Why Have “We” Written This Narrative into Geology and Greater Society?

In “A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None,” Yusoff details the marginalization of POC through their depictions and relations to materials, much as how “we” have treated the resources of the natural Earth. I liked Yusoff’s framing of “we” in this text. In one passage, Yusoff states, “This unmaking of subjects constitutes a warp of dispossession in the progressive narrative of collective accumulation or geologic commons in which “we” all share” (Yusoff, 16). The author makes it clear that “we” is not an all-inclusive term. POC have continuously and aggressively been excluded from this collective “we” and have instead been labelled as nonbeings, or inhuman. POC have had no input into the exploitation and dehumanization of their lands and lives.

Yusoff goes on to state, “Rendering subjects as inhuman matter, not as persons, thereby facilitated and incorporated the historical fact of extraction of personhood as a quality of geology at its inception” (Yusoff, 17). POC have been seen, and quite frankly continue to be seen, as simply resources of the Earth for White Men to extract and use at their will to further their “innovation”. But this innovation has come with this price of corrupting not only the cultures of many groups, but also their land, or as “we” see it, territory to be expanded and pillaged. In the field of Geology, and in my opinion many others, Black and Brown People are referenced as simply property to be used to further ideation. They are used as simple tropes, tokens, or cherry-picked evidence of innocence or inspiration. In the words of Yusoff, “Why is it that the language of geology allows for the exchange of a person as a material object of property and properties” (Yusoff, 18). This line of questioning parallels the greater discussions surrounding why societal institutions have been built in such a way as to allow for racism to become institutionalized and permeable throughout society.

Yusoff makes a clear point that in order to truly examine this Anthropocene, we need to understand Geology’s origins and what made such exchanges of property that resulted the geological and societal crises possible. This needs to be uncovered while maintaining the thought that society today has constantly been profiting off the backs of POC communities – resulting in both innovations, and the degradation of the environment. Without the labor and resources of POC, our current era would not have come into being, yet time and time again they are treated as inhuman.

Photo by Bruna Fiscuk on Unsplash

The way we write about geology…

The author of “A Billion Black Anthropocene or None” suggests that the way Geology is discussed and displayed undermines the long history of exploitation of people of color, specifically black and brown people. The author states that when categorizing matter as property and properties, “the slave in this formulation is rendered as matter, recognized through an inhuman property relation” (Yusoff 17). The author goes on to highlight how the way we talk about geology can ultimately suggest that those who were exploited were just objects. She seems to be arguing that by writing geology the way that we do we are in our own way justifying all the exploitation that occurred, we are erasing the human aspects of those who were wronged. 

When we are writing, especially about history it is easy to forget that the events that are being discussed actually happened and it directly affected real people at that time. It is so easy to distance yourself from it, but the word choices we use matter. Like the author discussed, the way we describe something can help to humanize a person or with a few quick changes we can completely strip them of their human aspects.

I thought this piece was really interesting to read, though I did have to read it more than once to understand it fully. I still feel as though I didn’t completely understand everything that was pointed out in this chapter, but hopefully being able to discuss it in class will help to clarify the last few things that I am not as clear on.

Image by Darius Sankowski on Pixabay

REDEEMING the revolution

The Storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution

In Kathryn Yusoff’s book A Billion Black Anthropocene or None, the author seeks to critique and work through the categories of geology to show the way it hides and naturalizes the exploitation and oppression of black and brown folks around the world. Throughout this critique, Yusoff makes a variety of claims about modern liberalism. Two of which I take issue with. The first is her view of private property. Yusoff associates private property with the “inhuman” and with geology. This is because “geology is often assumed to be without subject (thinglike and inert)” (Yusoff 19). Furthermore, Yusoff often describes the acquisition of property as an “extractive” process that “enacts colonialism” (20). However, when one examines the views of the classical liberal philosophers a different vision of private property emerges. According to John Locke for instance, a man’s private property comes from the fact that “the labor of his body and the work of his hands, we may say, are strictly his. So when he takes something from the state that nature has provided and left it in, he mixes his labour with it, thus joining to it something that is his own” (Locke 11). Thus, property is not merely something that is inert that one extracts out of the ground. It is not inhuman; it is an extension of the human. It is an extension of the individual since all private property contain a piece of their labor in it, in other words, a piece of themselves. Yusoff’s description might apply to the way private property functions in the 21st century, but she is wrong to attribute this to the liberal tradition. Underlying this mistake is Yusoff’s approach to critiquing modern liberalism, mainly through a rejection of liberalism. On the one hand, Yusoff wants to go “beyond liberal individuation”, but on the other hand, all of Yusoff’s critique rely on pointing out the hypocrisy of liberalism, reinforcing liberal values. To truly go beyond liberalism requires not a rejection of the liberal tradition but a redemption of its revolutionary potential. It will require the completion of the work started by the liberal tradition. As Karl Marx once wrote “our task is not to draw a sharp mental line between past and future, but to complete the thought of the past […] it will becomes plain that mankind will not begin any new work, but will consciously bring about the completion of its old work” (Marx par. 11).

  1. Locke, John. “CHAP. V. Of Property.” Second Treatise of Civil Government, https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/politics/locke/ch05.htm.
  2. Marx, Karl. “Letter from Marx to Arnold Ruge.” Marxists Internet Archive, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/letters/43_09-alt.htm.

Man: The Master or Caretaker of Nature

Both Lynn White Jr. and Pope Francesco have extremely passionate views on the ecological dilemma that the world faces today. However, they differ vastly and are complete opposites to one another when it comes to the solution to this issue. While White believes that religion, or more specifically Christianity, is to blame, the current Pope is convinced that religion is the answer.

White thinks that threats of the destruction of our ecosystem wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the creation of the Christian religion. He argues that the belief that God created the Earth: Adam and Eve, and then animals, has led humans to determine that they are more important than nature and are therefore nature’s masters. He justifies his claim by explaining that many great inventors, mathematicians, physicists, have all utilized religion as their reasoning as to why they worked so tirelessly to create new technology, theories, etcetera. So, although technology played a vital part in the disruption and damage to our planet, White still insists that the underlying cause was Christianity and people’s goals to please God.

Pope Francesco on the other hand, is adamant that religion is what will save the ecosystem. He not only thought it vital to clarify that maiming, disrespecting, and destroying the Earth are sins, but also reinforcing the idea that humans are a part of nature and as a result, have a duty to protect and take care of the natural world. He refers to the Earth as a “sister” to solidify his point and appeal to people’s emotional connections to family due to his whole aim being based on uniting people as one through common beliefs, while also spreading awareness to the ignorant of the crisis in order to combat the current issue plaguing the world.

At one pole, you have someone declaring that Christianity is the sole purpose of ecological despair, but on the other, you have a Christian leader declaring the opposite. I personally don’t believe either due to a lack of connection to any sort of religion and therefore see no problem or solution in religious views; which leads me to think about what the actual reason for the obstacles that nature is facing today and whether the cause is because of humans or some other greater idea that hasn’t yet been discovered or discussed.

A Distant Examination of a Dialectic Regarding Religions’ Relationship to Environmental Catastrophe — or — I Have No Idea Who’s Correct, So Let’s Try to Find Out

Lynn White and Pope Francis, through their combined (unintentional) efforts, have managed to turn my brain into applesauce by arguing viewpoints which require that I have adequate biblical literacy, a comprehensive historical knowledge of the so-called West, and a mindset which allows me to actually come to a firm conclusion about anything. But I’m going to give it a shot anyway.

Lynn White, in his essay “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis”, argues that a person’s view of ecology is determined through how they view themselves in relation to nature.  He also argues that the primary underlying reason for the destruction of our environment is not only the dawn of the Industrial Revolution and the advent of contemporary science, but also a view of humanity which White believes came from Christian theology: the belief that humans are separate from nature, and that they have supremacy over nature. At some point in history, humankind made a dramatic switch from having a symbiotic relationship with nature to exploiting nature. White says, “…to use the new and more efficient plow, peasants pooled their oxen to form large plow-teams, originally receiving (it would appear) plowed strips in proportion to their contribution. Thus, distribution of land was based no longer on the needs of a family but, rather, on the capacity of a power machine to till the earth,” (White 4). White thinks that this change directly links to the advent of Christianity in Europe (specifically the Protestant and Catholic denominations). He states, “Is it coincidence that modern technology, with its ruthlessness toward nature, has so largely been produced by descendants of these peasants of northern Europe?” (White 4). Ultimately, when Lynn White argues that “What people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around them” (White 4), he is more or less correct. Holding the viewpoint that one is related genetically to a fish or a bacterium, for instance, is often going to result in a much more connected and mutual relationship to the environment, whereas the viewpoint that one is separated from and above nature is likely going to result in a more distanced relationship from our ecology. But is Western Christianity to blame, as Lynn White suggests? To say that Western Christianity is the one true answer would be a stretch, but as a general direction to point to, he makes a pretty convincing argument. People practicing pagan religions, as noted by White and based on what I’ve read in other Climate Change literature, historically have a much more mutual relationship with the environment, and view humans and nature as equally important (White 4). It would seem that it was not until the emergence of monotheistic religions that people began to have the influential belief that human beings exist outside of nature and control it. But I haven’t found any compelling alternative theories to contrast White’s argument. Oh, except for this one:

In “Laudato Si”, Pope Francis approaches a similar question with a far different answer. He states that Christianity itself is not the problem, but instead, people have been misinterpreting God’s well-meaning words over the course of history. The Bible’s innumerable translations have led to centuries of misinterpretation, where different religious denominations took pieces that they saw fit and either changed or discarded pieces that didn’t fit into their narrative. Pope Francis knows this, and points out where these misconceptions are located in the Bible, and how God never intended for humanity to view the world in such a dangerous way (Francis 49). But despite the examples Pope Francis provides, the interpretation that man is separate from nature persists throughout the world anyway, thanks to the poor usage of the word “dominion”. But through some further investigation, I found that the book of Genesis (King James Version) contains a passage which presents us with what appears to be another questionable word: “…and God said unto [humanity], Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it…” (Gen 1:28). Subdue is synonymous with conquer, defeat, and master. It’s no wonder that so many people have misinterpreted this concept. But if Pope Francis is sure that this was a misinterpretation at all, why were the words “dominion” and “subdued” chosen for the Bible in the first place? Was there a decision made in an early translation of the Bible where the overseer(s) weren’t satisfied with God merely granting them “stewardship” or something or other, and thanks to some already established cultural desire for superiority over nature, they made a covert switch? If so, when did that begin to take place? Who knows? 

Though studying the reasons and origins behind the exploitation of the earth’s resources is crucial for understanding how we got to this dangerous point as a civilization and how we can prevent something similar from happening down the line (if there is a ‘down the line’), at least we’re discussing articles by two people who agree that Climate Change is an anthropogenic issue. It is becoming clear to more and more humans—albeit quite slowly—that human impacts are in fact real, and are a problem. 

A Power struggle with the He and i

I’ve spent the last few days trying to figure out how I feel about this topic and where I wanted to go with this post, and all I have found is more confusion. While I do have some thoughts I would like to share, they all feel jumbled and misguided, and thus I’m excited to listen and participate in discussions about these two texts, however I feel slightly uncomfortable and unqualified sharing opinions. 

I grew up in a Jewish household, where somewhere along the way I adopted the notion that all other religions are based on money, greed, and power, and that I was to steer clear of these for the sake of my spirituality and physical safety. Looking back on this, I can see that a lot of the views that I once carried were passed down from people who had spent much of their lives in fear of other cultures and religions. For context, my family comes from both Israel and Poland, has a rich Jewish history, and has multiple individuals who are either killed in our fought in WWII. As I grew older, I maintained the view that many religions, Christianity in particular are based on greed, power, and money, however I have done everything I could to remove myself from a feeling of superiority, or that other belief systems were wrong. I no longer associate with any religious faith, but I do not have anything against those who choose to follow a religion of their choosing, for as written by Papa Francesco “respect must also be shown for the various cultural riches of different peoples, their art and poetry, their interior life and spirituality” if we are to act in unity to make the right choices as a human race.

Coming from my background, I have unintentionally seen most religions as constructs which attempt to control various aspects of the world around us, notably other people and wealth. While this mindset created by such shortcomings of many organized religions has been easier to spot in politics, I hadn’t thought about this in The context of our collective approach to anthropogenically driven climate change.

While I understand these examples are not representative of all people and expressions of Catholicism, I would like to point to things such as the Crusades, the opulence of the Vatican and local churches, repeated diaspora due to religious persecution, the worship of gold, partial and at times prejudice views toward other religions, (most of these have to do with the “establishment” or Church rather than the context of biblical writings), etc.

To a less aware outside observer such as myself, the Catholic Church has always seemed to be plagued by an unending power struggle. As Papa Francesco reminds, “we are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us.” A gift is not something to be conquered, rather to be cherished and used in good health. I feel that the aforementioned characterization of the Church comes from those who have misunderstood and, in turn, misused it’s powers, when in reality the true intent of this religion is to spread love for people and the world around us. That said, it seems that many misunderstandings come from two interpretation of love: one being to care for, replenish, and understand the world around us, and the other being to benefit from yet be grateful for. These two interpretations have far different outcomes when applied to our interactions with our environment. While some may choose to love through profit, a future is only sustainable when love is shown through awareness, care, and giving back. The importance of this understanding with respect to all other religions, individuals, and ecosystems cannot be overstated moving into the future.

“God didn’t say that”

“Historian Blames Christianity for Nature’s Downfall.” A quick summary (lacking depth) of the article “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” written by historian Lynn White, Jr, published in Science magazine. Upon discovering that in the near future I was going to read an article about the subject above I felt two dominant emotions: curiosity and confusion. The notion that Lynn White Jr was going to lay the blame for the ecological crisis was both confusing and intriguing. As I always do before reading, I brainstormed what the text could contain, and I came up empty handed. I honestly had no idea how Lynn White, Jr was going to present his argument (though this lack of ideas could have been due to my lack of knowledge of Christianity and the Bible). And so I read, and was thoroughly impressed. Lynn White, Jr. presented his argument as such: science resulting in technological development have given the people a means to disrespect nature and harm the Earth. Christianity has given society a motivation or a reason to do so. In “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” Lynn White, Jr. focuses on a specific section of the Bible regarding how Christianity views the relationship between men and nature. White writes, “Man named all the animals, thus establishing his dominance over them. God planned all of this explicitly for man’s benefit and rule: no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes.” Lynn White, Jr. interprets the Bible as giving Christians permission to abuse the environment as they have dominion over it. Honestly, at the end of the article, I was impressed by Lynn White, Jr.’s main argument and his explanation. Lynn White, Jr. was thorough in providing evidence and examples. In the article, Lynn White, Jr. describes the invention of a plow that required eight oxen to pull. Lynn White, Jr. describes the relationship between man and nature as more harmonious before this invention. Man took only what he needed for subsistence from the land when he had to work harder for it. Now man could exploit nature because he had the means to do so. This technological innovation (among others) and Christian teachings and values is what Lynn White, Jr. argues caused this current ecological crisis. 

As instructed, I traded “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” by Lynn White for Laudato Si by Pope Francis. The relationship between the two pieces is solidified in the second chapter of Laudato Si, titled “The Gospel of Creation.” Pope Francis begins the chapter by contemplating why he has to discuss non-believers or those who criticize, but he ultimately comes to the conclusion that religion has an important place in society. Pope Francis argues that discussing religion and science together is beneficial. This chapter (in my opinion) seemed a little bit like an attempt to save face. While Pope Francis goes on to propose a somewhat valid argument, his writing seems circular as he always ends up in the same place (though this could be a tactic to reiterate his point). While Lynn White, Jr. argues that Christianity and its text are the cause of the ecological crisis  (or motivating factor for individuals to exploit nature), Pope Francis (surprisingly) argues the exact opposite. Pope Francis argues that Christian texts do not lead or encourage Christians to have “dominion” over nature. Instead Christian texts argue for a symbiotic relationship between man and nature. Men are supposed to get from nature what they need to survive. And in return for nature giving them what they need (not desire), man is supposed to give back to the earth and respect it. Pope Francis writes that God made all organisms on life equal and that they all deserve respect and life. When presented with the fact that some Christians do deviate from these values he explains that those who act in this manner have misinterpreted the Bibles teachings. Alienation or separation from God helped cause these behaviors. Pope Francis provides examples that the good Christians do, specifically when mentioning Sundays when everyone, even donkeys, get the day to rest. Pope Francis also describes times that must be taken off, when no one can reap harvest for profit, or pick all that has been grown. The leftovers go to the poor and the wanderers. 

It is Lynn White, Jr.’s interpretation of the Bible and Pope Francis’ interpretation of the Bible that lead these men to take these sides. This is where their argument stems. Lynn White, Jr reads the same text as Pope Francis and instead of coming to the conclusion that Christians and nature must work together, he comes to the conclusion that Christians are being encouraged to exploit nature. Ultimately, it is evident that both Lynn White, Jr and Pope Francis care about the ecological crisis, and both have kind words about Saint Francis of Assisi, who had great concern and respect for the environment. Both men realize that man can feel above nature, and that is a problem that needs to be fixed. It appears that the main difference lies in their interpretations of man’s motivation to exploit.

The Dominant Worldviews of Christianity

While reading the writings of both Lynn White Jr. and the Pope, I could not help but be continuously reminded of the dominant worldviews each individual held, and how these views ultimately lead to what they have described as “ecological crisis.”

The Pope states, “The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. This in turn distorted our mandate to “have dominion” over the earth” (Francis, 48). The Pope’s encyclical letter makes it clear that the Earth does not solely belong to us, but every living creature inhabiting the planet. Humans have misinterpreted their dominion over Earth to mean much more than God has given us, in addition to acting selfishly with the gains we reap from tilling the Earth. The passages provided by both the Pope and White reminded me of the worldviews summarized by Dunlap: the Dominant Western Worldview, the Human Exceptionalism Paradigm, and the New Ecological Paradigm. White and the Pope suggest that most readers have interpreted the bible in a way that reinforces the Human Exceptionalism Paradigm. This model denotes humans being distinct and above all other creatures, as well as driving technology and being the master of the Earth.

This is where White’s discourse branches, as he does not believe Christianity’s teachings yield anything more than the thoughts of enslaving nature for our own personal gain (White, 1207). White emphasizes that in order to stop ecological collapse, we must reject Christian thought and arrogance, while the Pope details the “correct” interpretation of Christian texts. From the Pope’s words it is easy to gather that God intended for the New Ecological Paradigm to become dominant thought; that while humans are exceptional, they remain only one of many and are surrounded within the web of nature, creating unintended consequences while remaining dependent on the Earth for all resources. Further and from the Pope’s writings, is that in order to create solutions to solve the ecological crisis, all branches of human connection must be included.  Too often we seek out solutions that benefit our group, while leaving out others. In order to create lasting positive change, we must view the Earth as residents and not owners.  

Photo by Will Cornfield on Unsplash

Defining “Dominion”

“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)

Dominion is defined as sovereignty or control. When translated literally in the context of Genesis 1:28 it gives rise to an interpretation of human superiority over Earth and her living creatures. In his analysis of the Catholic Church, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis”, Lynn White assumes the literal definition of dominion, and therefore places the blame of the ecological crisis on the church and its followers. This dominion, he argues, stems from the removal of natural spirits within the context of religion causing devaluation and exploitation of the natural world. However, there are other interpretations of the creation story, giving special consideration to the significance of dominion. In the Laudato Si’, the Pope specifically clarifies the difference between “dominion” and “domination”, stating that the dominion over nature given to man by God is a responsibility to care for and protect, not to exploit. He points out that, unfortunately, the actions of man have led the definitions of dominion and domination to become blurred into one and that the need to redefine and reevaluate our actions based on God’s original meaning of dominion has never been more urgent than now. 

The current actions of humans are reflective of Lynn White’s article and interpretation of dominion; we are exploiting the earth for selfish benefit and without respect for natural processes. The Pope acknowledges our actions, but instead of placing the blame on the teachings of the Catholic Church, accuses man of misinterpreting God’s word. These differences in interpretation have significant impacts on political, religious, and cross cultural understanding. If both White and the Pope interpreted the meaning of dominion in the same manner White’s blame on the Catholic Church may have instead been directed onto the actions of man. This misunderstanding has larger implications; without the divide between the scientific community (White) and the Catholic Church (the Pope), there would exist cooperation, rather than conflict, while working towards the common goal of a sustainable and healthy planet.

Common Ground?

Even though Lynn White Jr. and Pope Francis come from completely different sides when discussing the impacts humans play on the environment, they both share at least a few common points. One piece of contention that both Lynn White Jr. and Pope Francis share is the section of Genesis where it states humans have “dominion” over the earth. Pope Francis actively calls out people for incorrectly interpreting the bible and states that “we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures” (Francis 49). While Pope Francis attempts to change the way, people look at the earth through the eyes of the bible, Lynn White Jr. takes a different route. He argues that the way the bible was written gives people the notion that they are more important than any of the other creatures on this planet. He suggests that because of that line in Genesis people believe that “no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purpose” (White 4). Ultimately, while they go about it in different ways, both Pope Francis and Lynn White Jr. seem to conclude that when people view themselves as “above” the environment they will treat it with very little care. They will place their own personal comfort over everything else, creating and fueling this ecological crisis.  

Cherry Picking

In Lynn White Jr.’s science magazine article, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis”, he takes a critical stance on the effects of Christianity and Western Ideology’s effects on the environment. He discusses the duality of man and nature in the eyes of the christian church, a duality where man always reins superior. White credit’s this shift in ideology to Christianity’s dominance over paganism and eastern philosophy; which tend to view nature as a much more inclusive part of humanity.
However, I believe Lynn White Jr. overgeneralizes the church, thus causing him to be too critical. Sure, if paganism was the dominant religion in our world, our world would most likely have a much more environmentally conscious outlook. Nonetheless, many supporters of the church have spoken outcries against the same issues White discusses. As Saint John Paul II discusses, human beings frequently seem “to see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption.” He then continues with, “human life itself is a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement.” At this time John Paul II was the pope, head of the catholic church and a representative of Christianity. He sees the ideals of the west towards nature and seeks to change them, even implying that the general public’s idea of nature is wrong and not what the church wants it to be. This is why the pope then proceeds with “Our human ability to transform reality must proceed in line with gods original gift of all that is.”
Lynn White’s argument is based off of a cherry picked view of Christianity that is becoming increasingly outdated, as even the church is now starting to realize its environmental impacts and looks to change them. That in no way makes the historical aspect of what he is saying wrong, but simply not the full story.

The Original Sin

The fall of man from the garden of Eden

Although Lynn White Jr. and Pope Francis might at first appear as opposing poles in the ecological debate, closer examination reveals them to be merely two sides of the same coin. Underlying their attack and defense of Christianity is the conviction that our modern ecological crisis has been brought about by the dangerous belief in man’s dominance over nature. For White this original sin was found in the heart of Christianity itself, with the story of creation and the idea that “God planned all of this [nature] for man’s rule” (White 4). On the other hand, Pope Francis, being the head of the Catholic church, trace the idea to our alienation from God. In his book, Pope Francis wrote“the harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations” (Francis 48).This raises an interesting question. Christianity has been around for thousands of years and humanity’s alienation from God, according to the Christian tradition, have been present since the dawn humanity. Why has the ecological crisis only now appeared? It is true that instances of human caused environmental damage have been around for a long time, but the scale and rapidity of environmental degradation did not exist until the Industrial Revolution. After all, it was this degradation that led to the rise of Romanticism in Europe in the early 19th century (“Romanticism” par.1). Both Francis and White miss what is historically specific about the modern ecological crisis. Another problem with both their approach is their hostility to human freedom. For White it was the use of a new type of plow in the 7th century by northern Europeans that turned distribution of land from one based on need to one based on “the capacity of a power machine to till the earth” (White 4). White appear to suggest that the move away from subsistence farming was a mistake. What he forgets is that this move allowed for the production of surplus and enables human culture and freedom. For the first time, humans no longer have to be solely occupied with the production of food freeing ourselves to develop other capacities. This is what separates us from other animals. Francis pays closer attention to the question of freedom, but he falls into a similar trap as well. In saying that “the earth was here before us and it has been given to us”, Francis reduce the role of humans to that of a housekeeper in God’s mansion. The earth is no longer a place where we can freely develop our human capacities. What all these problems in Francis and White’s arguments amount to is their misunderstanding of the problem. What’s important about the ecological crisis is that it was caused by human actions and that it threatens our free development. In other words, the ecological crisis is not a crisis of nature. It is a crisis of human society.

1. “Romanticism.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Sept. 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanticism.

An Honors Colloquium in Environmental Arts and Humanities