Discussions and concerns over the natural world and the environment are becoming common today. When we refer to the natural world, do we really know what we are talking about? Concerns about nature tend to focus on the availability of resources humanity demands to support our current life styles and our technical ability to find substitutes for future shortages. Defining the natural world requires careful consideration, as the evolutionary development of planet Earth involves complex connections and relationships necessary to support life. Regardless of how you believe this planet started, the processes that have created Earth as we know it today, remain beyond total human comprehension.
Very simply, the natural world is Earth before human beings began to utilize, interfere, manipulate and dominate the planet. It encompasses all the living and non-living things occurring naturally on planet Earth. The natural world includes all the plant and animal species, micro-organisms, soils, rocks and atmosphere which make this planet so unique, but it is so much more. Included in this magical world are the unique processes and phenomena that have evolved through the evolutionary process of creation. The changing of the seasons every year that cleanse, grow, harvest and provide re-birth each year, the process of photosynthesis that converts carbon dioxide to plant food and produces oxygen for animal life, transpiration that cycles the water from Earth to the atmosphere and back to Earth, the reproductive process that provides new life, are all part of the complex natural world. The most important element which has been designed into nature and life, is diversity. We have only begun to understand this unique world and there remains much to learn. The one thing we do know, is that the sustenance of life is directly dependent upon this complex natural world and its ability to continue to provide the elements required for life in the future. It is also obvious, that as our world population continues to expand the adverse impacts on the natural world will intensify. This raises the question of what is the carrying capacity of planet Earth?
The Earth is what we call a “closed system” in that it produces everything needed to ensure the life and growth of all inhabitants, including humans. In other words, our ability to live and grow depends upon the elements provided by Mother Earth, as do all living creatures that live on earth. We are therefore, connected to and dependent upon our natural surroundings for life. People are but a small link in the circle of life and we depend upon nature to provide the essential requirements to sustain life on this planet. Within the system, where all things are connected, there is a delicate balance that must be maintained. When we upset the balance of nature, it directly effects all people and other creatures.
Our remaining forest covered lands are a vital part of the natural world, and are being lost at an alarming rate. We have already lost over half of the original forest cover that once existed, and recent data indicates we are still losing as much as 36 million acres of forestland annually worldwide. Eighty percent of the forestlands being cleared are being converted to agricultural use. Removing the tree cover from these lands has a major impact on climate change, global warming and life on Earth. Scientists tell us the current rate of deforestation will result in the loss of 28,000 different living species in the next twenty-five years.
Like the natural world, forests, which are a major part of the world, are far more complex then we think. Most people look at the side of a mountain as a forest, but what you are viewing is a mosaic of individual forest communities. These communities are usually quite small and result from the physical conditions of the site the vegetation is growing on. Soil type, soil characteristics, slope, slope position, aspect and moisture availability are all factors that define individual community boundaries. Most of today’s forests are second-growth, having regenerated from past destructive activities or old age. The majority of America’s eastern forests were allowed to regenerate without human assistance relying on local natural seed sources and re-establishing the bio-diversity of the parent vegetation. The late ninetieth century brought humans and forest science into the equation, and things began to change. Instead of focusing on the vital elements from the natural world required to support life systems on Earth, we re-focused on how to increase the flow of forest products to support current life-styles. We envisioned forests as fields of corn, an agricultural process that maximizes production of units per acre. To this day we still perceive tree plantations as a positive way of providing for the future, even though we have completely destroyed bio-diversity within these plantations. The agricultural concept of forestry is accelerating the demise of the hidden life of trees as described in Peter Wallenben’s book, “The Hidden Life of Trees”.
The natural world is shrinking as a result of increasing human demands and will challenge Earth’s ability to provide for the future. It is a complex world, yet easily understood as it is simply nature without human interference. Unfortunately, setting aside a few wilderness areas will not provide for the future, and today’s population will continue to expand and have adverse impacts on our natural surroundings. What humanity has done; humanity has the power to help undo! The question remains; are we willing to make the necessary changes?