All posts by rockowd

1 Thesis With 21 Subtheses

This weeks reading constituted “Twenty-Two Theses on Nature”, a far cry from Luther’s ninety-five, but a valiant effort nonetheless. Each individual thesis made some sort of statement on nature and the environment, with the intent of shaping the way humans interact with the natural world.

I was intrigued by the first thesis. The thesis states that humans should view themselves as part of nature, rather than being separate from nature. It made a similar point to the first reading we had, about the role of Judeo-Christian thought in shaping modern attitudes towards environmentalism. Personally, I thought this was the best idea offered by any of the theses. By reclassifying ourselves as denizens of the natural world, a lot of negative attitudes and actions towards the environment will be reduced because we will have greater appreciation for the natural world. I am not sure if that is why it was thesis number one, or if that was just random chance.

I think it could be argued that the remaining twenty-one theses are just variants of thesis number one. One thesis, with twenty-one subtheses. Without first accepting thesis number one, I do not think we will be able to accept any of the remaining twenty-one theses. The remaining twenty-one all discuss increasing our general understanding of nature, which I think is impossible without first realizing that nature is a big part of who we are, but we are just a small part of nature.

A Depressing Future

“The Tamarisk Hunter”, a cheery tale by Paulo Bacigalupi, centers on Lolo, a tamarisk hunter living in the dystopian hellscape of the American Southwest. He lives on small patch of relatively arid land and hunts tamarisk, a thirsty invasive tree, for a living. To make even more money, he secretly plants additional stands of tamarisk, (tama)risking severe capital punishment. Water is only scarce for those living in intermountain Southwest, as much water from the region is syphoned off to the high rollers in California.

This story offers a really grim outlook on the future. Unfortunately, as humans continue to use up our finite resources and burn large quantities of fossil fuels, this future may be inescapable. Climate change will increase the risk of severe weather events and longterm droughts, which we have already seen in a number of regions throughout the globe.

Though, climate change is not the only societal issue considered in this piece. Income inequality is explored in the theme of Californians, who are still living a somewhat normal life by stealing water from the Southwest. For the residents of this region, society has collapsed. The over-militarization of police is also considered in squads of “Guardies”, who rule over the impoverished non-Californians, guarding precious water resources and quashing any sign of dissent.

Indeed, it is likely the potential climate change caused societal collapse would only serve to exacerbate existing societal problems as everything goes to shit.

Oops, We Did it Again

In the article “The Vanishing” by Malcolm Gladwell he discusses the fall of Norse settlements in Greenland. I found it to be quite an interesting article. Essentially, the Norse destroyed the productivity of the land through overuse, and, when things started going south they refused to change their cultural practices. Then, they all died. Meanwhile, the Inuit native to Greenland lived sustainably and did not die. While changing environmental conditions may have played some role in the decline of Norse settlements, it is likely their society would have survived had they adapted some of the Inuit customs, such as eating fish and hunting for seal meat.

Also discussed in the article is the collapse of the Easter Island due to massive deforestation. Like the Norse in Greenland, unsustainable use of the land lead to catastrophe. But, this time there was no survivors, as Easter Island had one unified culture.

Nowadays, the Earth seems to be heading for a similar collapse due to, you guessed it, unsustainable use of resources. However, the extent to which this collapse will impact different civilizations throughout the planet is unknown. Greenland and Easter Island are both islands, which would have exacerbated their conditions. Humanity’s impending collapse could be more like Greenland’s, where more sustainable societies are able to survive, or Easter Island’s, where everyone will just, die out. Of course, there is a third option where no collapse occurs and the culture of humanity changes to promoting sustainability and responsible use of resources, but that’s probably not happening.

Toxins in rivers in Ohio and a fun thing you can do with them

I read the article “Painting with Toxic Sludge”. Essentially, an artist in Ohio is using pollutants in local rivers to produce paints. By producing these paintings with these paints, the artist hopes to raise awareness of the prevalence of pollutants in our environment, and instigate a conversation on developing unique ways to tackle this pollution problem.

The artist is collaborating with an environmental ecologist on this project. They have developed a way to collet the polluted water, neutralize the pH and separate out the clean water from the pollutants. Then, the pollutants can be used to make paint, so there is scientific undertones to the art pieces. The pieces are also very aesthetically pleasing though.

I think the art can definitely be used as a way to raise awareness about negative impacts of pollutants in ecosystems, without focusing on the negative impacts. Instead, a creative solution is focused on instead, so it is a lot more hopeful.

The artist does not necessarily lead a “call for action”, but he does frequently discuss the importance of addressing pollution in natural ecosystems.

Currently, many dyes used in paints are produced in China. The cost of heavy industrialization and large scale transport is detrimental to the environment. Producing these dyes locally would have a lot lower carbon footprint. Producing these dyes from pollutants in the environment also serves to clean-up natural areas, while also raising awareness of the prevalence of pollutants in natural systems.

The Biggest Tuvalusers of Rising Sea Levels

The principal focus of the chapter “Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Losses” by Dr. Robert Figueroa is how indigenous communities are disproportionally impacted by climate change and other ecological catastrophes. On top of diminishing environmental quality, these catastrophes are destroying native resources and sites of cultural value.

I think the most eye opening example from this article was the part about Tuvalu. Due to rising sea levels, caused by anthropogenic climate change, the entire nation of Tuvalu is in danger of going under. Tuvalu’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions are negligible when compared to other nations that will not face nearly as much damage. This example kind of encapsulated the entire article. Indigenous people are producing disproportionally low greenhouse gas emissions, yet they are predicted to suffer the most. In losing their entire island, Tuvaluans will lose places of historical significance, cultural significance, ecological significance, and economic significance. Additionally, a country like Tuvalu does not have much influence on a global scale, and there is not much they can do save their island.

One contemporary example of indigenous communities being unfairly targeted by harmful environmental practices is the Dakota Access Pipeline a few years back. The pipeline was originally planned to go near Bismarck, but this was rejected because a spill would poison the water there. So, the pipeline’s route was changed to near the Standing Rock reservation. Despite protests, the pipeline was built, destroying sites of cultural significance and threatening environmental quality in the region.

Similar to many of the examples mentioned in the article, the indigenous people did not have enough power to stop construction of the pipeline, and are now dealing with environmental degradation and the loss of cultural sites.

The Anthropocene, Who Is To Blame?

I first became aware of the term “Anthropocene” about four years ago. It was a lot to wrap my head around at first, because I had always associated geological time scales as being ancient, and immune to human interference. It is simply stunning that one species, over the course of a few thousand years, can have such a profound impact on the environment and the Earth’s geological processes. 

I liked the point brought up in the introduction about how naming this current geological epoch after ourselves is a little arrogant. Though, none of the alternative names mentioned at the end of the introduction really intrigued me much, so I guess the name “Anthropocene” will have to do. I also liked the point in the introduction about humans being a “weedy species”. With all the talk about zebra mussels and Himalaya blackberry, I think people often forget that humans could be considered an invasive species. If this is the case, then we would certainly be the most destructive of all biological invaders. Everywhere you can go in nature, there is always some semblance of human impact (often times trash), no matter how remote your location. 

In the article “Sustainability”, I thought the story with the language barrier was quite interesting. The idea of a word for sustainability not existing in other cultures is intriguing. It is possible sustainability only exists in English because a word was needed to express the importance of not over exploiting our resources, only because resources were being over exploited on a grand scale. In smaller indigenous cultures, it is possible a word for sustainability has never been needed, because over-exploitation has never occurred on such as grand scale. 

The other article I read was entitled “Leviathans”. It was about how larger institutions, such as the Union Nations and big businesses, are contributing to the Anthropocene. These large institutions promote a sense of shifting responsibilities, to a point where people rarely take responsibility for their own actions. Thus, these institutions should be broken up into many small institutions. The article also argues that encouraging self-responsibility will also help society focus on non-immediate threats, such as climate change, by promoting empathy and a mutual sense of understanding throughout all of humanity.

Lynn White speaks, and the Pope claps back

Nature has had it tough for the last many centuries. According to historian Lynn White Jr. in “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis”, the principal cause of nature’s rough patch is the advent of Judeo-Christian religion. While other religions and cultures stressed the dualism of man with nature, Judeo-Christian belief placed man as a ruler over nature, who should exploit nature to his own ends. This attitude towards nature can best be expressed in the development of agricultural methods in Northern Europe that become progressively more destructive from the seventh century onward. Though, I would argue it is unfair to pin all the blame on Judeo-Christian religions. Long before the start of these religions, humans were already causing significant environmental damage. From the destruction of the Nile River ecosystem, to Pleistocene megafauna extinctions in every continent except Africa, it can be argued that humans have never been effective caretakers of nature. While in modern times, the Judeo-Christian view towards nature can be viewed as the primary reason we currently face an environmental crisis, it is likely that, even if Judeo-Christian beliefs were not nearly as prevalent in contemporary society, a different justification would have been created to over exploit the environment. 

Lynn White also discusses the life of St. Francis of Assisi. I found his story to be quite intriguing and thought his message of man being a part of nature, rather than being apart from nature, is a major counterpoint to Lynn White’s major claim of Judeo-Christian religions being  inherently antinature. White ends his opinion piece by stating that, because religion is the root of our environmental problem, our solution to remedying man’s strained relationship with nature, should therefore also be religious. 

Pope Francis, in “Laudato si’” starts by giving a shout out to St. Francis, before discussing a variety of environmental topics, from climate change to mass extinctions of the Earth’s biodiversity. The piece is subtitled “On care for our common home”.  This view of Earth being a common home, not just for humanity, but also all of the organisms that share the planet with us, is contrary to Lynn White’s view of Judeo-Christian religions placing man above nature. The Pope acknowledges that humanity is overexploiting nature, but rather than blaming Judeo-Christian beliefs, he names sin as the principal agent in society’s poisoned attitude towards nature. Though, I think the Pope would very much agree with Lynn White’s final statement, as he also seems to wholeheartedly believe the change in the way humans treat the environment should come directly through Christianity.