By Yanina Druetta
If for a moment we look into the past, we can see and be assured that, from the first instant that humans appeared on the face of the earth, they began to relate closely with nature. Let us imagine that stage of human existence as a scene of chaos where life was hard and dangerous, but there was some minimum tranquility that guaranteed the reproduction of the species. These first humans adapted to the environment, learned from it, and understood how to take advantage of the resources provided without affecting the self-regulation of the ecosystem.
As time went by, the need to obtain new knowledge about the natural world increased, and a latent spark of curiosity made famous characters with great capacities of study and observation give way to their adventurous spirit. They set out for new worlds participating in epic journeys with the desire to visit unexplored places and discover an endless number of creatures and phenomena never seen before. Thus, the field of Natural History was born.
Two pioneers of this field were Charles Darwin and Alexander Von Humboldt. Twenty-three years after his expeditionary journey to the southern coast of America, Darwin published the book On The Origin of Species. There, he introduced the scientific theory that populations evolve during generations through a process known as natural selection.
After an ambitious scientific expedition to America, Von Humboldt changed his perception of how the world and nature were related. Von Humboldt saw the world as a great organism in which all living beings were connected in a delicate balance, and he was the first to study climate change caused by human action.
Today we look at the past from a very different reality. Society continues to evolve, and the knowledge obtained is abundant and within everyone’s reach. But unfortunately, there is a distance between humans and nature that dates back to the beginning of the industrial era, where the damage caused to forests, land, water and wildlife by the consumption of raw materials and the indiscriminate use of non-renewable resources has increased dramatically.
This quest for wealth that does not contemplate a sustainable way of production crushes any ethical and conservationist thinking about the environment and leads us to rethink the role of today’s naturalist. We know a lot about biodiversity, natural phenomena, ecological roles, ecosystem services, and many other topics, but… What is it that makes this concept of being a Naturalist more useful nowadays? What is the objective that these people -who possess the same spark of curiosity as those ancient researchers- have pursued? Undoubtedly, the answers to these questions are intimately linked to the extractivist way in which we behave on the planet.
A Naturalist lives very closely with their love for nature–studies it, forms alliances with it, defends it. And this “mode” is activated every time we begin to observe all the wonderful things that surround us, finally understanding that we are also part of that environment; we need to get closer to it again to achieve that harmonious coexistence that causes endless benefits for both.
A modern naturalist is probably not a faithful reflection of those pioneers of ancient times who only wanted to discover and understand. A modern naturalist, beyond wanting to learn and understand, is convinced that curiosity and passion for nature are the fundamental tools that can inspire an entire society’s desire to change its relationship with the natural environment, making people interested in it and involved in its care.
Many times, I believe that being a naturalist also means being that bridge that connects and tries to raise awareness about the need to find the right balance between development and conservation that allows us all to leave green footprints in our journey through life.