The imagery that we use to describe nature not only influences the language we use to talk about the world but it also dictates how we interact with the flora and fauna around us. I have found that there are at least five ways to view our environment and each perspective leads to different patterns of behavior. At bottom, how we deal with green space in Arlington depends upon how you visualize your relationship with the natural world.
The Pantry. This is the traditional capitalistic view that nature serves as an unlimited storehouse of goods for us to use. People who share this point of view tend to speak of “nature’s bounty” and the riches of the planet. One needs only to “unlock” these natural resources in order for us to thrive in a world without limits.
The Garden. Thinking of nature as a garden leads us to visualize ourselves as gardeners who must constantly “tend” to the needs of the planet. These folks speak of their duty to be “good stewards” of the earth. Here, the natural world needs the constant weeding, watering and care of human beings in order to survive.
Gaia. Another approach is to view our world as one large self-correcting “super organism.” Called the Gaia Theory --- after the Greek goddess of Earth --- this attitude leads to the position that our human economy must fit in with the realities of earth’s living system in order for it to be sustainable. In this view, we should try to mimic the symbiotic relationships around us.
Spaceship Earth. A more technological belief centers on our planet as a spaceship hurtling through the cosmos. From this standpoint, mankind needs to improve upon the natural systems in order to make these processes more efficient. Like life aboard "Star Trek"'s Enterprise, we can make our “life support systems” work through better engineering.
The Museum. There is a final outlook that treats the natural world as art work in a museum. Human beings are mere visitors here and we must leave nature alone. We stand behind the velvet ropes, admiring the world around us from afar, never touching the art.
So, which point of view most closely resembles your own? Or do you have a different approach altogether?
Mike Nardolilli serves as President of the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, President of the Arlington Outdoor Lab, and as a Member of the Board of Directors of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.