All posts by Ratna

How do you define nature?

Written by Steven Shaviro, “Twenty-Two Theses on Nature” is a publication from a Yearbook for Comparative Literature. His piece challenges the way nature is commonly viewed and provides for 22 alternative explanations for what its true form is, rather than the mundane “the things that surround us.” It pushes for the idea that nature has its own consciousness; it’s constantly changing— with or without human impact. However, this doesn’t mean the consequences of human intervention should be disregarded because nature will still change form. It simply means nature has a mind of her own. Shaviro’s piece shines light on how understanding our relationship with the environment and acknowledging its consciousness is the first step into tackling the climate crisis. 

The first thesis stating nature isn’t “one side of a binary opposition,” was quite striking to me. In the age of the climate crisis, it’s easy to view the issue as “humans vs. nature.” We’re forgetting that humans ARE a part of nature. Humans have always had a relationship with nature, dating from times even before hunters and gatherers. The climate crisis isn’t about humans relying too much on the natural world, it’s about our exploitation of it. It’s imperative to understand how our relationship with our environment has changed throughout the last decades and how it’s no longer something that’s mutualistic. 

the looming threat comes closer

“On a stable planet, nature provided a background against which human drama took place; on the unstable planet we’re creating, the background becomes the highest drama (McKibben, 4).” 

Humans have made themselves the center of attention. We’ve disregarded the significance of the environment around us, and many refuse to acknowledge this in fear of causing the slightest inconvenience to themselves. The denial goes so far to where scientists and climate experts, the very people who’ve devoted their lives into research and sustainability, are discredited. They’re the experts, and we think we possess more knowledge than them. Climate change legislation and action is supported by concrete facts and evidence, but is motivated by the heart. The longer we fight it, the sooner we won’t even have an ethical environment to survive comfortably in. 

Of course, even if the environment is impacted in a horrible way, those contributing the least to it will be affected the most. Marginalized groups, low-income communities, and rural towns, won’t have the resources to lift themselves up. However, the top 1% of people and large corporations, the ones contributing the most to the climate crisis, will still live lavishly. Why? Because the system works in favor of them. Sadly, this becomes a big reason as to why little change has been made and why so much resistance is met with policies regarding the climate crisis. 

“The Tamarisk Hunter,” written by Paolo Bacigalupi, is a clear example of the detrimental impacts of climate change substantially altering the way of human life. Of course, many aspects can be exaggerated, however, the core message and effects of climate change remain the same. Over time, agricultural damage, famine, and drought, will become more than just a “looming threat,” but will become reality. 

history repeats itself

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The Norse Settlement, Ocean Expeditions

In “The Vanishing” by Malcolm Gladwell, he discusses how the ecological mismanagement of societies, not understanding how to co-exist with the environment and disregarding the difference between biological and social survival leads to their demise. In order to uphold the civilizations of humankind, it’s seen as acceptable and necessary to exploit our surroundings. Gladwell mentions how in the struggling days of the Norse, they “ate their cattle down to the roofs” and “had to eat their pets,” but they refused to consume fish. The Norse stood true to their “values” which cost their lives. Their decision to refuse fish ecologically led to their own demise. It would’ve lessened labor and been beneficial to the land— the very land they were unable to sustain. 

But of course, how can humans change their way of life to benefit their surroundings (which would indirectly benefit them as well)? It’s absurd to even think about. Why? Because we’re entitled to our lifestyle, changing it even the slightest is “un-American.” Preserving the life around us, shouldn’t be considered un-American, but it is. Climate change is an existential crisis, and humans have fueled the damage. Our own failure to protect the land we live on will lead to our own demise, just like the Norse. You would think history wouldn’t repeat itself and we would learn from our mistakes, but that’s not the case. Climate change poses a threat to our livelihood and for future generations, and policies calling for environmental sustainability need to be enacted. The Norse showed us how ecological mismanagement will only harm the people, and it’s time we learn from this.

surrounded by plastic: metaphorically and literally

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“The Labyrinth of Plastic Waste,” Photographed by Gustavo Sanabria

The “Labyrinth of Plastic Waste” created by Luzinterruptus is an interactive art piece in Barcelona. It raises awareness on the amount of plastic that’s consumed. The audience attempts to “escape” from a maze made with plastic waste. The plastic that’s used is also representative of the products being consumed, with the majority of them being plastic water bottles. When the first project was introduced in Poland (in 2014), the focus was on recycling. However, it’s now shifted to bring light upon how unsustainable human practices have become. Based on scientific evidence of the overconsumption of plastic, this piece allows humans to metaphorically “escape” from their unsustainable practices. Building on this metaphor, the “Labyrinth of Plastic Waste” physically shows how humans are surrounding themselves with literal trash and wastage— with little to no regard on the environmental consequences. By building this art piece from products used the most by people, it strikes a feeling of uneasiness in the audience and calls for a reflection of their relationship with the environment. This effort could be amplified by somehow bringing to attention how this overconsumption of plastic is harming the environment.

Although this piece highlights a detrimental issue concerning the climate crisis, no real solutions are provided. Overall, the costs of production do pay off. Although no alternatives to reduce these practices are given, it’s a first step into forcing individuals to think about their own harmful behaviors. Sometimes, that’s enough to get the ball rolling.

the hypocrisy of the western “fix”

The climate crisis is undeniable, and its impact on humankind’s future is unimaginable. However, what’s certain is that not all populations will pay the same consequences. In Dr. Robert Figeuroa’s chapter “Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Losses,” he outlines how the environmental crisis poses a threat to the very lifestyle and culture to the Indigineous people— as if the Western world hasn’t harmed them enough. It’s ironic as to how the communities contributing least to the adverse effects of climate change are the ones being harmed the most from them. Native lifestyles are intertwined with the environment; they coexist with nature. Western colonialism, on the other hand, exploited the environment for its own gain. This article reminds me of the piece from last week,“Sustainability,” written by María García Maldonado, Rosario García Meza, and Emily Yates-Doerr. Climate change policies and legislation can’t only be made by Western civilizations and be expected to benefit communities with fundamentally different relationships with their surroundings. Sustainable and efficient policies can only be made with representation from all people– something the Native tribes don’t currently have. The “Western fix” to climate change won’t apply to other communities. Again, it’s ironic how the Indigenous are forced to stand back and watch Westerners tamper with their land; nothing has changed. 

In the end, the true solution for the environmental damage that’s been done has to come from a change in mindset, the ability to view the world from multiple perspectives, and the drive to help others even though it may not benefit you directly. The current Western culture has stripped humankind with these qualities— the very qualities making us human. Until empathy is at the forefront of environmental issues, and not capitalistic gain and/or materialistic wealth, the climate crisis will continue to get worse, and marginalized communities will pay the price.

there is no universal practice for sustainability

In 1929, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf created a foundational element for how humans understand language: the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. It stated that language determines reality (linguistic determinism), and language reflects reality (linguistic relativity). In developing their hypothesis, Sapir and Whorf studied the Hopi tribe. Living in northeastern Arizona, the Hopi Native American tribe has a language structure drastically different from English. Their language doesn’t have a grammatical word for the concept of time. In addition, no verb tense containing the past or future exists (Livingstone, 2014). Their idea of reality is fundamentally different than what many individuals are familiar with. In this case, language is dramatically influencing the understanding of a time continuum, something that’s unfamiliar and different from what’s reflected in the English language. However, the values and teachings of this hypothesis began to diminish in the 1990s as its limitations were further explored and understood through research. For example, the limitations present in language doesn’t imply the absence of that ideology in the representative culture (Livingstone, 2014). In reference to the Hopi tribe, their lack of a word for time, past tense, and future tense, doesn’t indicate the failure to recognize the time continuum. They could simply have a different way of expressing the construct. 

“Sustainability,” written by María García Maldonado, Rosario García Meza, and Emily Yates-Doerr, raises a point relating to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. The essay starts out by saying “sustainability is an English word.” In Spanish, it can have two meanings, one focused on being maintained over time, and another emphasizing it being reasonable. However, looking back at a criticism of the hypothesis, a rocky translation of a word doesn’t indicate a lack of its concept. Sustainability looks different in each culture, especially those far from Western influence. The disastrous impacts of the ecological crisis are undeniable, but the process of preserving what’s remaining needs to be examined from multiple cultures and lifestyles. Blanketing a Western solution to a global issue may be ineffective. Instead, the climate crisis calls for a collaborative effort, created from multiple perspectives. Sustainable practices aren’t the same for all world nations. Drawing from the teachings of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, if anything, this makes the call to action even more urgent.

Climate crisis calls for a shift in human thinking

In the peak existence of science and technology, to deny the dangers of climate change is absurd. However, we live in a current time in which arguing about climate change becomes a “difference in opinion” and becomes associated with politics. The same science and technology which gave humankind their sense of superiority somehow no longer provides reliable information (in the eyes of climate change deniers) in regards to the climate crisis. In order to shift blame from the status quo, individual decisions (usage of plastic straws, not recycling, etc.) are highlighted as the causes of climate change. Although it’s imperative to make environmentally conscious decisions on a daily basis, the fact that 100 corporations are responsible for 71% of global carbon emissions often fails to be emphasized in local conversations. Why? Because, on a larger scale, society has accepted this is how the world works. We’re in the age of the Anthropocene; humans have decided our surroundings work for us. In reality, humans have harmed the balance of nature and have proved we cannot co-exist with other species— unless there’s a shift in ideologies. 

In Lynn White’s “The Historical Roots of our Economic Climate Crisis,” he argues Christianity serves as a foundation for the climate crisis. God intended nature to be at the disposal of humankind. White asserts that Christianity is, by far, the most anthropocentric religion. As colonialism and Western domination increased, so did the spread of Christianity— hence the large scale influence it has on climate change. In contrast to many Asian religions, White states Christian principles promote humankind and nature to be dichotomous, and not interconnected. In White’s eyes, the climate crisis serves as a reflection upon Christian values and calls for a shift in their religious interpretations.

Pope Francis’s “Laudato Si’” rejects the core claims made by White. He argues true followers of Christianity would find the exploitation of the environment to be a sin. Accepting Christ as your Savior and devoting yourself to God would lead you in a path of kindness, not destruction. However, Pope Francis agrees with White that humans are wrongfully manipulating their surroundings. He urges for new dialogue to occur for the preservation of the environment. 

Both White and Pope Francis blame the climate crisis on humans and our greed. A shift in ideologies is necessary for climate change action, whether this be regarding Christian values or the entitlement humans hold. Regardless of one’s views on the root causes of the climate crisis it’s crucial for policy and activism to take place to lessen the desensitization that’s already occurred. It’s beyond time that people set aside their differences, religious or political, to hold corporations, harmful practices, and ourselves accountable. There has to be a shift in ideologies— the environment doesn’t exist for our gain.