This final manifesto was an interesting paper to synthesize, essentially because I had to build a paper out of a deep pool of thoughts and opinions, many of them intangible ideals, into a sensible paper. Outside sources were very important of finding a sense of direction for this manifesto. I struggled on knowing what direction to take before I began to assemble my outside sources. From the information provided in these sources, I formed a general outline for the direction I wanted to take: a paper that would combine the economic significance of the environment with the need to return to it.
The greatest challenge was thinking of a method of making a particular ideal (eco-consciousness) accessible and interesting to general readers, not just those who are already environmental thinkers. As money is a concern for almost every citizen in their daily lives, I opted to have a lot of focus on the economic importance of biodiversity. Looking back on my daybook, I find it rather odd that this became a central component of my paper. My daybook is almost completely devoid of thoughts on economics, yet at least 50% of my paper describes the potential economic losses of biodiversity loss.
In fact, I greatly dislike the amount of economic perspective included in this manifesto. It makes it appear that I value wilderness for financial benefits over its other values. But in my opinion, economic value is the least important factor of nature. Nature is far more important as a method of finding spirituality, a healthy consciousness, and reconnecting with your primitive being. I really only manage to hint at these ideals throughout the paper, with my concluding paragraph being the only section that actually describes my deepest ideals for returning to nature. I focused on the economic perspective of nature only because I know that it is the best method for reaching the general public. In a society where almost every activity- political, educational, recreational, or otherwise- is centered around the cycle of money, the only way to get to people is by threatening their wallets. This paper, much to my resentment, makes it appear that we should return to nature only for its economic values.
If I were to rewrite this manifesto, it would likely still include the economic components of biodiversity conservation. But these values would be a minimal component of a paper that is far more focused on the less palpable wilderness ideals. It would stress much more on the psychological, spiritual, and emotional healing that I have found in nature and believe others could also find. I would also include a section on how to be more eco-conscious, so that readers could immediately implement those lifestyles changes.
As for an audience response, I am terrified that readers will point out what I have already realized: that this paper makes it seem like I think nature is only important because we will lose money with the destruction of biodiversity. My hope is that readers will be frightened enough by the economic dangers that they will become eco-conscious, discovering nature’s far more important values along the way.
Eco-Consciousness in Biodiversity Conservation
Humans, as much as we struggle to deny it, are animals. We evolved on the same foundation as every organism around us: the need to survive. Generations ago, our ancestors lived off of the land to meet these needs, but without demanding too much of its valuable and limited resources. Today, we have lost grasp of the finite nature of our world and have no concept of the destruction we have wrought upon its fragile biosphere. As we continue to fall deeper into our addiction to technology, environmental awareness recedes and the human population demands far more resources than can be sustained. Only by returning to nature can we regain consciousness of the environment’s significance and how to use it in a careful, thoughtful way.
The mass majority of humankind fails to appreciate the importance of a healthy and biologically diverse biosphere to our persistence as a species. As stated in World at Risk, “richness and variety of life are perhaps Earth’s greatest wonder and one of its most important resources because human survival completely depends on the effective functioning of global biological systems” (Allman). Health ecosystems provide “essential attributes such as food, fuel, water, fiber, medicine, recycling of nutrients, purification of air and water, and pollination of crops” (Bernstein). Human activities, however, are currently wreaking havoc on biodiversity, posing dramatic economic and possibly catastrophic risks to human survival. From World at Risk: “Habitat destruction is the primary driver of biodiversity decline in almost every area of the world, with overexploitation, introduction of alien species, and pollution also contributing,” all results of human activity (Allman). Humans have singlehandedly instigated another mass extinction of Earth’s species. “As many as 2 million species of plants and animals will be exterminated worldwide by the middle of the next century” putting “the natural ecosystems on which humans depend” in danger of collapse (Pimental 747). Yet, “our educational and economic system is headed away from, rather than toward, an intense consciousness of the land” (Leopold). Conservation education is minimal, a topic only briefly mentioned in high school biology courses, and diluted by misleading political debate. We continue to consume in excess, oblivious of the source or content of our products, and debate temporary issues that distract from the real problems at hand. To stress the importance in becoming more conscious of our interactions with the environment, I will first explain the value of biodiversity from a more economic perspective.
Agriculture is an exclusively human behavior, often representative of our ability to tame and manipulate the landscape to our needs. However, successful agriculture is just as in need of biodiversity as any ecosystem. Quality crop production is reliant upon “diverse soil biota” and the presence of nitrogen fixing plants (Pimental 748-749). But irresponsible farming methods, such as planting the same crop every year and not rotating fields, exhaust the soil to the point where it is not usable for crop production and takes years to recover. Declines in biodiversity also increase the risk of crop damages due to pests. “Worldwide, pests reduce the yields of major crops by approximately 42% each year, despite the application of an estimated 2.5 x 106 t/yr of pesticides as a cost of $26 billion” (Pimental 751). As pesticides are largely ineffective at pest control, pests cause losses of an estimate $244 billion per year in crop damage (Pimental 751). In stark contrast, “approximately 99% of pests are controlled by natural enemy species and host plant resistance” when these pests occur in their natural habitat (Pimental 751). If the natural enemies of pests were to vanish, “70% of crops could be lost to pests…increasing the cost of losses to approximately $400 billion per year” (Pimental 751). As previously stated, extinction rates are at phenomenally high levels, making the disappearance of natural predators a concern for the agricultural economy as pests are less restricted in their natural regions. Human travel has dramatically increased the rate of foreign species introduction into new areas. These alien species have no natural predators in their new habitat and the plants they feed upon are not evolved to contend with foreign pests. These pests can wreak havoc upon crops and local wildlife populations. The brown snake, as an example, is an invasive species from Australia who made its way by plane to islands such as Hawaii and Guam and is destroying native bird populations. The kudzu bug, an Asian migrant, has made its way into the United States and consumes soy beans, a major cash crop, with little competition. These are but a few examples of alien species which can make their way to new habitats through human carelessness. Pollinators are affected by “habitat fragmentation and loss…causing precipitous declines in wild pollinators, thereby threatening their beneficial activities in both natural and agricultural systems” (Pimental 753). The immense amount of food required to maintain the human population depends upon the balanced functioning of predator-prey dynamics in the surrounding ecosystem. Loss of species and foreign species incursions upset these interactions and put both wild and agricultural systems at risk.
Much like agriculture, medicine seems to be a very human invention. In the modern age where synthetics dominate the marketplace, we often forget that most of our modern medicine is based from plants and animals. In an study of the top 150 prescription drugs in the United States, “74% are based on plants, 18% on fungi, 5% on bacteria and 3% on vertebrates…more than 80% of the world’s population relies upon traditional plant medicine for primary health care” (Dobson). Worldwide, plant-based drugs are worth an estimate $84 billion per year (Pimental 754). With “one out of every 125 plant species studied” involved in the production of a key drug, it is crucial to preserve biodiversity for the sake of protecting undiscovered species which may have immense medicinal value (Dobson). As stated by Bernstein, “ecosystem disruption can be expected to impede progress in medicine and biomedical research through the loss of countless unidentified species.” With the current estimated extinction rate, “we lose three to four potentially valuable new drugs every year, at a total cost of around $600 million” (Dobson). To worsen these concerns “humans are not only creating a less healthy environment, but are consequently being exposed to a variety of new pathogens” (Dobson). Increasingly crowded human populations and pollutant exposure weakens immune systems, allowing rapidly breeding, quickly mutating pathogens to persist. Habitat destruction allows certain pathogens to become more abundant, as seen with Lyme disease. The white-footed mouse is the most common carrier of Lyme disease and a popular host for ticks. Typically, white-footed mice occur in forested areas where their predators, which do not carry Lyme disease, are prevalent and keep the mouse population under control. But unlike foxes, owls, or other animals that serve as hosts to ticks, mice do very well in fragmented habitats. Therefore, the mice can occur in abundance with little regulation, dramatically increasing the presence of Lyme disease in the local tick population. Humans who encounter these ticks are far more likely to contract Lyme disease than from ticks in a biologically diverse habitat. Despite the fact that the majority of medicines are plant-based, it may be argued that preserving species is not important due to the success of synthetic medicines. Modern synthetic drugs, while effective initially, are usually made by varying a pre-existing drug. This means that the drug is still ineffective against pathogens which have evolved to be more resistant to the drug, when a pathogen may not be able to combat a drug derived from a new natural compound. In addition, successful synthetic drugs are discovered very slowly, with the “potential for finding major new drugs is in the order of one in 10000 for each compound tested” (Dobson). We cannot rely on synthetic medicines to eliminate diseases that pose a threat to humans. With thousands of undiscovered plant and animal species, not yet studied for their medicinal benefits, it is crucial to preserve biodiversity to prevent the extinction of these species.
Agriculture and medicine are just two examples of the systems that are a risk of collapse from biodiversity loss. Decomposing organisms are far more effective at breaking down the billions of tons of organic waste produced by human activities than mechanical methods. Trees are key in the reduction of carbon in the atmosphere, controlling compounds which contribute to climate change (Pimental 754). Combining all of the economic and environmental resources from biodiversity, “the benefits are estimated to be $2928 billion per year” (Pimental 754). When the value of biodiversity is put into this financial perspective, I would expect that governments across the world would take biodiversity conservation far more seriously. If there is anything effective at bringing action, it is the threat of losing large sums of money. Yet the extinction rate continues to accelerate and forests continue to be broken up and reduced. We are faced with an ever-more pressing debate: how to make people respect the environment’s resources like our ancestors did.
The answer to this debate is simple: we must make a return to nature. Instinctively, we are still ancient hunter-gatherers surviving off hard-earned resources. As stated in “Evolutionary Psychology and Consumption,” “humans are biological creatures, primates that evolved over many millennia whose adaptations were shaped and selected by environments long past” (Hantula). Our obsessive need to consume is a manifestation of the still-thriving survival instinct. We stockpile food in case of a hard winter; we dress up and shower ourselves in fragrance to attract mates. But our consciousness denies that we are a part of nature. Certainly, mankind is incredibly adept at changing nature to meet our needs. This has led for some to claim that humans should separate from nature in order to preserve it, that “human presence in an area automatically destroys its true wilderness designation” (Mosden). Mosden sums up my belief on this issue very well: “rather than setting the entire globe aside as a wildlife refuge, wouldn’t it make more sense for humans to decrease their impact (considerably) so that they are able to live alongside the rest of the biosphere, just as all other species do?” As Leopold states, we must relearn to view the biosphere’s resources not as mere goods to be consumed, but as “a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals.” Humans are inescapably linked to this flow of energy. At present, however, we are demanding too much of this energy cycle rather than functioning with it. We must “regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature,” instead of as a part of an unsustainable society fighting to break from nature (Thoreau). From the article “Can Ecopsychology Save the Wilderness Debate?”:
“We are a product of nature and we cannot, and should not, deny that relationship; it has proven itself harmful to try to do so…Humans evolved with and from the natural world, and by taking humans out of the concept of wilderness, we are taking humans out of their rightful place in evolution” (Mosden).
Separating from nature will do nothing to encourage biodiversity conservation. Our present ecological crisis is already a factor of apathy toward the natural world. We should increase our involvement in nature because “we can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in” (Leopold). This does not necessarily mean that we should abandon our modern developments and go gallivanting off into the woods to scratch a living off of the rocks. Rather, I am advocating a new mentality of eco-consciousness. It is time for us to stop going through our daily activities blind to the impacts our actions have. We must stop listening to politicians who deflect facts about the environmental crisis in their efforts to gain political power or corporations who mislabel their products and try to hide the destructive chemicals they feed into our bodies and biosphere. It should be accepted as in indisputable fact “that man-made changes are of a different order than evolutionary changes, and have effects more comprehensive than is intended or foreseen” (Leopold). Our ancestors once honored natural systems because they understood how crucial those resources were to their survival. Living in a state of eco-consciousness, or an awareness of their impact on the land, their day-to-day functions used the land in such a way that the ecosystem could support and left no permanent impacts. Eco-consciousness “means the deep reflection and respect (which) must accompany each act of use, and means too that we must always consider the possibility of non-use” (Mosden). It means to accept the demand our daily lives exert upon the land and that the land cannot support excessive consumption indefinitely; we must reduce our consumption if we want to preserve natural resources for future generations. Eco-consciousness, however, is something that most people cannot simply embrace one day, as most people struggle to change their current mentalities and routines. Exploring nature, home to our instinctual self, is the only means to reach eco-consciousness.
My argument for returning to nature is based upon my own personal experiences with pursuing a more environmentally aware lifestyle. I have always been a person who enjoys nature, hiking and kayaking with my father at a very early age. But until approximately a year ago, I fell out of exploring nature. I spent very little time in the outdoors, preferring to dedicate my time to the modern distractions of the television and internet. This made it incredibly easy to ignore the present concerns of the natural world. While volunteering at a zoo, I was frequently involved in the discussion about biodiversity and climate change- but these things remained distant. On an odd adventurous day, I made my way to Raven Rock State Park. This long-awaited return into the outdoors revitalized my love for the environment. The separation from the stressful, often superficial, hustles of the modern world reawakened a sense of belonging: a reminder that I came from nature, just like every organism around me. With a sense of belonging comes a sense of value for nature’s limited offerings. I am increasingly aware of where the products I use originate from and what affect they have on the environment. I try to throw fewer things away, repurpose what does not necessarily need to be disposed of, and work to consume less overall. I believe that it takes natural experiences for others to have a similar change in their mentality. The mass majority of people today rarely spend much time outside; they are trapped by the “comforts” of the indoors, surrounded in a supply of goods which never seems to end. But if we do not change the way we use Earth’s resources, our endless consumption will come to a harsh and shocking halt. If we allow ourselves to lose our ancestral roots as wild creatures in the natural world, we will eventually lose the resources which our survival depends upon.
Allman, Tim. World at Risk. 2nd ed. Washington: CQ Press, 2010. 16 April 2013.
Bernstein, Aaron. “The Importance of Biodiversity to Medicine.” The Journal of the American Medical Association. 300.19 (2008): 2297-2299. April 2013.
Cronon, William. “The Trouble with Wilderness.” Williamcronon.net. April 2013.
Dobson, Andy. “Biodiversity and Human Health.” Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 10. (Oct. 1995): 390-391. April 2013.
Hantula, David A. “Evolutionary psychology and consumption.” Psychology & Marketing. 20.9 (Sep. 2003): 757. April 2013.
Leopold, Aldo. “The Land Ethic”. A Sand County Almanac. 1948. April 2013.
Leopold, Aldo. Thinking Like a Mountain. A Sand County Almanac. 1949. April 2013.
Mosden, Kari. “Can Ecopsychology Save the Wilderness Debate?” Ecopsychology.org. April 2013.
Pimentel, David. “Economic and Environmental Benefits of Biodiversity.” Bioscience. 47.11 (Dec.,1997): 747-757. April 2013.
Thoreau, Henry David. Walking. 1862. April 2013.