The Environment and Culture are Inseparable

The intersection between environment and culture is undeniable, from agriculture to art to the industries and professions that dominate different societies. In places like Japan or the Caribbean, where fishing is a prominent livelihood for many, issues of pollution in the water will be of much greater concern than in landlocked or desert-covered countries. In an area that relies on coal mining such as West Virginia, individuals may be much more opposed to green energy initiatives and stubbornly defend their way of life despite an outside narrative that discourages the continuing use of fossil fuels.

Religion has also had a large influence on the way societies and cultures view and interact with their environment. The Christian Bible teaches that humans are “stewards” of the Earth, which can be interpreted in multiple ways. Some Christians take this as a sign that the natural world is theirs to use as they wish; they are higher than plants and animals and have the right to take any resources they may want. Other Christians see their role as more similar to that of a protector; they have a sacred duty to take care of nature and make sure that the planet is healthy. However, in many South and Eastern Asian religions, humans are not seen as separate from the rest of the natural world, and are instead viewed as just another component of a greater spirit or cycle of life. In Hinduism, for example, a person may be reincarnated as an animal many times over until they eventually attain nirvana. In Taoism, all energy is part of the Tao: “the Way” or “the One,” which is sometimes described as the “flow of the universe” and a manifestation of nature. In both of these traditions, it is necessary to show respect towards the natural world because adherents view themselves as inseparable from the all-encompassing “oneness” of life in the universe.

As demonstrated in the Penrose story, the economic situation of a country or community will also have a large influence on the solutions that people find, if any. Interestingly, that particular account demonstrated a significant advantage that poorer nations have over countries such as the United States: a history of developing their own solutions on an individual level rather than relying on technological advancements, the government, corporations, or their own personal wealth to overcome or evade challenges. In other words, a long history of being left to fend for themselves will be the saving grace of poor communities.

A combination of these as well as many other factors will ultimately determine the way that different cultures respond to the challenges that arise as a result of climate change and human interference in the environment. Access to communication through technology or simple proximity to highly-populated areas; the cultural importance placed upon cooperation, ingenuity, tradition, and scores of other values; the availability of education to the general population; the historical interplay between nature and society as well as the influence of media on the overall narrative of the environment and how it should be treated: all of these components and more will vastly affect the approaches and attitudes of various groups in the face of a changing landscape. You just hope that in the end, the response will be one of empathy and not selfishness.