We often make distinctions between human and nature. The social construction of this dichotomy has been one of the defining features of modernity.
Human-induced climate change is forcing us to rethink this foundational assumption. We no longer can separate the world into two opposing categories — one labeled “nature” and one labeled “human.” Humans are intimately intertwined with nature, and the illusion of their separation cannot be sustained.
Changes in the atmosphere affect not just the weather but our oceans, our lands and all living beings. Everything is linked to the cycles and processes of the Earth.
Humans have transformed the Earth in innumerable ways — not just climate, but land surfaces, waterways and species extinction.
Welcome to the Anthropocene — the new geological epoch that Earth scientists have recently declared to acknowledge the massive human imprint on the global environment. This marks the end of the Holocene, the 10,000-year period of climatic stability that allowed “civilization” to flourish.
The separation between humans and nature leads to social justice and environmental movements having separate and distinct goals and histories. The emergence of the Anthropocene necessitates that we see their common purpose.
Both social justice and environmental approaches are concerned with exploitation and our struggles to free ourselves from abuse.
Moreover, both social justice and ecological concerns must move forward together as the exploitation of human entails the exploitation of nature.
As Paul Hawken states: “Slaves, serfs and the poor are the forests, soils and oceans of society; each constitute surplus value that has been exploited repeatedly by those in power, whether governments or multinational corporations.”
Our future depends on how we understand and care for these vital resources — our natural environment and our human population.
Every thread of our being is interwoven with the environment and how we treat one another is reflected on our planet, just as how we treat our planet is reflected in our physical and mental well-being. Nature is our body, and we must remain in step if we are not to die.
— Wayne Mellinger, Ph.D., is a social justice activist living in Santa Barbara and social worker for the homeless. He is on the board of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE).