All posts by Elizabeth Brennan

The perfect sound

I chose to primarily focus on the reading of Chapter 2: The Sharawaji Effect. Going into this, I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but I was immediately intrigued by what this all meant. The concept of sound, and the reality of it, are similar but never quite the same. One of the oldest questions is “If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound?” But how do we know that sound is the same if we aren’t there to perceive it, and if it does happen? We can have an idea in our head of what a sound is like, but without physically observing that exact event or creating it, we will never be able to fabricate a truly representative sound.

The idea of a perfect sound, or Sharawaji, is so subjective and also nearly impossible to obtain, that it seems like this unachievable and fleeting thing. Because even if we find something that we could potentially classify as this, will it ever truly meet our expectations to the fullest? Or will we always feel it wasn’t *quite* right?

I tried to think of what my favorite sound was. On one side, I love the sound of rain, of crashing waves, of moving water. On the other side, I love the sound of a perfectly constructed dissonant but resolving harmony. But have I ever heard an example of these that left me speechless? Not entirely.

I was quite curious on how/if this topic would relate back to the topics we’ve primarily been discussing throughout class: human impact, climate change, etc. The idea of the sound of icebergs crashing into the ocean was an interesting connection. Honestly, this reading was the easiest for me all term because it was on terms that more easily resonated with me. It made me wonder what other things have changed with the development of humans. Do birds sing differently now there’s more smog in the air? Do animals cry out more in pain than they do in harmony as their homes are destroyed? Do the raging fires crackling in the forest drown out the sounds of running water? Why is the talk about human impact always about technology and physical changes, and not about the changes in how we are allowed to perceive the world?

Evolution of Epidemics

As a microbiologist, the reading this week on the evolution of disease spread throughout the world mostly due to colonization was very interesting to me. It is rather interesting to think about how illness and disease can spread throughout the world, especially when it reaches a community it has never seen before. When a person’s immune system has never seen a pathogen or antigen before, the only possible defenses the body has are from the innate (born with) immune system. When something as detrimental as small pox comes around (which was bad even for people who had been around it in Europe, who had built more of an immunity) the new hosts were basically defenseless. Without antibodies and memory cells already made for the disease, and a very low survival rate, things were not looking good.

As it was shown in the paper, extreme proportions of the indigenous american communities were killed off. With the exact pathogen cause unknown, we are still able to point fingers at the colonizers as playing a major role in this devastation. Now, in a world where global travel is not only widely accessible, it is frequent, the spread of disease is much more interesting (and worrisome). It makes me think back to the popular app game called Plague Inc, in which the player builds a disease trying to wipe out the worlds population before a cure can be made and distributed. One of the first things that happened as soon as the “world” learned of the new disease, was the shut down of air or boat travel to and from specific countries. And yet with all of this, the game was still beatable. Because to shut everything down truly in its entirety, there is money being lost, goods not being distributed, etc. There are these influential factors nowadays that feed into why we still have this major issue of disease spread, and even with the advent of modern medicine, we cannot seem to get it under control.

In a way, we should consider ourselves lucky that Edward Jenner invented the small pox vaccine in the late 18th century, and revolutionized modern medicine. But when there is still the drive of capitalism, the archaic ideals of “Complete freedom” and “manifest destiny”, we will never truly be able to escape the invisible world of pathogens. Human will and need for dominion over others is really setting itself up to be our greatest downfall, and perhaps even the precursor for the sixth major extinction event the Earth will face.

Sentient Thermometers?

This reading of the 22 Theses on nature is an interesting dive into the topic of what nature means in the context of the Anthropocene. One of the most interesting aspects of these arguments was the later section on sentience and consciousness. The biggest shock to me while reading this was the statement that even a thermostat, which is affected by temperature leading to a change, could in theory be sentient. Especially in a world where we are striving for “sentient artificial intelligence” (well some people are at least). But based off of their definitions, what is actually being worked towards is CONSCIOUS artificial intelligence.

I think their assertion that nature can no longer be viewed as “other” is interesting, because we have been manipulating nature for thousands of years. But what they do point out is that now we are not only manipulating nature, we are building it, changing it, and even changing the course of the world through these actions in cascading events which affect each other. Through things as genetic engineering, geoengineering, us humans are somewhat playing God. We are trying to control our own fates in a world where the definition of the world doesn’t really allow it.

End of an Era

This reading was quite interesting, as there is something so mysterious about a civilization disappearing in what seems like a very very short time. Especially when we begin to rethink what might have caused it in the first place. When thinking of the destruction of westernization and colonization, I can only think that we are still living in an era where similar things could continue happening. Sea levels will begin to rise, forest fires continue to cause destruction, and although these are acts of nature, they ultimately may have been caused by the actions of humans.

Another situation of a civilization disappearing with no obvious explanation was the infamous lost city of Roanoke. Although with the Norse habitation of Norway was shown to be left (whether by travel or death) over more than a few weeks, the lost city of Roanoke seemed like it disappeared almost overnight. Of course there is no proof for this as no one had come in or out of Roanoke for many many weeks. There are still no confirmed explanations for this, other than some with the elements involved, the indigenous populations on the nearby Croatoan island, and more. But it is another example of European Settlers causing destruction and mass death (although in this instance, presumably of themselves).

It is hard now to imagine holding on to some of the things the Norse did before their demise, such as not wanting to eat fish and keeping large wooden artifacts that had spiritual or social significance. But back in the times of these Norse Settlers, it was all they had. They didn’t have the modern science to know why these environmental events were happening, why they couldn’t fix everything, so they had to rely on their beliefs and their way of life until they physically couldn’t do it anymore.

When species mess up…

This paper was really interesting to read, as this subject is one that gives me a lot of anxiety but I also like to try and educate myself on subjects which give me anxiety.

I personally see myself fitting somewhere between the Gaian and Promethean perspectives, leaning more toward Promethean. In the paper, there was a quote somewhat along the lines of, “when a species messes up, they are wiped out without regret”. Humans have messed up, we’ve messed up bad. Nature on the planet is dying because of our own greed, and in a way our own desire to be like a god taking dominion over the planet. But if we are to remain in inaction, we will be punished for that. It is a complicated balance between not wanting to further the problem, while also needing to solve it. If we don’t try, we agree to succumb to the miss-steps of our forefathers and ourselves.

I think there is an important distinction to be made between the planet and nature. In my own mind, I do not view the atmosphere (including climate, natural disasters, etc) and nature as one. They work independently. Humans have had influence over nature for thousands of years, but our contribution to climate change is not a direct effect on nature. It is rather an indirect effect through the lens of influencing the planet. So to say, humans could go to Mars and cause similar issues without having the same green grass and animals around them. I think this is my main step apart from the Gaian perspective.

As much as the potential negative effects of things such as injecting aerosols into the atmosphere scare me, I know that we will NOT be able to fix this by trying to convince everyone on the planet to be more sustainable. There is not enough money in that business, and the elites of the human race are largely powered by greed. It is really sad to think about, but that is just how the human world works.

Modern Dystopia

When thinking about Climate Change, I often realized the disproportionate effect it is having on marginalized populations, but never specifically put it into the perspective of Indigenous populations. It was very interesting to hear about their perspective, and that they have been keeping track of climate and being climate scientists in their own sense for so long, and baffles me that other populations, especially the white settler type population knowing this and not reaching out to converse with them about this. When European settlers invaded what is now known as the United States and Canada, there was not much regard for the land or the wildlife. Just look at what happened to the wild buffalo populations because of so called “manifest destiny”. Industrialization may have helped advance humans, but also greatly led to the downfall of our planet.

When the settlers were met with the Indigenous populations, instead of (what middle and high school textbooks may tell you) learning from the Indigenous persons and living in harmony with them, they were killed, and isolated, and stripped of their traditions and culture because of this obsession the Settlers had with conquering the Earth. So many species are now endangered or extinct, species which were integral in these indigenous persons way of life, and has been for centuries.

This reading and video has made me think of a lot of controversy that has dispersed out from the internet but still remains a bit. There have recently been a lot of indigenous creators on social media coming forward to talk about their culture and what hardships they have gone through and are unfortunately still going through. What baffles me are the amount of people in the comments saying things like “it is cruel and bad for the environment for you to be eating ____ foods” or “making clothing with real leather and fur”, and completely overlooking the culture behind these traditions. Completely overlooking the mass destruction done by white Europeans hundreds of years ago that has caused the cascade of these things even being issues.

To know that we are now in a time that Indigenous persons of years past would view as a dystopia, well I cannot say that it is surprising. If the settlers had come and listened and learned about how to live along side the earth and plants and animals as Indigenous populations have, our ecosystems would be so much healthier. We would be on equal standing ground, not stuck in the mindset (still, how are people still stuck on this) that white people are entitled to more than others. And our planet would be in a much better place.

Communing with nature

When reading the assigned article for this week, my mind went to a few places of times I have seen art interact with nature in a more contemporary setting. My mind flashed back to my freshman year, when I took an art class and one of the assignments was to watch and reflect upon the documentary “Wasteland”. This documentary, centered around the Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, followed him as he met and created art with the workers at the largest trash dump in Rio de Janeiro. The workers are there to help find recyclable items and sort these out of the trash dump. Muniz’s work while there took the trash from the dump and made portraits of the workers on a huge scale, and photographed to be auctioned off as prints. The funds from these auctions would then go on to help the workers improve their quality of life and help to form a union. Although this does not directly interact with nature, it does show the consequence of what man has done to the earth. Waste dumps take the land and cover them with muck, and items that will not break down for thousands of years to come. I’ve attached a few of the pieces as images.

I was also reminded of another way that art and nature collide, which is in nature photography. There is a competition every year for the best photos taken of nature, and recently the winner was wildlife activist Robert Irwin for his photo of a wildfire overtaking a forest. This again shows how man has overtaken the earth, because although wildfires are ‘natural’ disasters, many are caused by man and the lasting effects of global warming have certainly had an impact on their strength and severity. (I have attached this image as well). Although these vary greatly from the images admiring nature in the past, or working with nature, I believe these pieces of art say a great deal on how the majority of the human race interacts with nature, because as a whole we have a much greater impact than as individuals.

Robert Irwin Wins Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award
Robert Irwin, Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Waste Land' Shows Artist Muniz Transform Lives with Trash | Time
Vik Muniz, from “Wasteland”
Vik Muniz, from “Wasteland”

Man vs Nature – Spiritual Split

In reading the article by Lynn White, the first paragraphs reminded me of something I had learned while working as an outdoor school counselor. When colonizers came over to the west coast from Europe, they wanted to build as many places as they could. With the sandy beaches of the west coast, some worked needed to be done to help stabilize the land and allow for more construction. They strengthened the sand with European Dune Grass, and (likely) unknowingly having a strong effect on the natural ecosystem of the coast. With the new tall grass, a species of bird known as the snowy plover was hit hard, no longer being able to find their nests in the brush, and having nests stepped on and destroyed by travelers.

Man’s own ambition has been a detrimental factor on our worlds ecosystems for centuries. Although we claim to care for nature and want to conserve it, our actions speak louder than our words. So many species have gone extinct because of humanities actions, and so many more are on the same track to sadly join them. With global warming, accelerated by many of man’s actions, our entire world is in danger of extinction.

With all of this, as we have seen in the readings, especially from the most influential religious figure there is, religion and more specifically Christianity has an interesting relationship within man’s relationship with nature. As a religious person myself, I have always found it interesting to see the attitude that many people have towards animals as well as plants and all aspects of nature. People who claim to be very religious will also come around to support things that directly destroy God’s creation. They will use religion as an excuse for some things and disregard other sections of the Bible entirely. The Bible calls upon us to protect the Earth and God’s creation, yet here we are arguing whether or not that very creation is in danger despite years of evidence. It causes a very conflicting relationship.

Lynn White, Jr., “The Ecologic Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis,” Science 155:3767 (10 March 1967), 1203-1207.
Pope Francis,**Laudato Si