By: Andrew Case
We’re lucky that our campus borders on Cootes Paradise. Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly stressed, or overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people who feel the need to walk, talk, eat, play, and do other human activities which slowly drain my last (introverted) reserves of energy, I will escape to Cootes for a half hour. The Dundas Valley Conservation area, Bruce trail, and Mac Woodlot, all nearby, make for similarly pleasant retreats.
Evidently, I get a lot of utility out of the natural spaces near McMaster. Along with many other students, I like to think of myself as an environmentally aware person. That being said, I have some problems with how we approach environmental education and awareness.
The two main arguments which I hear being made for environmentalism are these: “the human race will go extinct,” and “it is immoral to pollute/litter/other heinous crimes against the environment.” I’m going to totally ignore the former in this article. But I have a qualm with the latter, the “moral argument”. It is all too often followed up with “think of your children’s children”, or some iteration, the gist of which is that I have a moral responsibility to future human beings. That is, actions which harm the environment are immoral because they make the plight of future generations worse than our own; because they harm other people. Fine. True enough.
I think those arguments are fine, but they leave me feeling a bit detached. I don’t want to be the cause of a future collapse of homo sapiens, and I don’t want to totally screw over my great-great-great-grandchildren, but those problems just don’t feel very immediate when I’m contemplating whether I want to drive someplace or make the ten minute walk. The utility of driving outweighs the disutility caused by the environmental harm.
Still, in this situation, I usually walk. The argument that convinces me is this: “nature is good. To harm it wantonly, therefore, is wrong.”
We feel the need to make every academic argument either scientific or, if we can’t manage that, at least humanist. I think environmentalism can have a strong scientific or humanist basis, and not lose face because it affirms the worth of nature to the human spirit.
One of my very favourite things is going on canoe trips with my dad. I spent six weeks of my summer on the Newfoundland coast, hiking and sailing. I like to saunter through Cootes. In short, nature is a great friend to me. And I try, where I can, to be a decent friend in return.
Environmentalism, when it’s at its best, is based on a good relationship between individuals and the landscape around them. Environmental education, then, should focus on fostering friendship between individuals and the places they live. Environmentalism should be about getting more out of the places we live while taking less.