Expanding the Conversation on Environmentalism and Working for Environmental Justice

A Review of Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson discusses the unimaginable divinity of nature’s innate ability to foster processes that aid each other in providing nourishment for every creature. He uses the example of plants, whose seeds are sowed by the wind, watered by the rain that was drawn from the ocean by the sun, and which feed humans and grazers, alike. In our own empirical endeavors, we have also found that, without any human input, nature create a diverse biosphere of life, monitoring the any extremes by canceling them out through natural processes. An apparent example of this is the ancient processes of the greenhouse effect which moderates Earth’s temperatures enough to allow for life (from -19˚C to 14˚C). We have also learned that some of these neutralizing services may have arisen from the mutualistic, commensalistic, or parasitic interactions between the species themselves (thanks to our infamous scientist, Charles Darwin). For example, many flowering plants largely depend on the honeybees’ furry body to ensure the propagation of another generation; with this in mind, it is likely that flowers without the ability to produce nectar and without any other vector to reproduce would have become extinct. In this way, Earth’s ecosystems become habitats that are “best fit for survival.” Incredibly, even natural disasters that would seem to disrupt the developing balance of this ecosystem are actually essential to ensure the best circumstances for biodiversity to flourish—the intermediate disturbance hypothesis testifies to that.

With this miraculous set of “conveniences” that “angels invented,” Emerson proposes that it would be easy to assume that, as the chosen children of God, we rightfully inherit all the benefits the land provides us. However, in the eyes of a transcendentalist, it is in fact the other way around. Because nature has the unconquerable ability to provide such a seamless system of life, where nothing is wasted or overused, we must learn to consider our physical endeavors as part of nature instead of against it. We must respect these inner-workings in order to learn from them, for his ecocentric worldview goes as far as seeing nature as a divine and wise entity that serves the need of each individual, in sickness and in health. We, as the conscience, dominant species that we have come to be, must now harness our intellect in order to return that favor. Judging by our industrial, luxurious, self-driven past, it seems we have a long way to go. However, our religious morals of love and service, shown from the teachings of Jesus to the sacrifices of Buddha, are more than enough proof that we are in fact capable of altruism. A mother’s willing sacrifice of her own life to save her children proves an even deeper desire to be selfless, an instinctual one. Every human art form, from literature to movies to paintings to music express an innate sense of “good” within all of us, defined solely by our struggle to take into consideration others before ourselves. Emerson simply furthers this sense of good by stating that true peace and true self-sacrifice is only expressed perfectly through the work of nature. Yes, the land does work incessantly for the profit of humanity, but only a beneficial relationship for both entities can blossom if we also become servants to the land. Let us succumb to our hidden desire to love instead of focusing our cultural efforts on paychecks, shopping, pride, and conquering the world.


As history has shown us, developing countries usually follow a predictable trend of rapid industrialization and increased gross domestic product. With this comes an unprecedented boom in the country’s population, shown through the demographic transition model. During this transitional period of growth, the country’s “bottom line” is to stimulate the steep improvement of production and the economy, paying comparatively little attention to the protection of the environment. The unrestrained birth rate further accelerates the degradation of the environment as families’ personal incomes are enough to support a more affluent and consumer lifestyle—more people, more money, more use of the land’s resource. Waste and pollution become a dominating aspect of the society until the country’s economy is secure enough to promote “greener” technology, as supposed in the Kuznets curve.

As for the United States, although MSW and carbon dioxide continue to increase despite our economic ability to moderate the trend, private companies and local governments have put forth efforts to take the soundness of the Earth into consideration. For example, most industries are now instituting the “triple bottom line,” which shifts the focus from profits to social and ecological consequences. Individual citizens are more aware of how their daily decisions, such as how many miles they drive, which type of light bulb they us, and how often they exploit electricity, are impacting their surroundings. Geoengineering, xeroscaping, composting, carbon sequestration, among others, all try to approach progress with a more enlightened mind.



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Idea No. 174