Youth advocate and social entrepreneur Wes Moore visited Cornell to commemorate Martin Luther King. He conveyed how we can contribute to our community by envisioning equality as a person’s potential rather their physical or socio-economic characteristics. This relates to nature because nature also has equal potential; however, anthropocentric ideologies of people’s power over nature have obscured our vision of nature as equal.
Although everyone may not be exposed to the same opportunities, we all have the same potential. We have different opportunities because we are born to different parents, under different socio-economic conditions in distinct neighborhoods. We are born unequal in the sense that not all of us are guaranteed high quality education although public education is free. As a child, I remember visiting several private elementary schools with my mom as she attempted to divert my twin sister and I from our neighboring schools in South Central L.A. during the aftermath of 1990 L.A. riots. Although my mom tried to find the schools that could provide the highest quality education, when I entered college, I realized that I didn’t learn as much as my classmates in my elementary years. However, growing up watching my mom reading and studying to complete her undergraduate work at Cal-State Dominguez Hills instilled a strong work ethic and determination to succeed. We are differentiated by our individualism and free will to overcome inequalities and find ways to reach our optimal potential.
This relates to nature because we have inhibited nature’s potential to flourish naturally by living within it. We build roads, homes, and define city boundaries. As part of the eastern United States, Ithaca NY is an area considered to be a deciduous forest area, a unique region that makes up about 5% of the earth’s land surface. Biodiversity of tree and species is rich. In the US, approximately 3,000 different plants species have been identified.
Ithaca as a town within this region is a symbol of how we have limited nature from being more diverse and reaching a greater potential. Cutting down the trees to make room for our roads, homes, and markets has reduced the amount of oak, maple, and beech trees in our area. Like humans, these trees were also born with different opportunities based on their location of inception. With the presence of the city boundaries, and divisions of what is natural and what is the city, we’ve made the trees’ existence obsolete. Today no trees grow in the land where my apartment building is because the heavy, brick apartment impedes its growth.
Drawing parallels between our own personal histories that convey unequal opportunities and our strife to fulfill our potential with the potential of nature is instrumental for empathy.
The recent winter storm Nemo, passed through NY this weekend and people living in Conneticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire all anticipated different rates of snow fall based on projections. In Ithaca 5-10 inches of snow were expected, compared to NYC where 12-18 inches were expected. We experience nature’s potential in natural disasters, but don’t really think about how nature is a reflection of human behavior. We need to be more aware that we are a part of humanity rather than just individuals. Powerful natural disasters such as hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes have caused catastrophies in the past decade. They have all conveyed nature’s physical potential, and remind us that we are a part of humanity. International relief efforts help those that lose their homes, are hungry, and need help regaining stability. There are several ongoing international aid projects through the PeaceCorps and the UN, but as average people in the US, we are not highly exposed to images of hunger and poverty that are common in third world countries.
By imagining how our potential—something we all have—relates to nature’s, we can think deeper about the ideological equality and inequality in our societies. This can lead us to imagine how these ideological divisions of power, and physical attributes we assign to convey poverty and wealth, has led to extreme inequality. People born in certain regions are born with less opportunities than we are, but with the same potential.
An easy solution is to provide monetary assistance, but a greater contribution would be strive to change people’s perceptions of nature as something subordinate to humanity, and as poverty being something associated with being “underdeveloped.” These shifts in thought can limit notions of “the other” that separate us into categories and make us unequal. Our empathy towards nature and people can allow us to gain a better understanding of the truly natural cycles within society and in nature, which can lead us to alter our unsustainable behaviors.
Ecology by Cain, Bowman, Hacker 2nd Edition
Ecology and the Environment. BIOEE 1610 lecture. Cornell University. January 29, 2013