Henry David Thoreau is considered by many to be the environmental father of the green movement. As a teacher, scientist, historian, student, author, and naturalist, Thoreau has made a number of contributionsto the ecological movement, his most significant including his own personalpublished reflections on conservation and his search for the meaning of life through the relationship he had with nature. His published works have “helped to launch the American environmental movement that continues to this day,” (Weiner, 30) and understanding Thoreau is key to conservation efforts today. Thoreau offers counsel and example exactly suited for our perilous moment in time: By studying Thoreau and putting his ideals into practice, we can overcome the challenges facing the modern environment.
Henry David Thoreau, disciple of Ralph Waldo Emerson, sought isolation and nearness to nature. In his writings he suggests that all living things have rights that humans should recognize, implying that we have a responsibility to respect and care for nature rather than destroying it. Thoreau proclaims, “Every creature is better alive than dead, men moose and pine-trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it” (Neimark, 94).
Centuries of farming, logging, mining, dam building, and rapid population growth have created a serious ecological crisis. Pollution, overpopulation, and deforestation are just a few of the consequences — and they are killing our environment. It is important that humanity transcends it’s centrism and works together to save our environment here on Earth. The Earth is our habitat, our surroundings, everything we interact with. It is home to more than justpeople – it is home to plants, animals, and microscopic organisms alike, all of which the humanrace relies on for survival.
Associated with the transcendentalists, Thoreau uses nature to understand the meaningof the soul. Seeking experience, Thoreau uses nature as a tool for learning, making thewilderness his role model and reference point. The language Thoreau chooses creates acomparison between apples and the divine, appealing simultaneously to transcendentalist andreligious beliefs. In “Wild Apples” Thoreau reflects on the ethereal quality of apples “whichrepresents their highest value, and which cannot be vulgarized, bought and sold.” (Westling,141)Similarly, in “Solitude” Thoreau reminds us that one is never alone in solitude withnature, praising the benefits of nature and his deep communion with it.
Transcendentalism of the nineteenth century taught that divinity pervades all nature andhumanity; transcendentalism attempts to raise awareness about the existence of nature and thespirituality that pervades in nature, and therefore, the spirituality and nature that exists withinthe self. Transcendentalism implies movement: an intellectual and spiritual wakening, a rise in consciousness, a transcendence of one’s boundaries. Among the transcendentalists’ corebeliefs was the inherent goodness of both people and nature. They believed that society and itsinstitutions (eg. organized religion or political parties) ultimately corrupt the purity of theindividual. They have faith that people are at their best when truly “self-reliant” andindependent. “Self-reliance” refers mainly to an intellectual independence that makes onecapable of generating completely original insights with as little deference paid to past mastersas possible.
Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance” promotes self-reliance as an ideal, even a virtue.Frustrated with society, he turned “more exclusively than ever to the woods, where I wasbetter known” (Thoreau, 17). Thoreau implies that a of solitude and distance from ourneighbors may actually improve our relations with them, but by moving away from townentirely we liberate ourselves from our slavish adherence to society. Self-reliance suggeststhat we are influenced by our surroundings; therefore, the essential aspect of the person isfound in solitude, devoid of outside societal influences. Influenced by Emerson, Thoreau’sselected essays in Walden leads readers through a self-reliant existence, lived in balance withnature and the individual self. In “Where I Lived and What I Lived For” Thoreau asserts hisdecision to “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learnwhat it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived” (Thoreau, 85). His record of what it means to live a humble, simple existence present a contemporary modelfor living.
Thoreau’s Walden promotes a philosophy of simplicity derived from Emerson’sphilosophy of “self-reliance” that could inspire people to live in better connection with natureand, if followed, that could help to save our planet. It is imperative for people to form anindividual bond with nature in order have respect and love for their environment. We must putThoreau’s ideals into action in order to understand his message better.
Thoreau’s experience at Walden Pond fostered his love for nature and reaffirmed theimportance of preserving the wilderness and furthermore living in harmony with nature. Hislater essays reiterate and reinforce Walden, drawing inspiration from experience.
Thoreau continues to inspire environmentalists who study his principles in an effort tochange our current relation to the planet. In modernity, people have shaped nature to fit humanenvironments, which has created an interplay between technological advances and pure natureitself. By studying the writings of Thoreau, we can begin to understand nature and furthermorework in conjunction with nature, rather than in opposition to nature. His writings about the“importance of leaving nature undisturbed, the need for all humans to have contact with nature,and the relationship between humans and other living things” (Neimark, 94) advocates forpeople to get away from urban, industrialized areas. According to Thoreau, “modern life,whether in the nineteenth or twenty-first century, robs people of their best selves, and strong medicine is needed to restore that sense of individualism” (Weiner, 11). Like his mentor RalphWaldo Emerson, Thoreau not only acknowledges the benefits of humans coexisting withnature. but believes that living in harmony with nature is essential.
Truthfully, the human condition requires some degree of disconnect from the naturalworld in order to survive in a livable environment, but as humans we have the capacity to forma relationship between the two opposing ideas of human nature and the natural world. Theproblem in modern society is rooted in the disconnection people have to the natural world.Population growth, increasing pollution, and deforestation are serious problems facing theworld today. By studying Thoreau and putting his principles into practice, we could get muchcloser to reaching equilibrium between humankind and our environment.
The dictionary defines nature not only as “the material world, especially as surroundinghumankind and existing independently of human activities,” but also as “the phenomena of thephysical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features andproducts of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations.” In other words, nature iseverything. Nature is the universe as a whole, in its entirety; to be a human is to be a spiritualbeing having a human experience. To be human is to be a small part of nature itself —everything and everyone contribute to the never-ending cycle of life and energy that ultimatelymakes up the universe (nature).
The universe itself and everything it is comprised of, from the smallest grain of sand tothe wide expanse of space and each and every human in between, can be considered nature. Ashumans, we tend to separate nature in our minds, creating some distinction between the outsideworld and our inner worlds. Human nature has always been inherently disconnected withnature in this sense: we form communities for protection, shelter from the elements, and toshare our emotions and experiences. There is a fear embedded deep into the humanconsciousness — a fear of nature and an inherent need to establish a boundary between the selfand nature. Thoreau, inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson, attempts to deconstruct this stigma inan effort to influence people to be “self-reliant,” to embrace their connection to nature, and tocreate harmony between the outside and inner worlds. Throughout the collected essays inWalden, Thoreau invites us to find a sense of meaning, direction and purpose in life throughimmediate contact with nature.
Modern ecologists acknowledge the critical need to recognize and address the spiritualdynamics that exist at the root of environmental degradation. In order to resolve issues such asspecies depletion, global warming, over-consumption, humanity must examine and reassessour relationship to nature and furthermore our responsibility to this planet. The works ofThoreau present us with a social mandate that demands the readership to consider their ownrelationship with nature and attempts to persuade readers to foster a harmonious balance.
Throughout his works, Thoreau questions his audience, encouraging existential thoughtand consideration. His methodical questioning forces readers to be introspective anddiscerning, encouraging and ethical approach to ones engagement with nature. Thoreau hashelped readers began to recognize the need for environmental conservation. Of course,Thoreau could never have predicted the severe degree of degradation that our environmentcurrently faces. He preceded his time, thankfully, and has left behind his legacy for us to studyas a guide for how to approach environmental conservation.
Thoreau’s essay “Walking” aims to identify the importance of engagement with
Nature, claiming that “in Wildness is the preservation of the world” (Westling, 4). We needto sustain the vital resources that can only be found of the Earth in order to secure our ownsurvival. Humans depend on trees to produce oxygen and clean rainwater to grow healthy food;if our atmosphere gets too polluted, clean air to breathe and food to eat will be seriouslythreatened. We need to care for the Earth in order to preserve it and us.
Thoreau advocates the “need to get away from urban, industrialized areas” (Neimark,79), sensing the danger associated with urbanization. Crowded cities contribute tooverpopulation, which facilitates overconsumption and pollution. Because we have too manypeople to feed, we deplete natural resources (like fields for farming), which forces factories towork harder and therefore pollute more. It is a vicious cycle that only creates more problems.In order to save our environment, we must return to wildness as Thoreau suggests.
Thoreau sounded the call for environmental awareness and helped launch a movementthat has continued to this day. Twenty-first century environmental issues can be resolved bypaying more attention to Thoreau’s practical nineteenth century methodology. Pollution,overpopulation, and deforestation are just a few of the serious issues contributing to the currentecological crisis. Despite the severe amount of degradation that the Earth has suffered in thename of “progress” the works of Thoreau present us with a social mandate that demands theaudience to consider their own relationship with nature and attempts to persuade readers tofoster a harmonious balance with their environment. By studying Thoreau and putting hisideals into practice, we can overcome the challenges facing the modern environment.
“Nature” Def. 1-7. Merriam Webster Online, Merriam Webster, n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.
Neimark, Peninah, and Peter Rhoades Mott. The Environmental Debate: A documentary
history. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1999. Print.
Thoreau, Henry D. Walden. Boston: Beacon Press, 1854. Print.
Weiner, Gary. Social Issues in Literature: The Environment in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.
Farmington Hills: Greenhaven Press, Gale Cengage Learning, 2010. Print.
Westling, Louise, ed. Literature and the Environment. New York: Cambridge University Press,
Ecological imbalance and their consequences
Human activities are responsible for the disturbance of balanced system of an environment. Increasing human population produces a strain on the resources and availability of energy and materials, which deplete. The process of urbanization and industrialization, use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, hasty approaches to the formulation of developmental projects particularly hydro-electric and those on tourism, road, building, mining and disposal of waste materials are the main developmental activities of man.
All these activities introduce many unwanted substances in the environment and disturb the balanced system of the environment. This is known as ecological balance.
The major ecological imbalances are greenhouse effects, depletion of ozone layer and acid rain.
The greenhouse effect refers to circumstances where the short wavelengths of visible light from the sun pass through a transparent medium (i.e. envelope of gases CO, CO2, SO2, etc.) and are absorbed, but the longer wavelength of the infrared radiation from the heated objects are unable to pass through that medium and are trapped causing more heating and a higher resultant temperature.
The causes of greenhouse effect are as follows;
- Due to deforestation.
- Due to population growth, the excessive amount of CO2 is being deposited in the atmosphere through furnaces of power plants, automobiles, factories, etc.
- Industries which are involved in cement production, fertilizers, coal mining, etc. produce harmful greenhouse gas.
- Nitrous oxide is one of the greenhouse gas that is used in fertilizer and contributes to the greenhouse effect.
- It results in the increase in temperature of the earth as a whole causing global warming.
- The rise in temperature result increases in sea level due to the melting of polar caps.
- Warming up of the atmosphere causes natural calamities like flood, hurricanes, and cyclones nearby the oceans.
- Higher atmospheric temperature increase evaporation of water from the farms reducing crop yield.
- Monsoon may even stop altogether or rainfall may be altered.
Depletion of ozone layer
The ozone layer is a deep layer in earth’s atmosphere that contains ozone which is a naturally occurring molecule containing three oxygen atoms. An essential property of ozone molecule is its ability to block solar radiations of wavelengths less than 290 nanometers from reaching Earth’s surface. In this process, it also absorbs ultraviolet radiations that are dangerous for most living beings.
- Chloro Fluro Carbon (CFC) gas released by industry releases chlorine-containing chemicals that react with ozone and causes damage to it.
- Volcanic eruption, burning of large forests and savannahs, jet planes also contribute to the depletion of ozone.
In the stratosphere, the CFCl3 is broken down into chloride atoms in the presence of UV radiation. Each chloride atom reacts with more than 10,000 atoms of O3 converting into O2. Here, produced chlorine atom can destroy other molecules of O3.
- Due to more UV radiations entering, it increases the earth’s temperature that can lead to the failure of rainfall.
- Harmful UV radiations may cause skin cancer.
- Higher UV radiation reduces the photosynthesis thus, reducing the productivity of crops.
- UV radiation results in the number of phytoplankton and zooplanktons and thus, harms fish and other aquatic life.
Acid rain is a rain or any other form of precipitation that is usually acidic, meaning that it have the higher number of hydrogen ions (low pH). Normal or unpolluted rain has a pH of 5.6%, the acidity is due to the presence of CO2 in the air. But acid rain has a pH value of 4 to 4.5 that is due to SO2 and oxides of nitrogen present in it.
Oxides of sulphur and nitrogen (SO2, NO, NO2 ) are the main air pollutants produced mainly by the combustion of fossil fuels for power generation.
In the atmosphere, SO2 and NO2 react with moisture forming respective acids (H2SO4 and HNO3 ) which then dissolving in water vapor in atmosphere fall onto the earth as acid rain. These acidic oxides may even undergo physical and chemical transformations producing toxic agents. About 60% - 70% of acids in the atmosphere are derived by the oxidation and hydrolysis of SO2 and H2S and rest 30% - 40% from various nitrogen compounds and other compounds.
- Acid rain creates particles in the air that can cause respiratory problems.
- It also causes building materials to decay more rapidly and paint more likely to peel.
- Acid rain when mixed into the soil, it dissolves many of the essential nutrients the plant needs.
- Acid rain raises the acidity of water of lake or pond which may destroy the aquatic life.
A textbook of biology 8th edition.