Can the way we see ourselves in relation to the natural world create a greater sense of responsibility and stewardship towards nature? Global awareness about the degradation of nature, climate change and unsustainable resource use is increasing and our responses to these challenges need to accelerate. A new European Environment Agency (EEA) briefing, published today, discusses the way we see ourselves in relation to nature, how that can affect the actions we take towards sustainability, and how a new mindset could create a greater sense of responsibility.

The way humans have affected the Earth, its climate and ecosystems has prompted thinking about our time as a new geological period — ‘the Anthropocene’ — where our actions have lasting and potentially irreversible effect on the planet.  

The EEA briefing ‘Exiting the Anthropocene? Exploring fundamental change in our relationship with nature’ asks if we can imagine a world in which social and economic practices are in symbiosis with nature — rather than just means to human ends. 

The EEA briefing notes that humans are deeply interconnected with and dependent on other life forms and ecosystems. However even well-intended policies and initiatives of the past have been based on the divide between ‘us’, humans, and ‘them’, the other species.

Achieving sustainability requires us to move from viewing nature as a source of capital to respecting its inherent value, the EEA briefing argues.

This could reframe our approach to policy responses in the EU and globally and help us address several challenges including overconsumption, inequality, power asymmetries, vested interests, and short-termism. 

The EEA briefing is part of the ‘Narratives for change’ series, which brings new perspectives to the fore that could trigger change in the way we think and act towards sustainability. 

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