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Nature enter me

December 13, 2009

Words are used to understand, categorize and make meaning of objects, things and concepts. The shared understanding and meaning of words is how we communicate.  Words however can cause confusion and their meanings can be lost in the process of communication through differences in culture, perceptions, experiences and lost context.

‘”word” smallest single meaningful unit of our speech or writing

word of mouth–  take someone at his/her word

the last word

word for word

So how are words helpful to us for conservation and reconnecting us with nature?

Can one word successfully encompass the idea that humans are part of nature just as much as the sun, moon and the smallest of insects?

Academics have attempted to find words to reconnect nature and culture in English language to solve this.

But there are problems.  Even the term ‘Nature‘ is problematic as it is too broad and doesn’t explain the meaning sufficiently.  “Nature’ is defined as all material objects in the world- any object- even a computer can be defined as nature.  Most people refer to ‘nature’ as wild plants, animals, rocks, soil water and weather and tectonic forces. Tim Low in ‘New Nature’ calls for nature being accepted as dynamic and the only thing we can expect from nature is constant change.

Wilderness is another term used to describe the ultimate nature.  It is something we strive to retain, protect and preserve and is a term loaded with deep core values of the culture that created it.  Initially it was defined as a feared landscape where one was likely to experience terror and ‘bewilderment’. Over time, the meaning of ‘wilderness’ has changed to mean romantic, sublime landscapes and a place which evokes both sacred and godly motions. ‘Wilderness’ also evolved from the frontier movement in the USA.  By using the term ‘wilderness’, this act separates us from ‘nature’.

Wildness is an adjective and embeds us more with nature.  It gives perspective of a larger context.   I like to use the term ‘wildness’ and ‘wild’ and think it has opportunities to define native local biodiversity and is more accurate for conservation. 

Some cultures have words that convey this sense of connection. In Africa ‘ubuntu’ means connectiveness and social responsibility. 

How about using a philosophy instead of a singular word? A philosophy is more dynamic and focuses on the moral values and what we ought to do instead.  This for me answers more questions and provides more solutions than a word. This is the first step to understanding your own morals and why you value certain things. It is helpful being aware of your morals as it determines your thoughts and actions. This is necessary to justify many conservation practises in New Zealand. Conservation in New Zealand is unique, as it involves spending huge amounts of resources and energy killing things.  For example, we try to kill the introduced stoats and possums to conserve our endemic birds like the kiwi, kakapo and kea.  We need to understand our ethical position to make sense of this. Why do we value one species over another? What do we consider to be good practice in ‘conservation’. 


In Norway the “deep ecology” philosophy foundered by Arnes Naess, which states everything has a right to blossom. This philosophy maybe be better than a singular word as it is broader and individuals are encouraged to define the meaning of Deep Ecology and therefore it isn’t static and can be transferable across different cultures and contexts. Norway has a philosophical theory called ”Friluftsliv”, this translates as “free air life”. The idea is to experience nature, to observe nature and activities such as climbing mountains is not necessary to experience nature.  Being in nature  is suffice. 

In New Zealand, a helpful philosophy is Kaitiakitanga, meaning; protecting and enhancing the environment. This term is helpful to increase the understanding of  humans being inseparable from the earth.  It is loaded with ethical responsibility that a word does not convey. Philosophies are possibly more dynamic and not bound to a specific meaning allowing it to evolve over time, changing with people and how we engage, use and interact with our surrounding environment.  By using philosophies we can encourage people to embrace values and conservation ethics and it is transferable across cultures and site specific for different conservation contexts.  However, the experience of nature in our everyday life through providing complex cities, is necessary to these words and philosophies to be meaningful. 

Cronon, W. (1996). “The trouble with wilderness: or, getting back to the wrong nature.” Environmental History: 7-28.

Low, T. (2002). “The new nature.” Viking, Melbourne and London.


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