Environmental Literature | Social Justice | Sustainable Futures

How do environmental issues register differently in different cultures?

February 4th, 2017 | Posted by Nanki Singh in Uncategorized

It can be taken as given, that culture plays a fundamental role in all aspects of our lives. Human behaviors, meanings, attitudes and cognitions are dictated by the cultures we are brought up in. In this context, the meanings we assign to the environment, and our relationship with the environment are defined by our cultural constructs. We often remain oblivious to this nuance of culture- its so deeply ingrained in our upbringing- that it becomes normative. However, the centrality of culture involves a paradox. On one side the possession of culture is viewed as the defining attribute of humans. It is an inescapable aspect of any human phenomenon, including how people shape the environment, use the environment and interact with it. Concurrently, culture divides the single human species into groups that are so varied that they can be seen as sub-species. This is why people differ with the extent to which they perceive environmental issues. This variability is thus an important attribute of humans. It prescribes an individuals role and attitude, with respect to the environment. Are we above the environment? Are we a part of the environment? Does the environment exist simply as a resource for our use and consumption or is it something we have a reverential attitude towards?

Attitudes towards environmental issues, tend fall along a continuum. from not being concerned to being very concerned. “Each of these sets of concerns reflects different underlying values. We refer to these as egoistic, altruistic, and biospheric attitudes. Egoistic concerns are focused on the individual, and reflect a concern about environmental problems for self. These concerns include personal health, financial well-being, quality of life, and availability of resources. Altruistic concerns focus on people other than self, including friends, family, community, future generations, or humanity. Finally, biospheric concerns focus on all living things, including plants, animals, ecosystems, and the biosphere.” (Shultz)

“The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2006, recognizes that, “Respect for indigenous knowledge, cultures and traditional practices contributes to sustainable and equitable development and proper management of the environment”

Muslims believe that all creations of Allah i.e. animals and trees, glorify God in their own way. “Seest thou not that to Allah bow down in worship all things that are in the heavens and on earth, -the sun, the moon, the stars; the hills, the trees, the animals; and a great number among mankind?” (QURAN 22:18) “But waste not by excess: for Allah loveth not the wasters” (Quran 6:141, Yusuf Ali translation). Looking at Christianity, Genesis 2:15 says “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Hinduism advocates the worship of the sun, wind, land, trees, plants, and water. Likewise, respect and conservation of wildlife are part of the cultures’ ethos. Buddhism teaches, “Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I undertake to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.“Globally, bodies like The Convention on Biological Diversity (1992 Rio Earth Summit) are dedicated to promote sustainable development. They recognize biological diversity and the need to protect the environment as a trans-national and inter-cultural issue. They believe it encompasses more than plants, animals and microorganisms and their ecosystems— it is also about people.

Ultimately, there is no escaping one truth that remains the same for all members of this planet. We all inhabit this earth, as have our ancestors and as will our successors. We are being blatantly selfish, and killing a system that supports us. Whether we choose to follow, or ignore what our culture advocates, we cannot ignore the escalation of ecological problems, especially those we are currently facing. We must recognize the inevitable ruination that we will all be subject to, regardless of our culture, gender or nationality. Our ignorance and apathy is leading to deaths and we must effectively work to solve the issue.



Works Cited

Chhibber, Bharti. “Indian Cultural Heritage and Environmental Conservation through Traditional Knowledge.” Indian Cultural Heritage and Environmental Conservation through Traditional (…) – Mainstream Weekly. Mainstream Weekly, n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2017.

Schultz, P. Wesley. “Environmental Attitudes and Behaviors Across Cultures.” . California State University, n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2017.

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