Tag Archives: ecology

Earth is speaking. Loudly. Can we hear? | Elizabeth Allison | Huffington Post

Interesting and timely article by Elizabeth Allison, Professor of Ecology and Religion at the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Earth is speaking. Loudly. Can we hear?by Elizabeth Allison

Angela Yuriko Smith 

Transgressing Earth’s planetary boundaries will result in responses that make human life on Earth increasingly difficult. We have gotten a taste of this possibility over the past few weeks. It is time to pay attention to the unequivocal messages we are receiving about our impacts on Earth. The mechanistic paradigm no longer serves us. We must stop imagining Earth as an insentient machine, and start perceiving her as a partner to whom obligations of care and respect are owed. 

Source: Earth is speaking. Loudly. Can we hear? | Elizabeth Allison | HuffPost

 

Weaving collective imaginaries in the anthropocene

This is the sixth in a series of posts in response to weekly readings from a seminar I am participating in called “The Fate of Nature in the Anthropocene,” a critical and interdisciplinary seminar exploring ideas about being human on a changing planet.

“The Fate of Nature in the Anthropocene Collaborative Research Seminar brings together faculty and graduate students from the humanities and environmental sciences to develop a theoretical framework for the environmental humanities and to examine possibilities for an integrated approach to the recent environmental turn in the humanities.”

Our connections within a multi-species web are what make us part of earth’s living ecology, and arguably what make us human. Strengthening these connections, and becoming integrated into the life and death cycles of nature seem to be key in ensuring the future of our ecosystems, by way of binding our human fates more closely to the fate of the nonhuman species of the planet. Yet the humans that are already the most bound within the multi-species web, often poor and rural populations, already feel ecological effects with disproportionate severity compared with those who have more of a buffer. Forging tighter multispecies connections may not need to entail becoming more vulnerable to ecological impacts, but it may mean that through collective imaginaries, we allow ourselves to become sensitive to existing vulnerabilities to the collective web that we exist within.

Jacob E. Lange, Flora agaricina danica, 1935–1940, Volume 1, Plate 7A,C from Tsing
From Tsing: Jacob E. Lange, Flora agaricina danica, 1935–1940, Volume 1, Plate 7A,C.

According to Tsing, her goal in writing about connections between human and non-human well-being is to open “new spaces in the public imagination”. What does this space do? This public or collective imaginary seems to be the birthing ground for the future. For example, Rose uses an example of the desire for destruction to also be a product of an imaginary e.g. without dingoes. According to the Australian aboriginals, their country (land) comes into being through dreaming creation. It is through this dreaming creation that connections are made across species boundaries. Rose’s implicit message is that these two imaginaries (that of death and destruction, compared with connection and creation) are antagonistic to one another. Furthermore, her assertion is that the imaginary of destruction creates a double death- as corpses pile up, connectivities in the web are destroyed, which takes away the ability for death to nurture new life. This process of double-death is demonstrated by the poisoning of dingoes in Australia (Rose) and of vultures in India (van Dooren).  In both of these cases, dead bodies which formerly offered nourishment to the ecosystem are transformed into further agents of death. In the case of India, these deathly effects ripple out into the human and social realms, with the societal function of the vultures no longer able to keep disease at bay. In this case, we see the interdependence between humans and the multi-species web, and also the disproportionate impacts that this ecosystem disruption has on the country’s poor and rural communities. We see a similar trend in Fiorella’s article about the fish-for-sex trading industry around Lake Victoria. In this case, the linkages between humans and fish is quite direct. We see declining fish populations not only disproportionately affecting the poor, but also women.

Conservation biologists offer an alternative imaginary, with rewilding projects. These propose to restore earth’s ecosystems through reintroducing animals to areas where they have been extirpated, or to introduce analogous animals to perform similar functions as extinct animals. Soulé and Noss assert that the greatest roadblock to these rewilding efforts actually happening is the “unwillingness to imagine it,” and that this might be able to “save nature”. Perhaps they are right, but I wonder whether potential unforeseen (and foreseen) consequences of rewilding would also disproportionately burden the poor populations in the regions where species are introduced. Quammen illustrates that one cannot remove one piece of the ecosystem without it fraying. I would extend his metaphor to caution that putting all the pieces back in one place does not necessarily reweave the web either. I would agree, however, that weaving this web of multi-species connections is work for the collective imaginary, and that making these connections visible and understood publicly will be necessary in order to live in the best way for the future humans and nonhumans of earth.

Works Cited:

  1. Tsing, Anna. “Arts of Inclusion, or, How to Love a Mushroom.” Australian Humanities Review, 50 (2011): 5-21.
  2. van Dooren, Thom. “Vultures and their People in India: Equity and Entanglement in a Time of Extinctions.” Australian Humanities Review, 50 (2011): 45-61.
  3. Rose, Deborah Bird. “What if the Angle of History were a Dog?” Cultural Studies Review, 12, no. 1 (Mar 2006): 67-78.
  4. Quammen, David. “Thirty-Six Persian Throw Rugs.” Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions. New York: Scribner, 1996.
  5. Soulé, Michael and Reed Noss. “Rewilding and Biodiversity: Complementary Goals for Complementary Conservation.” Wild Earth 8, no. 3 (Fall 1998): 19-28.
  6. Donlan, Josh et al. “Rewilding North America.” Nature 436 (18 Aug 2005): 1-2.
  7. Danielsen, Finna … Justin S. Brashares…, et al. “A Multicountry Assessment of Tropical Resource Monitoring by Local Communities.” Bioscience 64, no. 3 (Mar 2014): 236-251.
  8. Fiorella, Kathryn… Justin Brashares, et al. “Transactional Fish-for-Sex Relationships Amid Declining Fish Access in Kenya.” World Development 74 (2015): 323-332.

Home

Home. The shape my lips form to say this word evokes a sense of simple nostalia, a longing for origin. From where I come, in which I dwell. That which surrounds me. Trace it back far enough in time and we arrive at a similarly-shaped sound: womb. Expand, and we sense we are already still in the womb of our grandest mother, the earth. Home: an earth-shaped word.  Let’s consider the importance of home on our identities, as our origin, and recognize the sacredness of the earth right here. We tend carefully our relationship with the subtly textured landscape of home, for this primal relation serves as metaphor and mirror for all of our relations.

In Greek, the word for home is oikos, from which derive words like ecology, which truly means the study of home. It is a decidedly violent tendency in modern western endeavors to try to abstract ourselves, our ideas, and our motivations from their situated context — or home – in favor of such lofty goals as ascendance, objectivity, and separation from the physical plane. Donna Haraway (1986) might call this a certain type of “God Trick”, by which we claim to be taking on an objective stance by denying our own embodiment, interrelatedness of physical context, and historical trajectory. One of the primary quests of ecology is to understand and describe these contexts and contingencies.

Home could be envisioned as the external environment that we have conformed to so well that we do not recognize it as separate from ourselves. I have heard it said that the last ones to discover water would be the fish, a fun fact that I was reminded of earlier today by an esteemed professor. She was using this as an analogy to talk about the reason humans have had trouble with the concept of “nature”– because it has been habituated into the surrounding matrix that we consider to be home. From a young age, home constantly infiltrates the senses, shaping us in specific ways so that the space we occupy fits us so snugly that we do not so much move within the environment as much as move with it in a co-creative dance that blurs the lines between cause and effect, subject and object, experiencer and experienced.

We experience our external world through our perception, but it is more closely our own internal reaction or resonance to some “externality” that we are experiencing. In this way, internal and external are mirrors of the same reality, with our perception occupying the space between. Such is the fractalline nature of the universe, that we are given this small piece of conscious matter to attend to, which resonates and morphs along within and without the entirety of existence. Perhaps the existence of perception in this intermediate space is more of a certainty than the existence of either the internal or external can ever be. Is it our embodiment, or circumstance of being (in?) a body, that enables our own continuity of experience (and hence construction of the concept of being a distinct “self”), because it is that which gives us our perceptive faculties?

Right now, we can take our more abstract idea of home and root it into the physical plane through our own bodies – we supplant ourselves back into our bodies, the home of consciousness as we know it, into space-time, into the earth, and breathe deeply. Breath is our constant communion, the ever blending of internal and external, the wind inside of us that invokes our entire lived experience. Respiration is the process by which we continually become re-inspirited, lest we forget the roots of this word. Inspiriting our bodies in this way also inspirits the body of the earth, for our bodies are of the earth. Lest we forget that the roots of this world lie within each of us.