It's safe to say that humans are a powerful force on the Earth. We've stretched our influence far and wide, both in our own social structures and the physical ones we've built atop the natural world. It can be difficult to remember that we're a part of this massive planetary balancing act of systems since we seemingly bend them to our will, but it would be ill-conceived to think of that influence as control.
Beyond that influence, I was reminded this month of a bias humanity has. We tend to like the concept of an "untouched" nature. Not untouched by anything though, but humans in particular. Going even further, we're biased toward an appreciation of nature not touched by the people who brought modern civilization. It's easiest to think of these people as the European colonizers. If they or their descendants haven't touched it, it's considered untouched by humans.
Along with this bias comes another more dangerous one however. When we categorize nature by its proximity to humans, deciding that nature adjacent to humanity is lesser nature, we have a tendency to take less care of it. We opt to care more about "true nature" far from home. We can think that's the nature worth saving, worth protecting. Yet, by ignoring our neighboring ecosystems, we have a slow but steady impact on nature far away.
Let's explore this together.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a garden. What do you see?
Are you surrounded by towering trees, light peering through the canopy as shadows of leaves dance at your feet? Are you under a solitary sycamore, grasses swaying in the breeze as clouds race overhead? Perhaps you are upon a porch overlooking a vast collection of flowers on a light rainy day.
Are you sitting, head level with your surroundings? Maybe you're standing to see as far as you possibly can. Or perhaps you're lying on your back, viewing the world from the perspective of the plants themselves.
But most importantly, how do you feel?
Humans have quite a history with gardens and how they can act as a connection to the world around them. How a garden makes one feel is an integral part of why people take the time to work and maintain these spaces. While reading, I found that even though humanity's collective approach to gardening does change with time and culture, there is an underlying theme to our desire to garden.
Let's take a little journey together and rediscover the garden.
It's been a year since starting Prismatic Planet and posting my first Human Nature blog. When I wrote that, I mentioned that I wanted to use this site to learn more about the planet and share that knowledge with you. I also mentioned that in addition to researching and writing for this website, I was also an active environmental volunteer. That's still the case today, and I realize I haven't talked much about it here. Which is kind of odd since one of the best ways I engage with something I want to learn more about is to actively do that thing. I imagine such is the case for a good number of people out there.
So, I want to take this one-year anniversary of Human Nature to do just that. I want to share with you what I, a human looking to help and learn, have benefited from by volunteering for the environment. Since volunteering is not limited to work for the planet, my points here won't be specific to environmental volunteer work, though I may cite my experiences. Here's hoping by the end of this, you'll feel empowered to get out there and help, both for a cause you believe in and for your own personal growth.
Let's dive in!
Humans are a complex thing. We are among the few species on the planet capable of thinking outside ourselves, but are notoriously bad at realizing we never do this correctly. That isn't to say humans aren't doing their best to understand others, but we tend to attempt this phenomenon by inserting ourselves into the other's place. In theory, this allows us to consider how the other person is thinking and feeling. In reality, we're only gaining an understanding of our own reactions to what that person is going through. We're, simply put, not that other person.
Humans have also tried this tactic when confronted with complex topics. As a species, despite our locations across the world, humans have created constructs to better understand this planet. More often than not, we try to bridge that understanding by turning those complexities into people, personifying the mysterious or ambivalent. Among those complexities are things like water, war, fertility, and, you guessed it, the Earth itself! Let's dive in!
When we're in school, we learn about a fair number of things. Things that are preparing us for the world we live in today. Or at least that's what the goal is supposed to be. We learn about math, science, language (region-specific), history (less obviously region-specific), and arts. These classes help us interface with the abstractions we've built on the world as we know it. Instead of discovering mathematic principle, we learn foundations built over time. Instead of analyzing the Earth and our universe, we learn how others before us did just that so we can, in time, build on that knowledge.
We also spend a bit of time learning how to interface with the constructs we've built around the world. In addition to verbal and written literacy, we have classes for technical and digitally social literacy. As we move the needle further down the path of humanity's growth, this will continue to change the things we learn about.
As this happens, we should be aware that some things humanity abstracts are simply things that make other constructs we've built easier to understand. The internet was once a complex environment that only governments and college students had ready access to, and the devices we used to interface with that environment were considered too complex to be of much use to the typical human. But humans move fast, and as that thought was quickly outdated, we develop skills and abstractions to make this truly complex idea of a digitally connected planet available, quite literally, in the palm of your hand.
However, when the abstractions we build are around our planet, we need to be aware of that. Of the many things humans have built, some of those conveniences, in the form of abstractions, come with a few costs. One of those costs is a very real drain on our planet. Another is harder to see, but is felt over time: a lack of literacy. The cost here is knowledge. This is where environmental education can help.
When we think about science, we tend to go straight to imagining doctorate-level people in long white lab coats. Maybe throw a pair of glasses on for good measure. In reality, even those professional scientists don't necessarily fit that bill. Further, not all science is performed by professionals. That's right, there is nothing standing between you and science other than finding time, motivation, and attention to detail. Let's take a look at how us citizens of the planet can participate in science!
While researching our page on wetlands, we learned a bit more about what goes into managing complex ecosystems. Turns out, more than scientists are involved in helping the environment, and more than the volunteers and citizen scientists who help out with the work we normally think about. One of those roles that surprised us (but really makes a ton of sense) given their cross section of work between human facility and natural function.
That role is the landscape architect.
Sometimes topics for these blogs are a bit more impulsive. I don't think I was planning on writing about parks and urban natural areas, but as I was on a run this week, I noticed that my local park had a sign up advertising some improvements to the area coming soon. I started to wonder: how do decisions like this get made and how did we get to the park as we know it today?
Maybe not the most exciting introduction to a topic, but a part of modern human society is our urban lifestyle. How we, as a community, try to incorporate nature into these spaces is important to our understanding of and connection with nature. Honestly, it's a prime topic for this series!
Let's dive in!
The Earth is a fascinating place. I think most people would agree with that, especially those of us lucky enough to be living on it. Part of what makes it so fascinating is that it's able to support life like us. And a facet of that is the work that the Earth constantly does to keep supporting that life. We've discussed a few of these systems that the Earth maintains in the form of biogeochemical cycles, but there is much more to this planet than those cycles. An impossibly large amount more really.
Let's dive in!
Places in Human Nature is a sub-series of Human Nature that focuses on places that exemplify how humans and nature can help each other thrive. There are so many examples, big and small, of how humanity can aid and give back to the planet, and this hopes to shine some light on those places.
New Zealand is a beautiful place. While we were visiting earlier this year, we traveled to a number of wonderful areas that showcased just how incredible and diverse the landscape on the islands are. Of course, given only a little over a week to explore, we were bound to miss some things. It was only on the flight back home when I was sifting through documentaries that I found one such place I wish we could go back to visit.
That place, and the topic here, is Hinewai Reserve.
Prismatic Planet wants to get excited for the planet, raise awareness of its inhabitants, and get smarter about Earth.