Intercultural studies 

ANG 160 Fall 2005


Eastern townships



Quebec regions


Important people/Theories


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Western Societies and Nature

(by Marie-Pier Biron)

The relationship between Western Societies and Nature

Only after the last tree has been cut down. Only after the last river has been poisoned. Only after the last fish has been caught. Only then will you find out that money cannot be eaten.”

              - Cree Prophecy  

It is a fact that we live in a consumer society. Everything always has to be done at top speed. You do not have time to go to the grocery store? No problem! Connect your computer to the Internet (high-speed Internet, of course) and do the shopping in only a few minutes. You would like to go out, but do not have time to put your make-up on? No problem! There exist some trendy night clubs that offer beauty care. Most of you are probably going to tell me, “So what? There is nothing bad in offering such services.” Okay, but what do you think of all the companies that alter the genetic make-up of such living organisms as animals, plants, and/or bacteria to make huge profits quickly and easily? What do you think of all the multinational companies that produce more and more disposable products such as the Oral-B Brush-ups textured teeth wipes and the Swiffer Dusters by Procter & Gamble, so that consumers have to buy their products over and over again? In my opinion, these issues are extremely relevant when it comes to talking about the way Western societies regard nature. Luc Ferry, in his book called The New Ecological Order, claims that “the land-relation is still strictly economic, entailing privileges but not obligations.” (Ferry, 59) People coming from Western countries tend to be self-centred. In other words, they are only concerned with their own wants and needs. It is probably one of the reasons why Western societies modify nature. They want it to better suit their needs. Instead of adapting to nature, Western societies force nature to adapt to them.

Did you know that one hectare of rainforest is destroyed every second? It is the equivalent of two U.S. football fields… Massive clearcuts as well as greenhouse gases are real. Who do you think should be held responsible for climate change? Western societies, of course. Fortunately Western societies are now aware of the fact that they have to do something to counter pollution. People who live in Western countries know that, among other things, their industrial activity contributes to climate warming. Have you ever heard about the Kyoto Protocol? This is one of the means Canada chose to counter the effects of climate change. While many people are calling into question the effectiveness of the Kyoto Protocol, I suggest that the question should not be ‘will the Kyoto Protocol prove to be a success?’ but rather ‘why do we need the Kyoto Protocol?’ Is it because we are afraid of what might happen to us in a couple of years if things keep getting worse and worse or because we really care about the Earth? 

Should we merely be safeguarding the sites where we live because their deterioration might affect us, or, on the contrary, should we be protecting nature in and of itself, because we are discovering that it is not simply a collection of raw materials, endlessly pliable and exploitable, but a  harmonious and fragile system, in itself more important and wondrous that the ultimately tiny segment that constitutes human life? (Ferry, 60)


One of the main features that distinguish Western societies from Natives for example, is the way they regard nature. Western societies are self-centred, the individual comes first. For their part, Natives consider nature to be the most important thing in their society. They have a close relationship with the natural world. Natives adapt to nature whereas people coming from Western countries force nature to adapt to them. Just think about Hurricane Katrina that flooded New Orleans, a city built below sea level, on August 29th, 2005. According to environmental experts, this disaster would probably not have happened if “the buffer against storm surges, the wetlands of the Mississippi Delta, had not been eroded by reckless development.” Scientists have always used New Orleans as the perfect example of the unsustainable city. “New Orleans may be the most blatant example in the United States of unsustainable development, human activities that eventually carry a huge cost because of environmental damage. But it is certainly not the only one.” (Ingham, 1)                                                                                                                                         

When we Indians kill meat, we eat it all up. When we dig roots, we make little holes. When we build houses, we make little holes. When we burn grass for grasshoppers, we don't ruin things. We shake down acorns and pine nuts. We don't chop down the trees. We only use dead wood. But the white people plough up the ground, pull down the trees, kill everything… The White people pay no attention... How can the spirit of the earth like the White man? … Everywhere the White man has touched it, it is sore. (Wintu Woman, 19th century)

Unlike people who come from Western countries, Natives manage natural resources in a rather non-destructive way. Natives cause very little environmental disturbances. It is sad to say, but it is the societies who pollute the least who suffer the most from climate change. Think about the Inuits who, year after year, have to modify their way of life to adapt to nature. “Hot weather in the summer is melting the permafrost and causing large-scale slumping on the coastline and along the shores of inland lakes. The melting has already caused one inland lake to drain into the ocean, killing the freshwater fish. Around the town of Sachs Harbour, it is causing building foundations to shift,” claim environmental experts. (International Institute for Sustainable Development, 1)

It is always beneficial to study other cultures and/or societies to learn about our own. Very often, people will pass judgment on other cultures by basing themselves on their own culture, which they think is the norm (even though it is not the case at all). Before it is too late, let’s pay attention to Natives and to all the societies who really care about the Earth…

Relevant Internet Links:

The Green Lane:       Équiterre:

Greenpeace:    David Suzuki:                                                                                                                                        

Rescue workers attempt to save beached pilot whales.





Clearcut Destruction                Fossil Fuel Extraction                Beached Whales

                                                                Catwalks of Shanghai and Bangkok                                                                                         Works Cited:

Delanoë, Nelcya. and Rostkowsky, Joëlle. Voix indiennes, voix américaines. Éditions

      Albin Michel : Paris. 2003.

Ferry, Luc. The New Ecological Order. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago. 1995.

The Aboriginal Human Council Development Council of Canada:

Ingham, Richard. “New Orleans disaster serves tough lessons.” September 5th, 2005.     

International Institute for Sustainable Development:


Catwalks of Shanghai and Bangkok