All posts by sturtzz

My experience with a Mockingbird

I chose to read and reflect on chapter 3 of the reading. I enjoyed the sentiment of the reading that circled around how modern science drastically minimizes the essence of Nature by “name[ing] the facts of Nature away” (34). Giving a species a name makes it so humans tend to not look beyond the label; we know what the species is, therefore, there is nothing else to learn. The scientific process of labeling and briefly explaining Nature makes it so humans believe they know everything they need to know about a species. 

As the reading points out, this way of looking at Nature benefits those who want to exploit Nature. The reading uses the example of the woodcutter’s relationship to the nightingale: “He isn’t going to let that hopeless unstoppable song prevent him from cutting down their homes so people can have wood to burn and build. The birds will need to sing somewhere else” (35). Looking at Nature through labels removes the mystery, the curiosity, and the uniqueness. Species become uniform, all members are interchangeable. Removing the individualism of a species removes fault from the harming of a few; it doesn’t matter if these five birds are killed because they are identical to the other thousands of them in this forest. However, each animal and plant in Nature is unique and has its own story.

I related to this reading as I have had an experience with a particular male mockingbird. I took the year off school last year to travel around the country to volunteer on organic farms. While I was on a farm in rural Pennsylvania, I noticed a bird who sat on the very top of the evergreen tree by the main house. I noticed that he sat there for hours every day. He would often leave but would come back every morning. I noticed he had hundreds of different calls and could switch between them effortlessly. Every few minutes, he jumped up into the air, flapping his wings and showing off his beautiful patterns. I spent a few minutes each day observing this beautiful bird. With great confidence, he sang his little heart out, and, like clockwork, he leaped into the sky. Mockingbirds learn their songs over time, so this bird’s songs were unique to his life experiences.

 It was impactful to see the same bird every day; I began to rely on his presence. There was a period, perhaps a month, where he was nowhere to be found. I had assumed that he had found a mate, and had left his perch for good. However, one morning in early summer, I heard his familiar call (which was multiple tunes strung together). He had come back to his tree and was leaping in the morning light. He was unique. He was not just one of many mockingbirds, but he was his own bird, with his own tree and his own unique songs. 

Mankind is incredibly vulnerable

Unlike past readings, I feel that these readings offer multiple topics on which to write this blog post. The markers of the Anthropocene, colonization, past epidemics, the Amerindian holocaust, Covid-19, and future pandemics are all bubbling in my mind. The first thing I did after finishing these readings was to research how many people have died thus far from Covid-19. As of today, it is reported that 5.09 million people have died of Covid-19. This is drastically different than the 55-70 million indigenous people who died (mostly due to epidemics) when Europeans stole the Americas. This 5 million does not come close to rivaling the 50 million Europeans who died from the black plague, nor the Spanish Flu of 25 million deaths globally. 

One of the reasons behind the decrease in death is, of course, modern medicine and science. Only a few months into the Covid-19 pandemic, mask mandates went into place. Because of modern science, we understood the primary way the virus transmitted itself. Plus, modern medicine also has the ability to prevent people from getting sick (vaccines) and a stronger ability to cure people when they do.

Covid-19, however, is certainly less contagious than other diseases, such as measles. It is also certainly less deadly. This makes me wonder how many people haven’t died from Covid-19 because of modern medicine, versus how many people haven’t died because we “got lucky” with this virus not being as deadly and contagious as others.  Although mankind has been ravaged by diseases for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, we were still ill-prepared for Covid-19. This is shocking and worrisome. Lovell writes: “That an outbreak of disease could cause such calamity and so endanger the human condition after we have deluded ourselves for so long that Homo sapiens controls all, shakes us to our foundations” (181). This quote strings together the Covid-19 pandemic and mankind’s feigned superiority over Nature (a frequent topic in this class) quite nicely. Mankind can destroy a forest, plow down a field, exterminate beasts large and small, yet viruses, impossible to see with the human eye, are a reminder of mankind’s vulnerability.

We are just as vulnerable to disease as any plant, animal, or fungi, perhaps even more susceptible. With crowding in cities, humans needed to start being sanitary. This started with soap, water, vinegar, and alcohol, but now there is a vast array of strong antimicrobial products on the market. This makes it so our human immune systems in Western countries are exposed to very little, which has obvious positive and negative consequences. With our Western diet, lack of proper exercise, a surplus of Western diseases, and general lack of good health, we are incredibly vulnerable to viral infection. Covid-19 should be taken as a warning to the human species, a warning that we are far from invincible. It will be interesting to see if we are prepared for the next pandemic (there will be one) because it might not be as “forgiving” as Covid-19 has been.

The elusive definition of nature

I always find it peculiar when people say “I need to get out in nature.” This common wording that many Americans use propagates the false belief that human beings are separate from Nature. I find it interesting that those who use this wording are often passionate about the planet, and yet, they may not fully understand the relationship humans have with Nature. Of course, no one really understands that relationship; it is far too complex. But although we may not understand our place in Nature, we do know that there is one.
In Steven Shaviro’s “Twenty-Two Theses on Nature,” he argues that “Human beings and their productions are not separate from Nature; they are just as much, or as little, “natural” as everything else” (216). Throughout his article, Sharviro creates a dialog in an attempt to quantify and define Nature. Shaviro defines Nature as “metastable.” Nature’s metastability is disrupted by individualization, which is the creation of an individual from less individualistic parts. Shapiro argues that “The most minute imbalance, or the most fleeting encounter, can be enough to set things into motion. And there is generally more to the effect than there is to the cause” (218). What Shapiro is arguing here is a type of butterfly effect scenario, where one event, so matter the scale, sets infinite events into motion. This chain of events is unfathomable to predict by the limited human mind.
Humans have had huge impacts on our environments. Yet, I am careful to say that we have had the largest impact out of any species. Fungi, for example, live under every step we take outside. It is unfathomable the amount of mycelium that traverses the forest floor. Without fungi, a forest cannot exist. Mycelium passes nutrients and information to every plant, which is crucial for the survival of saplings who are shaded by their elders. Perhaps we could say that humans have had the largest negative impact on Nature. However, there are fungi, like the parasitic Honey Mushroom, which can destroy a forest in less than a decade. However, it is possible that the destruction of the forest by a fungus is beneficial can start new growth.

The difference with humans is our anthropocentric view; the earth was made for us and, therefore, we can exploit it as much as needed. Changing our understanding of Nature and our place in it is crucial to combat climate change. Shaviro’s article explains the complexities of Nature, including the energies and information exchanged that create this complexity. Nature is impossible for humans to fathom because it is infinite, but also not at the same time; it does not have an infinite amount of trees for us to cut. To conclude, Shaviro offers up a definition of Nature, yet I do not know if I agree with it. However, I do not know how I would define Nature myself, other than perhaps having the omnipotence and vast infinity that Christians view their God to have.

Climate change solution: a shift in values and reconnecting to the environment

In his The New Yorker book review entitled “The Vanishing,” Malcolm Gladwell summarizes the main points in Jarred Diamond’s book “Collapse.” Diamond argues that when cultures mismanage their environments and prioritize the survival of traditions and culture over biological survival, they will collapse. 

I agree with some of Diamond’s points, but not with others. I agree that when societies mismanage and exploit their environment they are dooming themselves to fail. Mismanagement can fall into many categories. Two forms of mismanagement I will use for this post are: 1) The exploitation of land because of reasons such as those Lynn White laid out in “The Historial Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” and 2) a lack of understanding of the land. Those on Easter Island fall into the latter category. They happened to live on an island that had a very fragile ecosystem, which they probably did not realize. The Vikings, as Diamond discusses, were a combination of both. They held Christian beliefs at the time of these colonies, and they had very little understanding of the land (ex. plants grew very slowly in Greenland). Because of this, they destroyed their land and starved.

However, that is not the whole story. Although Greenland is plentiful of fish, archeological records indicate very little evidence of fish bones in the Viking colonies. Diamond argues that the Vikings did not eat fish because of their cultural values. However, if they had eaten fish, they may have survived. This is one of the reasons Diamond claims that cultures collapse when they prioritize the survival of traditions and culture over biological survival.

I do take issue with this claim, as I think its validity depends on the culture. Yes, Diamond’s claim makes sense in terms of the Vikings; they chose to starve themselves. However, many cultures have cultural traditions and beliefs that are inherently connected to the environment in which they live. There are many cultures that hold strong beliefs about protecting and caring for the environment. These beliefs might include: believing one is part of nature, that humans are no more special than any other life form, or that exploiting the land is unethical. Many cultures that hold these beliefs (or similar ones) have lived in their locations for hundreds or thousands of years, and their cultures have adapted to their environment. For example, the Vikings’ culture did not fit with their environment, because although fish was a massive food source, they did not believe in eating it. Compare this to multitudes of North American indigenous tribes who consider a lot of food items that are in their environment to be sacred and crucial to their cultural values.

Because of this, I would argue that prioritizing one’s cultural values is not the problem. What is a problem is when one’s cultural values are out of sync with the environment in which one lives. This raises the issue that the majority of modern-day people, especially Americans, are incredibly out of sync with their environments. Well, I suppose we can see how that is going for us, can’t we? 

Props to sustainability

In their article entitled “Geoengineering and Sustainability,” Leslie Paul Thiele bridges the two ideals of Gaian and Promethean through the concept of sustainability. Thiele describes the Gaian perspective on the world as viewing “the planet as a complex self-regulating system that will become dangerously upset by large-scale human manipulation. This orientation is well captured by two aphorisms employed within the environmental community: ‘Nature knows best’ and ‘Nature bats last.’” (464). Geoengineering disrupts this view, and Gaians see it as a naive way humans act out of hubris to try to play God. Gaians see the human race as not having enough foresight and intelligence about the complexities of Mother Nature to create technology that would not have disastrous climate, social, and political consequences. Human technology does not stand a chance against the billions of years of evolution Nature has had to perfect herself. 

The Promethean perspective on the world, however, is one of “a can-do attitude that approaches most if not all problems as having technological solutions (Lewis 1992, Dryzek 1997, Sandel 2004, Thiele 2011, Hamilton 2013). It is optimistic about progress, and dismissive of warnings about the violation of natural or sacred boundaries. Human beings have always been technological tinkerers” (467). Prometheans see geoengineering as not necessarily the best solution, but a solution that would be immoral to take off the table. They see playing God as an integral part of human nature. We have affected the climate for thousands of years and geoengineering is nothing different. Humans now have the duty to take care of the earth because we are the most powerful species, and with that, comes a lot of responsibility. We have the duty to make the planet a better place for our species and other species, and if geoengineering can keep all species safe, then it should be used. 

My series of beliefs fall in line quite well with those of the ideal Gaian. Even though I went into the article with this mindset, Thiele, through the bridging of these two mindsets with sustainability, helped me find common ground with the Promethean viewpoint. Although these two viewpoints are opposites at first glance, they do want the same goal: for the human race to live on this planet sustainability. As someone with a Gaian perspective, I agree that if geoengineering was seen as biomimicry, it could regrettably be used, but as long as other political, social, and environmental changes were also being enforced. My concern with geoengineering is that if people see it as the solution to climate change, humans will place less importance on all the other sustainable measures that are needed on the planet (ex. preserving topsoil, reducing ocean acidification…). But, if geoengineering was used as a temporary last resort, along with a plethora of other more sustainable solutions, I would understand its use. 

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

the dystopian society is a reality for many

In Kyle Whyte’s article “Our Ancestors’ Dystopia Now: Indigenous Conservation and the Anthropocene,” he illustrates that many indigenous peoples are already living in their tribe’s dystopian society, and have felt the effects of anthropogenic climate change since they were forced out of their land by colonists. 

A definition I found for the term dystopia is: “an imagined world or society in which people lead wretched, dehumanized, fearful lives” (Merriam-Webster). Whyte, however, illustrates that for many indigenous people a dystopian way of living is neither imagined nor fictional, but reality. For many indigenous peoples, living in a world where their primary resources (ex. Water, fish, rice) have been overharvested, polluted, depleted, and, therefore, have become inaccessible, is the dystopia of their ancestors. Whyte emphasizes that indigenous people have already felt the impact of “anthropogenic environmental change at the hands of settlers, including changes associated with deforestation, forced removal and relocation, containment on reservations, liquidation of our lands into individual private property and subsequent dispossession, and unmitigated pollution and destruction of our lands from extractive industries and commodity agriculture, among many other examples”(Whyte 3-4). Therefore, climate destabilization is just one more environmental change for indigenous people to adapt to and isn’t a new concept. 

This article is a crucial read for any caucasian individual who is concerned with climate change. White climate activists and supporters are continuously concerned about climate change, and what may happen in our dystopian futures. But we forget that, unlike the white race, indigenous peoples have had to adapt to anthropogenic environmental changes for hundreds of years. Indigenous peoples have an understanding that humans affect the environments in which they live; it is part of the cycle of life. However, whether it be because of Christianity or capitalism, white humans often do not realize this and exploit the world with naive aggression. We believe that the world is filled with endless resources, and perhaps is too large to be affected by mortals. 

Whyte explains in his interview that white environmental scientists need to not just include a single indigenous individual in a talk or seminar, but instead need to go to where indigenous people live to learn from them. Whyte says that indigenous peoples are climate scientists too, in their own way (Video). I agree with this sentiment, because western science is not the only form of science, and should never be considered supreme. Indigenous peoples have a plethora of knowledge and skills regarding climate change and adapting to new climates. Most certainly some of these skills were acquired because of brutal acts by settler society, but they are there and deserved to be heard. But, I think is important when thinking about indigenous knowledge to not look at it as something settler society can use for our personal gain, because that would be perpetuating colonialism. It is not our knowledge, but it can be listened to and appreciated. If caucasian people ever use indigenous knowledge, it needs to be properly credited to those from who it came. 

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Dystopia. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from 

Video Talking #JustClimate and decolonizing climate science with Professor Kyle Whyte. (2017). YouTube. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from 

Whyte, K. (2017). Our Ancestors’ Dystopia Now: Indigenous Conservation and the Anthropocene. The Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities, 222–231. 

Artists in Different eras with similar goals

In “Art and Ecology Now” by Andrew Brown, Brown illustrates the multitudes of ways artists can assist in combating the ecological crisis. He argues that artists can accomplish things that scientists cannot, through vectors including taking larger risks and engaging local communities, and because of this, the solution to the ecological crisis is an interdisciplinary one.

A topic that holds significance in this paper is the comparison between ancient and contemporary environmental art. The first cave drawings created by our ancestors were attempts to symbolize and understand the natural world and understand the place of homosapiens within it.  Art was created from elements of the natural world, such as charcoal, and depicted scenes of nature and human interactions within it. Along with this, “The paintings were a way of both celebrating and taming powers that were beyond their [our ancestors’] control in reality; they were also an attempt to make sense of natural forces that exceeded their limited comprehension” (Brown 9). Art was a map in which ancient humans used to traverse their surroundings. It turned something complicated and frightening, whether that was an animal or a thunderstorm, and simplified it and made it less foreign. 

Today, artists still use art to help themselves or others comprehend concepts, such as the ecological crisis. Brown discusses how “there has been a growing tendency in contemporary art to consider the natural world not only as a source of inspiration or subject to represent but also as a realm to influence directly – a sphere of action to transform and improve through creative means” (Brown 6). This, of course, is pointing to the fact that while environmental artists may not be directly impacting the environment themselves, but are urging society and the government to take action against climate change. Part of the work of environmental artists seems to include helping others in society understand the world in which we live. News reports and scientific studies on climate change can be overwhelming, emotionless, and can include incorrect information. Art, however, can make someone feel something, and inflict emotions that other disciplines cannot. It can help individuals realize the beauty of the planet again, and instill a desire to save the climate within them. In this way, I believe there are similarities between ancient environmental art and current, in that it encourages people to see the world through new eyes. 

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

The divide between modern humans and nature

In Lynn White’s article entitled “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis,” she argues that the primary reason behind climate change is that Western science, which is globally considered most significant, is based in a Christian context where man is dominant over Nature. Because of this, White’s overarching claim and conclusion is the ecological crisis is a religious issue, and as such, it cannot be remedied with more science and technology, but rather with a momentous change in “religion.”

Through White’s historical examples, especially those of the “new” plow Northern peasants began to use in the 7th century Europe that “attacked the land with such violence”(3) and the Christian story of creation, I believe she makes a sound argument (although I may be partial because I agreed with everything she covered before I read the article). I do take issue with science. Not science in itself, but the aspect of Western science that requires acting upon discoveries (what White refers to as “technology”). Generally, modern humans have tried to make things “better” by taking action. This has led to humans taking action without fully understanding the consequences. An example of this is monocropping, which was useful in feeding an ever-growing population. However, monocropping led to the erosion and nutrient depletion of soils, including topsoil, which is imperative to our ability to grow anything at all. In reality, the best solution would have been to halt population growth, but with the ideals of (Caucasian) human domination and superiority, that would have proven difficult. 

White’s article brought up more questions in me than answers, such as: is there a specific invention, time, idea that created a divide between humans and nature? I suppose the most obvious answer is the invention of agriculture – domesticating wild plants so we did not have to forage. Agriculture was originally used to supplement foraged foods in difficult years, which seems like it would have little effect on the environment, especially since it was on such a small scale. I suppose a follow-up question is: did agriculture, in the form it first originated, benefit the earth? Agriculture tends to create an environment less biodiverse than Nature, even when practiced in the most sustainable and regenerative way, so it seems, in itself, to have a neutral to negative impact on the planet. But, again, on such a small scale, it probably would have little effect on the environment. But with a larger population (even one significantly smaller than we are now), the human race is actively reducing biodiversity through agriculture on a mass scale.

I would argue then that the largest divider of humans and Nature is not agriculture, but the sheer size of the human race, along with the desire of modern humans to, out of greed, desperation, or power complexes, exploit the Earth for profit. I agree with White that to save the current environment, a shift in religion, beliefs, and ideals is necessary.

White, L. (1967). The historical roots of our ecologic crisis. Science, 155(3767), 1203–1207.