All posts by adameck

Stewardship of the Earth

The article “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” by Will Steffen et al. discusses the ways that the anthropocene has swung the earth’s trajectory onto a catastrophic path. Demonstrated through several tables and diagrams, the authors lay out the implications of humanity’s effects on the Earth System. We have driven the overall temperature of the Earth to the extreme, and potentially to the point of no return. The authors frequently mention humanity’s “stewardship” of the Earth, a phrase I enjoyed greatly because it suggests that humans are the shepherds of the Earth, carefully guiding its path. It also denotes a sense of responsibility that is often not connected to the Earth. If we are stewards of the Earth, we are obligated to keep the Earth safe and stable and to not overindulge in the extraction of its resources. 

Another concept brought up was the idea of cultivating more plants in order to decrease the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This was an idea that I had not heard discussed to this extent, which was admittedly not much, before this article. The idea would be that, to encourage plants’ intake of carbon dioxide, humans would cultivate forests, especially those at the equator and poles, to grow and take in more carbon dioxide. However, as the authors point out, an increase in temperature decreases plants’ ability to take in carbon dioxide, which would be detrimental to the overall goal. Before, the solutions we were discussing were primarily focused on ways humans could either reduce their emissions or take pollution out of the atmosphere. The idea of furthering the natural process that already does this had not been discussed to this extent before. Coupled with the connotation of stewardship, this gives the article a greater overall tone of caring for the earth like a runaway child, slowly guiding it and encouraging its natural growth.

Struggling to Survive

“The Tamarisk Hunter” by Paolo Bacigalupi tells the story of Lolo, a water tick, who hunts down plants with high rates of water consumption and kills them, allowing for more water to be accessible for humans. However, in Lolo’s world, water is highly regulated due to the “Big Daddy Drought,” and going thirsty seems to be a common daily occurrence. Animosity has grown between those with water and those without, especially in the case of the government of California, which has better water rights than other places. Those from California and those associated with the national government–like the National Guard–are spoken about in terms of disgust and anger, even when Lolo is confronted with a childhood friend who now works for the National Guard, he is angered by his choice in employer. Faced with an inward spiral of water regulations, the human race seems to be slowly dying of thirst. 

Unlike other science fiction works, Bacigalupi does not put the ecological crisis in the background, like it is in James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, but instead makes it the main focus of his short story. He also includes many responses to the crisis: Lolo’s avoidance of governmental regulations, Hale’s compliance with those with the most water, and Travis’s unending search for water.  Not only are there varied responses to the crisis, but there is also a disproportionate struggle associated with it. Travis–who has not had the success that Lolo has in collecting Tamarisk–is forced to move North in search of available water. In turn, Lolo is worse off than Hale, who may potentially gain admittance into California, where water is slightly more abundant. Despite the differences in access to water, there is an underlying sense that each character is doing what they can to survive. Lolo, once he hears about Hale’s attempts to get more water for his family, seems to acknowledge that the broken system is just looking out for its own, even if it is at the cost of others. This serves a reminder to readers: we are all just doing our best to survive, and all deserve a chance to flourish.

Nature’s Decrescendo

In Murray Schafer’s The Soundscape: our sonic environment and the tuning of the world, the author begins to postulate how changing sounds affect human life. The study of this was explained in a way I hadn’t before considered. Though I knew that daily life and images of the past were studied through first-hand accounts from that era, either through written or artistic works, I had not previously considered that the sounds of the time needed first-hand accounts. The author mentions knowing “the ambient sound level” at the time of a diary entry from the amount of miles away Niagra Falls could be heard. The increased ambient sound level is–at least for me–a seldom considered effect of industrialization. Though this increase may not be as negative as increased carbon emissions, it still harms human’s relations with the environment. As electronic noises increase, we are increasingly detached from nature and can picture with greater ease a world with less nature. Our norm becomes traffic rather than birds, leading us further down a path of industrialization.

The author also argues that the health of the community can be discerned from the tone of their music: rigid music in a time of stability, chaotic music in a time of unrest, and so on. This idea can be applied both to the ambient sounds of the modern world and to modern music. With increased congestion in cities, ambient noise worldwide has increased to a frantic pace, mirroring the increased rush of modern life. Instead of waking up to soothing bird calls, we are awoken to blaring horns reminding us to get a move on. This is also mirrored in our music in the increased use of electronically produced sounds. Instead of invoking images of nature, most modern songs reflect the chaos of daily life. Harsh drum beats of rock’n’roll has replaced the soothing tones of cellos for most modern music enthusiasts. These changes have both reflected and encouraged a more human-centric lifestyle; our separation from the sounds of nature has pushed nature to a lower priority than humans as we are increasingly less reminded of its existence.

The Few Speak For The Many

When Clive Hamilton considered geoengineering in his novel “Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering,” he seems to loose the geo aspect of the concept. To me, geo conveys a sense of wholeness, a sense that everyone on the Earth is considered equally. Though Hamilton considers multiple times throughout the work that geoengineering would affect the world as a whole, affecting the lives of the billions of people who live there unequally, he seems to attribute the decisions about climate engineering only to the few. However, the few do not speak for the many, even in the case of elected officials, there are always those who disagree with their leader’s actions and choose to speak out against them. If any one leader chose to initiate a geoengineering program, they would face drastic repercussions from both their constituents and the global community at large. 

As touched upon in chapter 7 of Hamilton’s book, those who are delaying or altering programs aimed at slowing climate change are typically those who have the most to lose financially from climate change. Typically, those in power have the most agendas, as they move to promote both themselves and their beliefs en mass. Though there are some in power with good agendas, such as those who wish to actually stop climate change, there are far more with negative agendas. Because of this political deadlock, and the potential disapproval of the masses, geoengineering may never take off. Even if someone wealthy decides to take the choice out of the hands of politicians, they will still face the outcry of the masses, aghast both at being left out of the decision and at the global level event the individual has set off. Not every solution can please everyone, and the issue of geoengineering is too complex to compel a firm majority to agree. No matter how it may be implemented, whether a government, group, or individual, it will be a decision more controversial than nuclear warfare.


Source: Alamy stock photos

“Sustainability” from the series Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Unseen, brought to my mind a concept I had never before considered: the translation of sustainability. Though I had been introduced to the idea of a completely western-dominated lexicon before, where western words get brought into other languages, I had not considered the areas it did, or did not, cover. Before, I assumed that it was only western brand names that were carried over (ie Nike, Adidas, etc) or western inventions (ie the TV or WiFi). Until the reading mentioned that sustainability had two translations–“sostenible and sustentable”–I had not considered that sustainability was a western idea. The language(s) spoken by an individual influences their ideas by limiting the words available to describe an idea.  The fact that some languages may not have a direct translation for sustainability adds another layer into the complexity of the issues surrounding sustainability.

Not only does the article point out this issue, it also alludes to the idea that rural communities already practice sustainability, even though they do not have the vocabulary to properly define it. In the second half of the article, Marta’s community is described as one which works with the earth to both sustain it and themselves. Already sustainable practices had been put into use, like the storage bins or the use of feces instead of chemicals. Even though Marta’s community does not have a direct translation for sustainability, they are still concerned about it. Concern for the future of the planet transcends language and cultural barriers, affecting all humans. This gives me hope for the future, that we–as a species–can collectively make a change for the better.