Nature is not a resource for humans | Michael Paul Nelson ? (2023)

The climate crisis is in many ways the consequence of having treated nature as a resource for the benefit of humans. Yet even environmentalists can find it hard to break away from this instrumental framework of thought. They talk of the benefits that wild animals can bring to the ecosystem, or the wonder of renewable sources of energy. Western thought has been all too happy to attribute intrinsic value to humans. It's about time we recognised that nature is also valuable in itself, not just in the ways in can benefit us. Doing so would make available a whole different approach to the climate crisis, writes Michael Paul Nelson.

"You say that I use the land, and I reply, yes, it is true; but it is not the first truth. The first truth is that Iove the land; I see that it is beautiful; I delight in it; I am alive in it." - N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa)

What does it mean to say that nature is intrinsically valuable? Most generally, to say that nature is intrinsically valuable is to say it is valuable beyond its use or instrumental value, or merely as a means to some end. To suggest, for example, that wolves possess intrinsic value is to suggest they have value even beyond what they can provide as ecosystem engineers or eco-tourism revenue generators. In other words, they have value in their own right, in and of themselves, they merit direct moral standing, as ends in themselves

Intrinsic value is, therefore, not a negation of instrumental value, it is rather an accretion, an addition, another layer. For example, while we believe our children are intrinsically valuable, taking the tax deduction for them, or having them mow the lawn does not negate their intrinsic value. Historically, the attribution of intrinsic value and direct moral standing in humans has been premised upon the possession of some morally relevant quality (e.g., rationality, language use, self-consciousness, autonomy, or sentience).

How is that intrinsic value grounded? There are several ways to answer that question.

For some it means that nature itself possess some quality that makes it valuable in and of itself, quite apart from how it is valued by humans. This, sometimes called the “objectivist” view of intrinsic value, implies that intrinsic value is to be discovered in nature. An objectivist might assert that intrinsic value is bestowed in nature by a divinity, or they might see in nature some quality that we already believe bestows intrinsic value to humans. Echoing Spinoza’s assertion that all things are “animate, albeit in different degrees,” Jane Bennett, for example, writes “If matter itself is lively, then not only is the difference between subjects and objects minimized, but the status of the shared materiality of all things is elevated…The ethical aim becomes to distribute value more generously, to bodies as such.”

“If matter itself is lively, then not only is the difference between subjects and objects minimized, but the status of the shared materiality of all things is elevated.”

For others, all value is attributed, not discovered, by valuers. This, sometimes called “subjectivist” view of intrinsic value, implies that intrinsic value ought to be attributed to nature, by those capable of such attribution, namely humans. Recognizing that we intrinsically value ourselves, but rejecting any clear metaphysical distinction between human selves and nature, Deep Ecologists, for example, believe this implies that nature ought to also be attributed intrinsic value.

While the suggestion that nature or some part of nature should be considered intrinsically valuable has a long history in arguably all past and current Indigenous cultures, it might be less familiar in the Western world for the past few hundred years, exceptions like Spinoza notwithstanding. It only has a half-century long history in environmental philosophy and ethics, and about a seventy-year history in some branches of Western conservation (e.g., American conservationist Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic).

Mike Manfredo and colleagues recently demonstrated that, at least with regard to wildlife, American culture has indeed become less dominionistic (“wildlife should be used primarily to benefit humans”) and more mutualistic (“wildlife are part of one’s social network and worthy of care and compassion”) in recent decades. Similarly, studies published in 2015 and 2019 demonstrated that more than 80% of the general public (in Ohio and the US, respectively) were willing to attribute intrinsic value to wildlife.

More pragmatically, attribution of intrinsic value shifts the burden of proof. If something is recognized to possess intrinsic value then it is “innocent until proven guilty,” to use a more legal expression. While instrumental value arguments for, say, wolves are contingent (subject to being overridden, for instance if we find out they do not generate much revenue or if we find some other way to engineer ecosystems), overriding something with recognized intrinsic value is difficult. It would mean, for instance, that if someone wished to kill wolves for some reason, they would have the burden of proof to justify that killing.

An instrumental-value-only approach underpins an anthropocentric (human-centered) ethic wherein nature is only valuable to the extent to which it benefits humans or something humans value. On the other hand, a non-anthropocentric (non-human-centered) ethic follows from the attribution of intrinsic value to nature. One might wonder, since a non-anthropocentric ethic requires humans to either recognize or attribute intrinsic value in nature, does that imply that a non-anthropocentric ethic is paradoxically anthropocentric. No. The fact that humans are required to recognize or attribute intrinsic value does not mean that the object of moral inclusion is therefore only humans. The concern that non-anthropocentrists have with anthropocentrism is not that humans are the valuers, but that with anthropocentrism only humans possess intrinsic value and are therefore thought to be worthy of direct moral consideration.

An instrumental-value-only approach underpins an anthropocentric (human-centered) ethic wherein nature is only valuable to the extent to which it benefits humans or something humans value.

It is sometimes suggested that only wealthy or privileged people can afford to attribute intrinsic value to nature, that non-anthropocentrism is an ethic of luxury. First, since wealth and privilege are often the result of exploiting nature and other humans (i.e., only seeing and treating them as instrumentally valuable), ethical inclusion seems more a threat to wealth and privilege than a result of it. Second, it is common to see the poor and disenfranchised leading the way here. It is, after all, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe Indians in the US who, in 2018, recognized the personhood of wild rice (Manoomin) with “inherent rights to exist, flourish, regenerate, and evolve.” That Manoomin is now suing to stop a pipeline. It is the government of Ecuador (not the US or the UK) who in a constitutional adjustment in 2008 suggested that nature “has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution,” and that “Persons and people have the fundamental rights guaranteed in this Constitution and in the international human rights instruments. Nature is subject to those rights given by this Constitution and Law.” It is the government of Bolivia (not France or Germany) who in 2011, passed the “Law of Mother Earth,” which articulates rights of nature, including “the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right not to be polluted.”

Consider how different a world is when all human beings are granted intrinsic value, than a world where some are only instrumentally valuable.

So, how might the world change if a non-anthropocentric ethic guided us?

First, an exercise in imagination. Consider how different a world is when all human beings are granted intrinsic value, than a world where some are only instrumentally valuable. Think of the institutions that cannot be tolerated in the former (e.g., slavery, colonialism, genocide). Now apply the same logic to nature as a whole.

Second, an exercise in vision. We already have in our world cultures that believe and enact a non-anthropocentric ethic. Their lifeways are different: plants and animals are kin, permission is asked of the non-human world, gratitude is given for the gifts of the world that support human lives, reciprocity is owed for those gifts, those gifts are to be shared and never squandered.

Our sense of inclusion would change: extending outward to future generations of humans; to the two-legged and four-legged, scaled and winged; to the species and ecosystems of our living planet. We would see the world as “all my relations,” to borrow a common Indigenous phrase.

Our language would change: our campus’s might have a College of Earthly Gifts rather than a College of Natural Resources. Vague notions like sustainability would be clarified: rather than meaning exploit as much as you can without infringing upon the ability of future generations to exploit as much as they can, it would mean only take what you need for a meaningful life.

The dominant Western worldview, asserting humans as separate from nature, superior to it, and reducing nature to valuable only to the extent it serves humans and human interests, still has a hold on us.

Our questions would change: Instead of asking how many ancient forests are enough, we would ask how much forest now serving narrow human interests is too much? How much human impact on the world is enough? How much greed is enough?

Among so many other harms, the dominant Western worldview stunts our imaginations. In the words of philosopher and writer Kathleen Dean Moore, our practices are “embedded in a set of assumptions about the nature of the world in which the practice takes place…these assumptions control what questions we ask about our practices, shape the arguments we use to justify our acts, determine which outcomes we can hope for and which we can never imagine.” The dominant Western worldview, asserting humans as separate from nature, superior to it, and reducing nature to valuable only to the extent it serves humans and human interests, still has a hold on us.

It is easy to appreciate our own intrinsic value and to therefore infer the intrinsic value of other humans. For some, it might be challenging to infer the intrinsic value of sentient animals, plants, species, and ecosystems. Possibly, however, an inability to perceive the world as imbued with intrinsic value is not the fault of the world, but our own.


Are humans a part of nature not apart from nature? ›

As human beings we are part of nature, not apart from it. The richness and variety of our flora and fauna is vital to our survival and that of the entire planet - we need to nurture and value it for what it is.

Do you believe in the saying the nature can exist without us but we Cannot exist without nature? ›

We all share the same planet, and while nature can exist without us, we cannot exist without nature. As wealthy, developed, and technologically advanced as we may be, ultimately, nature is the bedrock of our human existence and the key to human resilience, health, stability, and wellbeing.

Do humans need nature? ›

Our forests, rivers, oceans and soils provide us with the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we irrigate our crops with. We also rely on them for numerous other goods and services we depend on for our health, happiness and prosperity. These natural assets are often called the world's 'natural capital'.

What are the four types of natural resources? ›

The four natural resources are renewable, living, non renewable, and fossil fuels.

Why are humans not part of nature? ›

A simple definition of nature is “that which exists without human beings or civilization.” A more comprehensive definition is “the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations.” [emphasis ...

Why are humans so disconnected from nature? ›

The multiple ways individuals and groups experience disconnection from nature, for example through anxiety, ecosystem disservices, fear of nature, human-wildlife conflicts, nature deficit disorder, crime, virtual nature experiences and radical landscape change/solastalgia are poorly represented in connection to nature, ...

Who said that human beings do not have human nature? ›

Philosopher of science David L. Hull has influentially argued that there is no such thing as human nature.

Who said there is no human nature? ›

Sartre claims that there is no such thing as human nature. According to existentialism, we are not responsible for our actions. In Sartre's view, when a person chooses how to act, he is choosing only for himself and no one else. Sartre claims that the biblical figure Abraham provides an illustration of forlornness.

What is the paradox of human nature? ›

The tendency toward evil is apparent everywhere in the world. People are constantly willfully harming those around them for personal gain. This is the paradox of human nature: humans are at the same time the culmination of creation and capable of the greatest evil. The paradox is evident in the world.

Do humans need nature to survive? ›

Nature gives us what we need.

Food, clean air, and water are the foundations of life and Earth's biodiversity has provided civilizations with the essentials we need to survive on this planet.

What will happen to nature if there is no human? ›

Lacking human oversight, glitches in oil refineries and nuclear plants would go unchecked, likely resulting in massive fires, nuclear explosions and devastating nuclear fallout.

Is human nature really natural? ›

Human Nature products are genuinely natural, and make use of certified organic ingredients whenever possible. Are cruelty-free and vegan the same? While the two terms can often apply to the same product, they mean different things.

What are the 3 top natural resources? ›

Water, air, and soil are three natural resources that we cannot live without. The Forest Service strives to protect, maintain, and restore these valuable assets now and into the future. Water is one of the most important natural resources flowing from forests.

What are 5 natural resources that we use? ›

Any natural substance that humans use can be considered a natural resource. Oil, coal, natural gas, metals, stone and sand are natural resources. Other natural resources are air, sunlight, soil and water. Animals, birds, fish and plants are natural resources as well.

What is the difference between human resources and natural resources? ›

Natural resources are those that are drawn from nature and used without modification. On the contrary, those resources which refer to the number (quantity) and capabilities (mental and physical) of people are called human resources.

Are humans and nature connected? ›

As humans and nature are inextricably coupled, and people depend on the plants, animals and microorganisms that supply important ecosystem services, it is really important to find ways to reach the minds and hearts of all people and to create a better understanding of nature and what loss of biodiversity means.

Is there a connection between humans and nature? ›

The term 'connection to nature' is frequently used to describe our enduring relationship with nature, including emotions, attitudes and behaviour. Research shows that people with a greater connection to nature are more likely to behave positively towards the environment, wildlife and habitats.

Is human nature from God? ›

All have realized that the human being “is fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). According to the Scriptures, humans are not an evolutionary accident but a special creation. Human beings were purposefully produced by God to fulfill a preordained role in His world.

Do we give back anything to nature? ›

Nature is our Mother. We must not use up anything to the extent that it is not restored naturally. By cutting down trees or killing whales we are, in a way, depriving our children of their share. Let us give back to nature for the benefits we get from it.

Why is nature declining? ›

The exponentially growing demand for everything from energy, water, minerals and timber to fish, farmed animals, pesticides and fertilisers has created deep socio-economic inequality and, not surprisingly, put an accelerating pressure on the natural world, leading to a shocking decline of wildlife populations and loss ...

Why are humans so drawn to nature? ›

Wilson's “biophilia” theory suggests that there are evolutionary reasons people seek out nature experiences. We may have preferences to be in beautiful, natural spaces because they are resource-rich environments—ones that provide optimal food, shelter, and comfort.

What does Mark Twain say about human nature? ›

For whatever reasons, Twain believed in a common human nature, and from time to time he announces that belief: “Human nature is very much the same all over the world,” he says in chapter 23 (Twain 1869: 231).

What does Adam Smith say about human nature? ›

The traditional theory of human nature attributed to man by Adam Smith conceives of human beings as selfish, egoistic, exclusively concerned with self-love and an unquenchable desire for the most extravagant forms of material wealth. This model of man is developed in The Wealth of Nations.

What did Martin Luther believe about human nature? ›

Nevertheless, Luther can also speak of them as two natures: one acquired from Christ, the other being the person's own nature. Luther also confirms that these two make the up the person and that the person is identical with the both of them.

What did Nietzsche say about nature? ›

According to Nietzsche, each moral interpretation of nature implies a conceptual seizure of power over nature. On the other hand, Nietzsche argues, the concept of nature is indispensable in ethics because we have to interpret nature in order to have a meaningful relation with reality.

What did Plato say about human nature? ›

He asserts that our human nature is that we have the capacity to use our reason to overcome appetite and desire to make rational decisions, and when the three sections of our soul are not in harmony, we experience mental conflict and irrationality. Plato also emphasised the social aspect of human nature.

What did Einstein say about nature? ›

Look deep into nature & you will understand everything better”- Albert Einstein.

What is the greatest paradox in human nature? ›

The paradox of doing things that are totally in contradiction with our principles and beliefs is probably the most common paradox. Because it is inherent in our nature, it is almost impossible for us to change.

What is Lord's paradox? ›

Lord's paradox refers to the relationship between a continuous outcome and a categorical exposure being reversed when an additional continuous covariate is introduced to the analysis.

Is nature neutral toward humanity? ›

Nature is neither inherently good nor inherently bad for humans. The evaluation of the risks and benefits of any product, natural or unnatural, has to be made on a case by case basis. Actually, nature is neutral.

Would humans exist without animals? ›

People definitely cannot survive without other species. As an ecologist – a scientist who studies the interactions of plants, microorganisms, fungi and animals, including humans – I know there are at least three reasons we need other organisms.

Can we humans survive in a world without plants? ›

We are the primary users – and wasters – of the earth's resources and the predators at the top of the food chain, consuming plants, and other animals. Plants can live without humans, but humans cannot live without plants.

Is nature good for your mental health? ›

Nature can generate many positive emotions, such as calmness, joy, and creativity and can facilitate concentration. Nature connectedness is also associated with lower levels of poor mental health, particularly lower depression and anxiety.

How long do humans have left on Earth? ›

And while the starting point for modern humans is also up for debate, if we say that we've already been around for 200,000 years, we have a fairly comfortable minimum of 800,000 years left – a figure that's again in line with Gott's predictions.

Are humans destroying the environment why why not? ›

Humans impact the environment in a variety of damaging ways. Extracting natural resources, polluting air and waterways and razing wild landscapes are some of the most damaging examples industrial destruction.

Why can't humans live without nature? ›

Without nature we are nothing. We are the least important living thing. We rely on plants, the sea, the insects, for balance, for food, for water, for oxygen, for our wellbeing and mental health. They do not rely on us for anything, and I am thankful for all nature gives.

Did humans evolve from nature? ›

Human evolution is the lengthy process of change by which people originated from apelike ancestors. Scientific evidence shows that the physical and behavioral traits shared by all people originated from apelike ancestors and evolved over a period of approximately six million years.

Which philosopher thought human nature was to be evil? ›

Radical evil (German: das radikal Böse) is a phrase used by German philosopher Immanuel Kant, one representing the Christian term, radix malorum. Kant believed that human beings naturally have a tendency to be evil.

What are the 3 views of human nature? ›

Abstract. In The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature , Steven Pinker maintains that at present there are three competing views of human nature—a Christian theory, a "blank slate" theory (what I call a social constructivist theory), and a Darwinian theory—and that the last of these will triumph in the end.

What resources will run out by 2050? ›

Gold and other elements will run out by 2050

The extraction of elements such as gold, copper and silicon has skyrocketed in the 20th century due to the development and use of new technologies and clean energy sources.

What is the most precious resource on earth? ›

Water is our most precious resource.

Are trees a natural resource? ›

Trees are a natural resource that are renewed. Since 1940, we have grown more trees each year in America than we have used for making paper, houses, books and other things we use every day. Almost a third of the world's total land area is covered by forests.

What are 4 types of natural resources? ›

Common examples of natural resources include air, sunlight, water, soil, stone, plants, animals and fossil fuels.

Which resources are unlimited in nature? ›

These are Mostly present in abundance, so there is an endless supply of these resources. The example includes fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas, as well as minerals like iron, copper, aluminum, etc.

What are human made resources? ›

Human made resources, or capital resources, are material riches created by humans that can be used to get more wealth. Examples include money, factories, roads, and technology.

Are natural resources human resources? ›

Natural resources are things that come from nature and are untouched by human hands. Human resources are the people and workers and capital resources are man-made tools and equipment that produce products.

What is the difference between man-made and natural things? ›

Natural things are found in nature. Man-made things are made by humans. Soil is an example of natural thing while a pen is an example of man-made thing. Natural things may be or non-living.

Are humans part of nature or above nature? ›

The study of nature is a large, if not the only, part of science. Although humans are part of nature, human activity is often understood as a separate category from other natural phenomena.

Are humans related to nature? ›

Oxygen and glucose are main resources for humans and animals. In using these resources, humans and animals change them back into carbon dioxide and energy (work). This is one of the fundamental exchange-change relationships between humans, animals and nature.

What is human nature vs nature? ›

Humans versus Nature tells a history of the global environment from the Stone Age to the present, emphasizing the adversarial relationship between the human and natural worlds. Nature is cast as an active protagonist, rather than a mere backdrop or victim of human malfeasance. Daniel R.

Are humans a product of nature? ›

We are a product of our genetics, and our environment. Through our genetics, we have a certain baseline personality, but that changes over time due to the influence of our surroundings: the people we hang out with and the overall level of nourishment in our growing environment.

What separates humans from nature? ›

Most would agree our minds — with their capacities of consciousness and imagination — distinguish us from other species, even our close primate relatives.

What is the true nature of human beings? ›

By definition, human nature includes the core characteristics (feelings, psychology, behaviors) shared by all people. We all have different experiences of the humans in our life, and this is where the disputes begin. Some people will tell you humans are 'good' or 'bad', or 'predators' or 'capable of great kindness.

Are all humans technically related? ›

We humans share 99.9% of our DNA with each other! And the 0.1% of DNA that is different between humans doesn't align neatly with race: the concept of race is not backed up by genetics. This makes us far too similar to one another to be considered different subspecies.

What does Aristotle say about human nature? ›

Abstract. According to Aristotle, all human functions contribute to eudaimonia, 'happiness'. Happiness is an exclusively human good; it exists in rational activity of soul conforming to virtue. This rational activity is viewed as the supreme end of action, and so as man's perfect and self-sufficient end.

What is human nature according to the Bible? ›

Most theologians have said that the ways in which humans are like God (but not God) include our capacity for a right relationship with God, ability to reason, creativity, sociability, dominion over creation, and freedom or choice. Some of these are implied in the Genesis text (dominion in Gen.

Is nature the source of people's life? ›

Nature is a source of life. Our planet is a sacred source of life; a living organism that is the common home for us and all the other living species.


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