How Culture Shapes Nature
Culture shapes nature by first defining what is or is not nature, and secondly how we choose to physically creates those spaces that we deem to be nature or those areas we deem not nature. As humans move in to the urban centers, nature becomes out there and removed, while we remain inside cities with culture. Commodification leads to importation, land degradation and allows physical separation from subsistence work and its surrounding environment. How we define nature becomes nature, the definition is expanding and changing with the perception of needing nature or the concept of being able to live apart from it. We create nature physically as much as we do mentally. Creating natural spaces such as parks, inner city and national, the landscapes we see in art works, old run down lots and the ideal settings for scavenging animals such as raccoons, pigeons and strays are all human created forms of nature. How we classify these places and areas become our cultural understanding of what nature is composed of.
The notion of what nature is has been constantly shifting in the 21st century due to the belief that we as humans can separate ourselves from nature and that it is possible to live entirely outside and without it. Our food comes from every corner of the globe, fresh fruit and vegetables are available year round even when the earth is too frozen to grow. Building materials are available at our fingertips and we never have to grow the cotton that our clothes are made from. How could one imagine that we are removed from nature, or are capable of living outside of it? We are fully immersed within it as well as constantly changing it. In cities, we create nature by creating natural spaces inside and outside our home. Within the private sphere people, have yards with gardens, flowers, trees, as well as pets and houseplants. In the public there are trees kept anchored in the sidewalks, city parks and numerous types of birds and rodents. UVIC in itself is an example with an unusual amount of rabbits, gardens and the occasional deer. These areas did not form themselves, they were molded by culture, what was deemed nature, and what we thought would appeal to our idea of natural beauty.
We separate and create what is nature from what is not in our minds, this has gone askew in our society, because we are selective and unrealistic we ignore what could be classified as nature. Perhaps not picturesque, but nature all the same. When we look at paintings by the famous group of seven we can see rugged landscapes of mountains forests and oceans; but what we do not see are logging camps, oil drills, construction sites or even people for that manner. Our society has separated humans and their effects on the earth from what we imagine nature to be, untouched wilderness. Few people it seems walk into a dilapidated park that is the size of one small city lot, that is filled with pigeons and squirrels, one person walking their dog, and a smoking pit for teenagers on their lunch break among the 5 trees that reside in the whole park, and go “Wow!!! Isn’t this nature great!” Most would not be quick to agree that this is the definition of nature. Yet it still is, it is in its urban setting which was created by the culture of a city. Because urbanites can claim that this park example is not nature, nature must be out there outside the city.
This is where you have environmentalists come in; they are groups of people who care about the environment, and try to protect spaces we have deemed nature. They have an essential role in the final say of what is or is not nature as they are usually the ones who protect or help to rebuild natural spaces. Those who act to preserve natural local habitat through private actions are conservationist, those who are part of groups and work in the public, civic or political sphere are activists and those who act though demonstration and direct action are radicals. There are also those who care about the environment but take no action these people are a large part of the collective thinkers who define what nature is. Those who act at the level of policymaking get into political ecology. In the case of tree shade in Pakistan Indigenous farmers become not only environmentalists, but also activists and radicals, they are also the group of people who commodify a cultural concept of a part of nature. The case of tree shade serves as an example of how culture works to shape nature at every level.
Farmers in Pakistan believe that the shade of trees has an effect on the growing of their crops. The shade can have many useful characteristics and thus is talked about as a solid thing. The government is in dispute whether the farmers care about trees and the government wants to cut their trees. At the same time, the farmers commodify the shade as a thing they need and that should be managed and can be controlled. They also take on the role of environmentalists by acting as radicals and activists' trying to change the policies of what is culturally deemed important as nature and necessary for subsistence.
Nature is defined, classified and shaped by people, depending on their class, background and position their view and role in shaping the collective ideas of what nature is will be different. As in the case of shade, the farmers play many roles, just as city bureaucrats and land developers do within cities. As for our western culture, we have to look within urban areas for nature that may escape through a crack in a definition, as the cities are concrete jungles filled with life. Nature is not out there as in the famous group of seven paintings, after all most of those were painted right next to logging camps.