Quotes About The Environment, Nature & Climate Change

green quotations

If you are anything like me then you’ll enjoy reading this selection of quotes from down the ages and around the world. They all have relevance to the environment, living a sustainable life and the fallacies of the human condition in this regard.

I’ve not only tried to categorise them so that they flow but I’ve also given some commentary to go alongside each quote or group of quotes. I’ll also probably add to this list as and when I find new quotes during my research.

On Our Responsibility Towards Future Generations

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children

This native American proverb had to be first on my list because of its sheer impact despite being short and simple. A genuine change in outlook like this one would be the beginning of the end to Man’s abuse of the planet.

Because we don’t think about future generations, they will never forget us

Author Henrik Tikkanen gives us a similarly short but poetic message with his quote. Just as we look back at the history of the ages, future generations too will cast judgement about where we went wrong.

No generation has a freehold on this Earth. All we have is a life-tenancy – with a full repairing lease

As politicians go, Margaret Thatcher was a bit of a pioneer and her forward thinking views on the environment only confirm this. Strangely, in the current day and age, the Conservatives are proving to have fairly poor green credentials.

Your grandchildren will likely find it incredible – or even sinful – that you burned up a gallon of gasoline to fetch a pack of cigarettes!

Paul MacCready, aeronautical engineer from the US, puts it bluntly with this quote pouring scorn on those who think nothing of burning up fossil fuels for the most meaningless of reasons. This general lack of concern for the environment has unfortunately remained prevalent despite hard economic times.

A society is defined not only by what it creates, but by what it refuses to destroy

John Sawhill, former president of The Nature Conservancy gives us a slightly different view on the subject of legacy by insisting that no matter what we manage to create in our lives, maintaining an unspoilt landscape will define us just as much.

On Mankind’s Mentality

We are monumentally distracted by a pervasive technological culture that appears to have a life of its own, one that insists on our full attention, continually seducing us and pulling us away from the opportunity to experience directly the true meaning of our own lives

Al Gore has become one of the most famous figures in the fight against climate change with his depiction in the film documentary An Inconvenient Truth and this quote of his gives an apt view on the state of the collective human mind. It is quite true that our senses come under constant attack from technology and information and this could well be preventing people from experiencing nature and life as it should be experienced.

You must be the change you wish to see in the world

The first of two quotes in this section by Mahatma Gandhi, it is squarely aimed at those who want a solution to the climate crisis but who fail to act upon this wish. There is no point in sitting on your backside hoping that someone else will do everything for you – take action now and inspire others to do the same and we’ll reach a solution far sooner.

There is a sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed

The second Gandhi quote puts consumerism and excess in the spotlight. His asserts that the planet is quite able to accommodate the current population and even a significant growth in that population but only if we realise that our demand for “stuff” and our burning of fossil fuels are symptoms of greed. A complete misconception that happiness comes from having more has to be addressed and sustainable living needs to become the accepted norm.

We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive

We have to shift our emphasis from economic efficiency and materialism towards a sustainable quality of life and to healing of our society, of our people and our ecological systems

These two quotes by Albert Einstein and Janet Holmes à Court respectively reinforce the need for a changing mentality further. I have to agree that the approach to the environment of the general man on the street is going to have to change significantly if we are to avoid the massive upheaval that will come with climate change.

On Man’s Nature & Insatiable Appetite

The following set of quotes paint a picture of the true nature of man when it comes to the environment. While rather damning, they challenge us to confront our own downfalls and retake control of our actions.

Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth – Henry David Thoreau

Nature provides a free lunch, but only if we control our appetites – William Ruckelshaus

Till now man has been up against Nature; from now on he will be up against his own nature – Dennis Gabor

The control man has secured over nature has far outrun his control over himself – Ernest Jones

Western society has accepted as unquestionable a technological imperative that is quite as arbitrary as the most primitive taboo: not merely the duty to foster invention and constantly to create technological novelties, but equally the duty to surrender to these novelties unconditionally, just because they are offered, without respect to their human consequences – Lewis Mumford

We never know the worth of water till the well is dry – Thomas Fuller

On Growth And The Environment

Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell

Author and environmentalist Edward Abbey gives us his stark view of our desire for constant and ever faster growth. Whether or not there are ways to grow in a sustainable manner in the long term is something I ponder on occasions and if we look at nature, I cannot think of one organism that grows indefinitely – either death catches up or an optimum size is reached.

Economic advance is not the same thing as human progress

A similar view is given here by Sir John Clapham, a prominent economic historian back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. All you ever seem to hear in the news headlines these days is strategies for getting our economies back into growth but that view lacks depth and clarity as to what we should actually be striving for. Like an individual’s desire for more money and possessions, a society’s desire for growth is often misguided and, in of itself, brings very little in the way of improvement to our lives. I’ll certainly be returning to this topic on numerous occasions in the future.

In its broadest ecological context, economic development is the development of more intensive ways of exploiting the natural environment

While I don’t necessarily agree 100% with British researcher Richard Wilkinson’s view of economic development, there is undoubtedly a very clear correlation between the growth of economies and the destruction of the natural world.

On Man’s Relationship With Nature

When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe

This often misquoted phrase by author John Muir applies to man’s common oversights when he is pillaging the Earth for all he desires. We should never forget that nature is one whole complex organism and that, like the human body, all systems are connected and if one of these should fail then the whole will struggle to function. This is precisely why battles must be fought on multiple fronts to try and protect nature and prevent climate change – no single victory will ever be enough.

The rest of the quotes in this section are fairly self explanatory and I will not go further into their meaning but I find it interesting nonetheless to see some of the names attached to them.

We cannot command Nature except by obeying her – Francis Bacon

Human destiny is bound to remain a gamble, because at some unpredictable time and in some unforeseeable manner nature will strike back – Rene Dubos

A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people – Franklin D. Roosevelt

On Man’s Quality Of Life

How long can men thrive between walls of brick, walking on asphalt pavements, breathing the fumes of coal and of oil, growing, working, dying, with hardly a thought of wind, and sky, and fields of grain, seeing only machine-made beauty, the mineral-like quality of life?

American aviator, explorer and, in later life, social activist Charles Lindbergh wrote these wise words back in a 1939 edition of Reader’s Digest and little did he know that more than 70 years later the situation for many would hardly have changed. Indeed more people live in cities in the present day than ever before and it is often these people who lack any connection with nature.

This is one reason why projects to bring green spaces back to urban centres are so important and why new suburbs require careful planning to ensure that Lindbergh’s vision of dystopia does not spread further. It also links in to the previous section on mentality – how can one come to hold respect for nature when one does not experience it in all its glory?

Time and space – time to be alone, space to move about – these may well become the great scarcities of tomorrow

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Edwin Way Teale foresaw the problems of overpopulation and crowded living space back in 1956 in his series The American Seasons. Back then the population of the Earth was less than half what it is now and yet Teale thought it necessary to comment on these issues. What might he have said now?

As someone who strongly believes in the virtues of bringing the mind to rest on a regular basis, I totally get where Teale was coming from. As for space, our insatiable desire for growth is putting massive strain on land, particularly arable land and it could soon be that much of the surface of the planet is used for Man’s gain in some way or another.

On Education

If you want one year of prosperity, plant corn.

If you want ten years of prosperity, plant trees.

If you want one hundred years of prosperity, educate people.

In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught

This Chinese proverb (1st) and quote from Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum (2nd) highlight the vital need to educate every generation in the caring and respecting of the environment. People are not omniscient, they need to be taught why nature is essential to our very survival, they need to be taught how to be stewards of the planet and they need to be taught that the Earth does not belong to us outright.

Even though I am young, I know I will have a lifelong desire to learn and I truly believe that if we are to overcome the challenges that we face now and in the future, more people need to adopt such an approach. Writing this very blog, I have learnt things that have allowed me to change my behaviour and reduce my impact on the planet and it is only through education that others will come to realise the very same need for change.

I’ve got a lot more to say about education – after all it is a huge topic but it will have to wait for another day and another post.

Have you got any other quotes that you find inspiration from? Share them in the comments section below.

Steve (156 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.

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