All posts by lingoe

Irreplaceable Nature

            Music is something that’s present everywhere in the world and is especially exemplified in birdsongs. As described by David Rothenberg in Chapter 3 of Nightingales in Berlin: Searching for the Perfect Sound, the music found in nature holds a different kind of value than man-made music. Nightingales specifically have had a significant impact in literature since the times of Shakespeare and were especially loved by the Romantic poets. They recognized the beauty of the nightingale’s song, and it became a sort of emblem in their poems, a common ingredient in their recipe for writing. Human-made music has a unique quality, but natural music holds a beauty found only in nature and can’t be fully replicated by humans. This natural music is important in showing how we humans can’t remake or replicate anything made by nature. Thinking about the Anthropocene in relation to this reading, it’s interesting to note the relationship between humans and the things created by nature. This current environmental epoch is widely defined by the impact humans have had on this planet. Although some good can come from human interference in nature, many negative things can come from it as well, including the extinction of entire species of animals. The elimination of these species can’t be undone, and it’s important to recognize that fact. If we put so much value in the beauty of these animals, we must also put more effort into protecting them and ensuring the environment can remain stable enough for animals to survive and thrive. Climate change and global warming are undeniably current issues in our world. They’re caused by humans, but humans can also be the ones to make a change and turn around the climate crisis. The music found in nature has been an inspiration for people for centuries and is something that we can’t replace if lost. If we want to continue appreciating birdsongs and other natural music, we have to first recognize our responsibility in preserving the animals that create it.

Infectious History

Disease has played a large role in the history of humanity, and still has world-changing effects today. Its history can be traced back thousands of years, but an important point at which disease became more prevalent in human life was with the discovery and subsequent colonizing of the Americas. Disease in this period was responsible for the rapid decline in Indigenous numbers, with various sicknesses being brought over from Europe and causing innumerable deaths. Looking back on this history, it’s not hard to see the impact that disease has had, and it’s clear that we can’t make the same mistakes in our current crisis. Like Lovell, the author of “From Columbus to Covid-19: Amerindian Antecedents to the Global Pandemic,” pointed out, we have many more resources to combat diseases, but we can only hope by the time the pandemic has passed there will be far fewer deaths than there were in the colonizing of the Americas.

Noting that this period has incredible historical significance, it can be used by individuals such as Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin, authors of “Defining the Anthropocene,” to discuss potential starting periods of the Anthropocene Epoch. The main argument they seemed to be making in their article was that it’s difficult to put a starting date on the Anthropocene, but that their suggestion would be 1610 or 1964. It’s definitely interesting to put so much thought into defining the beginning of an epoch, but is clearly not an easy task. Their point that 1610 follows the trend of putting a significant event at the start of the epoch is good, as most people would define the start of the Anthropocene at around the Industrial Revolution. Although it’s important to set out an agreed upon date for this epoch, I also think it’s very important that we start taking action to reverse the effects on nature by humanity. We can agree that the Anthropocene is an epoch defined by human impact, but now we need to start slowing down humanity’s effect on the environment.

Points of Perception

The view humanity holds towards nature has a bumpy record, full of superiority and misinformation. Nature, as is now clear, is not a separate section of the world or on the other side of some human-made line. Our human actions have a direct impact on nature, but nature’s activities are not dependent on humans. In other words, nature includes humanity but is also other things and is not reducible to only humanity. It’s made up of all life, including life that may not be categorized as alive in most people’s mind. The reading from this week brought up some interesting and valuable points about humans’ perception of nature and the differences between sentience and consciousness.

It’s interesting to think about what we’ve learned about from all of the readings so far in this class and the common theme that humanity has a skewed view of nature. This outlook on our environment can be deemed as the root of our current environmental crisis. In all these readings it has been asserted that nature is everything, and though we’re included in its bubble, we don’t really matter to it in the long run. This is an intriguing argument to think about, because despite the claim that we don’t matter to nature, we still have an immense effect on it. Humans are the ones that have caused this current crisis, so couldn’t it be said that we are indeed important to nature? Although some claim that humanity’s impact will eventually be washed away by the force of the environment, humans are also the only ones who can turn around the climate crisis in the present moment, in a manner which wouldn’t take a millennium to complete.

The points made about sentience versus consciousness were also thought provoking. Some things which most people wouldn’t consider alive are sentient, which is a word that most people would relate to life. This reading, however, explains that sentience is something that is widely seen in nature, with some organisms requiring perception to survive, and perception in turn requiring some degree of sentience. Consciousness, on the other hand, is seen much less in nature, and is usually only in those things which most people would consider alive.

Learning From Our Past

Humanity today is in an age of decision making; we must decide to take action and begin to save our planet, or we must come to terms with our inevitable downfall. The most vital question now isn’t of what we can do to ensure we don’t overuse or misuse our resources – although it’s still important to consider – but we’ve passed that point. Gladwell’s review of Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” discusses the history of societal collapses. Although our focus today is more on what we can do to prevent our world from becoming uninhabitable, it’s still valuable to look at past societies and learn from their mistakes. The Norse in Greenland, as Gladwell pointed out, were more focused on their cultural values than their ecological values, which led to their extinction. They refused to eat fish, even up until the very end, and wouldn’t even begin to think of learning from the Inuits. They also didn’t realize that Greenland, having a much different environment from the European continent, had to be treated differently. But they managed their surroundings with no consideration of this, and this ultimately led to their death.

Gladwell’s points at the end regarding Measure 37 had some good information to mull over. I’ve personally always felt a kind of pride for Oregon’s treatment of the environment, and I hope that cultural or economic standards of the present day don’t negatively effect our practices involving the environment. It would be a shame to watch our communities be pulled in to the economic debates that directly impact our surroundings. This is a time where the lessons we can learn from past societies are incredibly important. Although both are certainly important, we shouldn’t put more value into our economy than our environments. We can’t forget the history of our planet and place our cultural or economic values above our world.

The Great Debate

Our current climate crisis is undeniable, and humanity now must take steps to try and fix these problems we’ve caused, or at least put systems in place to slow it down. What these steps should be is the big debate at this point, and as described in Thiele’s article, geoengineering is a possible solution. However, as this is a giant decision to be made, there are two polar sides in this debate on whether or not to use geoengineering. On one hand are the Gaians, who believe that Earth is a powerful presence that can take care of itself and needs no human intervention to fix its’ climate crisis. In fact they go as far as to claim that to impose our technology on the environment would be for us to play God. On the other hand are the Prometheans, who would prefer to use humanities technological advancements to try and reverse or slow down the effects of the ecological crisis. Thiele proposes that to create a middle ground for these two sides of the debate, sustainability should be discussed. I found it interesting that sustainability was brought up, but it does make sense, given that both Gaians and Prometheans would support sustainability efforts, and in fact already do.

In the contemplation of geoengineering, the question on whether some actions such as SRM would have disastrous unintended consequences was one that I thought was very important to the debate. As Prometheans have claimed, the unintentional consequences may not definitely be terrible, but it’s still something that should be taken into account. Thiele also pointed out that most Prometheans don’t believe that we should implement geoengineering in its current form, but rather should wait and do more research on it and only use it as a last resort. This point I think was one of the more important ones in the article; Prometheans don’t just want to use technology for the sake of it, they want to have it ready in the event that we should need it if other efforts have no effect. Overall, however, I personally feel that we can’t spend too long debating about what to do; in order to try and slow down the destruction of our environments around the world we must take action now.

The Never-Ending Cycle

Kyle Whyte’s “Our Ancestors’ Dystopia Now: Indigenous Conservation and the Anthropocene” had some very interesting points about the idea of climate change and its relation to indigenous peoples. On the topic of climate change, he proposed that indigenous tribes have already been forced to go through similar crises that the whole world is going through today. While the rest of the world was oblivious to their issues, indigenous peoples were having to learn to live without some of their most crucial species of plants and animals. Now, as the rest of the world is facing climate problems, indigenous peoples are the only ones who have experienced this before. As Whyte said in his video interview, indigenous peoples are going to climate scientists in the hopes of discussing environmental issues, when perhaps it should be the other way around. Considering indigenous peoples are the ones with real experience involving climate crises, Whyte speculates that it may be more fitting for the climate scientists to come to indigenous peoples and ask advice.

Another interesting idea brought up during the video interview had to do with the affects that climate change can have on mental health, especially the mental health of indigenous peoples. This was something I had never even considered before, but it does make a lot of sense that there would be a strong relationship between these two things. Being so connected to the environment around them, having to see their surroundings crumble around them would surely have a strong impact on the mental health of indigenous peoples. It may even have an impact on non-indigenous peoples, but considering how dependent on and connected to the environment native tribes are, it’s especially prevalent in indigenous peoples. Having their everyday life and their spirituality stem from their surrounding environment, to have to see it be destroyed by settlers and affected by foreign lifestyles would have a heavy influence on their mental health.

The Messengers of Crises

Art has been used to represent and speak out about issues for decades now, and the issue of our ecological crisis isn’t left behind in this venture. As Brown exhibits in the introduction of his Art and Ecology, artists use many avenues of expression to create art. This art they make can impact those who view it on an emotional level, affecting people in ways that spouting facts and figures can’t always do. By spreading these messages on a level more accessible to the general public, artists are able to relay the facts quickly and more efficiently than scientific reports can do. Of course, the scientific data is essential, but to pass on that information in a way that can make a significant impact to those who may not have the time or desire to do their own research, artists play a vital role as the messenger. By collaborating with scientific specialists, artists can take the knowledge and turn it into a wordless message.

This use of art to broadcast data demonstrates the creativity of artists and the impact that art can really have. Art can have such an effect on people that it can cause social change, whether it be promoting fundraisers and donation efforts for specific crises or showing on a general level the issues that our Earth is going through because of human interference. By merely opening the floor for discussion, projects such as those described by Brown can lead to action in the hopes of bettering our world. Even art not meant to cause action for our environment, such as artwork from the time of westward expansion in the U.S., can cause us to reflect on the view we hold towards nature. As people take in the evidence of our destruction of the planet, art can be used as a tool to effect change in both our actions and our perception of nature in relation to man.

Brown, Andrew. “At the Radical Edge of Life.” Art and Ecology, 2014, pp. 6-15.

The Ecological Impact of Christianity

The topic of ecological crisis and the impact humans have had on the environment is one that’s gained much attention in the last decade, but viewing it in religious terms was something I had never considered before. White’s argument in The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis caused me to reconsider the consequences of popular religion. He claims that Christianity influences all individuals in the west, even those who don’t actively practice it, to adopt an outlook that establishes humans as superior to all other life on Earth. Despite the fact that the number of people who practice Christianity is dwindling – if only slightly – the impact of Christianity is admittedly still prevalent. I can only speak for the American west coast from experience, but there are definitely visible influences of Christianity. We can see it around the Holidays, when most people still refer only to Christmas, and I could see it around my small hometown in the way that everyone automatically assumes others are Christian. Now, in saying that Christianity has a large impact on society, it isn’t definite that those impacts are always negative or detrimental. In terms of its ecological impact, those who actively participate in Christianity and deeply study its teachings can often be seen doing volunteer work around their communities to try and reverse the impact of humans on their surroundings. So, when asserting that the underlying consequences of Christianity being a popular religion have caused humans to view themselves as superior to animal and plant life, it might be more appropriate to say that the misconstrued beliefs of Christianity have caused this.

Chapter 2 of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ seems to have a direct argument against this same idea that White proposed. He contends that those who closely follow the word of God will see that God intended for humans to have dominion over Earth, but to also live in harmony with the Earth and its creatures. In living on Earth, humans have a responsibility towards nature. With this in mind, I believe that, like White said, the problem to solve humanity’s view towards nature should be solved in religious terms, but rather than encourage everyone to turn away from Christianity, there should rather be an effort to teach that humans don’t have any jurisdiction over nature, and that we must make a change to our subconscious view on our relationship with the Earth if we want nature to have a chance at surviving.