By Fizza Raza for KidSpirit's Nature issue.
The earliest records of history show that nature, in all its shapes and forms, has served humanity. From rocks used as hunting tools to fruit used as sustenance, humankind has always looked to nature for survival.
This is not a dependency confined to ancient times; it seeps into our everyday lives today, too. Industries, households, and entire societies are powered solely on what nature offers us, be it water, coal, electricity, or energy in any form. Upon closer inspection, this seems rather odd. Human beings are, above all, characterized as fiercely independent and progressive: in fact, as the most intelligent species to colonize the planet. How is it then that humanity, this remarkable species, depends entirely on nature for its survival? Perhaps an even greater cause for indignation — how is it that we are destroying the very thing responsible for our survival and continued progression? Whether or not humans have a “right” to exploit nature, our survival depends on its survival. As the only species capable of saving the environment, we must now work to serve its interests in more ways.
Do we, as a species, deserve nature? Should it really serve us? Is the fact that human beings are able to use nature for our betterment enough to give us the inherent right to exploit it?Let us first examine the lines that define nature and humanity. In some ways, the two cannot be distinguished from one another — humanity comes from nature, is both a product of natural forces (as a living creature), and depends on it for sustenance. But the line between the two becomes increasingly clear if we view their relationship through the lens of what separates humanity from other living creations: intelligence. Mankind’s intelligence and ability to use natural creations to its advantage clearly distinguish the two. Animals or other beings with semi-autonomy all constitute greater parts of nature than we do, because of our ability to think and use what exists naturally, modify it, and make greater creations.
However, it is this same ability that we have misused in the recent past. If we look at nature as a sentient being, capable of making decisions, almost all logical arguments would conclude that nature should not continue to serve us. It has become an increasingly paradoxical relationship that we share with nature; while nature has always served as a safe haven for humans, from prehistoric times when our ancestors would use the protection of trees to escape predators, we have been the single greatest cause of its destruction. Large scale deforestation and industrial pollution are just a few examples. Perhaps we do not deserve nature and all it has to offer.
Should nature continue to serve us, independent of whether or not that is of benefit to nature? We should ask if we have an inherent right over nature, simply, because humanity has been intelligent and able enough to exploit it. You might instinctively agree with this — if we have been the only species that has used nature to our advantage, then we should continue to do so. Yet, that same logic could be used to argue that we should be serving nature and not the other way round. Our brilliance has been in our capacity to use nature; our foolishness has been in the way we have gone about it.
The same cleverness that justifies our use of nature also justifies why we need to use our privilege to protect nature now — we are the only species capable of doing so.
Do we have a responsibility to nature, for its servitude to humanity since the dawn of time, independent of our capacity to help nature? Should the narrative be more about what we, as a species, owe to nature versus how to sustainably use nature to our advantage? The responses to these questions seem almost instinctual. Not only are we the only species that can help protect nature, we are the cause for its current predicament. It is a climate emergency that our actions have brought upon us and at this point, human beings must right their wrongs done unto nature. Our responsibility to nature exists two-fold; we have been the cause of nature’s decline, and even without this direct cause-effect relationship, we are the only species that has the capacity to help nature flourish. As the most intelligent species to colonize the planet, helping nature (or reversing the harm done unto nature) does not necessarily have to be mutually exclusive. Sustainable development is the prime manifestation of humanity’s intelligence — both recognizing the limits of nature, while also maximizing its utility. With careful planning and calculated decision-making, mankind can both rescue and strike a balance with nature.
When she wrote this article, Fizza Raza was 16 years old. She is from Lahore, Pakistan, and spends most of her time contemplating the glass ceiling or the ethics of modern-day capitalism.