Geography | Citizenship

Campaign to update dictionary definition

Demand: To solve climate change, we need to reimagine our relationship to the non-human world.

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Has nature lost its meaning? A new campaign encourages us to situate ourselves within nature, starting with language. But after all of the damage we have caused, have we lost the privilege of membership?

When you think of yourself, you might think of a rich mind made up of knowledge and experiences. You might think about the complex biological processes that go on inside you, the beautiful and inconceivable networks of arteries, capillaries, cells, tissues and organs.

But you probably do not think of the trillions of tiny microbesVery small living things, also known as microorganisms. that travel around your body and even compose part of your skin. From bacteria to viruses and fungi, your life sustains a multitude of living things, and vice versa.

Your body is an ecosystem. It might be strange to think of it that way: we associate ecosystems with stretches of nature inhabited by each stage of a food chain, from bugs to rabbits to foxes. But, just like the landscapes around you, you are a means by which nature regeneratesGrows new tissue after loss or damage., flourishes, expands.

However, shut away in our cities, homes and classrooms, it can be easy to forget our intimate connection with nature. Recent research showed that one in three city children have never even been for a walk in the countryside, while almost half have never taken a dip in the sea.1

A new campaign #WeAreNature is calling for a change to the way we perceive our relationship with nature, as a way of combating climate breakdown. If we could see our many connections with nature, claim the campaign’s organisers, we would be encouraged to act more urgently in the fight against climate change.

The campaign is being led by Lawyers for Nature and Frieda Gormley and Javvy Royle from homeware brand House of Hackney, supported by a range of public figures, including MP Caroline Lucas, environmentalist Ben Goldsmith, nature photographer and broadcaster Chris Packham and activist Satish Kumar.

The Oxford English Dictionary currently excludes humans from its definition of nature, describing it as “the phenomena of the physical world collectively; esp. plants, animals and other features and products of the earth itself, as opposed to humans or human creations”.

The campaign argues that “current definitions do not reflect the growing scientific evidence and overwhelming consensusGeneral agreement. It was originally a Latin word. that humans are part of nature and a wider ecosystem”.

There is much research to support the claim. Recent studies have suggested that our failure to effectively tackle climate change lies in our inability to conceive of ourselves as intrinsicallyIn an essential or natural way. connected to the natural world.

One study by the European Environment Agency argued that “even well-intended policies are often based on the divide between ‘us’, human, and ‘them’, the other species”.2

Western philosophy has long held that humans are superior to nature. In the 17th Century, the French philosopher René Descartes described the world in terms of a dichotomyThe difference between two completely opposite things. between the mind and inertLacking the ability or strength to move. matter. For him, humans were the only rational beings, where animals and other forms of nature were mindless and built to be exploited.

But some Eastern philosophies and religions state the opposite. According to Buddhist philosophy, humans are just one class of living beings, and we have no right to lay claim to natural resources.

Some say this could be the answer to all of our problems. We have lost sight of nature’s many lessons, including the interdependence of every living thing. To escape our climate predicament, we need to relearn its very meaning.

Has nature lost its meaning?

Thorny issue

Yes: We have cultivated anthropocentricAn idea that is centred around human beings. In the case of theoretical physics, this over-emphasises our relatively small space in the entirety of the Universe. Why would our computers be the tools from which we deduce the nature of reality? attitudes for so long that we have completely lost sight of the value of nature in our everyday lives. We live in commercial, consumerist bubbles and never come into contact with the raw materials that support our lifestyle.

No: We are closer to nature than at any other time in our recent history, because we know more about it. We learn about it in school and find out about it through the news. It has more meaning than ever.

Or… There is no indication that climate breakdown is taking place because nature has lost its meaning. Lots of people understand how important nature is, but structural change is almost impossible to achieve.

Keywords

Microbes – Very small living things, also known as microorganisms.

Regenerates – Grows new tissue after loss or damage.

Consensus – General agreement. It was originally a Latin word.

Intrinsically – In an essential or natural way.

Dichotomy – The difference between two completely opposite things.

Inert – Lacking the ability or strength to move.

Anthropocentric – An idea that is centred around human beings. In the case of theoretical physics, this over-emphasises our relatively small space in the entirety of the Universe. Why would our computers be the tools from which we deduce the nature of reality?

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  1. According to iNews.
  2. You can read the study here.
  • Some people say

    • “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
    • John Muir (1838 – 1914), American naturalist, author and environmental philosopher
    • “Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
    • Rachel Carson (1907 – 1964), American marine biologist, writer and conservationist

     

    What do you think? 
  • Dive in deeper

    • ▶️ The mental health benefits of aligning ourselves with nature. BBC (3:10)
    • ▶️ Is it time to reassess our relationship with nature? BBC Ideas (4:44)
    • 📰 The way we have evolved is stopping us from solving climate change. Euronews (850 words)
    • 📰 The benefits of reconnecting with nature. Rewilding Britain (1,000 words)
    • 📰 As humans, we are not separate from nature. The Conversation (1,000 words)
    • 📰 How humans have changed the Earth’s surface in 2023. BBC (1,500 words)
  • Become an expert

Six steps to discovery

  1. Connect

    How do you feel about this story?

    Do you feel strongly about rewriting the dictionary? Do you think dictionaries are important?

  2. Wonder

    What questions do you have?

    For example: How will the campaign have the definition of “nature” changed? What will it be changed to? Take a look at the @wearenature.campaign on social media. 

  3. Investigate

    What are the facts?

    Make a list of every way that nature supports your everyday life. Make your list as long as possible.

  4. Construct

    What is your point of view?

    Imagine that you can rewrite the dictionary definition of any word at all. What would it be and why?

  5. Express

    What do others believe?

    In small groups, design a project to help young people such as yourselves reconnect with nature: for example, a long hike, a rewilding project around your school, or visiting an animal sanctuary.

  6. Reflect

    What might happen next?

    It is 2025. You wake up, and nature has reclaimed the Earth. There are no cities, towns or villages left, just an endless sprawl of trees, hills and mountains. Write a short story about what it is like.