Sustainable Scotland
Sustainable Scotland

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Sustainable Scotland

8.3 Cause for debate

The division between nature and culture continues today in debates around nature and nurture. For example, is gender something that is biologically determined (it's our nature, in our genes) or is it determined by our upbringing (nurtured)? We can also see echoes of Romanticism and the 'noble savage' continuing in our representation of peoples who live a subsistence existence in remote parts of the world. They are seen as being somehow primitive with some people arguing that these 'primitive' cultures are closer to, or more in tune with, nature. This seems to neglect the growing evidence that overhunting by our 'primitive' ancestors may have caused the extinction of a number of large mammals like the woolly mammoth in Europe [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] and marsupials in Australasia.

These 'back-to-nature' ideals inform our thinking on sustainability, with debates about the environment sometimes split into those who think that the answer to environmental problems lies with using the knowledge and skills we have to solve those problems, and those who feel that it is those knowledge and skills that messed up the environment in the first place.

Activity 14

Let's take organic agriculture as an example of the above debate:

  • Do you think that organic agriculture is a return to traditional farming practices, where older farming cultures foster a closer relationship with the environment and nature?
  • Do you think that we should be using modern scientific techniques to understand how we can work with nature?

Make a note of your thoughts.

Thinking through questions about the relationship between nature and culture, it seems that culture is shaped by nature, and in opposition to nature. Then, in turn, what we do shapes nature. This ebb and flow prompts us to think about sustainability in lots of different ways.


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