1.4.4 Views on nature

Course subject(s) Module 1. Introduction to Nature Based Metropolitan Solutions

Your view on nature determines what you regard as sustainable, and how you feel that nature should be valued. Which of the five views of nature do you hold?

The five views differ in regard to their acceptance of human intervention in natural systems, from the ‘Hands-off view’ which rejects human intervention to the ‘Functional view’ which indulges in all possible forms of intervention. The ‘Classical ecological view’, the ‘Developmental view’ and the ‘Co-evolutionary view’ fall in between. The Hands-off, Classical and Developmental views can be regarded as eco-centric, whereas the Co-evolutionary and Functional views are anthropocentric.

To help you determine how your view of nature relates to five different world views, all questions provided you with five options. Each option, presented in random order, belonged to one particular world view. In the end, the questionnaire determined your view based on the type of answer that you selected in the majority of cases. Therefore, if you filled in mostly Type 1 answers, you have a predominantly Hand’s off view. Similarly, if you filled in mostly Type 2, then you evince a predominantly Classical view. Mostly Type 3 is a predominantly Developmental view, mostly Type 4 is a predominantly Co-evolutionary view and mostly Type 5 is a predominantly Functional view. If you selected three very different answers, then your view on nature is undetermined at this stage.

Have a look at the descriptions of the views to see the full range of views. How does your view compare with that of others?

As you progress in the course, and you learn more about the principles underlying nature-based solutions and its importance and potential to facilitate change, you will be able to determine more clearly what you regard as sustainable, and how you feel that nature should be valued. We encourage you to re-turn to re-examine the views later in the course and see whether your viewpoint has shifted.

Note that we do not strive for a particular viewpoint in this course. We seek to work respectfully and professionally with people holding a diversity of viewpoints. This acceptance of multiple views lies at the heart of the working successfully in multidisciplinary projects.

Type 1 | Hands-off View

People with a Hands-off view on nature value naturalness. The extent to which nature is free from human interventions. In this view, human intervention is believed to always reduce the naturalness of an ecosystem. So, the best way to conserve nature is not to interfere, but rather to rely on the natural restoration capacity of ecosystems. Any form of maintenance or intervention, even those activities aimed at stimulating natural processes, are in conflict with naturalness. Underlying this thinking is the belief that humans are not part of nature, but that they have a moral responsibility to behave as partners on the basis of intrinsic equality.

Examples of the Hands-off approach are hard to find in practice. Generally speaking, nature conservation organizations consider biodiversity and rare species more important than naturalness and they often resort to interventions aimed at protecting species rather than allowing nature to take its course.

Type 2 | Classical View

People with a Classical ecological view strive to conserve and restore existing natural areas in accordance with an historical reference situation. Whether human intervention are incorporated or not, is not an issue. What matters is to protect (and isolate) existing nature (maintaining biodiversity, protecting rare species and unique landscapes) from further harm. Active human intervention is considered necessary since nature cannot defend itself against the threats from society. In this view, humans should act as stewards of the environment, and naturalness is a subordinate issue.

This view represents a reactive and defensive stance against economic activities that harm nature. Examples of the Classical ecological approach are found in the work of non-governmental nature conservation organizations, who may purchase and manage natural and cultural sites to protect them from destruction.

Type 3 | Developmental View

In the Development view, both the protection of existing natural areas and the development of new natural sites are the main objectives. Sustainability cannot be realized simply by keeping one’s hands off nature or by protective interventions, but it also requires the development of new natural sites. Core issues are the desire to enhance naturalness and wilderness, to give space to natural processes, to enhance the systems’ diversity rather than only to conserve rare species. Whether it is by reducing or increasing maintenance, removing previous interventions e.g. barrages across a river, or by creating favorable physical conditions for biota, all the interventions are aimed at enhancing naturalness. The development of ecological networks, which help to enhance the natural resilience of ecosystems, is encouraged. Basically, interventions are driven by the desire to provide more space for nature rather than by the wish to realize utility for society. Humans are expected to act as partners for nature.

In this view, increasing the quantity and quality of nature requires ecological networks and opportunities for natural processes in addition to protection and isolation. An example of the Development view is the Dutch national ecological infrastructure – a connected network of nature areas with target types of nature specified per geographical region in terms of both naturalness and species diversity.

Type 4 | Co-evolutionary View

For people with a Co-evolutionary view, the primary objective is to maximize the social welfare derived from nature, while maintaining ecological qualities. This welfare can be derived both through direct use (resource extraction) or indirect use (regulatory mechanisms), as well as through non-use (social preferences attached to nature’s existence). In natural areas, user functions which do not seriously damage the natural system are allowed, such as recreation and sustainable forms of harvesting. Although naturalness is considered desirable, it is not considered to exclude human activities, as humans are viewed as part of nature. A balanced interaction between nature and society is advocated. Humans should act as the partners of nature, or at the least act as stewards. Both society and nature are allowed to change and to inflict change upon each other, as long as neither suffers serious damage, nor threats to their existence.

In the Co-evolutionary view, the separation of ecology and economy is neither favorable to nature nor to society, since the two are interdependent. Opposition to this interdependence is seen as unrealistic. Examples of the Co-evolutionary view are nature reserves in which recreation is allowed. Another recent example of the Co-evolutionary view is the Dutch ‘Room for the River’ program in which rivers receive more space so as to accommodate high flood flows. Sacrificing land at suitable locations in this way is compensated by advantages such as reduced flood risks and increased natural beauty which can be enjoyed by visitors. In this plan, a balanced interaction between society and nature is advocated to generate mutual advantages.

Type 5 | Functional View

People with a Functional view on nature, consider that nature’s value lies in the benefit that humans derive from nature. In this view, people may act to control and build (or destroy) nature. The Functional view rests on a strong belief in technological progress. Since naturalness is considered illusionary, humans may control and even construct nature to meet societal needs with the help of ecologically-sound civil engineering. Although humans can destroy nature through technology, people can also create favorable conditions for nature by means of technology. Nature can be man-made and abiotic conditions do not pose restrictions since these can be adjusted too.

In this view, as it has not yet been demonstrated unequivocally that critical thresholds have been encountered, and society has survived so far, it is unclear whether such thresholds actually exist for humans. Examples of a purely Functional view include companies which pollute the environment (e.g. river nearby) with the argument that technology will be developed to clean up at a later date.

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Based on a work at https://online-learning.tudelft.nl/courses/nature-based-metropolitan-solutions/.
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