Throughout history, man has always tried to become the master of his environment. With the invention of fire, man was able to see even at night when there was no sunshine. Later on, he was able to create waterways and harness both wind and water so as to generate power which became useful in many places such as in lumber mills and wheat mills. The emergence of industrialization further heightened the progress of man such that he no longer depended so much on nature. Man started living entirely within a manufactured (artificial) system or environment (Gagnon 149).
In the year 1975, the US government was committed towards maintaining a clean environment as well as improving its economy, just like many other countries of the West (Rushefsky 153). Americans were very optimistic that they would be able to maintain a balance between the two obligations. In particular, they were confident that they would be able to develop science and technology and enhance environmental progress. Nevertheless, it dawned on them several years later that even though it is possible to perform the two obligations, it is quite difficult to balance between economic growth and high level environmental progress. As such, they realized one activity must be sacrificed for the other (Rushefsky 154).
Basic to economic development and cultural change is the mode of adaptation to the necessities of the natural environment (Gagnon 150). One major aspect of economic and cultural adjustments is the system of values and beliefs which characterize the dominant value orientation of a certain culture with regard to its relationship with the society and its natural environment. As such, man should be able to orient himself with the environment through three major things: mastery of nature, being in harmony with nature and being subjected to nature (Kaiser 395). The first order orientation for most Americans and other Western nations is mastery of their nature. Nevertheless, it is imperative for them to understand the mechanisms that help in the maintenance of this orientation and the effects of this orientation before they hold specific beliefs about their environment (Kaiser 396).
The process of understanding the connection between man-nature orientations, the society and the natural habitat has undertaken increased significance within the past few decades, since an array of environmental problems has generated the notion that the orientation of mastery over nature may be unsuitable especially within an era of scarcity (Gagnon 152). This paper focuses on the link between the dominion of people’s beliefs about nature and their environmental attitudes. It gives specific emphasis on the imperialism of Western ideologies which makes it difficult for the nations of the world to develop an international environmental policy.
By explaining in detail how Western ideas concerning nature are not well articulated by other nations, this paper gives strong evidence that within the context of global environmental policies, universal legal norms are usually not expressive of the shared worldwide principles. As such, the augmentation in the adoption of Western ideologies by other countries does not actually lead to the obliteration of the notions that are held by other cultures concerning nature.
Separation, Domination and Nature as a Resource
The coming to end of the previous millennium witnessed an exceptional spread of democracy in free-market economy. The triumph of foreign policy, together with the forces of globalization, led to a nearly unrestrained expansion of this Western ideology. It is important to note that one of the concealed ideological premises required for the expansion of free-market democracy is the conception of nature as a raw material, or a resource which is detached from human civilization, and the readiness to exploit nature so as to benefit the human society (Kaiser 398). However, the expansion of the free-market democracy with its associated ideology of nature raises serious concerns about the protection and preservation of cultural diversity when countries that espouse the Western values mislay their own values. According to Gagnon and other critics of Western dominion, it is wrong for Western nations to assume that their cultural beliefs are superior over the others since all cultures are significant (153). The issue of globalization has revitalized the debate on Western ideological imperialism in the contemporary world in contexts that range from exclusive rights to human rights. Even as universal treatment of issues concerning the environment continues to enlarge, similar concerns are also reflected upon within the context of environmental preservation.
The philosophy of separation and dominance is a typical Western ideology which is deeply rooted in the establishment of a free-market democracy, but it is not taken well by other countries. This ideology considers the strong relationship between the successful expansion of a free-market democracy with the ascension of the need for a universal environmental law and the concept of sustainable development. According to Rushefsky, sustainable development is not a mere reflection of the success obtained from transferring the Western ideologies, but rather, it is a compulsion of ideological imperialism such that Western values and beliefs that are not willfully accepted or shared by other nations are instinctively acquired by them (154).
The dominance of Western culture and the resultant loss of cultural diversity are dangerous acts that have often led to obscurities in communication and disagreements over a common international environmental policy. An example of such a disagreement was witnessed last year during the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in Denmark where the Western nations demonstrated their continued reluctance to adopt the Kyoto protocol that is aimed at preventing climatic changes and the process of global warming (Kaiser 399). It is important to note that even though the loss of cultural diversity, which results from the dominion of Western ideologies on nature, is justifiable; the notion that nature underlies a free market democracy and sustainable development will ultimately cause an enduring destruction to the environment. In addition, the increase in the adoption of the ideology of separation and dominance in relation to sustainable development and a free-market democracy will eventually result in substantial environmental degradation (Kaiser 400).
Despite the fact that man is obviously the dominant species in the urban ecosystem, the same urban areas are also a habitat to a vast number of other species which reside, feed and reproduce besides the urban human inhabitants (Gagnon 155-156). The conception of the urban setting as an ecosystem contravenes the universally held opinion of the affiliation between man and his environment. One of the common metaphors of the Western culture is its perception that there is a clear separation between man and nature and that the two are in constant opposition to each other. Even though this conception is widely accepted by many people, it is important to put in mind that it is absolutely not the only way in which the relationship between man and nature can be conceived (Gagnon 157).
According to Kaiser, anthropologists have acknowledged several metaphors that are useful in understanding nature (401). Three of these metaphors include: nature as a limited resource that human beings depend upon: nature as a well balanced and interdependent phenomenon: and the model of nature vs. the society which is exemplified by devaluation of nature in the market, human being’s separation from nature which makes them fail to appreciate it, and the American veneration of the environmentalism of primal groups of people.
Sustainable Development and Western Ideological Imperialism
As aforementioned, Western nations should realize that sustainable development is not just a mere reflection of their hegemonic ideologies. The democratic notion that has emerged concerning the concept of sustainable development simply continues to marginalize any conception of nature which does not fall within the Western framework. In addition, the implementation of this notion is not focused on the capability of science to build up technologies that limit environmental degradation alongside material growth. Clearly, a premise of that nature does not give any room for other conceptions of the relationship between man and his nature. As such, the Western environmental ideology will continue to supersede the vision of nature that is held by other nations of the world (Gagnon 157).
Within this globalization era, the concerns that were articulated more than fifty years ago by the American Society of Anthropology continue to be more pertinent than ever before. In this age, ideologies can be transferred at an exceedingly high pace, yet Western nations have actually made very little effort in considering the modesty and the effects of the extension of these ideas. Western nations ought to realize that their notion of separation and dominance over nature will continue to impact negatively on the environment. What may seem to be victory for them might eventually lead to the complete loss of nature.