Today we stand at the threshold of a major change in our approach to environmental issues. Two paths lie before us. One path is to assume that environmental problems are the result of human actions and that the solution is simply to stop these actions. Based on the notion, popularized some 40 years ago, that people are separate from nature, this path has led to many advances but also many failures. It has emphasized confrontation and emotionalism and has been characterized by a lack of understanding of basic facts about the environment and how natural ecological systems function, often basing solutions instead on political ideologies and ancient myths about nature. The second path begins with a scientific analysis of an environmental controversy and leads from there to cooperative problem solving.
It accepts the connection between people and nature and offers the potential for longlasting, successful solutions to environmental problems. One purpose of this book is to take the student down the second pathway. People and nature are intimately integrated. Each affects the other. We depend on nature in countless ways.
We depend on nature directly for many material resources, such as wood, water, and oxygen. We depend on nature indirectly through what are called public-service functions. For example, soil is necessary for plants and therefore for us ; the atmosphere provides a climate in which we can live; the ozone layer high in the atmosphere protects us from ultraviolet radiation; trees absorb some air pollutants; wetlands can cleanse water. We also depend on nature for beauty and recreation the needs of our inner selves as people always have. We in turn affect nature. For as long as we have had tools, including fire, we have changed nature, often in ways that we like and have considered “natural.”