Breath of Clarity

Evaluating the Implications of Conceptualizing Humans as Part of “Nature”

Dr. Tim McPherson highlighted the interdependency of all living beings on the planet.

While Peter Kareiva and Michelle Marvier (2012) agree with McPherson in that the scientific underpinnings of conservation must include considering the role of humans, they disagree with the statement because they feel as though the reason for doing so is that we live in a world dominated by humans. I disagree with Kareiva and Marvier because my opinion is that the planet is actually dominating humans and it is just hard for us to see. Insofar as humans take actions that deteriorate the planet, we are destroying our own species. Ecosystems will be able to continue to exist even after the human species can no longer survive. Anyways, myself and Dr. McPherson would agree with Kareiva and Marvier’s argument that social systems need to be created to align with natural systems. I appreciate how the authors expanded on on proposed strategies such as working with the corporate sector and seeing how human rights and equity intersect with ecosystem health (Kareiva and Marvier 2012). William Cronon (1996) emphasized that humans are a sector of the wildlife population. Natural resource management is the study of human dimensions of wildlife because we can only investigate our relationship with the natural world. He illustrated that there is no way of ridding the position of the observer relative to its subject as he frames wilderness as a cultural invention. Therefore, Cronon agrees with Dr. McPherson completely as he highlighted all we say that separates humans from wilderness is a myth.

At the same time, the problem is that humans do not conduct actions with the acknowledgement that their health is directly related to ecosystem health. As a result, they damage wildlife habitat. Insofar as humans respected wildlife habitat, there would be no need for wildlife management. That said, wildlife management should focus on understanding the values that propel humans to act the way they do and investigate the barriers interfering with humans seeing that they are destroying their own species.

At the same time, the popular media’s common “gloom and doom” message is ineffective in changing how people behave to promote conservation. Perhaps, people would be more motivated to promote conservation by connecting with positive characteristics of animals such as their cute and cuddly attributes or their economic value. Still, though, considering that global climate change is a major problem that may seem too overwhelming to handle, many people respond by disengaging with it and make excuses to block it out of their lives. In her article, Catriona McKinnon (2014) analyzes two manifestations of despair about climate change related to the inefficacy of personal emissions reductions and the inability to make a difference to climate change through personal emissions reductions. She argued that judgements grounding each form of despair are unsound (McKinnon 2014). From there, she explored the fundamental value of hope in effective agency to tackle climate change (McKinnon 2014). Hope can increase the probability that a person’s agency achieves its purpose, and so can galvanise the person’s will as it aims at this purpose (McKinnon 2014).

Humans seeing they are included in the natural world and not separate from it not only leads to crucial, wide-scale perspective shifting, but also can result in changing behavior. I found a paper explaining the perceived separation between humans and nature may have implications for subsequent environmental values, attitudes, and behavior (Vining et al. 2008). The research examines people’s perceptions of their connection to nature as well as their ideas about what constitutes natural and unnatural environments (Vining et al. 2008). The authors asked participants from three separate studies if they thought of themselves as part of or separate from nature. They also asked participants to list words that came to mind when thinking of natural and unnatural environments. The results show that even though the 76.9% majority of the participants considered themselves part of nature, natural environments were largely described as places absent from any human interference (Vining et al. 2008). Gaining an understanding of this apparent contradiction may lead to a better awareness of the importance of people’s perceptions of themselves in nature and how that perception relates to general human-environment interactions as well as management and policy (Vining et al. 2008).


Cronon, William. 1996. “The Trouble With Wilderness, Or Getting Back to the Wrong Kind of Nature.” In William Cronon’s (Ed.) Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. pp. 69-90.

Kareiva, Peter and Michele Marvier. 2012. “What is Conservation Science?” BioScience 62 (11): 962-969.

McKinnon, Catriona. 2014. “Climate Change: Against Despair.” Ethics and the Environment. 19(1): 31-48.

Vining, Joanne, Melinda Merrick, and Emily Price. 2008. “The Distinction between Humans and Nature: Human Perceptions of Connectedness to Nature and Elements of the Natural and Unnatural.” Human Ecology Review. 15(1): 1-11.

Comment by Genevieve Brune:
Hey Mary,

Good job describing how all of the authors would react to McPhearson’s views on the connection between humans and nature. I also really appreciate the additional resource you provided about how humans view themselves in nature, and how they view these natural environments. It is quite interesting to see that people have such contradictory beliefs over their involvement in nature. I think this is also partly due to how these landscapes are marketed. Obviously, the NPS and other tourism-focused environmental landscapes places, do a great job of marketing the untouched beauty of these grand lands. And it works — their social media account is flooded with pictures of nature without a single person in sight. However, anyone who has ever been to a national park knows how insanely crowded these lands can get. I remember visiting Muir Woods in Northern California a few years ago, and there was not a single part that was free from people, just enormous crowds in ever space. It definitely impacted my experience and made it slightly more negative, not really the “escape” that I was imagining. I think land managers need to do a better job showing a more realistic view for visitors, and also alter how they are engaging with the public. It pains me to say it, but a national park could almost be run like a park at Disney World. An app with wait times and crowd estimates for different areas of a park could go a long way in better spacing out visitation and creating a better visitor experience. We need to recognize that humans are a huge part of the environment, and by acknowledging this, maybe we can change how people experience these parks.