What does it mean to be an environmentalist?

By PSU EcoMerge Capstone - 9:24 PM

What does it mean to be an environmentalist?

Posted by Dylan Ribb

It’s only natural to care about our environment. After all, we do live in it, gather resources from it, take pleasure in it, and depend on it. Great poets such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman both wrote page after page about how the power of nature overtook their souls and minds. Such is the power of nature.
However, in our modern society, it is difficult for us to say exactly what or who an environmentalist is. I’ve come to believe that the thing we call our “environment” contains everything, not just things outside of human interest and creation. Our cities are part of the environment, our towns, our dams, and our power plants as well. These all exist in the thing we call “nature”. Viewing them as separate entities is false, in my opinion, because we cannot separate ourselves from our environment. It is a complex web of interactions and change that we may never fully understand.
I’m going to touch on rather sensitive subject: Global Warming. I’m sure many of you are going to gasp when I say this, but I don’t believe that global climate change is an issue we need to worry about. I have my reasons for believing so, which I won’t lay out here because that’s a different topic, but I’d like to propose another question: Because of my lack of a “belief” in the effects of “global warming”, does that mean that I am not an environmentalist? I still recycle. I still try to buy organic foods. I still turn the lights off when I leave the room. I still choose to walk and bike everywhere and not own a car. I also recognize that the entire ecosystem is very fragile and complex, and that human “meddling” in things that we don’t understand has historically (and will most likely in the future) been disastrous.
A frequent example that I use to stress my point is Yellowstone Park in the early 20th century. In the early 1900’s, Park Rangers had noticed that the predators were killing lots of other animals. The State Park didn’t like this, so they went out and captured and killed almost all of the predators. They hoped that this would help the other fauna thrive and give a positive, “friendly animal” image to the park. The rangers fully believed that this was the right thing to do and that it would be most beneficial to the ecosystem and to human aesthetic interests. Years went by, and the fauna flourished, as expected. However, one peculiarity came up: There were far more deer than any other species. Also, the vegetation in certain areas had been completely cleared out by the deer, leaving little to no food for other animals. Soon deer overran the park, and other species of plants and animals began to die off. The park’s solution was to reintroduce predators (wolves, specifically) to the park, and see if the problem corrected itself. It was, however, too late, and the deer continue to overrun the park to this day.
This is, in my opinion, a prime example of human beings meddling in things that they don’t understand. However, at the time, these men believed they were doing the right thing for the ecosystem. So I ask again: What does it mean to be environmentally conscious?
What I’ll leave you with is this: We must realize that mother nature is both resilient and fragile. She is a complex, divine being that strives for symmetry, but is sometimes pushed by other influences to feign away from that symmetry. We must realize the complexity inherent in natural systems, or we may begin to see the decline of the nature we love without even realizing it. This, in my opinion, is what being environmentally friendly is all about. It’s realizing that nature is very complex and mysterious, and that we must respect that at all times when we trifle with her.

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