forget the consequences).

  102. I think that it is great that the indigenous people are able to produce 80% of all global biodiversity. It was very interesting to read how flexibility is so important in the ability of systems to deal with stress and restore harmony in the world. I think that creating a partnership with the natural world is the hardest thing to do. This can be done with ceremonies and diplomatic relationships with the animals and plants that live in nature. For some people these connections are easier said then done.

  103. This essay is an example of what I like to think of as the evolution of indigenous thought. It’s not like indigenous thought ever needed to upgrade or anything, but in our modern times and in our dire new trouble, the indigenous psyche is alive and growing here within us. It’s true that we can’t adopt something that is not ours, but we can learn to work with a world view (expressed so well in this essay) that is old and new. If it seems like a challenge to live with humility and change our destructive ways, let’s accept the challenge. If it feels like an honor, let’s be honored to do so. Our path is uphill for as far as I can see, but in the work of authors like Gloria Anzaldua and Dr. Holden, we have good counsel and support.

    • Thank you for the touching response, Kellie. I can think of nothing better than to support the work of those who like yourself will accept both the challenge and the honor of caring for the world that sustains us-and which we all share!

  104. A partnership approach to conserving nature seems like the most obvious choice to restoring balance to the Earth’s ecological systems. For the majority of human history, people live in natural balance with their regions and that land was managed and used responsibly. However, now that things have become so damaged by human technology and development, it will be hard to get the Earth back to a natural balance. However, the principles outlined in this article such as reciprocity, the precautionary principle, and partnership can provide guidelines as to how this regaining of natural balance can be achieved. Now that we have gotten away from these concepts and realize that it does not work, we can return to this previous way of life and work toward achieving the goals we are now setting. For the sake of the future generations of inhabitants on Earth, we need to make sure we turn the tide of destruction before it becomes ireversable.

    • We very much do need to turn the tide of destruction, as you put it, Joshua. Our wounded earth needs us–especially because we are the one’s responsible for the wounding, it is our responsibility now to turn things around.

  105. I completely agree with your idea on the shift from the Darwin theory on survival of the fittest, to cooperation. I have never really questioned Darwin’s theory, and it always seemed to me as the way that we are, and should continue to be. After doing the readings and discussions for this lesson, and especially this article, I and starting to think that is not true. Diversity is a very important part of life, and the sooner that everyone understands that, the sooner that we will be a much more successful species. In any form of life, whether it be students at a university, or a family, cooperation is a great way to live, and a very powerful skill to have. While one person might be strong at something, it is rarely the case that they are as strong as a group of individuals working together. I try to be as cooperative as I can in life, and I strive to be more cooperative. Partnership societies seemed to have found the best ways to live, and hopefully in my generation, I can be part of a partnership society. Great article, it really made me look at life from a different and better perspective.

  106. I think the four principles for supporting natural resiliency listed here would result in an excellent partnership with the natural world. It is unfortunate that some of them run so counter to western/industrialized principles. The idea of forecaring is already implemented to some extent because of environmental groups and regulations, but it could be taken further. If forecaring was a fundamental belief, rather than simply a set of rules that must be followed or carefully avoided, industries would have a better interface with the natural world.

  107. This seems like it’s a very nice recap of the essays and ideas we’ve discussed. The question in my mind from the beginning of the article is how to reach an understanding and agreement among everyone of how far is good enough, and how far we really have to go with conservation and protection. I agree that if everyone moved a little closer adopting the ideas of reciprocity and partnership, we’d be in a better place, regardless of the extent of devotion to the concepts. It is so easy these days not to adopt those beliefs, because people will get instant gratification in other ways, and it takes a little longer to see the tangible returns from love for life than those you see from laziness and greed. I don’t know when society got away from feeling the satisfaction that comes from life, but everyone should go plant something and try to get it back.

    • It is true that instant gratification may come from other courses of action, Jamie- though I think that in the long run treating the natural world in this way brings a more satisfying type of gratification– the difference between satisfaction involved in having a shallow manipulative relationship with another and having a deep and sustaining one. The “satisfaction that comes from life” is obviously the more satisfying one–and it is spring. Planting something to get in touch with that satisfaction back is a good piece of advice.

  108. For some, to form a partnership with nature can be more difficult if they have never shown an interest in it before, and take for granted the aspects of their life that nature has contributed to. Ultimately they may learn what they are missing – with not having a connection with the natural environment. Most everyone may come to a certain awareness of the need for that partnership at their own pace, but may in turn create impatience in others who feel it should happen more quickly.
    For those who have been involved in and with nature for a large part of their lives, this partnership comes a little easier, and brings with it a reciprocity that contributes to how they live each day, and in turn affects everyone they come into contact with.
    That nature cannot be restored to a pristine condition may be true, but shouldn’t be completely disheartning – I like to appreciate what we do have, and just continue educating those who are willing to listen.

    • I agree with you about appreciating what we have of the natural world, Mary. I also think you have a point that the partnership stance may be difficult for those who have not experienced a connection with the natural world– it is also hard for those who have not experienced this in their personal lives with other people.
      I am glad you are not disheartened by the fact that we cannot pick some arbitrary restore point and restore the natural world to that point– the natural world contains so much more than we humans will ever be able to decipher or control. I find that quite hopeful.

  109. I think that an important point brought up in this article is one about change. Like this article states, we can never bring back the natural wilderness in its original state. But even if we had the chance to go back in time, and start back over before civilization ever even touched the wilderness, it would still change in some ways. The Earth is a naturally growing and changing being, so change in this sense isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We alter our environment every time we breathe. We just need to figure out a way to sort the good changes from the bad ones and learn from our mistakes.
    I think that one way to start to heal the wounds we have left on this planet is to start educating our children about the four principles mentioned in this article, so that they can educate the future generations and know not to make the same mistakes that have been being committed for centuries. Unfortunately though, I think that this Earth will always bear the scars of the trauma we have put it through.

    • We have indeed caused considerable trauma to earth’s living systems, Amy. This makes your proposal of future education to help heal those wounds and prevent us from causing more an imperative one. Thanks for your comment.

  110. It is my opinion that fore-caring is the most important of the four guiding principles of guiding human behavior for the foreseeable future.

    The amount of damage that we have caused to natural areas and ecosystems is staggering. We can not hope to restore these areas with the current needs and technology that we have available to us.

    What we can do is protect what remains of these regions and systems from suffering the same fate. This is well within our possibilities because for the most part all we have to do is not act with irresponsibility and cruelty. If we treat the plants, animals, and planet with the utmost respect, even if it is just in the areas we are trying to protect from ourselves, then we are assured of their existence down the road.

    Hopefully at a later time in our evolution we will have addressed the issue that are currently blocking us from becoming more a a positive force in the restoration and balancing of the natural world with our own. Until this time, I believe that the most responisble thing that we can do is to preserve what remains and to educate the populous on the importance of the natural world and the role it will play in our combined futures.

    • I agree with you on the importance of the precautionary principle, Rick. Hopefully we will begin to follow the lead of the EU in applying this principle to our environmental choices– such as suggested by the recent report of the President’s Cancer Panel.
      I cannot think of anything more important than assuming responsibility for the results of our own actions.

  111. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We have used this guideline to apply to the way we treat each other, but yet we have never used it as a way to determine how we treat other species and the world around us.

    We fight so hard to be the conquers of this world, masters of all we see and can claim, that we are only now starting to pay attention to the consequences of our actions.

    No we can not return to a certain point in time, where life and the land about us was in a better shape. What we can do is learn from our experiences and mistakes. Teach younger generations how to live more sustainably. We cant fix and erase everything that we have done. We can just move forward, do what we can, and do the best we can. Learn to only take what we need from the land. Learn to think before we create things that are destructive to the land and thereby us. Learn to be more flexible and more understanding that even though we can do something, that it doesnt mean we should.

  112. As this class is soon coming to a close, I felt that this article was an excellent summary to what I have learned and what has been awakened in me throughout the term. These four concepts of reciprocity, the cautionary principle , flexibility and partnership seem so painfully simple to enact, however we seem reluctant to open up and hug a tree or quit using chemicals on our lawns. Each individual could act out these four traits in our lives proving little by little to the rest of our society that change needs to be made, that we as a society want to alter our worldview.

    We need not wait until the breaking point, action needs to be taken now; we have waited to long, sitting around while all this destruction is occurring. It is definitely not an easy fix, and i think that is part of what scares us as a society. The other half, in my opinion is a certain laziness and carelessness having to do with the dualism we carry. The dominating nature prevents us from viewing earth others as important fellow beings. Respect, knowledge and humility are key factors we need to put the aforementioned four factors into action.

  113. I like all four of your guide lines. I think they would go a long way in changing our world for the better. My favorite is the precautionary principle. I believe very strongly that all new technologies and sciences should be tested and guaranteed not to harm any living things, plants and animals included before they ever make it to the market. Too many people want to speed things along and zip through testing, not doing a through job. Even if it takes years to make sure a product will not cause harm, it should be done. And if it harms one out of every million, it shouldn’t be used, period.

  114. The idea of nature resilience as defined in the article ‘as the ability of natural systems to sustain, heal, and regenerate themselves’ have four guiding principles for managing human behavior toward this resilience. The four essentials consist of reciprocity, the set of balance and reverence, equality. Precautionary principle, proof that specific acts, creations and equipments by humans must not be dangerous before performed. Flexibility and diversity, and the last one mentioned are partnership. Along with reciprocity the other one that really stood out for me was partnership. Partnership, the somewhat kinship between all natural beings, human and non, the relationship between us all and the correlation we have as being a part of the natural world. These values are extremely important in influencing human manners in the direction of sustaining and restoring the natural world and structure, without these structures the destruction of the natural world would be even be more catastrophic than it already is.

    • Great summary of this article and the importance of these values, Francine. Without the bit of these values that are currently enacted in the natural world, things would indeed be much worse–and think how much better they might be if these were our predominant values.

  115. I completely agree with the change is Darwinism; from the survival of the fittest to the most supportive. The issues I see with that concept is that I think humans are innately competitive, even if they are trying to do good. We want to be the best at doing good deeds and we want results now. Instead of understanding that we can’t get Earth back to 100%, but we can make changes to stop doing damage. Society wants to see progress immediately, or else it doesn’t sink in that a change is being made (even if it is slow).
    And how do you get a society to understand cooperation, that we should support each other and take only what we need and that it should be replaced when society has been taught that being on Earth is not a privilege and not something to be appreciated. How do you get society to understand Mother Nature is a gift?

  116. You have really captured the keys to repairing, if possible, and preventing future damages to our earth and its resources in this article. The elements we have discussed throughout this class such as reciprocity, forecaring, and a mutual partnership are so integral to this plan coming to succession. These seem like truly simple concepts on a certain level, but in reality are so hard to educate, promote and implement across the cultures of people all throughout the world. It seems there is still a long road ahead to make these essential principles common and forefront in the minds of all people across all of the different cultures and traditions, and actually having them put into action. There are definitely going to be challenges along the way, but this is a beautiful plan to support the resilience of the natural systems we depend on, and eventually these concepts will become necessity for our continued survival on earth. Great article to recap the term!

    • Thank you for your caring and supportive words, Megan. We have much work to do–but models from the history and cultures of the world that show us what we are capable of. Our shared earth demands nothing less of us.

  117. Partnering with the natural world is something indigenous peoples have been doing from day one and as a western society we just don’t seem to “get it”. We set aside land for national parks and force indigenous people to get permits to do anything on that land. Seems wrong to me. It is another example of our “ownership” worldview.

  118. It is sad to think that we have done so much damage as humans to our environment that it will never fully regenerate. I agree with your four main points. The idea of reciprocity is great if we actually followed the guidelines. We take some from the earth, and then we give back, mother nature is still waiting for these past few generations to give back. The precautionary principle i believe should be a requirement for any action we take. Too many times do we devaste lands or create something without thinking how is this going to affect not only us, but the environment in the future? Partnership think will be the hardest to acheive. Trying to get humans today to realize we are partners with everything in nature is quite the tall order. Most people today feel they are superior to all other species on this planet, but in order for us to continue living on this planet we do need to build a healthy partnership with nature.

    • Trying to get humans to understand that we would do better partnering with nature than trying to control it is a tall order indeed, Brandon–but perhaps it will be nature rather than other humans that will show us that lesson. Meanwhile, thanks for your feedback on these four points– seems we need to start somewhere in terms of both changing our behavior and modeling changes for others–and the ethics that worked in human societies for tens of thousands of years seem like a good place to start.

    • I totally agree with you about if we could just follow the guide lines of reciprocity. Also about the difficulty of getting humans to understand the partnership element, we are partners with nature and as soon as we realize it we can make a positive step in the right direction for ourselves and our nature.

  119. I really like the quote that wildness has no human impacts. Because that is so true, there is very little if any spots on this Earth that have been untouched by humans.

    I believe that the four goals to managing human behavior are good goals. Reciprocity, partnership, precautionary principle, and by honoring flexibility and diversity, would work if all humans actually followed them. Humans really have done so much damage to the Earth and its time we start fixing and taking responsibility for what we have done and are doing now.

    • I agree that it is time that we take responsibility for our actions– and for repairing damage we have done if need be. Thanks for your comment, Ayla. These changes start with each of us!

  120. All four of those points make perfect sense. Partnership, reciprocity and precaution are the promises we make in order to take responsibility for our actions, and diversity is recognized to be a key in creating and continuing a resilient system.

    I would also like to point out that social darwinism is the brand of thinking that lead to Nazi ideas of Arian supremacy. The feeling that you need to compete and win in order to survive is strange, when it clearly makes it easier for all of us to survive if we cooperate and help each other rather than try to dominate or destroy one another. The same applies to our environment.

    • I like your phrasing of these four ideas in terms of taking responsibility for our actions and supporting the resiliency of nature, Frank.
      And certainly something to remember about just how very wrong the idea of social darwinism can go in its expression in totalitarian governments.

    • Cooperation is definitely the best way to prosper in the world. Taking our and dominating other cultures and people just makes one less person to give back. If we all worked together to meet at a mutual standpoint then everyone would win.

    • I really think you brought up a very important idea of the role social Darwinism is playing in this game. It’s something I’ve not thought about before and it makes a great deal of sense.

  121. The idea of “wilderness” as the pioneers understood it or thought it was as they came from the East and moved into the Northwest territory is so amazing to me. The reality that the “wilderness” the pioneers preserved was actually thousands of years of a divine partnership between indigenous people and nature shows us that it can be done. Even though we are at a place now where we can never go back or change the persisting climate problems we can make positive changes like you talk about with your “four guiding principles for managing human behavior.” Even if each of us just works a little towards any one of these four, our world can be a better place for generations to come.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful perspective on “wilderness” as nature untouched by humans– with a limited definition of humans. I like your reminder that each of us can move just a bit toward any of these standards and make an important difference.

  122. All the ideas discussed are very important and very intertwined. They all work together off a basis of what I feel is responsibility. With reciprocity you should give back what you take, selfishness is not an option that someone should live their lives by. By the precautionary principle all human actions should be harmless to the environment the environment is all we have and if we dont take care of it then we wont have a place to live. Partnership is another very important one through partnering with the enviroment and our lifestyle we get the best of both worlds. We take care of the environment and we prosper.

    • Thanks for your comment, Briana. I like the ways in which you present the interconnections here. And your last sentence is especially well taken: “we take care of the environment and we prosper”.

  123. “Reciprocity casts human and natural interactions in terms of balanced and mutual exchanges.”

    The series of epiphanies that have come about since I took this course continue to astound me, and although the natural model of reciprocity is not new within this course, it’s still poignant. Partnership, as indicated within this essay, would benefit both humanity and the natural world. If we considered the plants and the birds and the all the other animals our partners for survival and life on this planet, instead of them being nothing more than a means to an end, I think this our earth would flourish, instead of being on the decline, as it is now…at our hands.

    • It is a wonderful vision (if a poignant one at this point) that you portray of a world that humans are helping to flourish at our hands, Crystal. Time for each of us who hold to that ethic to step into this vision in whatever we can. Thanks for the ways in which you are doing this!

    • I also think these values have made me think more about the level of impact humans have on the environment. I never knew about these values and their relationships with the natural world before and it has been a positive learning process. You make a good statement when you say that humans should think of non-human life as partners in our environment because I believe this would make humans more accountable and think twice before making decisions that could have negative consequences on the environment. Everything starts with developing a different mindset and adopting the environmental values to how we live life.

      • Good perspective, Andrew. Thanks for assuming this learning stance– we all have much to learn–and certainly to learn from one another as well. An important point concerning accountability (and the knowledge that underlies it).

  124. I agree with your four guiding principles: reciprocity, Precautionary principle, honoring the flexibility and biodiversity of natural systems and partnership with nature’s others. I feel that in order to make it all work, perhaps the most important one of these principles is reciprocity. And yet, this is also the most difficult principle for our Western world view to accept. If we can’t see all of nature as being equally and inherently valuable, then it is unlikely that the other three principles will be useful.

    For example, if a power company plans to build a dam across a river and that power company does not truly abide by the notion that all of nature is of equal value, then when they are making important decisions, like build or not build, they are really only considering the “human” cost and benefits separate from the other natural elements that will be impacted.

    Even in organizations who claim to follow the “precautionary principle” the decisions that they make are guided mainly by the future impacts upon human society. Pharmaceutical companies who follow this principle are largely concerned with how their product will affect human populations. They rarely allow what effect their product will have upon rivers, wet lands and oceans to enter their decision making equation. Yet the effects are present and significant.

    In honoring the flexibility and biodiversity of natural systems we put on a good show. We build highways and shopping malls which destroy many hecta-acres of natural wetlands, but that’s ok as long as we relocate or build new wetlands to “mitigate” the effect of the initial destruction. This all looks good on paper in the public’s un scrutinizing eye. However, we often do not consider the effect that relocating a wetland will have upon the native species of wildlife. Studies indicate that this practice, however well intended, affects such delicate balances in nature as migratory bird nesting and reproduction, water quality, flood control and other watershed issues.

    As for the principle of partnership with nature’s others, again our western “dominion” mindset prevents us from effectively doing this. After all, it is difficult to justify making and keeping a partnership if we do not respect and find truly valuable the “others” with which we seek that partnership.

    I feel that first step of dropping the egocentric mindset and allowing ourselves to see and accept all of nature as equally valuable and vital to our collective existence and seeing ourselves as “part of” nature becomes all important. Without it, we will find it most difficult to allow the other principles to truly guide our lives.

    • We can only benefit from the necessary move to replace ourselves and our vision in the circle of life– as you indicate we must, Ron.
      Thanks for your assessment of practical questions to mull over with respect to each of this principles. Obviously, good will (and a change in worldview?) is as important as regulation– though I think the latter may be a necessary nudge in the right direction.
      I appreciate your very thoughtful comment.

  125. I really like the four principles that are listed here as guides to caring for the environment and managing our natural resources. Fostering a relationship with the natural world is beneficial in many ways and can only help create a better environment for everyone. Having values like reciprocity and principles like the precautionary one can develop a better understanding of our impact on nature and the ways in which it needs to be cared for. Each and every person has to take responsibility for their actions and the choices they make on how they treat the environment around them. Looking at the ways that indigenous people live can be a good start because of their unique view on the natural world and how they see life as being sacred.

    • You have an important point about the positive feedback loop here, Andrew– that these principles help us gain knowledge, which shows us the results of our actions, which in turn helps us foster principles that enact care and respect for the world that sustains us. We could certainly do worse that follow the values that humans developed to express their gratefulness for their lives–and what sustains them, Andrew. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    • Imagine a world where people actually valued each other and all of natures others equally. Imagine a world society where it would never occur to someone to dump toxic sludge into a river or even build a coal fired power plant in a low income area beside a school full of children. Imagine if you will a world where everyone (human and non-human) shared equally in nature’s bounty in a sustainable way.

      Now think of the effect all of this would have on society as we know it. The stock market would crash and economies would fail. Oh, wait a minute, that’s already happening…. People would no longer have a reason to go to war. That would put a lot of defense contractors out of business. Then politicians would go broke because they would no longer receive kick-backs and lobbyist money. We would not need to fight “the powers that be” over their plans to build a dam or fill in a wetland, etc… What would we eco-activists do with all of that spare time…?

      Now I know that the prospect of such living in such a world is frightening to the Politicians, capitalists, Industrialists and many others who have become comfortable with the status quo. But even more frightening is the prospect that we (humans) continue along the same path which we are now following. We are living in an unsustainable manner. If we do not adopt a new worldview and a new way of living, we will soon run out of the opportunity to make the change. The world that we will be forced to live in due to our own negligence and abuse will be more nightmarish that any politician or industrialist could possibly imagine.

      You said “Each and every person has to take responsibility for their actions and the choices they make on how they treat the environment around them.” I agree totally. The problem is that many people don’t take responsibility. Many people work very hard at shifting responsibility on to others for their own actions. Most large corporations pay legions of lawyers to do just this thing. The question is “How do we get the people who run the factories and who pollute regularly to accept responsibility?” Although Government intervention and regulation has had some success at this, I personally am a fan of requiring the people, who are identified as major polluters to live in their own filth, drink their own polluted water, eat their own contaminated food, and forgo making any profit from their actions. Perhaps this requirement would serve as deterrence. But that’s just my opinion… A bit drastic, I know. But I believe that we are quickly coming to the point where drastic steps must be taken.

      • I love your vision in the first paragraph here, Ron. As you indicate, in such a world, we would go a long way toward remedying the violence that so pervades our society– and return the potential of all the lives that are lost to this.
        Your perspective about the “nightmarish” alternative of not caring for one other and other lives that share our world is well taken. I find it scary that folks are out there manipulating fear to achieve what they want.

        You also bring up the central conundrum of corporations who abdicate their responsibility. I think we must be very clear (in our laws and our economic system) that corporations are NOT people (and that giving them the rights and protections of human beings is asking for trouble– without serious culpability for their actions.) This means we must pass laws like the fair elections, disclose, safe chemicals and gmo labeling acts currently before Congress (see our action list here). We must make conscious consumer choices–at the same time that we build community and re-distribute power in this society so that all have basic survival needs met and the right to participate in the social choices that effect their lives.

        Certainly, no small list (and I am sure everyone reading this could add something of their own to it), but to me that underscores how important each of us is in whatever we do to forward this agenda. I think Chinua Achebe said it best, there are no perfect societies– only those better than others of “fighting the instincts of self-destruction”– we need to stop rewarding greed in order to begin to make our society one of those.

      • I must say that I very strongly agree with you. I think your vision will really make a lasting impact. The key is to be able to bring these awareness to more people and have more people joining the fight.

  126. I really agree with the four priciples, but the one that sticks out for me is partnership. I truely believe that if we as humans start to connect with nature around us we can restore the earth to its natural beauty while still having our socities thrive around us.

  127. I agree with Brandon Driggs. It is sad that we have not been giving back to nature the way we should and the damage we have done because of that. We believe we are superior because we have the most power, but it is mother nature who is truly powerful. We use the land and the resources around us for our own gain but have no afterthought of what we have done or how many lives (and creatures) it has changed. Reciprocity should be taught in all schools not just to help our daily interactions with each other, but also the environment.

    • I would love to see reciprocity taught as an essential value to our children, Kat.
      And I would also love to see it modeled by adults– it is never to late to change the things that need changing–and to enact our best vision for the future.

  128. I think these four principles is a great start for us to undo some of the damages that we have already done. It is so sad that great ideas and principles that we should embed into the foundation of our society is so obviously missing! Also all too often we know what is the right thing to do but rather we choose the easy route which will leave us way worse off in the future.

  129. Minus the realities presented in the opening paragraph and the fact anyone living in a dualistic society would be opposed to the last two guiding principles , I find this essay to be to more of a hopeful, abstract theory than an applicable practical approach.

    Don’t take that the wrong way, I do believe the four guiding principles would lead humans to act in environmentally responsible ways, but I am still pessimistic because there was no “implementation plan” presented in the article.

    Changing and/or altering a societies value structure, is a very hard thing too do, thousands of politicians know this, and it normally takes a long time (plausibly a couple of generations, at best).

    Great start, the principles should be taught to children at a younger age. The earlier the better, to compete with multiplying marketing strategies aimed at kids.

    • Hi James, I appreciate the thoughtful comment.
      My response to the issue you raise is twofold. First of all, such (resilience) thinking has not only been done by humans successfully in the past for thousands of years, but continues to be done by inspired and inspiring activists today (see “How can you not plant a rose…” and the “the Green Revolution, Whoops… here).
      The second point is that I do not see an extreme gap between thinking and doing (implementation): it seems to me that good thinking IS doing (to cite the words of modern philosopher of science Sajay Samuel– it will take a good deal of re-thinking to turn our current course around).
      On another level, you are right about an implementation plan: I believe not only that when we think differently, we act differently, but when we act differently (e.g. according to particular ethical standards), the results helps us refine our thinking as well.
      That said, my hope is that the “implementation plan” rests in each of our consciousness as we begin to think differently and choose each of our daily actions.
      Perhaps this a frustrating answer– but I believe deeply in personal authenticity and choice and the importance of both community and individual action. And you offer a strategy yourself. The very place where you find this essay lacking (and troubling) is the place to jump in and provide answers you have done.
      Thank you for offering this point to consider!

  130. All four concepts all me to understand that my actions affects tomorrow. Partnering with the natural world means to live in humility every day and be thankful for all that is on earth. Humanity reaps what it sows, so the precautionary principle is essential for the continuance of life on earth. I really don’t think there is another alternative to life on earth.

    • Thoughtful perspective on the ways in which we might trace and act on the responsibility of our actions, not just for the future days we ourselves are on this planet– but for the sake of the larger future that contains all life–as William McDonough our actions should reflect our “loving the children of all species for all times”.

  131. The main idea of this essay is to inform human beings that Earth mother need to be resilience; and it suggests four guiding principles for managing human behaviors toward nature. The fourth one is the most appealing to me. To me, partnership is very important because without partnership this world will always be divided. As we are moving toward modernization, we are leaving our traditional ways of life too. In the old time, people spend just enough time to work to feed the whole village. The rest of the time, people send to enjoy their life with nature and with religion. Life was very simple, but very meaningful and peaceful. Human being and other earth habitants are friends; all live friendly with nature. Earth mother supports all habitants all they need, so in return all living and non-living things will protect and nourish our Mother. At that time, partnership is a natural thing. Partnership means both survival and progression. Nowadays, with the effect of the idea “survival of the fittest”, human beings are competing each other as well as other habitants to survive and move toward. Partnership doesn’t mean anything anymore. Individualism makes people believe they are not part of nature, and materialism becomes the scale to measure the success. Less and less people who care for others, everybody only focus on individual success and profit. Personally, I think human beings need a lesson to teach them about their blindness. They also need masters who are powerful enough to teach them a right path.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective on an older way of life (the one you have spoken about before in Laos?), Vu. I very much like the idea of “friendship” between humans as well as between humans the natural world–and the slower pace of life that gave time for savoring the joy in life–and lives lived together.
      Let us hope the “master” that might teach us about our “blindness” in implementing a progress (and competitive individualism) that is good neither for ourselves or for other lives might be our own critical awareness and conscience!

    • Yes, Vu, individualism does separate humans from nature. but it is also individual responsibility that one can exercise to re-connect and partner with the natural world. We are now realizing that Earth mother cannot support all her inhabitants unless those inhabitants return the favor. Prof. Holden is right, our consciences need to be that master that opens our eyes and instructs us on the right path.

      • Nice balance here, Reb-and reflective of the balance we need to exercise in our actions with respect to the earth. There is nothing we can continue to take and take from without replenishing–and have it still be there.

  132. The idea of natural resilience seems to get lost in our modern world because of things like pesticides, herbicides, engineered foods, and antibiotics. I think about the example of Smokey the Bear and how ‘we can prevent forest fires’…but in actuality, we create a situation where natural processes are interrupted, and fires burn out of control! Mother Nature has checks and balances and does not need human intervention to spray chemicals or engineer something to be more resilient. Humans must recognize that adding or making resilience is not as effective as natural processes. Humans cannot keep taking and using without maintaining natural cycles.

    • Good perceptions, Brad. Indeed Mother Nature does not need our chemical assistance– quite the opposite, since our “assistance” has caused every ecosystem on earth to be in decline. It is time, as you note, to stop taking without giving back.
      The other thing about resilience is that attending to it alerts us to the fact that ecosystems are living wholes with responses of their own to our actions.
      Thanks for your comment.

  133. I am going to El Salvador this spring break as a part of Engineers Without Borders OSU chapter project. The communities we are visiting are near the deep forests of Tacuba, El Salvador. The partnership between EWB-OSU and the indigenous communities has been about 7 years now. EWB-OSU have provided clean water distribution system, water filter and basic health educations for the small communities. I hope the trip this spring that I am going to be a part of will teach me the lessons that were mentioned in this article: the values of partnership with the nature.

    • What a wonderful opportunity for both learning and sharing, YunJi. I wonder if you will also see reflections here of your own cultural background and values in the local agricultural practices.
      I think the entire OSU community should be very proud indeed of what its student members of Engineers without Borders are accomplishing!

    • What an exciting opportunity you have! I am sure you will see some real-life examples of the partnerships between indigenous people and nature. And yes, like our instructor, I am very proud of O.S.U.’s accomplishments and partnership with this indigenous community.

      • Something to cheer for, indeed! Thanks for your supportive comment that indicates how much support such activities have. I find both Choi’s actions and your responses heartening.

    • That is great, YunJi! I did not even know there was such an organization as Engineers Without Borders, but how wonderful to find out about it. I can’t think of a better way to use your technical expertise than to spread peace and goodwill by helping others in that way. Thank you very much for giving up your Spring Break time to do this good work.

    • Thank you for such a great responds everyone! If you are interested in what we are doing at all- pay attention to student organization fair or sustainability fair and such that are going on in campus from time to time- we are always there. If you do not come to OSU campus so often, you can also visit- http://groups.engr.orst.edu/ewb/ Wish me a good luck!

  134. I agree wholeheartedly with the four guiding principles you outline to fostering the Earth’s resilience. I also agree with your point on the views of organized religion regarding reciprocity. Organized religions have completely failed to teach the values needed for humans to treat the Earth responsibly. I find it incredibly frustrating that, for the most part, religious leaders are still largely ignoring the growing environmental crisis, while it is their religious philosophies that led us to our current dire circumstance. One shining example of a courageous and intelligent religious leader, however, is the Dalai Llama, who has spoken out about the need to address environmental concerns. It is time for the others to step up to the plate. I am still waiting to hear the Pope talk about anything as crucial or relevant as the environment.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Nicole. It does seem that the Buddhists (as far as organized religions go) have it over some others– as in Bhutan and their gross happiness quotient– and extremely high environmental standards.
      And actually, the pope has spoken out on the environment– fairly recently. I find this quite hopeful.

  135. The resiliency of natural systems is amazing. Projects like Gaviotas prove that the land can recover from just about anything, as long as it is treated with care and respect. I think the four principles you have set out here are great, and I was just thinking about what I as an individual could do to implement them in my life.

    Insofar as honoring flexibility and diversity—the food production industry is going to do what it knows how to do, which is to follow the laws of supply and demand. I think it is our responsibility as consumers to provide the demand for more organic produce, an end to GMO’s and poisonous pesticides, more grass-finished beef and free-range poultry products, etc. Organic produce is much more available than it used to be and slightly cheaper, but still really too expensive for a lot of people. But part of our responsibility includes just saying “no.” I’m not buying that stuff anymore, I am demanding better quality food, and I’ll buy your produce again when you provide what I want. This may require spending more on food, growing our own, or seeking out all the local farmer’s markets; but nothing comes without a price. It’s just a case of what we are willing to do.

    • Good for you in terms of aligning your personal consumer choices with your values, Susan. Excellent argument about the law of supply and demand. One of your classmates also put it this way: “If we don’t buy it, they won’t make it”. That doesn’t meant they may not try to persuade and then force us to buy it. But we can stand firm, as you are doing. And it is better for our health to avoid pesticide and antibiotic-laden meat– even aside from the ethics of how factory farmed produce and animals are raised.
      Thanks for your comment.

  136. Although the earth’s resilience is very adequate, an amazing ability that the earth possesses, but I don’t think we should take advantage of that. We still need to do our part to be responsible and help the earth be as healthy as possible. The destruction we have caused is an imense about, and I think Mother Nature is strong enough to survive it and overcome all of our damage, but that does not mean we will not endure consequences nor does it give us the right to damage our natural resources. Our culture has become so good at justifying our actions so we can sleep at night when in reality we just need a whole make over for our culture and our priorities. Indeed partnership is the most important appealing to many, and yet the hardest to accomplish. It would be so great to live in a partnership based society, it would eliminate all the greed, competition, discrimination and so on. I hope our society will strive for creating a balance between our actions towards nature and what we take from nature.

    • Good point that just because living systems are resilient, it does not mean that we can exploit them until they lose that resilience! Great vision of the repercussions of partnership: I hope with you that we get there quickly enough to care for the gift of life that we have inherited in the natural world.
      Essential point about the necessary sense of balance we should attend to in our relationship with the natural world.
      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Courtney.

    • I hope that society is able to find a balce with nature too, and I’m scared of what might happen if we continue on the path we have been on. I agree that society has sort of “covered up” our horrible actions toward nature in order to produce econmic means. I think people are scared of what might happen if the actions we are so comfortable with all of a sudden are haulted, and we are forced to do the unthinkable, change! I wish people were able to see these articles and realize that partnership isn’t something that maybe or probably should happen. I think it is something that must happen, and everyone should know the importance of nature and that it produced the heart beat of our planet.

      • I like your perspective on partnership with the natural world as something that MUST happen rather than may or might happen, Melinda. I agree that it takes courage to face some of the dilemmas we currently face– but out of that also comes the vision to make the changes we need. Thanks for being part of the community of care in this respect.

  137. It is sad how many of us take mother nature forgranted. Somehow we have obtained the idea that we can take whatever we want from nature, like it is ‘ours’. Fortunately, nature has a way of surviving all of our damage, so far. But who knows what will happen if we continue on this path of destruction. Hopefully, the ecofeminist movement will help create a cooperation between humans and nature.

    • I hope the movement will create a cooperation and understanding as well. As members in this world it is important that we stop taking this world that we live in for granted and start living in a way to make our grandchildren proud.

    • I hope so, Courtney: your own concern is a step in the right direction.

  138. It is so very true that we abuse the tolerance nature allows us. This agreement our ancestors had with nature involved a mutualism that allowed them live side by side without irreversible consequences. Unfortunately, through our greed and lust from money, we have broken this mutualism with nature and the balance has been disrupted. I actually believe nature is sending warning signs to humans in regards to bring back this important balance, which in turn is very important to our survival as a race. I do not believe that we will be able to restore the earth to the original state it was born in, but I feel that we can make sure our future actions and decisions work towards bringing back this balance.

    • The “warnings” you speak of are something to attend to. No matter how we conceptualize it, the dynamics of reciprocity in interdependent ecological systems mean that we will get some unpleasant responses to our mistreatment of the natural world — as we are already seeing in increasingly unstable weather patterns. It is certainly true that modern industrial society is violating any potential partnership with the natural world.
      Thanks for your caring response, Michelle.

    • It is amazing to think in one centuries time just how much damage we have done. Our ancestors were here for an exponentially greater amount of time, yet we have impacted the planet more. It is sad, and you make a great point that our greed and lust for money has destroyed our mutualism with nature. Nature can only live out of balance for so long before something has to give. I believe you are right, we are seeing the warning sign currently.

      • I agree that the warning signs are building (as in weather crises as a result of global warming); at some point–and quickly– I hope we get the point that life is more important than dollars. And I would love to see an economic system that rewarded those who create what so many of us really want: contributing to a vital world for our children to inherit.

  139. It is interesting to think that even by attempting to restore nature to its previous state, we would be altering it again. It is a sad thought that the wilderness will never be the same due to our actions, and even worse that we are unable to correct these mistakes. I like the idea of the precautionary principle but think that society still has a lot of “growing up” to do in relation to this notion. It might be a while before we see this idea being put into action by big businesses and even everyday people.

    • The loss of our wilderness is a sad thing, Samantha, but I am not sure that because humans interact with the natural world, that is always a sad thing. What we deem wilderness today is often the result of thousands of years of interaction between indigenous peoples and land.
      I agree that the extinction of so many species and the loss of unique and vital habitat is a great tragedy. I also think we have much “growing up” to do as a nation.
      Thanks for your comment.

    • I agree with your idea – that by attempting to restore nature, we would be altering it again. At this point, it seems like we are going to alter it no matter what, whether we attempt to restore or not. But at least attempting to restore it would alter it in (hopefully) positive ways that are aimed at healing, instead of harmful ways that are a byproduct of disregard.

      • I think it is important to be conscious of the fact that we are making an effect– hopefully we will get our egos out of the way and use holistic long-term analysis with the precautionary principle in play as we work on this.
        Thanks for your comment.

  140. It’s sad to think that earth will never be able to fully return to her state before we arrived, and that nature may never be fully balanced again. Yet, if we take on the actions that so manyindigenous communities do, then I think human beings will be able to continue to prosper on this land. Through the four points that were stated, reciprocity, pre-cautionary principle, flexibility, and partnership I think that this world will be able to heal so many of the wounds that human beings have created. It just starts with change.

    • Since we are part of nature, the changes we make are in some respect also “natural”– though they might do considerable damage to other natural lives and natural systems, they might also support them, as was the case with certain indigenous peoples.
      I don’t think it is sad that nature cannot return to a state without humans– unless humans are doing the kind of damage we currently are.
      Thanks for reminding us of the power to heal our wounds, Melissa. As you note, it “just starts with change”– that is, with each of us.

  141. I think it would be unrealistic to believe we could restore our environment entirely. Also, it would be impossible to have no human impact. That is not the goal at this point. The goal is to stop further harm, and heal where we can.
    Honoring and supporting natural resilience is a great idea. This is something that we CAN do. I especially think the precautionary principle is of the highest importance right now. The very first thing we need to do is stop harming ourselves and the planet by unnecessarily unsafe actions and technologies. We simply can’t afford to wait out the possible dangers and see what happens.

    • I agree with you on the point of the precautionary principle: we can hardly support the resiliency of nature and continue to harm it at the same time.
      And just “seeing what happens”, as you aptly phrase it, is something we cannot afford. We are not, after all, children, making mud pies.

  142. I think that the four criteria that was suggested in this article are right on the spot. For over a century we (humans) have been pillaging and plundering this planet and taking what we can out of it. Our greed and need for “things” is causing disastrous effects worldwide. I think that moving to a more balanced, and thus more sustainable, model would help the natural world to overcome some of the past damage. Though I do also agree it will never be able to fully recover.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response, Amanda. I actually do think natural systems might be able to fully recover their resilience- – we just cannot return to a former age.
      The tragic exceptions are our ability to recover extinct species and lost cultures and habitats.

    • As the term is coming to an end, I am beginning to think more and more about what I might change due to what I’ve learned in this class. The main problem is that it is mankind as a whole which is greedy, so the individual differences won’t add up to make a great difference. However, I do think there is power in standing up for what you believe in simply for that reason. To move to a more balanced model would take a huge effort, and I hope that someday mankind as a whole can start cleaning up the mess that we’ve made. Then maybe we can restore as many aspects of nature as possible.

      • Hi Jenni, thanks for your comment. I think it would be great to define this “mankind as whole” that you say is causing our problems– and look to cultures and individuals who are modeling the change we need.
        I agree that standing up for what you believe in is very important– it is a way of honoring yourself as well as providing an example of what is possible as well as undertaking the steps that accumulate into the whole. After all, each of us is an essential part of “humankind as a whole”.
        I would rather say that our particular economic structure encourages problems, as does as some of our values– these are things we can work with in very particular ways to change. For instance, you might join with those at 350.org in our current “action alert” to address climate change– so that you wouldn’t feel alone in your choices and values.

  143. What is impressive is how the four ideas above, are all harmoniously linked together. The connectedness of the natural world is evident in throughout these principles, but not throughout our society. It seems obvious to those who are interested and educated, the connection between our actions and the rest of the world, but to those who are either unaware, or uninterested, the connection will never be established, and therefore, never realized in our society. I often wonder about the social impacts created by the careless use of the natural world, and what it was that came first. Has our social unawareness and disinterest caused the separation of humans from the natural world or vice versa? I

    • I appreciate your thoughtful response, John. I am more hopeful than you on the possibility of change of conscious among even those who are currently most disconnected from and indifferent to others.
      You raise an excellent point about the connections about the “careless use of the natural world” and the indifference to other humans: I don’t know if we can say which came first, but they are definitely historically intertwined.

  144. Once again, the precautionary principle comes into play. Sometimes people should definitely throw caution to the wind, but when it comes to long-term affects, we need to consider every consequence to an action. It is interesting how we can support a sustainable environment by considering interconnectedness between each of the things you mentioned in this article. We can’t just utilize one method to support the natural world, just as we shouldn’t attempt to differentiate between our own spirits and the spirits of the natural world. For earth to thrive, interconnectedness is the key idea.

    • I think there is joy in experimentation (throwing, as you put it, “caution to the wind”), Jenni. But I also concur that we definitely need the precautionary principle in the contexts in which we may harm other lives and the systems that sustain us.
      I agree with your stress on interconnectedness.

    • Jenni, I agree with you that we need to consider the consequences of our actions in regards to long term effects. I hear so many people say things like “My generation was fine, the next one will be fine also” or “I never recycled before, why should I start now?” The fact is that there are so many negative, long term consequences to the actions we take every single day, and those consequences should be taken into consideration for our world and our future generations.

  145. I really agree with the steps this essay recommends for improving natures resilliance. The article reminded me of a movie I watched recently called The Day The Earth Stood Still. In this movie aliens land on earth and earth reacts violently, receiving a violent response. The aliens send an agent to earth to talk to the world leaders, America takes charge and tries to act as a spokesperson for the world. It turns out that the agent is just assessing humans effects on the earth and their ability to change. He decides that the only salvation for the earth is to destroy humanity but in the end is convinced not to destroy humans because they need a drastic event (like aliens threatening to kill everyone) to start a big change.
    I really think that it will take a big event to make western society change. Human nature has proven over the years to be a very stubborn thing.

    • I agree that we will not see rapid change without some huge event. We can, however, see gradual change. By following the steps given above, we might be able to undo some of the damage and perhaps our children’s children will come to think of nature in a much better way than we currently do.

      • Important perspective, Mark. And there is this as well: if we all wait for the big change– much as it is needed– we might never begin the small changes that build up to that larger one.

    • Interesting metaphor here, Caleb. One might think climate change might be such a “bid event”– at least modern industrial culture is “stubborn” in the ways you describe– combined with our technological power, our lack of flexibility is hardly a good thing.

  146. I never thought about the paradox that we have currently involved ourselves in. By viewing the world in a dualistic manner, we lose the deeper meaning behind what “conservation” really means. We see the human world as the world we live in and the wilderness as the world without humans. How can we protect a world that doesn’t involve us? In order to conserve nature, we must first acknowledge that we are as much a part of nature as nature is a part of the “human world.” If we truly want to protect nature, we must come to understand the idea of partnership described above. If we live WITH nature instead of trying to protect it from the outside, we could prevent the damage and destruction that we are seeing today.

    • You offer a very important perspective here, Mark. I especially like your query of how we can protect a world that doesn’t involve us and your emphasis on living WITH nature. Thanks for reminding us of the importance of the partnership stance–and for highlighting the ironic (and ineffective) dualism that would “conserve” the world we supposedly stand outside of.

  147. I appreciated the section on indigenous people and how they traditionally managed their landscapes for biodiversity. This reminded me of how the Native Americans would make use of every part of the animal they killed. In contrast, Americans today throw away so much food, plastics, garbage, etcetera. We are extremely wasteful as Americans – we buy things we don’t need, we throw them away when we don’t want them, and we buy more things. We could all take a lesson from the reciprocity and unselfishness of the Native Americans.

    • American’s tendency to waste and have excessive amounts of non-natural trash does not fit into either of the 4 principals. It will be a major problem that our generation will have to deal with, millions of pounds of plastics will have to be buried or used in some sort of form. I also appreciated the reciprocity Native Americans lived with, their waste was easily biodegradable and could be returned into their surroundings. I hope that we can also take that example of making use of our trash, we just will have to be very creative about manipulating plastic in an eco-friendly manner.

  148. I think that the four criteria that was suggested in this article are right on the spot. For over a century we (humans) have been pillaging and plundering this planet and taking what we can out of it. Our greed and need for “things” is causing disastrous effects worldwide. I think that moving to a more balanced, and thus more sustainable, model would help the natural world to overcome some of the past damage. Though I do also agree it will never be able to fully recover.

    • Since nature is ever vital and changing, if we consider recovery as going back to the exact character of a former state, it will indeed never happen. However, I agree that it is time to manage ourselves better so as to allow natural systems to be what they have evolved to be over the past millions of years. Maybe we could even work on understanding our place within these systems!

  149. The loss of biodiversity and the skills of protecting multiple species is an example of our current society’s lack of understanding ecological systems. Nature thrives with numerous types of species growing together, as seen in forest systems where different types of trees grow next to each other and do not compete. Trees show great partnerships in some having various types of functions such as wind protectant, water feeder, and shade providing for the beneficial growth of their brothers. There is so much to be learned from nature, the native cultures honored their surroundings to be full of teachings and to be the ultimate example of tranquil co-existence.

    • Lovely reminder that it was the natural world that first taught humans community, Priti! You have a perceptive point about monoculture techniques coming from our ignorance of the natural world. The “rugged individual” may be isolated in his/her own cleared space in industrial society– but there is no such thriving life in the natural world. Thanks for your perceptive comment.

    • I definitely agree that there is a lack of understanding in regards to ecological systems when it comes to most societies. It is easy to overlook the interconnectedness that is shared in this world. How do you think better education or information sharing could occur in a way that you think the majority of the population would buy in or undertand the importance? I am not sure how “caring” can be taught. I know too many people who let the information go in one ear, then right out the other. It is kind of sad.

  150. I hope that within the nearby future that us as a society will find a way to balance with our own environment and nature. It seems that we have gotten off balance over the past few years and have yet to get back on track. I still have hope that we will change, since our environment and nature is changing around us day by day! Because it is true that one day, our children’s children will have the opportunity to do so as well.

  151. I really like the idea of ‘natural resilience’, and how it implies the environment is able to take care of restore itself. I like the term as much as the term sustainability because it gives the idea of a living organism. If something is resilient, they are able to grow and heal. It’s a neat idea that might help people look at the environment as a natural, organic, living organism.

    • Great perspective on the idea of resilience and a “living” organism, Jen. We might do better to care for our entire world as if it were truly alive (which it is!)

  152. I love the point about what level to restore nature to. Instead of focusing on “pre-human levels” we need to center our focus on practices that will follow your rules and perhaps others that strengthen local ecology. If we survive as a culture and as a species, there will likely be no place that we to not effect in some form with our actions. What people should realize is that it is not about simply setting aside a few places for protection, but altering our actions, no matter where we are, to actions that will support the life support system that supports us–the rest of the planet.

    • I think you have a central point here, Mark. It is not about, as you say, just setting aside wild places (though we do indeed need some of those for many reasons); it is about changing our actions to support the world that supports us. Thanks for your comment.

  153. I would caution not to place extra emphasis on edges so as not to encourage people to try increasing the proportion of edge habitats. Creating more edge breaks up larger tracts of habitat, and while some species thrive in edge habitat, it is the detriment of others. Studies have shown that forest songbirds experience greater predation and lower reproductive success when their nests are closer to the edge of forest habitat.

    • Hi Amy, this is an special concern if the “edges” are not edges that partake of two vital ecosystems on either side. The “edge of forest habitat” in the studies I think you are referring to here (correct me if I am wrong– I am always ready to learn something) are those bordering cultivated land. This is a very different “edge” habitat from say, that between a thriving marsh and a forest that provides the benefits of both habitats to its residences.

  154. I liked that such a concrete solution to our relationship problems with the natural world is offered in this article. There is such a wide scope of problems and potential solutions, that it is nice to just sit down and read some of them broken up into simple terms.

    I particularly like your excerpt on “forecaring” – as it is something I often think about myself. So much of our problems with nature stem from the fact that we have the POWER to inflict such harm onto it. Many think that just because we have that power, we also have that right. However, the way I see it, that power places a great amount of responsibility on us to take care of the natural world instead of harm it. Your idea of forecaring is very thoughtful and nurturing. The world is not at our disposal to test things on and disregard the consequences it may have on those we share the Earth with. The natural world is not an inanimate piece of plastic or metal that we can throw things at or burn and will remain resilient of simply break. It is alive and when we conduct harmful actions and progress, it feels the effect. Things are harmed and things die when we treat the world like this. We need to have more respect for the world that keeps us alive and assess, in advance, what we should inflict upon it and verify that it will not cause damage and harm.

    Recognition of flexibility and diversity it also so important when dealing with the natural world because in nature, no two things are alike. There is no uniformity and it cannot be treated as such. Like the contractor who wanted to implement projects in places where the land wasn’t right for it, (in one of your other articles), people often treat the natural world like it is on a conveyor belt – not taking into consideration the diversity of our land, topography, animals, and nature possess. If we were to work with the land, I know that it would be better to us. Building and cities would be more resilient and I believe the land would be more fertile. Instead, we try to manipulate it to get what we want out of it, without giving anything back.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful assessment, Amanda. It seems that your thinking is carrying these ideas further along in their analysis– and in your lifetime, hopefully, as well, in their application.
      I really like the reminder that “the world is not at our disposal” to test things on; it is, rather (from my perspective) a world with intrinsic value of its own. When things are harmed by our actions, we ARE responsible– and we can’t get out of this responsibility by dismissing the importance of those we harm. I like your response to the idea of flexibility as well; natural systems certainly have much built in diversity, which helps handle stress of all sorts– all the more important as we face climate change.

    • I completely agree that it is in our nature as humans to expect to have POWER over the natural world and that it is a right to have it. Too many people see the natural world as something that needs to be dominated and controlled and that it is something that we were born to conquer. There is too much disregard for our actions towards the natural world. Too many large corporations and countries use land as testing grounds for nuclear and biological weapons without any thought to what these weapons are doing to the environment.

      • Hi Justin, if it is in our “nature” to exert such domination over the natural world, how would you explain all the cultures (and thousands of years) in which humans did not do this?

      • Good points Justin,

        The idea of power and domination over nature is the main problem with our complacencies with the environment. The dominance stance originates from colonial times when the “wild” was a savage and inhospitable place that needed to be tended into a more hospitable place and the belief that the land was bountiful and endless. This idea has transcended in sync with the capitalistic views throughout American history and to the same extent early European history. Good points about the testing of biological and nuclear weapons, not to mention the storage of all that waste to last thousands of years!

  155. I really enjoy the idea of “forcaring” or the precautionary principle. I like the fact that its main goal or purpose is that human actions (especially new technologies) must prove themselves harmless before being enacted. I think of more people, especially in the technology and medical fields took the time to really understand the products that they were putting out our world might not have antibiotic resistance diseases or poisons being sprayed on the food we want to eat. If more people took the time to truly understand the consequences of their actions not only in their life time but the life time of those coming after them, the world might be a more thoughtful place.

  156. I think the four guiding principles are a good start to shifting our capitalistic views towards a more earth centered view. The idea of commoditiy like you mentioned is a very powerful concept. It is the basis for western expansion and power. Even the cost-benefit analysis of an ecosystem service is based on a selfish view, even though it is an attempt to provide a benefit to the environment. If more people believed in the intrinsic value of nature, more respect would be given and the four guiding principles would fall into place.

  157. I think these are good guidelines for people, especially scientists to keep in mind. As scientists have the largest impact on the world around them through the development of new technologies, it would be beneficial if they would think beyond the intended use of a product and think about the other impacts it will have. The actions of individuals also shape the world around them, and taking the time to care about how these actions effect the world around you can be enough to improve things.

    • I like this response from the perspective of one studying science. Thanks, Aaron!

    • True, I think management also plays a crucial role. Sometimes at work places there are process placed that seems like such a waste of resources. Like receiving paper faxes, the management feels that it is essential to keep the paper trail open and not transition to electronic faxing. Maybe save some trees at the same time. I guess what I see on a daily basis is great enthusiastic minds, scientist and engineers joining the work force but narrow minded management teams don’t see their eco-effective innovation ways to be important.

    • I agree. Some of the other readings here have challenged me as a biology major where I feel torn between the explanations for natural occurrences I’ve learned and wondering about the cost those explanations came with. Did earlier scientists I’ve read about care about the environment, or were they above it and controlling it, just thirsty for knowledge?

  158. Creating partnership between all natural beings is the one that I think people have the most trouble with. We live in a very selfish world however, I believe that It is possible for humans and nature to live hormoniously, but it takes effort. People have to be willing to make that effort for there to ever be a chance at overcoming our dualistic nature.

  159. The “restore point” is quite difficult to find. It reminds me of people trying to define nature itself, as completely untouched by humans or as we exist together. Nobody knows and nobody has the answers to things like this. By siding with life, we can just do our best to keep with the natural changes life brings us and not resist them or try to say we have the power to do so.

    • I don’t think there is a restore point. Humans could never go back to the way things were. A lot of Americans don’t even like to camp or think a RV or cabin is roughing it.

  160. This article presents many important points. I agree the reciprocity is a key element here. It is so important for people to recognize the gifts they receive from the earth as well implementing the balanced mutual exchanges. Sometimes it is easy to forget that the food we are eating and the lumber for our houses comes from nature when we don’t regularly see it in its natural state. After achieving this recognition many may appreciate earth’s gifts more and will want to give back in some way.

    I am also an extreme supporter of the precautionary principle. It makes a lot of sense to make sure that chemicals and products are proven safe before they are put onto the market. This will ensure the health of the environment, as well as the consumers of these products. Every organism deserves against those inflicting harm upon them now and in their future.

    • Thanks for the added perspective here: I very much like your last idea that every organism deserves protection by way of the precautionary principle– not just humans. We have no right to inflict our damage on other life!

  161. The precautionary principle, or “forecaring,” is a concept that I believe to be overlooked, especially for all of the value that is involved in this principle. Two examples where this notion often ignored is in science and in the daily life of the average person. In science a new technology is often in use before an appropriate risk assessment has been created and before a full understanding of the technology has been brought forth. Science gets excited about new technologies before they think about what the impact will be in the future. Scientists want to solve a certain problem right now, so they develop a technology to do so, but they do not stop to think about what will happen to future generations from using these methods. In our daily lives, and I know that I am included in this, we often forget to use the precautionary principle. We fail to acknowledge that every little decision that we make has a consequence. If we decide not to recycle that can, to support companies we know use child labor, or we decide to use the car instead of our legs to go down the street. All of the minor decisions we make on a daily basis add up to something much bigger. That is why it is of importance to think before you act. No one is perfect and there will be times we forget, but we should try to think how each one of our decisions will effect the rest of the world and our future generations. We need to base on our individual and scientific (as well as social, economic, and political) decisions on the precautionary principle and the idea to harm none.

    • What your explaining is our lack of interest in researching technological methods properly. Humans would rather fail before getting something done the correct way. Practicing specific things on the environment can take its toll and we would be better off being certain the outcome before we do something. I mean humans tested nuclear weapons on the earth without knowing what would really happen. Practice makes better but practicing within the environment on which provides your survival is just foolish.

    • Good points to consider about the ways we too often–and should never– overlook the precautionary principle, Kelly. We need to change the habits flowing from our worldview, as the EU does in its own placement of the precautionary principle as a priority in its own REACH program.
      Every decision we make, as you noted, is important– and we must develop a realistic view of ourselves that assumes responsibility both for our power and our mistakes as something to learn from.
      Thanks for your comment.

  162. The idea that we don’t have a restore point is a great argument to make against pollution. Once we go down this path of destruction it will be impossible to look back. This is why research is so important before potentially having an impact on the environment. The expansion on humans and the global economy makes it difficult for us to revert to how the indigenous people treated biodiversity and sustainability. I think it is very important for technology to improve to a point where the impact of human production and advancement lessens. We have lost our natural partnership with nature and are currently interested in a different agenda when it comes to science. We are a experimental species that would rather guess than calculate.

    • Thoughtful points to consider, Andrew. Guessing rather than thinking things through is not a good strategy for any, much less those with the power of humans to effect their world. And certainly, it is not a moral stance.

    • We are well down that path of destruction and looking back is exactly what we do need to do. We can look back in our history and we can define those times when things started really going bad. We have the technology now to step back and restart on an altermative path that would be less destructive and allow us to undo much of the damage that has already been done. A lot of experimenting can be avoided simply by using some common sense and when in doubt make those decisions that err on the side of conservation.

      • Good perspective that takes some discipline to enact– we are so used to the approach of “full steam ahead” without stopping to think and evaluate. But we don’t need to do everything we can just because we can.
        A good place to begin is, as you point out, learning from history. It is certainly foolhardy to throw out such a profound library of learning.

  163. I think out of those four using the precautionary principle would benefit the most. Everything should have to be proven safe before it is used. Humans are going to continue developing things to benefit our lives. Problem is no one likes being told some that we have spent time and money to develop and make money on sucks or doesn’t work..

  164. The precautionary principle is by far one of the best ways in which we should live our lives. Every action should not be rushed into, but well thought out. Every technology should be researched extensively before deployed. Much research and development time and money is spent on new technologies and new medical treatments, but only enough to still ensure a tidy profit for the producer. This coincides with the acknowledgement that that which has the power to heal also has the power to hurt.

    Reciprocity, I think, is the lesson that this world needs to learn the most, especially Western modern societies. Simply put, it just seems like common sense and what we should be doing and how we should be acting as participants within the natural world that we all live. However, it has become far too easy to take that which we have for granted because it comes so easily to us. Compared to other regions of the globe we don’t have to work that hard to have a comfortable life. This makes us complacent about how fortunate we are and how and where everything we have comes from. People bemoan the fact that gratitude and kindness is lacking, but this is the result of a system we have intentionally set out to deploy.

    The Western modern society has much to learn and much to change. For example, whereas we worship things, traditional societies worship life. What seems like the more meaningful action?

  165. If we all practiced all four principals mentioned in this essay, we would be able to battle the lack of biodiversity in most regions. These things would take a lot of change in the widely held belief that our current way of life is the only way of life. In this essay, you mention the very fact that it is almost impossible to go back to a time when nature was almost unaltered by human behavior, but it would be refreshing to see a better, more healthy world if it were to ever happen. We need this change in our society so that we do not keep over-using our resources and harming the environment when the environment has done nothing but keep us alive in most cases.

    • Humans have altered the planet ever since we arrived, so to speak, and that is inevitable. We cannot exist here without causing some sort of alteration. We cannot control that. What we can control however, is the way in which we alter and effect nature. If all humans were more thoughtful of their actions, invoking these four principles, we would have a true “Earth community”.

      • I am not sure we can actually totally control the way we affect nature, Trent. However, as you point out, we can choose our own actions in line with particular values and as the example of Gaviotas, for instance, indicates, by doing so we have a better chance of getting good results in our inevitable affects on the natural world.
        Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could expect joyous and positive surprises (such as the recovery of the rainforest at Gaviotas) rather than the hits on the health of humans and other lives currently coming from our actions?
        I love the idea of a “true Earth community”.

    • I think it is really hard to do thing you mentioned ( do not keep over-using our resources) because the population have been exponentially increased. But we should not have birth control as well…..
      It is too hard for me to figure out how we treat these problems for next generations. At least, we can try to Not waste our resource…this is only thing what I can do now.

      • It is hard to figure out what to do, Tomoshiro, but we can do things one step at a time–and we are not without models, such as the models of those who are developing sustainable agricultural everywhere (see your classmate Trent’s recent comment here, for instance).
        This does not mean things will be easy– but isn’t there some part of each of us that loves a challenge?

    • Thanks for your comment, Colette. We do have much of our own behavior to change in allowing natural resilience to flourish once more. I appreciate your own consciousness of this!

    • I agree that we need this change in our society! It would be impossible to go back to a complete state without human alterations but I believe that if we follow these four steps then we will definitely begin to see some positive changes and continue to make steps forward!

  166. I think these ideas are very sound and valid and would love to see them put into practice. Being someone who was brought up in the western worldview, that is what I know because that was all that was taught to me, it leads me to wonder where I can learn about the practices of biodiversity that have been done by the indigenous people for so many years. Since the time of the settlers the indigenous people here have been pushed aside, their knowledge devalued and ignored and there is a stigma that follows from that still today. Just yesterday I read that the Oregon Board of Education is going to be looking at schools who have a Native American mascot to decide if they should change the mascot “because new research from the American Sociological Association shows that the use of Native American mascots is not healthy for children”.
    I think that it is a tragedy that this wonderful resource of knowledge is left unused and I am deeply saddened to think that this will not change. If we can’t even accept all people how can we expand to accept nature as a partner?

    • The issue concerning Native American mascots, according to my understanding, has to do with objectifying native peoples– it is inappropriate that we use cultural communities as “mascots”. Such stereotyping is not a matter of passing on any real knowledge– however, have Native American curricula in the schools would be– such as those developed by Esther Stutzman and Jim Thorton.
      Thanks for your comment–the good news is that on your level of education, much material is available that was not there even five years ago. Kat Anderson’s work is a good place to start in the arena of botany, for instance.

  167. I was kept thinking that we can recover by taking time. But I just realized that can we actually recover from the harmful process done toward the nature. I believe that the earth can recover from its own natural process. However, the things what we have done is different story because the nature might not have ability to fix it even though we try to fix it. Partnership with nature is the most important thing. We have been learning that indigenous people have partnership with the natural world. U.S government treats the land by making national parks in everywhere and force to indigenous people. It seems like this fact is example of ownership. The precautionary principle can be applied for protecting the nature, so we can prepare and take any action that we need to do for the nature. I remember that when I took ethic class for nano-technology there were always precautionary principle beside that because we do not really know how the nano-scale particle affect on our environment, so we need to investigate how it will be affected before we actually start using it.

    • Thanks for sharing perspectives on these important ethical standards, Tomoshiro. I am heartened by the fact that those with your ethics are going into the engineering field. Stay with your values, they are important to all of us!

  168. Biodiversity is important not only for nature, for without it diseases or other environmental affects could be devastating on a massive scale, but we also need the diversity provided by nature for our survival. All of the different components in an ecological system provide a very specific function to make that system healthy. These functions come naturally to the participants in our environment. Humans, as stewards, are the weak link in any environmental system for we must make a conscious effort to do our part otherwise we cause more harm than good.

    • Thoughtful point, William. Though humans may well be the weak link if they decide the wrong thing, they may also be, as Margolin has put it with respect to the native peoples of California, a “blessing on the land” if they do the right thing. Our power is a dangerous gift that we must, as you indicate, use with care.
      I also think we might well learn from those other lives that play their historically-based roles in ecosystems so very well.

    • I agree, biodiversity is very important. You bring up great points and I agree with Dr. Holden that humans could be the best tool to help reshape and care for this earth if we make the right decisions and do the right thing.

  169. If we can begin to follow and honor these four simple principles for managing human behavior we will begin to notice the positive changes in the natural world, which also benefit us!(even if we don’t see it). I personally think that honoring the diversity that exists in the natural world is one of the most important principles that need to be followed. If we can get to the point where we actually honor and respect the differences in each environment and where it came from, then I believe that people would be more inclined to respect the natural world and give back to it. Of course all of the principles talked about in this essay go hand in hand with one another and cannot be achieved without every principle in action. If we can take upon these responsibilities, then we will be able to see a larger more powerful change in the whole.

  170. This article made me think back to when I was a nanny of two small children. I remember when we would spend summer days outside playing in the garden. I vividly remember the three year old squatting down low to observe an ant farm she had found on the patio. We ended up spending the entire afternoon watching these ants busy at work.

    Little kids have an amazing way of stopping traffic on the sidewalk to study an ant farm, a spider, or a potato bug. They carefully observe, point and ask questions. It made me realize that if all people on earth took as much care and consideration into our natural surroundings (as young children do) our world would be a very different place. The trick is to not let children grow out of this habit of asking, caring and enquiring. If they carry these traits into their adult lives, maybe then, we can live on planet that is balanced, flexible, sustainable and healthy.

    So the next time you see a small child observing a leaf, taking an hour to get into the car because they see a butterfly, or asks you to help lift them up into the branches of a tree to get a birds eye view of a new nest, I encourage you to take a look for yourself, because you will be surprised by all you learn, see, and come to appreciate through the eyes of a three year old, and thanks to them our earth is better for it, and so are we.

    • Indeed, Rudy. Thank you for reminding us of what our children might teach us, both in their spontaneous wonder for the natural world– and our responsibility to ensure that this world is hear for them to experience. As your comment indicates, if we can remain alive to such wonder, such responsibility should follow!

  171. So often, when I think about all the obstacles the planet faces, it certainly does feel impossible that we will be able to fix the messes we’ve made. However, if I consider how it could be if each of us is willing to make significant changes in our lifestyles, and to teach our children the importance of living in harmony with the other creatures and resources, it makes me feel better about the situation. And, if I know I am at least doing everything I can, including making others aware of positive changes they could make that would make a difference, then I am able to rest easy and not stress myself over what others are or are not doing.

    • Thank you for sharing your own care and commitment, Kendra. The changes we need to make are challenging, but what each of us does as an individual–and as you indicate, as a parent, is essential to the task. So is the vision of our healed world that all of us can hold before us.

    • I really like your attitude towards the future. I think that sharing positivity and making changes to your own life when you see a problem is what this world needs more of. Be sure to congratulate yourself for making conscious decisions that will make our world a better place.

    • Kendra, I must say that you seem like someone who cares a lot about our natural world as I have seen here in TX that many people do not care about protecting our environment. It is not about doing the biggest thing but about doing the small things to help maintain our environment free of pollution. When I go to the store and buy and item I will 99% of the time carry the items that I bought in my hand or the reusable bags, it may not seem like much but when you don’t take bags from the store just simply because they give them to you then you are helping the environment by reducing the consumption of and item that will in a couple of hours or days end up at a landfill or the park even your neighborhood just laying on the floor. By making our children aware, just as you stated, we can help our environment remain just a bit healthier to be able to provide a healthy lifestyle for their children. Many parents and adults forget that children will do what they are taught; if at an early age we can teach them about the beauty of our planet and how to protect it then we have created a generation that can help our environment. Thanks for your insightful info.

      Moises Ascencion

      • Thanks for your supportive comment, Moises. Our personal actions certainly add up. I try to bring reused plastic bags for any produce or bulk items I purchase as well–and still I have drawers full of bags and bags of them. I hate to think of these numbers multiplied by every US citizen. The good news, of course, is that they can now be recycled at grocery drop off sites– though better not to accumulate so many in the first place!

      • Moises,
        I too live in Texas and am saddened by the lack of care for the enviornment. It seems that our state is really behind in our progress and the majority’s thought processes about caring for the earth. I will never forget when I was working (I am currently a stay at home mom) my boss called me in to her office with her concerns about me riding my bike to work. It was incomprehensable to her as to why I would take the 7 mile journey on my bike and she actually asked me to stop doing it. Thousands of people ride their bikes to work every day but it is such a foreign concept in this part of Texas. It seems that while the majority of our country is thinking progressively and inovatively about the future, Texas is stuck in the “competing with the Jones'” mentality. I am sure this is not true regarding all of Texas (I know Austin is very progressive) but this has been my experience. I once had a professor that said that Texan’s think they are so independent from the rest of the country but in reality they are just 10 years behind (this professor taught in Texas). I have found this statement to be very true in many realms.
        That said, I have been seeing small changes over the past couple of years that make me think things are changing. I have seen more and more people driving compact cars, taking their own bags to the grocery store, and planting their own gardens. It will take time but I feel like positive changes are definitely on the horizon.

        • I have glad that you are seeing small changes in the right direction. Why should your boss have been concerned about your riding your bike to work– and what authority did she have to determined HOW you got to work?

    • Kendra,
      I think you brought up a great point with regards to teaching our children of the importance of living in harmony with nature. I do believe that this will be our saving grace. If we teach our children the importance of all of these principles particularly the importance of reciprocity and partnership as these are easily taught in the formative years of moral development. Teaching our children about the specific importance of bugs when they truly hold interest in them, or even treating our pets with respect and care, (not allowing them to pull on the dog’s tail for example), or allowing them to care for a garden are all small examples of how we can all help our children learn these important lessons.

  172. Many times people think “how can I live a more ecofriendly life?” when they might want to ask “how can I help the Earth live it’s life?” The world is an amazing place and I’m pretty certain it will persist through what ever humans can throw at it.If society would like to persist with the Earth there needs to be a better understanding of how the Earth heals and repairs it’s systems. I think that we are beyond the point of restoration, but we are definitely at the point that we can let the earth repair the anthropogenic wounds we have caused. The four principles above are a great way to start allowing the Earth to heal. I would really like to see a shift in the idea that WE can solve all the problems we create to the idea that the Earth knows how to heal itself if we allow it to.

    • I very much like your perspective in terms of gauging our actions so as to allow the earth to repair the “anthropogenic wounds” humans have inflicted.
      Following Einstein’s idea that we cannot solve a problem with the same kind of thinking–and in this case, action– that caused it, you have a solid point that we need to back off from our stance of control and move on to another perspective which truly honors the self-determination of natural processes.

  173. It is unfortunate that the majority of the world is aspiring to become industrialized, if not already so. This will make it increasingly difficult to foster the appropriate relationship with the natural world that is necessary to maintain sustainable ecosystems. Although all four of your principles are utterly important, I believe that which has the most power in our ever more modern society is the use of the precautionary principle. A regulatory framework derived from ecological and sustainability principles and goals gives some sense of protection until the other four guiding principles pervades our values and worldview.

    • Thanks for sharing this perspective, Paul. Obviously, we must provide a foundation of protection for natural systems, if we are to have such systems (not to mention, human survival) in which to express our values. If the EU can institute the precautionary principle, there is no reason we cannot– we just need to shift priorities away from the profit first mentality.

  174. Dr. Holden, Your views and points that you make in this article are truthful and dead on, our earth has not only endured its natural shifts in weather since its creation but now has endure and continues to endure the drastic and unnecessary pollutions among many other issues that have altered the biodiversity of this planet, yet it still stands strong and willing to endure more for the mistakes that we are humans are creating. Managing humans isn’t just about controlling what we do and what we use but it is also about being able to educate the human population to be able to aid nature and help our environment prosper for years to come. Unlike many things in this planet that can be restored to its natural state our planet is not one of them, we cannot simply decide to reduce our carbon emissions and hope that this will fix any issues that we have within the planet, all that this will do is help the environment survive and be healthier. Just as you stated “Precautionary Principles” are simple steps that we should already be taking to ensure that what we produce for both human consumption and human use will not be harmful to our environment, yet our society gets wrapped up in the monetary gains from releasing a new product that an in depth review of the true environmental damage this product will cause is ignored. Many indigenous populations foster the planet as a child that needs care and understanding, yet help maintain a biodiversity that prospers us as well as our planet. In many ways westerners have lost the “Partnership” that was once maintained with the natural world, from animals to plants and can no longer communicate with the natural world and be able to understand that it is hurting from what we are currently doing. Perhaps our planet will be able to recover one day from the damage that as humans we failed to prevent, perhaps it will take a new ice age or giant flood to take things back to perspective and allow us as humans to be connected to the world once again. Thank you for sharing such wonderful article.

    Moises Ascencion

    • You are welcome, Moises. Thank you for sharing your own care here. The changes we have already afflicted on our natural environment with toxic releases and climate change are indeed grave and not instantly fixable. I also think that inhibiting our carbon release is imperative in the context of what science now knows about global warming.
      Jim Hansen of NASA stated in a recent public announcement that global warming is the central ethical issue facing humans–and given the disproportionate effects on certain nations, changing it is as important as abolishing slavery was (and in some cases, sadly still it) in human history.

  175. I feel that all of these principles are important but the one principle I feel our nation needs the most is the principle of reciprocity. Because we rarely see where our food comes from and where our garbage goes then it is difficult for some to see the importance of this principle. If we don’t know all that we are taking from the Earth then how can we possibly attempt to pay it back. Our consumer nation needs to take it upon themselves to be educated on the important steps (large and small) they can take to move toward the goal of reciprocity. Some can take pride in simply turning off the water while brushing their teeth while others choose to transform their whole lifestyle toward sustainablity. The main idea is that everyone has this issue on their mind. Many people make the excuse that if the government is not going to change policies in order to protect the environment then it is useless for them to make these changes but the truth is that if the government sees that the people see these issues as important then they will work harder to make larger policy changes. The same goes for major corporations, as we have begun to see with the trend towards organic. All major changes begin with minor changes by the people.

    • Good point about our characteristic removal from the awareness of our actions. It seems that we need both governmental and individual changes in the right direction.
      Obviously, the lack of government standards cannot be an excuse for corporate wrongdoing when corporate lobbies are so often instrumental in stymying government action.

  176. The precautionary principle is one that I believe is of great value to the future of our planet. Considering the irreversible damage that has been inflicted on the earth due to manufacturing, growth and industrialization, we must place regulations on any future “progress”. Therefore, if it is not good for the planet, it is not good for us and we will not allow its production. As we gain more knowledge of reciprocity, sharing of resources and always giving back what is taken, we can achieve a more balanced cycle of life and a healthier world.

  177. I am also taking a course on Native American Environmental Ethics. I am fascinated that this class also covered reciprocity and yesterday we discussed the precautionary principle. For the discussion board in my Women and Resources class I used the fact that indigenous peoples steward 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. I love it when things that I am learning overlap like this. Another example that everything is connected.

    In my Women and Natural Resources class we studied desertification and I watched heartbreaking videos about The Dust Bowl. It is too bad that the colonizers didn’t learn about native use of dry land farming. I am inquisitive on how the dry land farmers of the American Southwest thrived in their environment. I would speculate that they utilized native plants and animals.

    I would love to know why Asians knew about the tsunami before everyone else. Is it that they observed unusual animal activity? Did they see animals move away from the coast? Or did they notice something else?

    Polanyi’s analysis of Oceanic economic systems sounds like a non-industrial version of socialism.

    I read Matthew Fox’s idea of cosmic hospitality a few hours after I emailed my Native American Environmental Ethics professor that one ethic should be that people should not go to other people’s communities and mess them up.

    I was interested in the Haidas method of creating plank houses. When they cut off a plank of the tree, can the tree permanently survive?

    • It is great when your class topics intersect in this way– of course, it takes you, the student, to make these connections.
      I am sorry that I don’t have any information about Haida home construction. One thing that happened in the case of the tsunami was that indigenous fishermen found deep sea fish in their nets– a sign of geological disturbance–and made conclusions from this based on their traditional knowledge. Other traditional knowledge did, I understand, pass on particular animal behavior of note.
      Is there a way that you see the principles connected here–as well as the concrete examples you use? Or perhaps any way the principles are enacted in your examples?

    • You bring up a very interesting question regarding the survival of the cedar trees once the planks are removed for Haidas homes and I couldn’t find an answer when researching it. Also, your Women & Resources class sounds great. I’m going to see if it fits into my education plan!

  178. I think this essay has some great ideas about how we can take better care of the earth, and in doing so, better care of ourselves. I like that it recognizes the fact that we can benefit from the earth, even change it to some extent, without automatic negative consequences. How we care for the earth is a touchy subject among many, and sometimes it seems that in our zeal for the well-being of the earth, we can forget about our own well-being, suggesting that we somehow return to the past in our way of living, or that we leave nature completely untouched.
    The earth’s resources are abundant: more than enough, I believe, to adequately care for all of the inhabitants living on it; but only if we use those resources properly. I liked the example of lands that were considered ‘wilderness,’ which were in fact the result of a long partnership between people and nature, because it implies a reciprocal relationship in which all parties benefit.
    I think that as we see ourselves as a natural part of this world, instead of as intruders on a scene which we are bound to ruin if we touch, and are responsible and thoughtful in our actions, we will be well on our way to establishing a better relationship with nature.

    • I appreciate the sense of balance in your aptly pointing out that we are not always “intruders on the land”– though colonizing peoples have certainly filled that role. We can see the vast difference in their actions with respect to ecosystems on the part of those who feel they have a special charge to care for a place as opposed to those who proclaim a license to use it. And all too often in the modern age, those with the latter response set the tone for our relationship with the land– which is what prompts many to lobby for a hands-off attitude — given the destructive behavior toward nature of which humans are capable and have all too often expressed.
      One thing I do want to emphasize is that we can more easily control and change ourselves than natural systems (in fact, I would argue the latter is pretty much impossible)– and self-knowledge and discipline is essential in developing a tender and honorable (to use your points in previous comment) relationship with the natural world.

  179. I, too, see reciprocity as a key ethical standard and can’t imagine keeping an accounting. How can that even be done? Seems a ridiculous idea to me. Forecaring, in my mind, is a natural act which the majority of people ignore in their self-centered mind sets. It’s this mind set that is damaging the Earth; people have a misguided belief that the Earth will always replenish itself. But the truth is, it can only replenish itself if we stop taking so much from it and start giving more back to it and this can only be done if we start practicing the kind of guidelines you discuss above. Along with this change in behavior we need to teach others to change, as well. Trying to tell others outside the classroom about what needs to be done is a challenge, however.

    • Hi Cheryl, thanks for your personal elaboration of the ethics underlying these choices. I appreciate the importance and challenge of going “outside the classroom” with these ideas. I am heartened by those who have put them into practice, such as the Greenbelt Movement folks and the New Agricultural Movement in Bangladesh you also commented on.
      The many doing practical goods on our “links” page are only a small sampling– something that is heartening indeed to me. Not to mention, I am also heartened by the work my students have done and continue to do in this regard.

    • Yes, trying to tell others about what needs to be done to help care for our natural environment is a challenge, especially when you take into consideration the areas where they live. One things that I wish is that I could do more recycling. I live in an apartment and we have place to recycle newspaper and cardboard boxes outside, but there is no place to recycle plastics where I live. If I brought this up to the land lady, she would probably consider it for a few seconds before turning it down. I have seen the miss-guided belief in the area I live in where people think the eart will replenish itself, one industry that I know of off-hand that has that belief is the loggin industry.

      • Thoughtful considerations, Mary. I remember not so long ago when newspapers and cardboard were the only recycles in Eugene– it takes people asking questions like yours to make a change. Even if the answer is no, you are planting a seed of an idea.
        And is there no other place in town where you can take plastics to recycle? One of the best ways to recycle them is to wash and re-use them yourselves: here is Eugene, when plastic bags get worn out, we can take them to Albertson’s or Safeway for recycling. I wonder if your stores could be persuaded to take these as well.

  180. When I think of reciprocity, I think of accountability. We are accountable on a personal basis on what we do to help sustain our natural environment from recycling to taking care of our cars properly so that we let out less CO2 emissions. As a community, we are responsible for the environment in the policies that we pass that either help sustain the land or that damage it. One of the things that Clatsop County battled, and I don’t know if it’s still in the air politically, is that they want to put in an LNG plant and environmentally friendly groups see it as not only as an environmentally harmful situation but also one that would affect the people and culture in a small community.

    • I like your emphasis on accountability, Mary. We are each responsible for our choices–and that, of course, means searching out the knowledge about those choices.
      I don’t know the current status of the LNG plant battle– but perhaps someone else on this forum does.

    • Mary, I agree with you that reciprocity does include the concept of accountability. We do have to be held accountable for the actions and choices we make. I believe that does need to start from an early age. If we were to learn about what an impact we have on nature and our surroundings it would cause us to think about the impact our different decisions have. That is why I believe to really see a reform in the way we think we have to start by changing the things we teach teacher in the educational system.

      • Good point about education which takes place not only in the classroom but beyond it– with the information you share with your family and friends, for instance.
        In order to be responsible for our actions, we need to perceive their results–and too often, our economic and political systems set up disconnects between our choices and the understanding of their results.

  181. The idea of reciprocity was interesting to me. If one culture has an excess of food, energy, technology and was willing to share with another for the benefit of everyone. I read on the worldhunger.org website http://preview.tinyurl.com/5rkqg28 that the world produces enough food to feed everyone. That is 2,720 Kilocalories per day for everyone. The problem is not everyone has enough land or money to purchase the food. If the world embraced reciprocity or a similar idea and we worked together, the problems we could solve together would be amazing.

    • Bread for the World (linked on this site) makes this same important point: world hunger results not from lack of food, but from the poor distribution of food to those who need it.
      Lovely idea that an incorporation of the value of reciprocity into our lives might have us doing something about this!

  182. I believe that all these principals are essential. However, the one that stands out to me most is the idea of reciprocity. Taking only what we need and can return to society and nature is an idea that needs to be the backbone our economy and society. Compared to other developed societies the US always demands more. Many Americans live by the fact that, “bigger is better”. That is not necessarily true. Many times we are not realizing the impact that we have on our surroundings and environment by being so greedy. Do we really need to drive Hummers? The car gets less than 10 miles per gallon. Learning to take as much as we need and to replenish where we take our goods/sources from is an idea that needs to be taught to future generations. Because the world provides us enough resources for everybody, we just need to learn to work with each other to learn what we really need.

    • I agree with you on the importance of reciprocity. You have a good observation that our greed too often overshadows our ability to perceive and assess the effects of our actions– not only on lives today but in the future.
      I certainly concur with you on the Hummer– I don’t see any reason at all why this is a necessary vehicle for anyone. And we don’t need for show vehicles that leave this kind of legacy with respect to the world we share– which sharing, as you point out, must be conducted in a just way.

  183. The two most important things I’ve taken from this are the ideas of reciprocity and of partnership. It is so incredibly important that we are replacing what we are taking from the natural world in order to preserve what we have left. That is just preserving it. We have to be aware that there are factors (natural and otherwise) that are working against preservation at any given time. For example, many people don’t know about soil conservation and how delicate this process is and how it is intertwined with preserving ecosystems. Soil is a very valuable necessity in the ecosystem and without it we are susceptible to all types of disasters (lack of plant life, lack of nourishment from insects, and increased flooding). I never realized how valuable dirt actually is until I learned how important it is to the life cycle. This goes to show how we take a lot of the little things for granted and how important reciprocity is to even maintain our natural environment, as small as it is getting.

    The idea of partnership is one I have studied at length in indigenous societies. Many indigenous peoples in Africa have partnerships with not only plants but animals as well. Instead of seeing them as sustenance only, they see them as life sources. They regard plants and animals much higher than we do and they take certain measures to avoid many problems that we encounter like over-grazing and under-utilization. When we come in contact with a plant that does nothing for us, we get rid of it. Indigenous tribes choose to learn about each plant, good or bad, and have some of the most knowledgeable teachers when it comes to plant functions. They utilize each partnership with the land and animals to help sustain their lifestyle. They also teach their children the importance of these things and how to use them wisely without causing a shortage or damaging their natural habitat. The partnership they’ve formed with plants and animals is how they’ve been able to live off the land and often in solitude for such a long time. We tend to see them as uncivilized, and yet many of these tribes have a much better understanding of nature and the ecosystem than we can grasp.

    • Great example about the necessity of preserving the soil– a recent “quote of the week” featured Vandana Shiva’s words about the importance of preserving soil, since all life depends on it.
      It great that you have spent some time working with the concept of partnership–and its positive consequences for relating to, learning about and caring for our world for the sake of future generations.
      Thanks for reminding us of those indigenous societies whose partnership concepts allowed them to live sustainably on their lands for thousands of year.. Jared Diamond says they lived that way for 46,000 years in highland New Guinea. Can you imagine?

    • We have books about plants and a field for studying plants in science, but I see a vast difference between how the tribes in Africa see plants and how we study plant in a classroom. I think that the Indigenous tribes, whether in Africa or the United States, would make the best scientists because of the fact that they partnership with the natural world. I wonder how the different chemicals that we utilize worldwide affect the soil composition.

      • It is indeed time to honor indigenous environmental knowledge as valid and essential. There is a movement and body of knowledge known as TEK (traditional ecological knowledge) that is beginning to incorporate this in modern science.
        The ways in which the chemicals we place in the environment effect the soil is a huge issue that certainly bears examination.

    • It really is shocking how we see the indigenous cultures as uncivilized when they possess so much knowledge of the natural world that we lack. Maybe we should be going to them for help now that we have destroyed our ecosystems.

      • The good news is that there is a new and burgeoning field using Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and it is gaining much respectability in both academia and practice.
        And you are right, it is tragic– not to mention, self-destructive– that we label those with such wisdom “uncivilized”.

  184. The four concepts of reciprocity, precautionary principle, flexibility and diversity, and partnership leads us to better survival skills. One thing I tend to forget is that we are interdependent on our environment and when we forget that, we’re not gracious, moderate, or generous about what we are given from nature and we end up living by Dawin’s theory of Survival of the fittest where we take and take and take without ever giving back. Sometimes I wonder if part of it’s because of the fact that we keep busy with work and by the end of the day, we are so tired that we forget to connect with nature and what it offers to us.

    • I like your terms, “gracious”, “moderate” and “generous” with respect to how we might relate to the environment that gives us our lives. Taking without giving back is indeed the opposing stance that uses up our world.
      I think there is something to be said for an economic system that keeps some of us so close to the line in terms of eking out our survival that we never look around us.

  185. Unfortunately it seems that the average American is so far detached from nature that they are unaware how to support natural resilience. Profit has become the main goal, that we rarely practice reciprocity or precautionary principle. We simple take from the earth constantly, and use things until they are proven harmful, and sometimes do not even stop then. Industrialization ruins diversity through clear cutting for developments, and by continuing to dominate nature, we cannot form a partnership. As described in the article, the further we detach ourselves from the natural world, the further away we are from being able to support it.

    • I also see the profit motive as a dangerous value in our current society– especially when it overrides other values that would give succeeding generations a chance for a quality of life comparable to our own.
      I understand your critique of the “average American” but I think that many of us do share values other than money first– and education can make the difference (maybe it’s my profession?)
      Thanks for your comment– and for holding the values that make a difference. As you said in your previous comment, “every effort counts”.

  186. The two principles that I feel would take to longest to achieve would be Reciprocity and the precautionary principle. Reciprocity because as americans we are programed to take, take, take and give a little if necessary to keep receiving. With Monocropping we take from the land and keep on taking leaving a trail of sterile land. We do not give back to the land. We also do this with ground water, we take until there is no more, we do not take what is necessary we take till there is no more and the ground water dries up. We do not give it time to replenish itself.
    With regards to the Precautionary principle, we do not care if our new technology harms the environment, as long as there is progress it does not matter. You can see this with GM crops, greenhouse gasses, and electric power plants that release hazardous chemicals each day.
    These two principles will be hardest to achieve. With both seeming quite normal in our society. We are so used to the commodities that are provided by the lack of reciprocity and the precautionary principle.

    • Good perspectives in terms of the difficulties we face in terms of worldview changes, Laura. At the same time we do have generous individuals and communities among us that are facing these challenges. You might be interested in looking into YES magazine for inspiring stories of success in bringing about the changes we need.

    • Your point about the groundwater is really quite scary. If we don’t start learning how to conserve, we are going to run out of drinkable water. When this happens what is going to happen to everything and everyone else that can’t just go buy filtered water?

      • There are now many areas of the globe that are suffering drought–water is precious and there is only so much of it. Now US states are fighting one another for the scarce resource of water: thus the Supreme Court just agreed to hear a case in which Texas wants some of the river water that flows through Oklahoma– which Oklahoma has so far resisted.

    • This makes me so sad about our society. The constant take, take, take that goes on. I own a store that sells cloth diapers, reusable household items to replace disposable items. I also learned this week that Google (my brother works there) pays their employees an extra $500 a month if they promise to cloth diaper, to lessen the impact in the environment of the plastic and chemicals that would end up in the landfills. I think that is pretty amazing, and should really be replicated across the board. The chemicals in disposable diapers are so harmful to our babies (in a damp region that has 100% absorbency rate) and to the land! We can’t change it once it’s there!

      • Disposable diapers are a major landfill item- one thing we can do is give those we know with new babies a diaper service as a shower gift.
        I am not quite sure how the use of disposables is a way of “taking” from the environment. It certainly IS part of the use it up and throw it away mentality.

        • by ‘disposing’ of the chemical diapers, we are taking away the ability for the affected land to be safe for future generations.

        • Good point, Kristin. We need to be constantly conscious of the final consequences of our acts- thanks for your follow up!

    • I agree our culture makes these two elements more difficult. Flexibility and diversity seems to come a little more easily and we become more knowledgeable of different plants and species of animals and we still have a certain awe and respect for the wonders of nature. Partnership may prove to be a little more difficult, as we still seem to view ourselves are more important than wild nature. But I feel the respect of nature involved in partnership would certainly be easier to achieve than giving back or looking before leaping with new technology.

      • Thoughtful responses: we can hope that knowing what difficulties we face in practicing these values only makes us more knowledgeable about how to do so–and let’s take it easy on ourselves if we don’t achieve sweeping victories and need to work our way to our goals step by step instead.

  187. While the idea of restoring the environment is important, I think that even just ending the continued destruction would be beneficial. I think the word ‘restore’ is daunting in this case. It sounds as if we have to undo all of the things that have been done. While this in theory could be seen as ideal, it is not plausible. People want to know that they are still going to be able to live and work, the fear of change causes people to just keep moving in the same destructive direction. If we could convince the ‘modern’ world that applying the principles of reciprocity, forecaring, flexibility and diversity, and partnership forward from here the process of ‘restoring’ the environment would sort itself out. We don’t have to completely undo everything that has been done. Even if we tried there is no way we could put everything back the way it would have been. At this point we need to focus on adopting these principles, to ensure that there is something left for future generations to live off of.

    • Thoughtful assessment here, Aryn. It would make an immense difference if we ceased our destructive acts toward the environment. There ARE also hopeful restoration efforts: those interested in such examples might check out Stephanie Mills’ In the Service of the Wild.
      One problem with “restoring” ecological systems is that anywhere humans have been, they have changed natural systems– for better or for worse.

    • You have some good points. Today, society is so focused on making progress, beating competitors, and being the best. The biggest driver of this being the fact that we are greedy. We constantly are becoming more detached from nature. Society needs to start putting emphasis on nature and not just having the newest, best gadget.

      • Attempting to be better than other means we are focusing away from ourselves–and thus, from knowing our own needs and what might truly satisfy us–as well as what we are meant to do in our lives. Thanks for your comment.

  188. Though it is true that we cannot adopt something that is not ours, we can however learn from it. Widening our view of the world of both the old and new. I realize it is hard for someone to change their ways, but its a challenge worth trying to win. If we stop putting so much emphasis on having the latest, coolest thing and start focusing on fixing ourselves and opening our minds to new ideas and concepts. Getting unstuck from our ways, and learning.

    • You have a solid point that we have much to learn from other cultures–and, I think, other species as well. This is not the same thing as replacing our responsibility for our actions and learning from our own past in the manner of escaping who we are. You make an important distinction.

    • I really like your last line, “Getting unstuck from our ways, and learning.” I also agree that we need to widen out view of the world, in many different ways. I am curious as to why human nature makes it so difficult to step out of the norms of society and better ourselves. Once we can cure that ailment, I feel we will all lead better lives.

      • It is important to ponder what stands in our way of leading better lives, as you put it– though I don’t think it is “human nature”– given the fact that so many other cultures over time have lived and lived successfully in ways very different from modern industrial society.

  189. Reciprocity, precautionary principle and partnership will help us restore our environment. We need to take into account all the “progressive” ideas we create and evaluate them on how they will affect our natural world. We need to work together, because if we are all not on the same page we will further destroy our environment. We need partnership because no one has the right to hold dominance over anything entity. We need reciprocity to show our future generation the right way to go. That the natural world is not all take, take, take and no give. There needs to be a mutual exchange to keep the balance.
    We need to either reduce or eliminate the corporation. Corporations are focused on dominance and control. This power that they feel they have is further destroying our environment.

    • I completely agree that power is what is destroying our environment. It is our want for money and control that kills the beautiful land around us. Many people are more concerned with building larger building and creating more highways then helping the environment. Money drives much of our population and unfortunately the majority of people with money to do more to hurt the environment then to help it.

      • I would agree that abusive power is a major problem: but what about the idea that we can also define power not as “power over” others, but power with and power to act?
        Thoughtful and caring point. As per your point on money, I am thinking of your last post in terms of the generosity created in a garden: such generosity is certainly not created by the handling of money.

    • Thanks for elaborating on each of these principles and why we need them, Laura. I especially like your ideas about working together (and educating one another wherever we can) as a counter to the destruction caused by domination– including that of the corporations.

  190. This is part of the reason that we pulled our kids from public school. Aside from the schools here just not being very good, We want to give them a cultural view and learn in a more hands-on fashion. We want to spend time helping the homeless, less fortunate, disabled, etc. The ‘required community service’ is only 9 hours per quarter for the upper grades here, which I think is ridiculous. We are making sure that our girls are a part of the community partnership, that makes changes, and betters the world around us. It’s the least we can do, really….

    • It sounds like your children’s work is not only a gift to the community but a gift to them–not to mention, a learning experience.
      However, I am not quite sure what in the essay you are referring to that caused you to take them out of public school.

      • it was in reference to the community partnership, making changes to better the world around us. the essay did not lead us to pull our kids out, but giving them the opportunity in the community did, to better themselves and to better the world around us by learning about it and working in it.

        • I did not assume the essay was quite so powerful as to get you to pull your kids out of school- sorry about the lack of clarity in my query! Thanks for clarifying your motives–and for the gifts you are obviously sharing with your local community.

  191. Reciprocity, precautionary principle, flexibility & diversity, and partnership seem like close synonyms of each other. They all bring to mind a rhythmic, circular, cyclical way of living. I think these these elements in natural standards of living could be used to restore nature back to its wild and healthy state.
    Currently, many modern humans wish to repair human destruction to nature, but they want to do it all at once. If we could raise enough money to pay the committee to save the prairie, or hand out enough pamphlets to raise awareness about the extinction of polar bears…we can undo this damage immediately and on a large scale.
    Although these are noble efforts, what if we ditched the non-profits with their events, merchandise, and donations and instead practiced the four elements above? As we, as individuals give back to nature, or are careful with our actions, and respect life and create partnerships, then nature should, in a circular fashion, repair itself in a way that gives back to us. Then humans give back again, and nature gives back again. Over many generations of this, I feel more repair could be made than in one giant pep rally to raise money against deforestation.

    • Thoughtful point about the inter-connections of these principles. Though they are different, for instance, the precautionary principle is contingent on enacting reciprocity with respect to future generations.
      It is easy to feel the pressing need to repair our world “all at once” when there is so much damage we have done. But that too often leads to an all or nothing attitude that causes us to give up at one failure or roadblock– which is why I so much respect the late Senator Lautenberg’s approach (see the next to last essay here). And no one person has to do it all by themselves either…
      I am not sure that many non-profits do not use these principles. I certainly see them, for instance, in many of the groups on the links page here. However, you do have a solid point that if we had these values, we wouldn’t need them. Currently, I think our healing task needs all the input/help we can give it.

  192. I have always wondered what life will be life when I have kids. I can think back to the 90’s when I was born and how much different our world was. How in the past 20 years we have managed to destroy the environment more then every before. How will the earth survive at this rate? The earth is doing all it can to put up with the pollution we put into it. But when our kids are adults will nature still be able to stand all that human population throws at it? I question this a lot because many people do not realize that what we do now may not effect us directly, but will effect future generations to come. We cannot just take with no consequences, which is a lot what this essay was referring to. We need to give back to nature, and that is when nature can start rebuilding itself. Rebuilding the world to what it once was is a two way street, we cannot except nature to do everything on its own. It is our job to step up and do what we can.

    • It is my sense that the earth will survive -if with some hits to its living systems– but humans will not unless we change course– which goes to your point about having children. It saddens me not only that our children might inherit a less vital world than we did– but that they worry about the same for their children.
      I hope you know that there are many on your side as you speak of rebuilding the vitality of nature and the two way street in which nature sustains us and we need to nurture it in turn. I find much hope myself in students such as yourself who will help to make the changes we need.

  193. Reciprocity, precautionary principle, flexibility, diversity and partnership are the elements that will allow us to restore the environment to what it once was. We must put the race for goods and technology on the back burner and realize how important working together to help the environment is. Relating this to the precautionary principle, so much of our modern technology harms the environment but we do not care because we are advancing and making our lives “easier”. I also think that partnership is key idea because without each other this goal of a healthier and cleaner environment will not happen. This is not just a goal that can happen over night. Everyone needs to be on the same page in order to have the ability to make a large-scale difference.
    However, getting the environment back to its original state is not realistic. A more accurate way of approaching this is trying to stop all the harm we are doing now. Working harder each day to make the things you do be environmentally friendly will go a long way. Eventually these steps will work toward restoring the environment. But without the help everyone working together, this goal may take longer then expected.
    I believe that reciprocity may be the hardest to achieve because in this selfish world we take the elements of life for granted. It is hard for many people to see everything we take as a gift and something we must respect. What we give to the world will come back to us, but that is a hard concept to understand for many people.

    • I would agree that we much put the “race” for certain kinds of technology- and certainly with consumerism- on the back burner. I do think there is such a thing as appropriate technology (there is a page on this site that outlines what that might consist of).
      And though our larger goal may be to get everyone on the same page, we do not have to all come along at once before some of us begin to enact our values and meet our current challenges.
      Our culture does encourage selfishness, but we are also capable of immense generosity (as in the gifts from strangers that poured forth to those who suffered recent tragedies, whether they be weather or gun related).
      That which you point out is hard for others to see becomes easier if it is modeled by others like yourself who do see it.

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