The Value of our Environment

Science and evolution have made us forget about the importance of nature, especially in the Western world. As technologies emerge, we have become indifferent towards human actions that threaten our environment like massive deforestation that are not indispensable for our survival and are only the result of our own selfishness without taking into account other forms of life around us. Pope Francis tells us in that “the natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others.” (Laudato si’, Chapter 2, #90). Basically, by not taking good care of it we are attempting against the dignity of human beings and because we are human beings we should protect our home.

It is important to remember why nature has value and why we must appreciate it as the callousness of science has made us lose our connection to the environment. While human beings may be superior than other living species on earth, we have taken advantage of that superiority. Instead of caring for others, we seek power and wealth which we acquire by impoverishing and destroying. “Certainly, we should be concerned lest other living beings be treated irresponsibly. But we should be particularly indignant at the enormous inequalities in our midst, whereby we continue to tolerate some considering themselves more worthy than others. We fail to see that some are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their supposed superiority and leaving behind them so much waste which, if it were the case everywhere, would destroy the planet. In practice, we continue to tolerate that some consider themselves more human than others, as if they had been born with greater rights.” (Laudato si’, Chapter 2, #90)

Once, a teacher told me “because it exists as it is, in a natural relationship with me and all other human beings, nature has value, both material and moral”. As “material”, because of how we have understood natural sciences, we may get the idea that nature is useful to achieve an end, like a simple possession for us to take advantage of. However, it’s goes beyond that. Within the materiality of nature, and in experiencing it personally, environmentalism emphasizes a value that is unreachable for the experimental sciences. According to Josep María Mallarach “Nature makes us humble, teaches us our place in the cosmos, our fragility and permanent dependence on countless living beings, so many of whom we can hardly conceive, and without whom we could not survive a single day”.

Moreover, we also must focus on its moral value. Nowadays, people within societies wonder if individually we can really make a change and create a positive impact on the environment. We tend to take for granted the value of the intangible to which moral change belongs to and perhaps the most powerful root of all tangible change. Moral change is always primarily a personal phenomenon and requires in a change of behavior. If this change was to be extended to society as a whole, we would see a greater impact in the environmental field.

Change for a greater good begins within ourselves by adopting behaviors aiming to protect our environment such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating waste, reducing food waste, treating other living beings with care, using public transport or sharing the same vehicle among several people, planting trees or saving electricity. All this is part of a generous and dignified creativity, which shows the best of the human being. Similarly, it is essential to promote values that encourage coexistence and respect for others as we must encourage solidarity and universal brotherhood.

“Nevertheless, self-improvement on the part of individuals will not by itself remedy the extremely complex situation facing our world today. Isolated individuals can lose their ability and freedom to escape the utilitarian mindset and end up prey to an unethical consumerism bereft of social or ecological awareness. Social problems must be addressed by community networks and not simply by the sum of individual good deeds. This task “will make such tremendous demands of man that he could never achieve it by individual initiative or even by the united effort of men bred in an individualistic way. The work of dominating the world calls for a union of skills and a unity of achievement that can only grow from quite a different attitude”. “The ecological conversion needed to bring about lasting change is also a community conversion”. (Laudato si’, Chapter 6, #219).

Published: August 5, 2020
Written by Jimena Villacorta Escobar, WYA Latin America Office intern