All posts by mcnamaan

Preserving Sounds

This week, one of the readings we were presented with was the Introduction of The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World by R. Murray Shafer. The text opens by describing our changing world and how certain sounds and soundscapes are disappearing over time. Shafer also addresses the phenomenon of “noise pollution” with a tone of urgency. It sounds like a discussion about the global environment, does it not? Shafter then goes on to describe the various concepts of human’s most creative production of sound, music. He explores the subjectivity of the nature of music and how that can influence or be the product of the welfare of a society.

The part that engaged my attention the most was when Shafer begins describing soundscapes, and the role sound and hearing have played throughout human history. Soundscapes are essentially an auditory photograph. However, there are limitations to soundscapes in this aspect because they cannot record the precise detail of a moment from far away as a photo can. They are auditory records that, at times, require a trained ear to be usefully interpreted. As they have progressed through time, Western cultures have shifted to relying heavily on sight to intake most of the information about our world and our environment. For a large portion of human history, the only way knowledge was communicated and passed down through generations was auditorily. There are still numerous cultures that function in that way. 

One thing that this discussion of soundscapes reminded me of was the rather large role they play in the study of anthropology. There are ethnic groups worldwide whose culture is deteriorating at an alarming rate, and these deteriorations include losses of certain sounds linked exclusively to those cultures. Recording soundscapes is a means of preserving aspects of those cultures by keeping a record of their music, stories, and most fundamentally, their languages.

I believe that this practice of preservation can also be applied to the natural environment in some cases. With the destruction of natural habitats around the world, recording soundscapes may be useful in preserving records of non-visual information about how those natural spaces and the animals that inhabited them functioned. In addition, noise pollution is just one more form of invasive contamination of the natural environment that not only affects humans but hearing animals as well. Ultimately, it is important to remember that the world may be perceived by living beings in more ways than through sight and touch. This should be taken into consideration when discussing the future of this planet. 

Shifting Our Perspective

“Twenty-Two Theses on Nature” was published in a section in the Yearbook for Comparative Literature and was written by Steven Shaviro. As the title reveals, the text is a list of theses about Nature surrounding our perception of it and what it really is. Some of the theses are straightforward messages; some require an expansion of perception to comprehend. 

Two theses that I found easier to comprehend were the third thesis and the seventh thesis. The third thesis claims that Nature is not something that is “given.” Therefore, we must recognize that the state of it isn’t stagnant, rather it is an ever-evolving and changing process. As we have seen throughout the centuries, Nature is not merely something that exists and stays the same. Especially observing the impacts of climate change, we see that Nature alters and evolves exponentially and minutely, such as stronger coastal storms and small changes in a creature’s gene structure. The seventh thesis states that while Nature is grounded in the science that we know of today, it is not limited to those boundaries. Humans have discovered so much about how the Natual world functions. However, it must be continuously acknowledged that there is always more to learn and that our limited understanding of it does not confine Nature.

One thesis that was harder to wrap my mind around was the twentieth thesis. It explains, to the best of my knowledge, how that line between “the ‘physical’ and the ‘mental’” is thin and is only differential by definition. An example is given how a thermostat could be defined as sentient, given its ability to process information and how it can “feel” the temperature around it. I believe this thesis is attempting to show the complexity of the ways energy is transferred in Nature and how trying to simplify the process can bring us further from the truth.

The ways of thinking these theses promote can be very beneficial in our journey of understanding the world around us on a deeper level. Shifting our perspective is not only essential to understanding climate change to a better degree, but it may also offer new solutions to attempt to repair the damage that we have inflicted. 

A Possible Version of the Future

“The Tamarisk Hunter” is a futuristic short story that was written in 2006 by Paolo Bacigalupi. Set in 2030, the story revolves around a character who lives in the U.S. during a massive drought and who makes a living by removing a type of invasive tree. It pulls from reality in that it presents this county’s fate based on the real-world, observed scientific effects of climate change. 

This story prompts the reader to compare this story to their own notion of the future. Will it look similar to the vision of the author? It is not impossible. It is effective in that it engages the reader’s imagination, allows them to picture a possible future instead of shoving statistics down their throats. In the plot, people began adjusting to the drought and the lack of water very realistically. It started as a seemingly slow process, and it started with people taking shorter showers. Then things speedily devolved. In reality, we are instructed to conserve resources such as water and power in our everyday lives, but do we actually commit and take the advisory seriously? 

The rate of the damage of climate change has obviously worsened since this was written. One example of this is the increasing lengths of droughts occurring on the West Coast, specifically California. California is a state that is described in this story as a place that hoarding the water by it controlling its natural source in the form of a river. However, “The Tamarisk Hunter” does not solely focus on the physical effects of global warming. It also integrates the political and socioeconomic factors into the plot as well. Only the wealthiest people get an abundance of water, and everyone in the lower classes are left to fend for themselves. It causes the reader to wonder how, if things progress, political leaders will choose to handle the situation, whether capitalism will doom those who are less fortunate. While intimidating to consider, it can be useful to contemplate the dark implications of climate change. It can serve as a motivating factor to induce action.

According to the United Nations, we only have approximately ten years until climate change is irreversible. In 2030, the year this story is set, we will truly see what will become of this country, of this earth if preventative measures are not taken. 

The Shortsightedness of Man

Like other readings we’ve had in this course, this article highlights the shortsighted, anthropocentric worldview of Western culture. As “The Vanishing” by Malcolm Gladwell discusses, the Norse people of Greenland came, settled, and worked the land with the techniques they learned from the land where they originated. For a while, their methods appeared to work, but they were destined to fail in the climate of Greenland in the long run. The Norse’s “social glue” that held together their culture was inflexible and therefore was their downfall. Had they chosen to learn from the Inuit people, who knew how to work the land properly, they might have survived. However, they refused and soon starved. 

This reminds me of the consequences of the tragic fires that occur here on the West Coast of Ameria and in Australia. For centuries Native and Aboriginal people worked the land in particular ways that prevented it from becoming too overgrown or too barren. They used controlled burning to clear away undergrowth that could potentially fuel wildfires and to preserve the fertility of the soil. Through the process of colonization, those wisdoms were disregarded by settlers, who sought only to immediately gain as much from the land as possible. Turning to use those methods on the land of modern states in America, for example, would admittedly be difficult. However, with wildfires growing worse and worse every year, it is time to explore every potential solution, including consulting the indigenous peoples.

It is important to note that this “shortsightedness” in environmentalism is not exclusively a trait of Western civilization, as mentioned in “The Vanishing” with the Eastern Islanders’ fall. In fact, it is a trait that can now be seen on a global scale. The deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest is another example. Large oil and agricultural companies are extracting an abundance of resources from the Amazon and surrounding areas. While providing resources that temporarily sustain individual economies, these cooperations contribute to rising global emissions and are actively destroying one of the world’s most massive land carbon sinks. 

These degenerative acts that continue to happen worldwide are ever decreasing our chances of “biological survivability”. If we genuinely wish to endure, we must try to convince the rest of the world to stop the shortsighted behavior and actively fight against global suicide. 

The Sculpture That is Never Finished

Host Analog
“Host Analog” created by Buster Simpson

Host Analog is an art installation next to the Portland Oregon Convention Center. It is comprised of 8 sections of an old, felled Douglass Fir tree that was found at the base of Mt. Hood (Wy’east Mountain) in the Bull Run watershed in 1990. When it was transported and put into this installation, the pieces of wood were “nurse logs” carrying various species of plants on them already. Since it’s installation in 1991, the log and the small plot around it has developed and grown into a mini-ecosystem consisting of the native plants introduced by the Douglass Fir logs and the plants that seeded themselves over time. 

The living sculpture draws attention to the changing climate and the human element in that change with the foundation of it being a felled tree. Overall, however, it brings awareness to the adaptiveness and the resilience of nature. While humans may over-extract resources and create irreplaceable damage to parts of the global ecosystem, this art piece optimistically shows the resilience of nature and its ability to adapt to a completely new and different environment. 

The installation is in both support of science and is based on science. It is literally a biological art piece that is a demonstration of the natural process of biological adaptation.

The piece is interesting because so much of its significance comes from its history. To an ordinary person just passing by, it appears to be nothing more than a plot with some landscaping. However, if one takes a closer look at the installation and to read the history of the sculpture, it takes on a whole new meaning and that information is the doorway to engaging in further discourse. One of the most interesting things to reflect on is how this is a piece of art that will never be finished because it will always grow and always change. 

Host Analog calls for action but the call is different from some other pleas made by environmental art. The sculpture calls for the reaching out of humans towards nature. It calls for connecting with and observing ecosystems so that we may learn about resilience from them. By observing the adaptiveness of nature there is a possibility we may learn tools that could help us on a global scale with our changing climate.

This art installation outweighs the resources it took to put it into place. Yes, the transportation of the Douglass Fir logs created some emissions which negatively impacted the environment. However, the production of oxygen and the intake of carbon dioxide for the 29 years its been installed and the social impact it has had and will continue to have is, in my perspective, worth it.

Indigenous Cultures and the Radical Effects of Climate Change

In “Climate Change and Society” Robert Melchior Figueroa discusses the impact of climate change on Native and Indigenous communities in the chapter titled “Indigenous Peoples and Cultural losses”. Colonialism devastated Indigenous populations in the form of genocide, disease, wars, and other forms of horrific violence. Populations are still suffering, not only from dominant forces still suppressing them, but also as a result of climate change. Indigenous peoples, who have historically had closer and more interdependent relationships with the Earth are now losing their way of life as a result of rapid changes in the climate. Their sustainable knowledge systems were either lost or ignored by dominant forces that overtook them. Now they are forced to continuously fight for their right to make decisions about their own land. Examples given in the text include the experience of the islanders of Tuvalu when they had to relocate to New Zealand because rising sea levels were burying their home. Thankfully the people from that population remain alive because of that action. However, their culture will never fully recover since its birthplace is now underwater. 

This reading prompted me to recall other Indigenous populations whose culture is being radically affected by climate change. An Indigenous population that has been suffering the consequences of climate change for years are the Gwich’in. The Gwich’in are one of the most Northern tribes in North America and live on land that is now generally recognized as Northern Canada and parts of Alaska. Historically, they engaged in a nomadic lifestyle until the fur trading industry forced them to build permanent settlements. Their main source of food and livelihood comes from the Porcupine Caribou. Caribou are so culturally and economically vital to the Gwich’in that they are nicknamed “the People of the Caribou”. However, as a result of climate change and global warming, Caribou numbers are on the decline and this seriously affects the culture of the Gwich’in. The modern day consequences of colonialism and climate change take the form of increased mental illness and substance abuse in the youth of the Gwich’in and the loss of livelihood and culture with the declining Caribou. 

 Another group facing a similar problem are the Sámi people of Scandinavia. The Sámi are the only Indigenous group in the European Union and have populations in Sweden, Finland, Norway, and parts of Russia. Their similarity with the Gwich’in lies in their dependence on Reindeer, which is their main source of livelihood. The main threats to the Reindeer populations are global warming and also the presence of large logging companies that reduce the environment the Reindeer inhabit and the source of lichen that sustains their diet. The decline of the Reindeer, the loss of their land, and the pressure for them to assimilate all contribute to the rapid loss of Sámi culture. Climate change is harmful to all people to some extent, yet the impact it has globally on Indigenous peoples is far more drastic and is resulting in the death of many cultures and ways of life.

What Can We All Learn From the Earth?

“Lexicon for the Anthropocene yet Unseen” begins with an introduction written by Cymene Howe and Anand Pandian, that questions the term “Anthropocene” itself. The term is inherently human-focused in it’s meaning. It acknowledges the role humans play in the evolution of the world and its changing climate. Howe and Pandian note that critics view the naming of the geological age the “Anthropocene” as far too human-centered, too “anthropocentric” as it were. It is problematic when we assert ourselves to such high standing in the natural systems. This is because that outlook generally blinds us to the reality that we are a part of the natural system. 

Howe and Pandian say that the purpose of the lexicon is finding solutions through looking at other patterns and processes of life, and to compare them with the Anthropocentric way of thinking. This is demonstrated later on by comparing human population behavior to the growth patterns of weeds. Both weeds and humans able to easily adapt and spread over the Earth. Perhaps the answers lie in a mixture of new ideas and old, forgotten practices.

The essay “Sustainability” written by María García Maldonado, Rosario García Meza, and Emily Yates-Doerr, goes through how solutions to the climate crisis invented by modern scientists may be methods that do not work in all areas of the globe. Often when experts in the field of climate science look for solutions to climate change, they look for “sustainable” solutions. These are methods that produce less waste, that last for longer periods of time. However, while those sustainable solutions may have perceived positive physical effects, they may also have consequences depending on where they are implemented. Living “sustainably” may not be a way of living that translates the same across the world. It is possible to inflict damage while imposing Western sustainable living practices onto non-western cultures. While it is important to strive to conserve nature and the environment, we should also consider how these solutions affect global populations at a cultural and social level. Many cultures practiced sustainable lifestyles that looked different from the modern, western definition. Some if these lifestyles actually fell out of practice because of imposing western forces. Perhaps there are old methods of sustainable living that should be re-examined as potential solutions to utilize in the future. 

The essay “Care” written by Charis Boke, covers a method of changing our relationship with plants in order to serve as a solution to reduce pollution and the mistreatment of our planet. She discusses North American herbalists and certain rituals some practice to form a special connection with the plants they are harvesting from. They do this ritual to recognize the relationship between themselves and the organism, to acknowledge how both subjects mutually serve each other. It creates an intimacy that can potentially help to understand our role as humans in the environment.  I connected with this section personally. My family, who are passionate about nature and gardening, engage in similar practices of connecting with the botanical species around us. By fostering this relationship with the plants, we enhance and deepen our connection with and appreciation for those forms of life and the environment as a whole. 

Is Christianity as Anthropocentric as We Thought?

The Ecologic Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis, written by Lynn White Jr. in 1967 is a critical analysis of what, or who, is responsible for the current state of the environment. He concludes that the combination of developed technology and science gave us the power to selfishly exploit the Earth’s resources. He also argues that the Book of Genesis and the stories of man’s creation gave those of Western origin the belief that the Earth was given to us to use as we see fit. Christianity essentially gave us permission to do so because of its inherent anthropocentric nature. However, he acknowledges the exception of Saint Francis of Assisi. White references him as a unique, radical figure who attempted to balance the relationship between humans and the environment by acknowledging the importance of the roles even the smallest creatures play.

Ultimately, it seems White does not have faith in a technocentric solution. Since the roots of the advancement of science and technology are so intertwined with these religious knowledge systems, they alone cannot solve the crisis we are now in. Because many of us subscribe to beliefs of a higher power, we all must reexamine our religious and spiritual relationship with nature if there is to be hope of us finding a working solution.

In Laudato from 2015, the current Pope Francis acknowledges the climate crisis and claims that it is the responsibility of humans, especially Christians, to take care of the Earth and the environment. He references the story of creation as well and highlights that a key element of being human is having a balanced relationship with God, each other, and the Earth. Our relationship with Earth was thrown out of balance once we were consumed with greed and refused to see our true role in this world. He admits that this could have been a result of misinterpretations of the Bible, but essentially, humans may retrieve sustenance from the Earth but must also maintain it, take and give to keep balance. He also addresses and credits the actions of Saint Francis from Assisi with the intention of healing the relationship between nature and Man through his practices.

Pope Francis does not offer us step-by-step guidance on how to proceed, but describes how faith is a superior motivator to follow the path of protectors and caretakers of the Earth that we were originally created for. He urges us to consider that we are not only protecting the Earth, but we are protecting others and even ourselves because we were created in a system of interdependence. Humans should use religion as a means to protect the environment instead of an excuse to exploit it. While still anthropocentric in that humans are still regarded as a superior species in the eyes of the Church, the views expressed by Pope Francis lean also more towards Ecocentrism. He acknowledges that humans are still part of an interconnected ecological system and they are not the only ones with inherent importance and value.