All posts by pethickn

Getting Lost in Nature

At the risk of sounding like other essays, I think one of my favorite sounds is the ocean and I just really feel at peace down at the beach. I’m thankful to live in Western Washington where there are plenty of, albeit rocky, beaches. During covid I was able to go down to beaches whenever I wanted to and hearing the sound of the waves crashing against the shore quickly became one of my favorite and most comforting sounds. However my favorite place in the whole world is on the Washington Coast, away from everything and just on the beach. 

When I was younger, when my family first took us to the coast I noticed how much different, and less affected by human activity the coast was. I noticed how the air was much fresher than back home, how everything seemed quieter, and how there was so much untouched land. Even though the place that we visited had human activity, it still felt like it was in its own corner of the world, untouched by the major effects of human intervention. Personally, I don’t think that part of the Washington Coast will ever get as developed as say Seattle, but I do think that there will be more development to come in the future. And as more development happens not just on the Washington coast or the Oregon coast but the whole world, I feel like there will be a lack of that serene and calmness of being in nature. 

I think that the anthropocene really defines how much humans have changed the planet and I think that the largest piece of anecdotal evidence is the loss of the ability to feel lost in nature. Don’t get me wrong, there are still tons of places to get lost in nature, but it is undeniable that as human activity has increased, the amount of land that could provide this sort of feeling has diminished. And while there are many disastrous effects of climate change, I think that losing the calming sense of just being out in nature will be a less noticeable, but still sad loss at the hands of human overdevelopment.

unseen causes of climate change

During one of our earlier classes, as a class we were discussing how covid has humbled humans, in a way. I think that the readings from this week, especially the reading of the genocide of indeginous people and how it draws parallels to covid. Taking a step back from Columbus and the result of his voyage, covid has really shown the world that we are still human and that there are things that we cannot predict can happen. 

Covid is a virus, which means you can’t see it unless it is under a microscope, and I think that covid could also be used like climate change. Because both are unseen, many people are unaware of how big of an issue it really is. In the earliest stages of covid, back during the summer of 2020, people were protesting lockdown mandates that were there to help keep everyone safe. I think because people either didn’t know someone who got covid, or couldn’t see the impacts of covid (among other reasons) they thought that lockdown was ineffective. While that is simplifying and ignoring some points, I would be surprised if in those early days there weren’t at least a handful of people who thought that way. 

I think that this is also like how some people see climate change, they think that because they haven’t seen the real effects of climate change they think that it isn’t happening or that it isn’t as big of a deal as it is made out to be. I think that the fact that there are some pockets in the U.S. that haven’t really experienced the same amount of warming over the past 100 years as the rest of the country has, means that they don’t feel the same thing that everyone on the news they watch talks about. 

Because of the fact that climate change is an unseen problem it may lead to more than a few people thinking that whatever is being talked about isn’t real. However just because there are people who downplay or outright deny the existence of climate change, it doesn’t mean that work to mitigate climate change should be stopped.

Nature’s consciousness

One of the most interesting things of all of our readings so far this week is the fact that many, if not all, of them have argued and shown that humanity’s perception of nature is skewed. The 22 Theses on Nature is no exception, it talks about how nature is composed of many parts from consciousness vs sentience, to how past thinkers have tried to interpret nature, to continual flows of energy. For me the part that stuck out the most was the differences between consciousness vs sentience. 

Putting nature aside, I think that the question of which is which, regarding consciousness and sentience, is fun to think about. In the reading, the author makes the connection that the definition of sentience could mean that a thermostat is sentient, which initially to me sounded absurd. But taking a second to think about it fully, I could actually make sense of it. When I initially read it I was very confused but when I re-read the paragraph, the idea that because the thermostat is an information processor means that it is sentient, like a tree.

Going to nature: From the reading I had a thought that maybe because sentience is far more widespread than consciousness and that sentience is a “lower” level of information processing, it leads to humans thinking that they are superior to sentient things. While this, probably, isn’t a revolutionary idea the passage helped me visualize this. The fact that trees only process information and change accordingly means that they are only sentient, but a dog is, to a degree, self-conscious puts them at a higher value in the eyes of some. 

Because people have thought about these differences, they’ve concluded that the harm of polluting, for example, has a less negative effect because it doesn’t impact humans. It is a very “out of sight, out of mind” way of thinking but because it doesn’t have instant feedback, like the bark of a dog, many people have minimized the impacts of climate change. 

Missing the Forest for the Trees?

This week’s reading was a really cool one for me. I really appreciated the new perspective the article gave on how societies can collapse. While I never had heard of the Western Settlement and I don’t know much about the vikings, I really appreciated the new way of thinking. To me the way that this story of this civilization has been taught would make a lot of sense and I probably wouldn’t have questioned it. But when you take a deep look into the culture of the civilization and realize how they weren’t willing to let go of silly, inconsequential things such as eating or not eating fish, it shows that culture can play a large role in the outcome of a society. 

I also think that this way of thinking or analyzing stuff, looking at how a culture is unwilling to let go of something seemingly small but with a large payoff, can definitely be applied to today and our climate crisis. Just like how the vikings were unwilling to let go of small aspects of a culture today we have those things too. In my opinion something like taxing fossil fuel companies more and using those funds to build green energy is something that is really small, but there seems (in certain groups) to be resistance to the idea of more taxation and green energy solutions. Maybe my opinion is wrong, but it seems like the fossil fuel industry is in its death throes and trying all it can do to milk the last bit of profit it can out of a dying cash-cow. Maybe my idea for a solution isn’t the best, but the sentiment behind it is what I want to convey.

And again, maybe I’m wrong in my opinion but to really learn from the past and to avoid repeating the same failures of societies before us is important. I think that the small loss in the short term is way better than the huge loss in the long term if action isn’t taken. This short term loss does have support, it’s not like it is a pipe dream, it can easily be a reality yet I still feel like a lot of people miss the big picture. The big picture is doing our best to mitigate the effects of climate change, and the consequences it brings.

The correct way forward

While reading this week’s passage I was at first really conflicted on which side made the better argument. However, after having heard a lecture, in one of my classes, from the Director of the EPA’s Pacific Ecological Systems Division, something stood out to me while reading. The Gaian perspective tells us that we must respect Earth and that nature knows best. On the flip side, the Promethean perspective tells us that we can use technology to our benefit and reverse climate change. However, during the recent lecture, Dr. Thornhill said that in the field of Ecology, very few things are solvable, the best we can do is to manage the problems as best as we can. With that being said, I think both perspectives move towards that reality, but I personally don’t think that geoengineering is the best way to move forward.

I do understand that something must be done about our current ecological crisis, however I think that, like many things in human history, geoengineering might be a short term goal that doesn’t take into account the long term outcomes. If we can understand what the long term effects of geoengineering will be I think that is a much more positive thing. And even if geoengineering had no long term effects, technology as it is currently performs dismally. The world’s largest carbon capture plant, captures 4,000 tons of carbon out of the environment every year, which sounds super impressive, until it only captures 3 seconds worth of human CO2 emissions. It just isn’t feasible. I think this is an example of how humans are trying to find a cure to climate change rather than doing our best to manage the problem. 

Maybe I’m wrong on this, but I just don’t believe that geoengineering is the path forward. I believe that first and foremost, we must end fossil fuels. I think that if the U.S, North America, and the whole World is serious about mitigating the effects of climate change, fossil fuels have got to go. Next, I think political action is the 2nd most important solution to ease the effects of the current crisis. I think that if we start implementing laws that ban the use of fossil fuels and industries that cause a lot of pollution, it can help ease the role our country has played in the climate crisis. I also think that having tax deductions or incentives for everyone to switch to electric vehicles is very important. Lastly, applying these policies worldwide is almost worthy of being the most important. Because if only 1 country out of ~200 worldwide are taking measures to curb climate change, then what is the point? Mitigating the effects of climate change will be a worldwide effort and only will work as long as the world as a whole is willing to work together.

The Dystopia In front of us

The words “Climate Change” evokes mental images of a dystopian future for many people; however, Indigenous People have been subjugated and genocided by colonizers since the arrival of Europeans on the American continent and have been living out their own dystopian reality. For centuries Native Americans have faced a dystopia that many, myself included, had no idea was real. Until the reading and especially the video featuring Kyle Whyte I hadn’t considered that Native Americans are living in a dystopia. In the past year, I’ve tried to learn more about the injustice that Natives, and other groups, have faced and in that time I’ve come to learn about the many sad realities that oppressed groups have faced in America. Yet when I heard the fact that for Natives, they are living in a dystopian reality, I found it unsurprising that Native Americans would describe their treatment as dystopian, but I was surprised that this was the first time I was hearing this sort of description.

Hearing how natives, before contact with Europeans, were very knowledgeable about the environment and the impact they had on it was really fascinating. Numerous modern ideas and technologies were invented or innovated by Native Americans, and the fact that Natives were conscious of environmental impact is a testament to this. However, much of the history of Native Americans has been whitewashed, and this is why I think the message that Kyle Whyte had for climate scientists is so important. My interpretation of Kyle Whyte’s message was that if Native Americans are going to be a part of the climate conversation, which they very much should be, then they need to be the ones doing the talking. Instead of being talked to, which for centuries has led to little, Natives should be the ones directing the conversation. 

Native Americans have known about, and understood the effects humans can have on the environment for centuries, they also have been the most impacted by climate change than any other group in America. The knowledge that Native Americans can bring to the table regarding climate change cannot and should not be ignored. To show that we are truly committed to correcting the injustices that Natives have faced, the minimum we can do is to start listening to them, rather than the other way around. 

does art help the environment?

For me, I really have no problem with any sort of art that is supposed to elicit a reaction or to agitate viewers. I think that some of this art is very important and, as the reading said, can cause entire shifts in society. However when reading, the line between art and propaganda gives me some pause for thought. The idea that art can be a form of propaganda seems incredibly powerful to me but also hard to pull off, yet it doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility. My opinion after thinking about the differences is that propaganda is usually more powerful, meaning it comes from a place of power. While art on the other hand, comes from literally anyone. 

More on topic however, I think that art that physically transforms the environment is a double edged sword. I think that it can offer a way for the artist to make a big statement, however if the meaning misses its mark, or if it comes at the cost of the environment, it should give everyone a second thought. I also think however, that just because this form of art can have some large drawbacks, it shouldn’t be attempted. I believe that to be effective, environmental art should be done with a clear intent behind it, and to send a clear message, otherwise I feel that it can be viewed negatively. Also an interesting thing has happened: art was once done entirely on the surface of the Earth, but eventually humans moved to other mediums such as canvas or digital, but now it is almost as if some forms of art have come full circle. This form of environmental art now also uses Earth as the medium for art, it might be for different reasons, but at the end of the day, the media of the two are very similar. 

At the end of the day, I believe that the art that uses the environment can be, and is, important. I also think that something also has to be done about our current climate crisis, and I think that art is something that is important in this. I think that art is used to convey strong messages. Like I stated at the start of my reflection, art can cause massive conversations within society and cause social change as a whole. As long as art continues to create conversations that challenge attitudes I think that art can help a society grow. I believe that art already does contribute to a lot of conversations around climate change, and I think that it will continue to do so and hopefully lead to the changing of minds.

The Church, Nature, and Climate Change

The connection made between religion and climate change, and the environment as a whole, is not a connection I have ever made. So while reading The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis, the connection between the two was a surprise. However, reflecting upon and reading further into the passage written by Lynn White Jr helped me make the connection. Throughout the passage, White argues that due to Christianity, the western world has regressed in caring for and maintaining the Planet. While at the same time progressing through technological innovation. Another passage, Laudato Si, written by Pope Francis, acknowledges that as humans, we have regressed and let our excess cause much harm to the Earth. However, in his writing, The Pope uses scripture to argue that it is not Christ-like to cause harm to the Planet.

When reading White’s analysis and argument of why religion is the cause of climate change, I found it plausible that because Christianity does not deify nature, the western world, which throughout modern history has practiced Christianity, has caused our current crisis. The idea that regarding nature as sacred and causing harm to nature is evil has been seen repeatedly in many different cultures. When comparing Christianity to cultures that respect nature, it can make sense to conclude that Christianity is at fault. Although reasonably argued, I disagree that Christianity is the leading cause of today’s ecological crisis. When I was reading Laudato Si, I realized that the characterization that White made of Christianity is unfair. Pope Francis argues with many examples from the scripture that humans should, and even need, to respect the Planet and all animals because they, like humans, were purposefully created by God. And it was in this reading that the idea of “universal communion” resonated with me. The Pope further argues that if our hearts were authentically open to universal communion, we would achieve equality. To me, equality, in this case, means that we see nature as equal to humans and that it is necessary for us to live. Without caring for and preserving nature and seeing it as something necessary for our survival, we go down the path we are currently on. 

I can see the message that The Pope is trying to get across, care more for nature, and inspire Christians to do more to combat climate change. It is backed up in The Bible that to be a Christian also means that you care for the environment, and if Christians genuinely believe this, it makes me wonder how White concluded that Christianity is the cause of climate change. In wondering about White’s conclusion, I concluded that neither Pope Francis nor White is correct. While Christianity may have a part in both creating and solving climate change, I do not believe it has a role in creating or solving it.