There is no “I” in Earth

Back when I was five years old, I witnessed a boy ripping legs off of many grasshoppers. The images still haunt me to this day. Luckily, the young boy was reprimanded for his poor actions. Similar to the actions of this child, the world continues to unconsciously mistreat non-human animals, insects and plants in the surrounding environment. Our ability as humans to think about our actions is what sets us apart from the rest of the natural world…We are responsible to care for those who are unable to determine the difference between morally right and morally wrong actions; those who would be considered moral patients. I believe that all moral agents ought to consider the intrinsic value— the value that that thing has in and of itself— of all moral patients, or in other words, all humans have an obligation to consider all non-human animals and plants, because they all have and share some intrinsic values and interests… treehuggerNow if I had to choose between saving a human or an animal in trouble, I would probably choose the human. Why? There is a hierarchy of value between humans, non-human animals, and plants. Humans have more value than non-human animals because of their ability to think rationally. While non-human animals may have lower value than humans, they have more value than plants because they are sentient beings—they are able to perceive or feel things. This does not mean that one should go pluck petals off of a flower, or break the branches off of a tree; it just means that, when possible, we should go out of our way to protect and respect the environment. “If it is reasonable to think that plants’ lives have intrinsic value, then it is not irrational to feel bad or guilty about killing a plant” (Varner 356); however, it is  “good to save the life of plants and non-conscious animals when we can” (Varner 367) … If everyone shared this mindset, we may be able to reverse the effects of the present ecological crisis known as climate change… Human greed and negligence has led to climate change.

realWe live in a one-sided relationship that controls, manipulates, and destroys the environment to feed our consumption habits. We see the, “earth as a machine and act as its engineers” (Klein). We ignorantly extract every resource that we possibly can to use for our own benefit. This way of thinking has evolved from the notion that humans have a duty to dominate the Earth to its entirety. This dominion has paved the way for climate change to take place. It is reckless to think that we can fight this long-term problem with a short-term solution. In order to mitigate the effects of climate change, we need to limit our consumption habits and seek a more sustainable way of life. We need to be vigilant at preserving the Earth for future generations and promote the flourishing of plants and non-human animals for their sakes as well as ours.


My name is Kayla Kassa. I am from Sandpoint Idaho. I am expecting to graduate May 2017 with a major in Civil Engineering degree and plan to continue my education and get a Master’s of Science in Civil Engineering emphasizing in water resources. I want to pursue an engineering career that works with the environment, rather than against it as well as continuously reflecting on how my actions impact the environment.



  1. Hi Kayla,

    Your response is very thought-provoking and I find myself agreeing with many of your same views. The quote you included from Klein, that we see “earth as machine and act as its engineers”, reminds me of Descartes’ view of animals as merely machines. As moral agents, how we see the world and the living beings around us allows us to determine what we deem worthy of moral consideration and how we should treat what has value. I agree that when we view ourselves as above nature and natural systems rather than as an integral part within them and a dependent of them, we validate environmental degradation by assuming too much power.

    Your beginning reflection on the young boy plucking the legs off the grasshopper calls to mind how, as moral agents, we must justify our actions toward moral patients for their own sake and for humanity’s sake as well. This reminds me of a quote from John Muir, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” It is impossible to live a life with zero footprint on our surroundings. We must take to survive but also recognize that what we take and may destroy in the process must be justified.

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  2. Hi Kayla,

    I find much of what you have said to be very in line with what I, and I think many other Environmentalists believe. However I am having trouble bringing one of your statements into agreement with your second picture, when you say that given the choice you would save a human over an animal because “Humans have more value than non-human animals because of their ability to think rationally” correct me if I’m wrong, but this to me fits more into the EGO category featured on the left of the picture whereas the picture itself seems to promote equality of NATURE featured on the right where no creature is above anyone else. At least in my mind this places an arbitrary value on rational thought imposed by the only beings which have this inherent rationality. I prefer to view every being on an equal playing field and honestly I would be much more likely to give money to protect an endangered species (probably put in this situation because of humans) than to say, the red cross. Why? because I personally find that there is a greater benefit to preserving our planets biodiversity which benefits all creatures including humans, than to doing the same for an affected population of people, and to be perfectly clear, if I was in that population of affected people I would not fault another person for acting in the same way that I did and leaving me to my own devices. In short while many of our beliefs intersect I do believe that there may be a bit of contradiction in your argument and would welcome your response to this idea.

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  3. Hi Kayla,
    I very much appreciate your post. I am especially glad that you place humans above non-human animals, and other species. I am an anthropocentrist and can still understand where you are coming from. I do not think that non-human animals necessarily have intrinsic value. I do think they have great instrumental value and I think we should protect the environment for our sake.

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  4. HI Kayla,

    I love how you created this question. It is a question I had never really spent too much time thinking about because I had always thought of humans as separate from nature, but why do I think that? Was I raised that way? Was it the first way I was taught about nature because of my liberal Montessori education growing up? Within the first statement that asked, “how are manipulations of nature any different from those of a beaver?” I was immediately struck and taken back to a lot of the reading we have done in environmental ethics that argues for a system where lets say beavers play a vital role, and once you remove one piece or one animal from an ecosystem, it becomes imbalanced, and other issues can occur, which always takes me back to an example about the wolves, where once the wolves were removed, there were problems with vegetation growth, and deer overpopulation. But what would happen if you removed humans from the ecosystem? With this question it is pretty clear, that I believe that if you had removed humans early enough, everything would be the same. However, now thinking about this I believe too much damage has been caused and I wonder if simply removing ourselves from nature would help, or are we simply leaving a problem to get worse and worse. Take for example problems of over or under population we have caused by hunting or introducing invasive species, as well as other global climate change issues.
    I found the color analogy in this article to be compelling and something I have never heard before. But it is true that nature does not have culture like humans do, and that is what makes humans utterly distinct, because even though humanity is a natural thing, it is natural in a different way.

    Grace Underdahl

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  5. Kayla,
    I found your post to be very thought provoking. I was immediately drawn to the title of the post “There is no I in Earth.” I think your title points out the flaw in most of our lifestyles and mindsets, which is what can the earth do for me? How can I benefit from the Earth? I agree with your argument that most humans take full advantage of our natural resources without even thinking about the consequences. I also agree we are in need of a lifestyle change in order to combat climate change, but unfortunately I am not optimistic this will occur. Due to our current political and social standings, I am not convinced we are going to be able to achieve real change anytime soon. Most of the human population says they care about the environment, so why has nothing changed? Do we need political laws? Does it need to become a greater social trend? I wonder what it will take for a real change to occur.

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  6. Hi Kayla,
    I found your argument to be very thought-provoking and powerful. I agree with many of your points. I do believe that all living things (humans, non-human animals, and plants) have intrinsic value, meaning they each deserve some moral consideration. Your breakdown of the value hierarchy made a lot of sense to me as someone who would choose to save a human over a non-human animal, but couldn’t exactly find the words or concise reasoning that supported that idea. I loved what you expressed about humans and their drive for consumption and dominion. Humans in general, but especially humans within westernized cultures, base their identity off of being a consumer. Sometimes it is the main focus that drives who we are and why we get up everyday. If we began to think of the “we” before the “me,” and also expanded who or what that “we” included, positive change would began to happen both within our environment, communities, and personal lives. I think that the combination of both an environmental ethic and an identity shift are needed if we are to ever truly stop the crisis of climate change.

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  7. Kayla,

    Your post is very interesting and you bring up some great points. When you stated that we destroy the environment to feed our consumption habits I found myself agreeing. I see this issue being one of the main roadblocks when it comes to finding solutions for our environmental problems. I recently took a class on capitalism and the environment and this was a common theme. Consumption and greed seem to propel our need to produce and pollute the environment. It’s hard to pinpoint a solution. However, I think reducing our consumption and placing a greater value in the natural world is a great place to start.

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  8. Hi Kayla,
    I enjoyed reading your response and found that you had some great ideas that I agreed with throughout. I thought your use of the visual “ego vs nature” fit incredibly well into your argument. I agree that it is high time that humans started realizing our place on this Earth. We are not the top of the food chain and should no longer view natural resources as something solely for our exploitation. The understanding that resources such as oil and coal have a place within the carbon cycle is important and a great educational tool in helping people realize that there are larger powers beyond humans that we end up disturbing when we recklessly abuse these resources.
    Thank you for your thought provoking response.

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  9. Kayla, your beliefs are very similar to mine, in the sense of who you think deserves to have their intentions considered, sentient beings. I really enjoyed your idea about the responsibility we have to those around us who are unable to determine the difference between morally right and morally wrong actions, because animals cannot see this distinction therefore we should do everything in our power to help have their rights considered. Also, you make a compelling and realistic point that yes if there was a decision between saving a human or an animal in trouble, the human would have priority. This decision relies heavily on the hierarchy of value, this helps us understand that while humans may have more value because they are complex and consciousness, it does not mean anything that is not as complex as humans do not have any value. It just simply shows that some sentient beings should have their rights considered in a different way.

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  10. Hi Kayla,
    I really liked reading this post and I completely agree with what you had to say, especially about all non-human animal and plants having intrinsic value. Plants and animals have an end-in-itself in which they have their own interests and the goal to survive, just like humans. With the fact that humans have rational thought and can determine the difference between morally right and morally wrong, you are right that we should work to protect and respect the environment, because we are capable of protection and respect through our rationality. I think that people who do not believe plants and animals have intrinsic value will be no help in reversing the effects of climate change. Like you said, if everyone had the mindset of protecting the environment for its own sake, as well as our own, climate change would not be as big of a problem.

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  11. Hi Kayla,
    I was quickly drawn to your title “There is no ‘I’ in Earth” because with that alone you bring in the idea that the human relationship with the Earth goes beyond just simply living here. I think your point that plants and animals have intrinsic values is very important, especially with rapid climate change and efforts to ease the issue, because it means as a global society we need to place more value on them, not just dismiss them. I think it’s hard for a lot of people to see this because for so long we have just seen plants and animals as “beneath” us or simply being there to serve us, but as the diagram points out we need to see them as part of our environment and global community.

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