All posts by kowashz

The Conflicting Sounds of Life

The reading by David Rothenberg focuses on the songs of the nightingale in the third chapter of Nightingales in Berlin: Searching for the Perfect Sound. Rothenberg touches briefly on the Greek myth pertaining to the origin of the nightingale: the myth of Philomela, Queen Procne, and King Tereus. To recap, Tereus raped Philomela, and when she went to tell Procne, his wife and her sister, Tereus cut Philomela’s tongue out. Philomela was able to communicate to her sister what happened through a tapestry Philomela wove. In vengeance, Procne murdered her son, Itys, and served his head to Tereus. The gods ended up transforming each of them into birds; Philomela a nightingale, Tereus a hoopoe, and Procne a swallow. Philomela’s story is one of tragedy, especially when considering that her name means “lover of song”, and is doubly tragic when one learns that the female nightingale also typically does not sing; the male usually is the musician. It was interesting that Rothenberg decided to include such a story in a chapter about the beauty of the nightingale’s song, but now more than ever, the songs of the nightingale, and by extension, of nature have been suppressed. As a consequence of the Anthropocene, multiple large cities have sprung up, and with them, a cacophony of sounds to drown out nature’s natural “song”. The sounds of humanity permeate almost every corner of the globe, either they are directly built by humanity, such as the cities, or indirectly caused, such as the sounds of cracking ice in the Arctic. I believe Rothenberg intended this connection to be drawn between the silencing of Philomela and the silencing of nature’s song, with us, as humankind, playing the part of the tyrannical king Tereus. Instead of playing the single character of Tereus, we will play both Tereus and his son Itys; both the offender, and the one who takes the punishment for it, while nature will continue on, past the demise of our species.

Pandemics in History

When the global pandemic hit in 2020, I remember hearing comparisons between prior diseases left and right; mostly pertaining to the Swine Flu, the Spanish Flu, and the more extreme end, the Black Plague. These diseases are more prevalent in the Western Hemisphere’s common consciousness, but there are many other pandemics that have populated the Western Hemisphere, and the lesser known being contained to the Western Hemisphere’s southern half. In Lowell’s piece “From Columbus to Covid-19: Amerindian Antecedents to the Global Pandemic” he focuses on 4 geographical settings: Hispaniola, Mexico, Guatemala, and Ecuador. He reflects on how these pandemics and the current Covid-19, but more importantly, the way in which the pandemics have spread at the same rate, even though the world is better equipped to handle today than they were in 1492.

One of the big differences between those pandemics of the past and the current is the way in which it was brought about. Each of the plagues discussed in the essay were diseases brought by the colonizers that conquered the areas, instead of the way in which Covid-19 was brought about.

The newfound diseases of the Anthropocene are just one component of many that have come about in consequence of the era. With more people packing closer and closer together, diseases have much more affluent transmission rates, and even though Coronavirus is still relatively new compared to the prior pandemics, the globalization that has occurred as a symptom of the Anthropocene has led to rapid and sometimes lethal spreading. Just like climate change, humans have had to deal with increasingly more and increasingly complex issues, and the global pandemic is just one of many. The comparison of the pandemics serves as a forewarning to world leaders to what could be the end result if it goes ignored. 

The Ever Changing Nature of Nature

Aside from this week’s reading by Steven Shaviro “Twenty-two Theses on Nature”, not many other works of writing are in the style of separate, but related theses; except for one of the most famous pieces of reformational writing: Ninety-five Theses by Martin Luther. Shaviro seems to have taken inspiration from the change Luther’s writing brought about to reflect on the change that needs to happen surrounding humanity’s relationship with nature. 

Shaviro addresses multiple facets of how humans think about nature, from the very broad, to very specific, especially in the sense of hard sciences such as physics, or informatics. He encourages his audience to move away from the school of thought that nature is an entirely separate entity from nature. It is not humans and nature it is humans IN nature, also drawing attention to the idea that what we tend to think of as nature is not actually nature, the trees, or the grass, or the animals are just in it.

While Shaviro’s arguments contain many scientific elements that add credibility to his article, he approaches the overall idea much more philosophically or psychologically, trying to instead change the ways of thinking of his audience with the information he provides instead of simply presenting the information. The psychological nature of his writing is apparent in his use of certain terms, such as individuation, the emergence of a stable state of being, contrasted with his use of the term meta-stable, which infers that a system (nature) is in a state of equilibrium, but can also move to a state of higher equilibrium. The individuation of nature is constantly happening as processes occur, leading to metastability in the environment because of the constant gain and dissipation of energy, but could be more stable if the processes simply ceased. 

Changing the way we think about nature is a very important step in fixing the current issues surrounding it, but this might also lead to the thought process that issues such as climate change are simply just more processes that will bring nature to a higher state of equilibrium. Nature is ever changing, so adaptation should be considered a strategy for combating climate change, not just stopping it.

Oregon doesn’t suck (yet)

The subject of land use has been, and continues to be, one of the most contested political topics in Oregon. 16 years ago, it was Measure 37, which allowed landowners to be recompensed for regulations that the state put in place, and today, it’s solar panel companies fighting with farmers and the legislation to be able to utilize Exclusive Farm Use land to set up solar farms, or urban sprawl leaking into forests or pastures, causing issues for farmers across Oregon. With agriculture and forestry being two of Oregon’s biggest industries, it’s no surprise, but without human expansion across the landscapes of Oregon, how will we grow? The key to the current issue is compromise, but what level are we, as a state, comfortable with? 

Jared Diamond, a professor of geography at UCLA writes about a failure to compromise between social and biological survival in his piece “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” where he writes about the Viking civilizations in Greenland that ended up dying out due to their inability to let go of social and cultural rules to be able to survive. It seems that Oregon is facing a similar issue of a smaller scale today. The Western values of expansion and growth at all costs are clashing with Oregon’s historical trend towards land conservation. While this issue isn’t one of biological survival of humans like that described by Diamond, it is one of the biological survival of land, which translates to the economic survival of Oregon. Oregon’s land is ideal for forest growth and the growing of multiple specialty crops. Hazelnuts are just one example, only growing in great volumes here in Oregon, with 95% of all American-produced hazelnuts being from Oregon, making hazelnuts a large contributor to Oregon’s GDP. While the survival of the human population in Oregon is not currently at stake, it doesn’t take too many steps after losing our arable land to get to a point where Oregon is no longer a viable place to live.

She Bats Last and She Bats 1,000

“Nature is perfect at the plate, and she owns the stadium” is a great analogy for the kind of fight we’re facing right now with the ecological crisis, but it also holds a defeatist sentiment that is somewhat difficult to reconcile; are we just supposed to give up? The short answer is: no. The two groups discussed in Thiele’s piece “Geoengineering and sustainability” at least agree that humans shouldn’t give up on trying to save our planet, but the Gaians and the Prometheans come to different conclusions on how exactly we should go about it; either through traditional means that preserve the natural features of the planet or through geoengineering, a newer field of technology that involves large scale operations to diminish some of the effects of the climate crisis.. As one can probably tell from the names, the Gaians, at the most basic level, care about preserving Earth’s natural features, while Prometheans believe that through the technological advancement of geoengineering we can help ourselves to survive, much like the mythical Greek figures of the same names. Thiele also went about accentuating the main points of both parties to make the common ground found between the two more apparent, so not all Gaians are as defeatist as the opening quote, and not all Prometheans are as calloused to disregard the spiritual value that the Earth holds for so many. The common ground found between the two is current sustainability. Sustainability is not large-scale changes like geoengineering, but it is still a way to combat climate change, which satisfies the Gaians, but also the technological advancement that is valued by the Prometheans is satisfied by how much research is going into our efforts. 

Thiele’s piece is a very important and prevalent piece for today, as there are plenty of avenues that we can pursue to solve aspects of the ecological crisis, but because of the amount of disagreement, moving forward is difficult. His efforts towards bringing the two sides together are really what we need; even if Mother Nature bats perfect and owns the stadium, if we play as a team we can hold her to only a few runs instead of her 10-running us in the first inning.

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

The Burden of Guilt

Relating back to previous readings, Kyle Whyte writes on indigenous people and their relationship to the current ecological dystopia that has been created. The Anishinaabek is the focal point of Kyle Whyte’s essay “Our Ancestors’ Dystopia Now: Indigenous Conservation and the Anthropocene” along with conservation of various aspects of their culture important to them. He discusses conservation efforts surrounding the nmé (the lake sturgeon), manoomin (wild rice), and nibi (water), and how the Anishinaabek are taking major steps to protect these resources. Whyte utilizes the term “the ancestors’ dystopia” in relation to how arguably the three most important resources to the nation’s predecessors are being threatened, and to bring attention to the effects of colonization on the resources, and the effects of the ecological crisis from the perspective of those that managed the land before us; those that were better able to manage the landscape in the effort of sustainability. Whyte brings attention to the fact that before we as a global society can tackle our environmental issues, we need to reconcile our issues between cultures, and recognize that other cultures can and have been disproportionately affected by the actions of one or two dominant groups. 

The Lynn White reading relates to this reading by refining the thought process that this is not the indigenous people’s fault, the burden of guilt is placed onto those who conquered and pillaged the land that was already being gracefully and effectively managed: the Christian, predominantly white, invaders. Whyte and White create an effective dichotomy in inspiring action in the dominant group of North America, showing that not only are the indigenous people working harder to protect their land, but clearly placing the blame onto the majority religion, combining the guilt of inaction with the guilt of action. Whyte and Pope Francis from the same reading set also agree in some capacity; Francis agrees that reconciliation between different cultural groups is also important to tackling conservation. 

Painting a Picture of Ecology

Art has traditionally been one of the best mediums to communicate a wide range of ideas or issues to the general public, from oppression, to emotion, to the topic of this week’s reading, the environment, and our current ecological crisis. Brown, in his introduction to his book Art and Ecology Now dives into the history of how artists have communicated facts about their environment through their art. Our ancestors of the Paleolithic were some of the first, with their cave paintings communicating with others about integral parts of their surroundings, ranging to the remediationist artists setting out to heal the earth in our present day. Artists can have a huge effect on the subject of their art, playing a part in a large spectrum, from a town cryer, letting the people know about an issue, or an active protestor, getting their hands dirty in the field of their art. Eco-art as the text calls it is art that goes a step further, akin to only a small percentage of art; not only does this kind of art aim to evoke an emotion, it aims to evoke an emotion that puts the viewer into action. The artist wants each viewer of their piece to go into the world with a newfound worry for their environment that will be put towards ecological change. 

Just because every artist can play a huge role in the ecological battle, doesn’t mean that every artist should. It is true that art is subjective, but art that aims to evoke such a specific and strong emotion should be of a high caliber; not undervalued. The art world would be filled with eco-art if every artist put their talents towards ecological advocacy, devaluing the art, and in turn, devaluing the movement. Artists have the power to cause major shifts in socio-political areas of our world, but the power that they wield should not be underestimated. 

Brown, A. (2014). Art & Ecology Now. Thames & Hudson.

The Anthropocentricity of Western Christianity and the Church

Growing up in a private, Christian school, learning and memorizing the Bible was an integral part of the curriculum, but one section was hammered into our heads, over and over: “And God said to them … have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:28. In the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, God calls Adam and Eve to populate the earth, but more importantly to express domination over it. Even today, Christianity takes an anthropocentrist view on the world, encouraging young minds to think of our planet not as a home, but as a tool, a resource.

In Pope Francis’ piece “Laudato Si”, he calls Christians to think about their place in our world, and how the dominion mandate detailed in the Bible does not mean absolute domination, but a responsibility towards cultivation and upkeep. The other piece, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis” by Lynn White Jr. takes a more aggressive approach towards opening the eyes of the people towards the current ecological crisis, detailing the effects Christianity has had on Earth’s biosphere, and how it has led to the problems we are faced with today. The call to action in both articles is clear and easy to follow: these two authors agree that Christianity as a whole, and the Church need to reevaluate the anthropocentrist beliefs pertaining to our environment that have sprung up from Western Christianity, and in turn have influenced western civilization towards the belief that in order for humanity to progress at all, total domination is required. 

The ideas of each piece are almost indistinguishable from one another; Francis and White both place a burden onto Christians to reexamine their beliefs, but the approaches they take cannot be more dissimilar. Francis’ article is more of a gentle call for the people who he acts as a head of, stating that Christians have misinterpreted multiple verses and passages pertaining to the domination of the earth in the past, but they should begin to reject the notion that just because we are made in God’s image, that we are given the right to total domination. On the contrary, White places a “huge burden of guilt” on Christian’s arrogance aimed at the environment, blaming them for the ongoing ecological crisis. Although the vehicles of delivery are different for each of the pieces, they maintain the same message; shape up Christians, or ship out.

Pope Francis, Laudato Si

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