Touch The Earth Lightly : Respect For Nature in Environmental Ethics
Monday April 11 2011
The saying ‘Touch The Earth Lightly’ is the slang from Australian Aboriginals and it means “respect for nature.” Within respect for nature, it takes on understanding of the affects that behaviour has on the environment and the animals, plants and invertebrates that inhabit the earth. By putting the Focus On Nature, like a camera lens in focus, it is a way to highlight illustrations as a way of communicating observations of scientists and photographic artists. In fact, in the New York State Museum, there is a research tradition that extends back to the founding of the state Geological and Natural History Survey of 1836. Illustrations have constantly been a part of the effort to communicate the results of these studies. Science begins with observations (visuals) of nature. In order for Scientists to produce new information regarding nature and the ecosystems of earth their investigations must be repeated by other scientists to verify the findings of their investigations by the process of repeatability. In the book With Respect For Nature: Living as Part of the Natural World by J. Claude Evans, he accentuates how humans can approach the lives of animals and plants while maintaining a proper respect both for ecosystems and for those who live in them. As David Strong, author of Crazy Mountains: Learning From Wilderness to Weigh Technology said, ” Respect For Nature as a central philosophical precept in environmental ethics is still taking shape, has enormous intellectual and practical potential, and it is significantly freshened and deepened by J. Claude Evans treatment of ‘Respect’ For Nature.
In Paul Taylor’s book entitled Respect For Nature, he emphasizes the biota in natural ecosystems consist of organisms that have evolved independently of human interference in the course of nature. In a natural ecosystem the workings of natural selection at the level of individual organisms determine the structure of relationships among species populations. This process is explained by reference to two factors: (1) changes in environmental conditions, and, (2) genetic variation. These factors affect the reproductive success of individual organisms and hence shape the order of the ecosystem as a whole. In each pattern of evolutionary process the outcome is defined by an organism’s ability to reproduce its own genes in future generations. Viewing ecosystems and their biotic communities in this way has philosophical importance. Paul Taylor claims “we can no longer assume ‘the balance of nature’ as a basic norm of the natural world.” The idea of the balance of nature reflects a holistic approach to the order of life on earth. According to this approach all species in the Earth’s ‘biosphere’ form an integrated system and the steady equilibrium of this system as a whole works to the benefit of the individuals.
Theoretically that is interesting, but let’s look at our local Hamilton Region level for applications. The first instance is how BARC and RBG have trained Public Middle School Gr. 6 Teachers across Hamilton and Halton and have offered nearly 300 kits with instructions, a selection of rooted marsh plants, a clear bowl, pea gravel and one hermaphroditic pond snail. One classroom example comes from W.H. Ballard School in Hamilton’s east-end, where unexpected plants sprouted, and the snail wonders at night. This adventure unfolds nature from the outdoor to an indoor setting that perpetuates a healthy respect for nature. These table-top mini-marshes resemble Cootes Paradise and on a field trip the students of this classroom will have a focused understanding and respect of all of nature’s surprises in Cootes Paradise and Hamilton’s Harbourfront. They learn what is happening in the environment and how to take care of the environment. The hermaphroditic pond snails had already lived together prior to delivery to the classroom. They discovered they ate lettuce and cucumbers, and due to fertilization they produced babies. The students also learned about (1) invasion of species, (2) snails are okay underwater, (3) how to measure soil PH levels, (4) to take photos and record via Video to see what happens in the mini-marsh when they are not physical present. As a former student of W.H. Ballard school I recall our science teacher spending up to six weeks on plants and we planted a paper-white narcissus from bulb to bloom. That science teacher emphasized do not pick unknown flowers in the wild, as their seeds may drop on other native plants as you are observing ; therefore, due to your behaviour invasive plants can choke and kill the native plants. His examples are remembered in a positive light to this day. Hopefully the budding young scientists in the present W. H. Ballard classroom will have similar positive experiences. Thanks to our community, these mini-marshes resembling Cootes Paradise will nurture a healthy respect for our unique wetland in Hamilton.
Let’s investigate Paul Taylor’s discussion on reproductive success in organisms. Simply ask the following question to get a local answer, ‘ What Nature is growing under Cootes Paradise?’ Here, we find Carroll’s Bay at the mouth of Grindstone Creek which is blessed with unique geography, nestled at the western end of Hamilton Harbour and sheltered by Burlington Heights. This wetland waterlot is managed at Carroll’s Bay Sanctuary, part of the greater Hendrie Valley Nature Sanctuary, property of RBG. Although the Longnose Gar breeds in Carroll’s Bay, the primary focus is on the Turtles. There are 6 species that occur nowhere else in Hamilton or Halton and on Canada’s Endangered Species List and present in Carroll’s Bay are the Stinkpot Turtle, and the Spiny Softshell Turtle. But, on Canada’s Not Endangered Species List is the Northern Map Turtle.
Carroll’s Bay supports 400 of these rare Northern Map Turtles, making it one of the largest Northern Map Turtle populations in Canada. In Carroll’s Bay you will find it links directly to the harbourfront of Lake Ontario where beavers, muskrats, mink, osprey and regularly seen bald eagle enjoy the wind sheltered wetland waterlot. But there is a human difficulty with Carroll’s Bay, Motorized watercraft whose propellers injure or kill turtles because they do not understand the shallowness of the water. Therefore, a line of Buoys have been erected and the best way to access Carroll’s Bay is by canoe or kayak.
Another reproduction is happening currently on King Road in Burlington as traffic was closed at night for the salamander to cross to her original beginnings to lay her eggs. An interesting classroom lesson is how the salamander produces and lays her eggs. Cootes Paradise is the home of the highest concentration of plant species in Canada with over 750 plants. Some are growing under Cootes Paradise are submergent aquatic plants – Pondweeds (Potamongetal), Wild Celery (Vallicnerie), and Canada Waterweed (Elodea). Floating Leaf plants include the Water Lily (Nymphara), and the Emergent Plants just above the water growing in Cootes Paradise include – Cattails (Typha), Bulrushes (Scirpus), Arrowhead (Sagitarial) and Sedges (Carax). But beware of the invasive species, Purple Loosestrife (Lythrun salicaris), Reedmanna grass (Glyceria maxima) and Common Reed (Phyragmites australis). In Cootes Paradise it is this diversity, the unique melange of wild and tame nature that makes it stand out. So, close your eyes, use your other senses as you observe and TOUCH THE EARTH LIGHTLY !
Sources: With Respect For Nature: Living as Part of the Natural World; Crazy Mountains: Learning From Wilderness to Weigh Technology; Respect For Nature; Media Desk HWDSB; Hamilton Spectator; Measuring Nature’s Benefits: A Preliminary Road-map for Improving Ecosystem Service Indicators by World resources Institute.
Photography Doug Worrall and Jacqueline