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Vivian Li

Caesar Rodney HS, 11th grade

The Importance of Observing and Protecting Nature: Lessons Learned from My Backyard 

Over the past centuries, our behavior has been nothing short of destructive. Often, we tend to view nature as an abiotic force—an insignificant, unfeeling entity that was created solely for the advancement of humankind. With this rationale in mind, humans have continuously destroyed the environment, not caring for the fates of future generations. Contrary to the common belief, however, there is much more to nature than its resources. 

My humble abode is situated in front of a wetland, and initially, I found the marshy landscape uninviting compared to the lush forests I had always dreamed of. After much observance, however, I have realized that one should “never judge a book by its cover.” The muddy streams that characterized these biomes were teeming with a diverse array of wildlife, ranging from the tiniest insects to the largest mammals. Birds found homes in the wetlands, and the tall grass provided a safe haven for their precious newborns. In the summertime, my backyard is especially lively. In fact, it is often so lively that I am afraid to step outside—if one should stand still for even half a second, they will soon find themselves covered in various bug bites. However, I would never fully appreciate the beauty of nature until 2020, which marked the beginning of COVID-19. 

Though the pandemic kept me inside my house, it truly opened my eyes to the wildlife in my backyard. Oftentimes, my family and I would catch glimpses of an animal on his daily errand, and we soon grew increasingly curious about our little neighbors. One summer, my dad purchased an outdoor nature camera to satiate our curiosity. Upon viewing it, my family and I discovered that various species, from raccoons to foxes, also shared our backyard. In the past, my dad always joked that our backyard was a zoo. While I cast this statement aside at first, I now realize that his words held much truth. 

However, even though this area has many inhabitants, humans’ seemingly insignificant choices can impact them. It only takes one small decision, and these little animals could be without a home forever. It pains me to think that one day, in the near future, all these critters could have nowhere to go. Countless creatures share this place we call Earth, but human ambition often overpowers one’s moral thinking. People do not realize the consequences of their actions and are often unaware of the wildlife outside their doorsteps, so they make decisions that merely harbor short-term benefits. They think about the temporary advantages but do not realize the importance of the nature that surrounds them. 

Apart from being home to many different animals, wetlands also protect us from flooding. They act as a giant sponge and filter out pollutants, making the water safer for us to use. Wetlands also mitigate the effects of climate change by storing large amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in their soil. Despite this, more and more wetlands are being filled and developed. 

Urbanization not only forces animals to relocate but also leads to the formation of heat islands. Denser areas lead to higher temperatures and increased use of air conditioning, which adds CO2 to the atmosphere and worsens global warming through a positive feedback loop. We continue to heat our homes when it’s cold and cool them when it’s warm; unfortunately, these decisions will take a massive toll on nature in the long run. 

As humans, we are constantly so focused on our tasks that we are unaware of our surroundings—I, myself, am also susceptible to this. One day, I remember seeing a family of deer in my backyard. The scene seemed so surreal and mystical that the deers appeared to have come straight out of a painting. There has rarely been a shortage of deer in Delaware, yet I find myself mesmerized each time I see these graceful creatures. With the quick pace of life, I often forget about the world of greenery beyond my doorstep. Just a few steps away, a little kingdom bustling with life awaited me. However, I would only appreciate its beauty once I genuinely opened my eyes and observed the intricate details that lay before me. 

How do we prevent this cycle of environmental degradation from happening? Our footprints from the past and present have been cemented—we cannot take them back. However, we can stop taking further steps towards the total destruction of nature. We have two options: stop or continue until the entirety of Earth is a barren wasteland. 

If every individual did their part in protecting the environment, we could stop our continuous path towards the destruction of nature. If the answer is as clear as day, why do we continue ignoring the ongoing climate change? This phenomenon is due to something called the bystander effect. We see nature being destroyed, and instead of helping her, we think: “Let someone else do it, not me.” We know the consequences of our actions, yet we continuously devise excuses for our destructive tendencies. The 1972 production of The Lorax ingeniously illustrated this concept. Despite knowing the negative impact of his selfish actions, the Once-ler continued to insist that he was in the right: “But if I didn’t do them, then someone else WOULD!” The age-long fallacy of appealing to common practice is what drives our actions. 

Throughout history, we have always had a natural aversion to change. We like to follow the crowd and do what everyone else is doing. However, there have always been people who seek change—people who divert from the “we” that I continuously refer to throughout this essay. They are the minority, the people whose resilience in the face of change has earned them the often derogatory title of “radical.” Nevertheless, almost nothing stays “radical” forever. More than 100 years ago, suffragettes like Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s wants were considered “too radical.” Yet, today, women not only have the right to vote but—in most parts of the world—share the same liberties as men. Soon enough, the same trend will be seen in people’s environmental attitudes. Early on, Transcendentalists like John Muir saw the emergence of environmental problems due to the increasing industrialization during the late eighteenth century; they, too, were dubbed “radicals.” Only when the air we have polluted starts to become unbreathable will everyone start to act; however, it will already be too late by then. Therefore, we must rid ourselves of the false notions that justify our behavior. 

Ever since the beginning of humankind, we have been taking from nature. Despite the pivotal role that she has played in the development of human civilization, we have slowly begun to lose our appreciation for her. With the introduction of technology, humans are starting to forget the old friend that had helped them from the beginning. Nevertheless, nothing can justify the various atrocities that humankind has committed towards nature: 

Should you throw trash upon your old friend after she has taken you out of the depths of despair? Should you dump waste into her mouth after she has provided you with the water that has satiated your constant thirst? Should you poison her with toxic air after she has bestowed you with the very ingredient that keeps your heart beating? Nature has kept us alive, yet we have not only given her nothing back in return but have been slowly killing her. Day after day, we take more and more from her. Day after day, she becomes more and more sick. It is truly a never-ending battle—a battle that we will eventually win. But at what cost? By killing her, we are slowly killing humankind and every other living being that depends on her care. 

Change needs to happen, and it needs to happen now. 

While the introduction of technology has drawn our attention away from the natural world, it has also significantly broadened our horizons. Never before in human history have we been able to attain information at the fast pace made possible by the internet today. Never before has it been easier to make a positive change in the environment. With the click of a button, I can find countless ways to combat climate change. 

Indeed, there are times when I feel that my actions are insignificant. However, if the nearly 8 billion people on Earth all felt the same way, then we would never achieve progress. Therefore, I do all I can to combat climate change in my small ways: I recycle and reuse whenever I can; despite the comforts of a warm home during the wintertime and a cool home during the summertime, I try my best to lower my energy use. Thanks to the internet, I can also help plant trees simply by using a search engine called Ecosia. 

I am thankful that I have lived in an environment where I can freely breathe and thrive. What right do I have to take this privilege away from future generations? 

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