All posts by Jacob Edgerton

The Eternal Song of Nature

I have never heard a nightingale in person. While reading about it’s song, I listened to a recording of the bird singing. While this is no replacement for hearing the nightingale in real life, I wanted to get an idea of it’s sound. I took away two main messages in regards to the Anthropocene from the passage (Chapter 3 of David Rothenberg’s Nightingales in Berlin: Searching for the Perfect Sound). First, the pauses and voids in the song of the nightingale mentioned by Rothenberg, along with what I heard over recording, really emphasize the importance and beauty of silence. In the Anthropocene, we are almost always exposed to human sounds. They permeate through our lives. Even when we are sleeping, the sounds of a distant road, the hum of a refrigerator, or of the very building we live in creaking in the wind always fill our ears with sound. 

The first time I remember going deep inside a cave, I really realized the permanence of sound into our every waking moment. We all turned off our lights and sat motionless on the rocks of the cave in silence. The lack of light and sound was shocking. Other than the faint sound of dripping water every now and then, there was nothing. There is so little sensory input that when you wave your hand in front of your face, your brain tricks you into thinking you can see it, even though it would be completely impossible since there is an absolute absence of light. The pauses in the nightingale’s song remind me of this sensation. We live in a world so saturated by human activity that we don’t even notice. It is like living in a giant white noise machine that never turns off. It is vital that we recognize how much we have filled our world with pollution, and not just the garbage and carbon emissions we usually think of. We pollute the world around us with sound and light too. 

This leads me to my second takeaway from the chapter. The sounds of nature are fundamentally different from the sounds of modern human activity. The mechanized sounds of the present day are distinctly monotone and abruptly dull. They are byproducts of our activity. This is why the nightingale’s song is so entrancing. It sounds pure and full of intent, yet we drown it out in our cities and cut down the forests in which it thrives. It is a perfect example of the Anthropocene. It demonstrates our tendency to destroy nature’s beauty as a byproduct of our unrelenting expansion, but the nightingale doesn’t seem to care. It returns to the trees in our cities and keeps on singing, even if we drown out it’s song. 

The Paradox of Human Power Over Nature

Humans have, at once, an immense power to alter the Earth on an astonishing scale, while also being practically helpless against a microscopic pathogen. The two readings this week, together, really highlight this point. On one hand, I see the changes humans have been making to the planet and think calling the current time period the Anthropocene is the only appropriate choice. Our mass emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, the massive quantity of extinctions as a result of our actions, the mind boggling use of land and resources for our survival, and pretty much every other impact of human life make us a massive force for change on the planet. However, being so human centric in our categorization of the time period does not feel quite right when considering the damage a small pathogen has caused humanity over the past two years. 

COVID-19 has demonstrated, in a very real way, how vulnerable we are as humans. Not only as individuals, but also as a species. In the time of the Anthropocene, it seems it has become the default to view humans as separate and above nature. If we are powerful enough to have our own geological time period in which we are the primary force for change on the planet, we must have reached a point where we can keep nature in check and bend it to our will. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us this is not true. Looking at past examples of unimaginably deadly disease outbreaks, like Smallpox in Latin America, and comparing the scale of these horrors to COVID-19, we need to take nature seriously. We are not more powerful than nature, we are one with nature. We must realize this in order to best, and most safely operate as a species. 

To be clear, there is no doubt that we are in the Anthropocene, but we need to view this truth as an opportunity to work with and respect nature rather than to force our will upon it. Moving forward, humanity must work to sustainably survive through collaboration with nature and not dominance over it. Being in the Anthropocene does not mean we have reached a state of ultimate power over nature. It means that we have reached a dangerous tipping point where we have the power to alter the delicate balance of the natural system in which we live, without the power to deal with the consequences that are sure to follow.

Part of Nature

Throughout recorded human history, we have again and again found ourselves as less important than we previously imagined. We once believed we were at the center of the universe, but through observation of the night sky, we realized we live on a planet that orbits a star. Then, as we continued our scientific endeavors, we realized that the star we orbit is not the center of the universe either. In reality it is part of a galaxy full of stars. Going even further, our galaxy, the Milky Way, isn’t the center of the universe either, but simply one of billions of galaxies. Similarly, Darwin’s formulation of evolution made humanity realize that we are no different from any other life form, and that we were all related. The more we look at our place in the universe and work to understand our surroundings, the more we realize that we are not special, but one in the same as everything else in the universe. 

Shaviro discusses this idea of Nature in his “Twenty-Two Theses on Nature”. While I found this to be an interesting read, it seems to be trying to make one simple point. We, as humans, are not separate from Nature. We simply take in information through our senses, and act based on this information we collect. While our bodies do counter the natural flow of entropy, our overall dissipation of energy into the systems around us more than make up for our lack of internal entropy. This is the same as any other lifeform on the planet. 

By realizing that we are truly one in the same with Nature, we can gain a deeper respect for our surroundings. The natural world and our planet is not something to be used and conquered by us, but rather a system in which we are a part. In order to sustainably live, we must not attack the cycle of nature for our own benefit, because doing so means attacking the very system that we are a part of.

The Death of Western Society

In modern society, the common perspective is that humanity is separate from nature. We spend nearly all of our time in entirely human constructed and controlled environments. Even when we go outside, we are in an area with dominant human influence. The food we eat comes in neatly organized packages and contains ingredients that we oftentimes don’t know the source of. We emit large quantities of pollutants and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, either directly or indirectly, and we consume and produce waste at a massively unsustainable rate. What we often overlook is that we are in a closed system. We are on a single planet that is not too big to be impacted by our actions. We are part of the global system, not separate from it. 

In his article, “The Vanishing” (a review of “Collapse” by Jared Diamond), Malcolm Gladwell discusses numerous extinct populations: such as the Vikings of Greenland and the Easter Islanders. He and Diamond assert that these populations did not fail because of some “act of God” or random bad luck, but because of their insistence on the survival of their culture, even when they could have otherwise survived by shifting to more sustainable practices. They make the assertion that these societies used up resources until they were gone and “they slit their wrists and then, in the course of many decades, stand by passively and watch themselves bleed to death” [1]. 

Humanity’s problem is the belief that our habits, actions, and normal practices are one in the same with who we are. This, as Diamond and Gladwell point out, is what led the Vikings to starve. They didn’t eat fish and continued to not eat fish even if it meant they would starve to death. We must not hold on to unsustainable practices or denounce better alternatives if they fly in the face of what we hold dear. In order to reach true sustainability, everyone will need to give up something they value. This is an unfortunate, but true fact for nearly everyone is Western society. Just because we have a culture of overconsumption and waste, does not mean that we have to stick to that culture until our society collapses. We must learn from past societies and understand that ourselves and our culture are separate entities. Looking at modern society, it is becoming more and more apparent that our culture is going to inevitably die, but we have the choice if we are going to die with it. 



Man v.s Nature

The ethics of geoengineering is a very interesting topic that is becoming more and more pertinent to the present day. We currently have, and are, improving and developing technology that is capable of controlling climate change. Whether this be through injecting sulfur into the atmosphere or by large scale carbon capture, technologies like this are on the horizon (we actually have the capability of offsetting our emissions through carbon capture today, but it would cost an estimated $6.3 and $15 trillion annually to do so. For reference the GDP of the USA was $18.14 trillion in 2018 [1]).

In her article “Geoengineering and Sustainability”, Leslie Paul Thiele tackles the debate as to whether or not we should undertake geoengineering [2]. She splits up the debate into two belief systems, the Prometheans and Gaians. The Gaians believe that humanity will never have power over nature to successfully pull off geoengineering. They believe that even if we do alter the planet in a major way, there will always be severe consequences and nature will have the final say. On the other hand, Prometheans hold the viewpoint that we, as humans, have always been distinguished by our technology and we have been geoengineering (on smaller scales) since we started using tools and fire to shape our surroundings. This viewpoint holds the idea that humanity has the power to successfully geoengineer the planet. However, this is only true if the risks and rewards of a given technology reach the point that it is logically considered feasible. She then goes on to assert that the only way to bring these viewpoints together is through the lens of sustainability.

I agree that sustainability is a powerful, uniting framework that can unite both of these world views. However, I would assert that the issue is more complex. Splitting people up into two groups, the Prometheans and Gaians, is an oversimplification of humanity. People fall on a spectrum of belief and worldviews that cannot be cleanly split into two camps. I agree though that the concept of sustainability can bring people together for a common good. Making sure that we treasure our planet and ensure it will be livable and thriving for future generations to come is a key, uniting factor for all people. Through this viewpoint, whether geoengineering is a part of our future or not, it is definitely worth keeping on the table.

Humanity is at a crossroads where our power as a species is changing to a larger scale. We are transitioning to the point where our technology is capable of impacting the entire planet, whether we like it or not. As John Green puts it in his book The Anthropocene Reviewed, “We are at once far too powerful and not powerful enough… [being able] to radically reshape the Earth’s climate and biodiversity but not powerful enough to choose how we reshape it.” [3]


[1] Ritchie, Hannah, et al. “What Can You Do to Stop Climate Change? And Should You?” Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell , Kurzgesagt, 22 Sept. 2021,

[2] Leslie Paul Thiele (2019) Geoengineering and sustainability, Environmental Politics, 28:3, 460-479, DOI: 10.1080/09644016.2018.1449602

[3] Green, John. The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet. Dutton, 2021.

Another Round of Climate Change

The material presented by Kyle Whyte in the first chapter of “Our Ancestors’ Dystopia Now: Indigenous Conservation and the Anthropocene” [1]  along with his video interview [2] was illuminating for me. I had previously never considered the idea that indigenous populations have already experienced widespread change to their environments as a result of colonization. Indigenous peoples present a great example of how a population has dealt with and combated a rapid change to their local environment and there is no doubt that global society can learn a lot from their experiences. 

At this point in time, it is clear that we will (and currently are) seeing changes to our environment as a direct result of large scale fossil fuel emissions. Even if we were to stop emitting greenhouse gases right now, we would still have these impacts to deal with. While it is still key that we work towards a rapid shift to a carbon neutral world, we now have to come to the reality that we will inevitably have to deal with a changing environment. Whyte’s brings up the idea that indigenous peoples hold key insights into how to deal with these changes. The premise that indigenous people are living in their “ancestors’ dystopia” is very powerful and paints striking images of what our children and future generations will need to deal with. 

The Anishinaabek of the Great Lakes region have positive, modern day traditions that not only support the preservation of the resources that remain, but also provide an insight into the importance of the pre-colonial environment to the people of the past. As our environment changes, traditions like these could provide powerful frameworks for the preservation of diminishing natural resources and for the remembrance of the environment that once existed. Society as a whole could benefit greatly from looking towards how indigenous populations, like the Anishinaabek, have dealt with massive changes to their environment. Indigenous populations have already experienced their own, regional form, of climate change, and we can look to their example on how to deal with the next round of climate change, but this time on a global scale. 

[1] Whyte, Kyle. Our Ancestors’ Dystopia Now: Indigenous Conservation and the Anthropocene. Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities. <>

[2] Croakey, director. Talking #JustClimate and Decolonising Climate Science with Professor Kyle Whyte. YouTube, YouTube, 24 Feb. 2017 <>

Art That Is Green

When creating art about the environment, artists have an opportunity to deliver powerful messages and to even cause societal shifts in perspective. When done correctly, art like this can give a visceral understanding of how humanity is impacting the world. 

In my opinion, when doing art like this, the artist has a key responsibility to demonstrate how humanity is interacting with nature while not causing damage of their own. For example, the Double Negative by Michael Heizer, a deep trench displacing nearly a quarter of a million tons of rock in Nevada caused deep, permanent scarring to the landscape. Similarly, Robert Smithson’s construction of the Spiral Jetty, in 1970 in the Great Salt Lake has also permanently changed the landscape (the lake bed around the Jetty is actually exposed now due to years of severe drought in Utah, possibly delivering an even more impactful message than the original piece). These pieces seem to more strongly show humanity’s power over nature rather than showing the need to coexist with it.

The Sprial Jetty without water in 2020, taken by Jim Lo Scalzo and used in the article “Robert Smithson Review – Art With a Dose of Extreme Sports” published in The Guardian [1]. 

The pieces that stand out most strongly to me are the ones that demonstrate what humanity has done and what we can do to return to a more sustainable way of living with nature and not powering over it. One piece from Art & Ecology Now by Andrew Brown [2] that stood out to me most was Alan Sonfist’s Time Landscape. This took a section of New York city and attempted to return the landscape to how it looked in per-colonial times with native plants. This juxtaposition between the city and the natural landscape from which it arose is powerful and striking to me. It demonstrates the need to coexist with the environment and not to simply impose our will upon it. Another similar piece, by Patricia Johanson, the Fair Park Lagoon in Dallas, archives a similar goal. The creation of a functioning ecosystem within the park is another powerful demonstration of what humanity must achieve globally, but done on a small scale. These artworks stood out to me because they not only call out what damage humanity is doing to the planet, but also do so without harming the environment. These pieces even hint at ways in which people can, and should, live more sustainably. They show that sustainability with the environment does not have to be all sacrifices, but it can be beautiful too. 

[1] Judah, Hettie. “Robert Smithson Review – Art With a Dose of Extreme Sports.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 9 Dec. 2020,

[2] Brown, Andrew. “Introduction.” Art & Ecology Now, Thames & Hudson, New York, NY, 2014, pp. 6–15.

The Universe In Us

The readings presented this week highlight the dichotomy between human beings’ perceived and self proclaimed place in the world and the true interconnectedness between humans and nature. In Lynn White’s The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis, White puts forth the idea that Christianity has fundamentally altered culture to see man as the master of nature. White even goes as far to say “Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen” (White 1205). Since modern society has its roots in Christianity, it has taken on a human centered viewpoint where mankind is not only separate from the natural world, but its master. This idea of looking at the root cause of why humanity treats nature the way it does, is helpful to determine what can be done to change moving forward. It becomes clear, as pointed out by White, that humanity and culture must shift perspective. Saint Francis of Assisi, a Pope in the 13th century held a belief that humanity was not intended to partake in the “unbridled exploitation of nature” (Francis 67). By adopting the view held by Francis of Assisi that we, as humans, are not separate from our environment, but a part of it, we can begin to take ownership of the impact we have around us. I found the hymn of Saint Francis of Assisi referencing parts of nature as being humanity’s brothers and sisters to be a powerful demonstration of this idea; that damaging the environment around us would be equivalent to hurting and stealing from our family. While I agree that Christianity and Western society’s deep roots to it are connected to the problem at hand, I personally believe that a part of the problem is human nature. Christianity spread so widely and was able to have the impact it did because the ideology of humans being chosen by a higher power and the world being made for us is universally comforting. I do not want to disregard how our impact on the environment is, at its core, driven by human, or rather animal, instinct. However, taking this idea and shifting it to encompass a more interconnectedness with nature gives a powerful message. One of Francis’s quotes from Laudato si’ reminded me of an interview with Niel DeGrasse Tyson due to the shockingly similar ideas. Francis says in Laudato si’ that “we do not only exist by God’s mighty power; we also live with him and beside him. This is why we adore him” (Francis 72). Similarly, in response to the question “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the universe”, Tyson respond, in part, by saying “we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important that both of those facts is that the universe is in us” (“How Neil…” 2:14). 

I took this single exposure image of the Milky Way just north of Teton National Park. Looking up at the stars always makes me understand my place in the universe in a more visceral way, and I thought this photo captured that well.


“How Neil DeGrasse Tyson Would Save The World | 10 Questions | TIME.” YouTube, Time Magazine, 27 June 2008, Accessed 28 Sept. 2021.

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

Pope Francis,**Laudato Si