Anne Dyroff

Reflection Paper Week #15
The readings assigned for class over the past 15 weeks have brought up many interesting ideas about nature. Many of the given articles touch on the questions of ‘what is nature’ and ‘what is the human place in nature’. The many authors have presented a variety of different perspectives on the topic of nature. After a semester spent debating nature, I have realized that I do not have a solidified definition of nature or the role that humans have in nature. Despite not having a solid position on the human place in nature, the readings from this semester have taught me about the advantages of learning from multiple perspectives.

In, “The Sand County Almanac,” Leopold views the destruction of nature as the result of humans viewing themselves as conquerors of the natural world. Bill McKibben has a similar view that the destruction of nature is largely anthropocentric. McKibben takes the idea of humans adversely affecting nature by stating that nature has ended. Richard White, on the other hand has a more optimistic opinion of the human relationship with nature than Leopold and McKibben. In, “The Organic Machine,” White believes that we cannot understand human history without natural history, and we cannot understand natural history without human history. Leopold and McKibben seem to view humans as separate from nature, while White views humans as having an intimate relationship with nature.
As Robert Gotlieb points out it in, “Nature in the City,” nature is one of the most complex words in the English language. The complexity of the word “nature” is partly due to the way its meaning and reference points are continually changing. Nature is not only in the eye of the beholder, but also in the language used to describe what one sees. The complexity of defining ‘nature’ is exemplified every week in class when many of the same questions are asked. Does nature still exist? Does nature only exist in the absence of human presence? Are humans a part of nature?

What I believe this course truly taught me is less about nature, and more so about the process of learning. This course was educational in that it made me to constantly second guess myself. Throughout the year, I would read an article from one author and completely agree with them, and then completely switch my views on nature after reading a different author’s essay. Having read a number of contradictory articles, I have realized that it is important to consider multiple perspectives on a topic before making a decision. Before taking this course my opinion was that nature was the outdoors. I now realize that my pre- senior seminar concept of nature was very basic. I now see that there is much more to consider when forming an opinion on nature. This realization of the increased complexity of nature can transcend to almost any subject. I believe that many times people, authors, scientists, and activists become stubborn and only consider their own opinions. If people were more open minded, I feel as though problems would be solved much more quickly.

Written on December 2nd, 2013 , Uncategorized!

My found object for this week is the link to Earth First!’s wikipedia page. After reading the article, I wanted to learn more about this organization. What I first found interesting about Earth First! was that Foreman was one of the founders of the organization. I was also intrigued by this page because it states that the creation of Earth First was in part inspired by Aldo Leopald’s “land ethic” which is something that we have read in this class.

Written on November 25th, 2013 , Uncategorized

Annie Dyroff
Reflection Paper Week #14
I found this week’s article, “Putting Earth First,” by Dave Foreman particularly interesting. The principles of Earth First! seem to be an interesting mix of both extreme and sensible ideas. There were aspects of Foreman’s argument that I completely agreed with, while at the same time, there were principles that I found completely ignorant.
The introduction of this paper states that Foreman believes that mainstream environmental groups have not done nearly enough to halt or reverse the trend of environmental degradation. Foreman articulates his interpretation of the principles that define Earth First! throughout the remainder of his article. The first three principles set up by Foreman I found to be completely reasonable. These principles were that humans should adapt to the cycles of the earth rather than altering the planet for our benefit, humans are not more intrinsically valuable than any animal on earth, and natural features such as rivers and mountains are not present solely for human profit. I agree with Foreman in that as humans we need to live less anthropocentric lives. Relating to a less anthropocentric life, Foreman furthermore reasons that we need to live more harmoniously with nature. Rationally, Foreman recognizes that a zero impact life is nearly impossible, in that one must make use of cars, paper, and energy in daily activities, however, Foreman advocates putting the least amount of pressure on the environment as possible. By reading these principles, Earth First! seems like a beneficial and reasonable environmental advocacy organization.
Despite the multiple reasonable principles listed by Foreman, I find many of the principles listed to be counterproductive towards the group’s larger mission. I have a major problem with Foreman’s principle of “a deep questioning of, and even an antipathy to ‘progress’ and ‘technology’.” Under this principle, Foreman advocates the hunter-gatherer life as a happier and more secure way of life. I feel as though I could not feel any more differently than Foreman about this topic. I feel as though technological advancements directly work towards Earth First’s goal of halting and reversing environmental degradation. Technology has led to the invention of hybrid cars, solar power, wind power, biogas, and so many more environmentally helpful inventions. Working against technology is working against Earth First’s priority goals. An additional argument against the rejection of technology is that our society is no longer conducive to the hunter gatherer lifestyle. Human culture and society has evolved in the centuries that have passed since the hunter-gatherer life. For one thing, there are far too many humans, and far too little wild game to sustain even a fraction of the earth’s population. In addition, if humans were to devolve to hunter gatherers, there would be a slow or halt in the creation of medicine, literature, and many things that our society has evolved to create.
An additional unproductive principle listed by Forman is, “a lack of desire to gain credibility or “legitimacy” with the gang of thugs running civilization.” Under this principle, Foreman states that they refuse to reason with the “madmen” that have been destroying the beautiful earth. This principle seems incredibly unproductive. How can Earth First! expect to make any progress or change without communicating in a civil manner with the policy makers of our society? I know that it may not be ideal to have to negotiate with the people who one views as the “enemy”, however, it is my opinion that in order to be taken seriously and not seen as a radical group, one must communicate in a rational way.
I feel like Foreman and Earth First! have the right intentions, but very wrong strategies for achieving their goals. Foreman wants to bring society back to a more simple and animalistic lifestyle because he believes that it will solve the environmental problems that have been created in the past few decades. However, I feel as though Foreman and his fellow Earth First! members have an idealized vision of the “simple” life of our ancestors. Societies across the globe have evolved past the nomadic life to a stationary society for a reason. As with many things in life, Foreman is only remembering the good aspects of the past. I feel as though the best way to move towards a more sustainable future is to have open communication between all facets of society.

Written on November 25th, 2013 , Uncategorized

Annie Dyroff

Reflection Paper Week #12

Each of the readings this week had the common theme of restoration. Between the three essays by Katz, Jordan, and Mills, a wide range of opinions on the topic of restoration were presented. The article that I found particularly interesting was, “The Big Lie: Human Restoration of Nature,” by Eric Katz. Katz ultimately concludes that restoration should not be the ultimate goal of policy making. It is of Katz’s opinion that it would be significantly more effective to prevent environmental damage. While I agree with Katz’s opinion that prevention is better than restoration, I find fault in Katz’s argument and find his conclusion impractical.

Katz starts his essay stating that society believes that it can fix any damage it causes to the environment with restoration efforts. Katz argues that this restorative mentality is “a misperception of natural reality and a misguided understanding of the human place in the natural environment.” Katz believes that restoration is the epitome of human’s wrongful domination over nature. I agree that humans should not and cannot dominate nature, however, Katz never states what the proper place is for humans in nature.
Katz then switches gears and starts to both describe and support an article, by Robert Elliot, that argues that restoring the environment is analogous to forging artwork. Elliot reasons that to value a restored landscape as much as an original landscape is ignorant. According to Elliot, restored landscapes lack a connection with history. It is this connection with history that gives virgin land its value. Elliot expands his argument to say that restoration undermines conservation efforts.

What I find fault in most about Katz’s article is his concluding paragraph. In the final portion of the essay, Katz comes out of left field with this comment about restoration, “Nothing I have said in this essay should be taken as an endorsement of actions that develop, exploit, or injure areas of the natural environment and leave them in a damaged state. I believe, for example, that Exxon should attempt to clean up and restore the Alaskan waterways and land that was harmed by its corporate negligence.”

After an entire essay opposing restoration efforts, Katz admits that he believes that restoration should still occur. In his concluding paragraph, Katz reveals that the true intention behind his essay is to ensure that humans do not misinterpret their actions as they repair natural areas. According to Katz, restoration is only an environmental compromise and that the real goal should be to prevent environmental damage.

Katz states that, “…restored and redesigned natural areas will appear more or less natural, but they will never be natural.” What I interpret this to say is that restored land may look no different from original landscapes, however, it is extremely different, and less valuable, solely because it was designed by humans. This statement of difference brings up the question of whether value associated with nature is solely based upon human perception. Is it the knowledge of human intervention that dictates a land’s worth? Could two completely identical landscapes have large value differences solely based on human intervention? If this value change is true, I would be interested to see how it would apply to the points brought up in Anne Whiston Spirn’s essay, “Constructing Nature: The Legacy of Frederick Law Olmstead.” Spirn points out that famous “natural” landscapes in America such as Yosemite National Park, Niagara Falls, and Bitmore each have human engineered features. If human perceptions changed and people became aware of the man-made aspects of these places, would they too be seen as “artifacts” and therefore not valued?

I do not agree with Katz’s views on restoration. Katz believes that restoration undermines conservation, conversely, I believe that restoration efforts can complement conservation practices. If conservation was used as a primary practice, and restoration was used to supplement for the damage that is unavoidable, the environment will benefit the most. I believe that when used in the correct context restoration can have enormous benefits. If restoration is used when conservation efforts aren’t enough the environment will be benefitted most.

Katz states that he believes that preventative measure’s should be the main goal of environmental policies. While I agree with the goal, I do not think that it is a realistic goal. Even with the most stringent preventative and conservative policies, there will always be some bit of environmental degradation. Therefore, there will always be a need for restorative policies.

Written on November 11th, 2013 , Uncategorized

Annie Dyroff
Journal Reflection Week 11

“Constructing Nature: The Legacy of Frederick Law Olmstead,” by Anne Whiston Spirn and the talk by Jenine Benyus, “Biomimicry in Action,” focus on different subjects, however, there is a connecting theme in the arguments made by each author. Both the article by Spirn and the speech by Benyus allude to the idea that, in nature, there is more than what meets the eye. In looking at many of the famous landscapes of America, and studying natural processes more carefully, one can see that even seemingly simple aspects of nature are quite intricate. This idea of a deeper complexity to nature can be taken a step further and applied to a more broad theme we have discussed throughout the semester; man’s perception of nature.
Spirn alludes to the deeper complexity of nature when she discusses the human involvement behind the seemingly “natural” landmarks throughout the United States. Spirn demonstrates that many American landscapes are assumed to be works of nature, however, in reality, these landscapes are largely influenced by human design and construct. Spirn uses Niagara Falls to exemplify the human involvement in landscape architecture. Though Niagara Falls is a naturally made waterfall, the falls have been repeatedly reconstructed. The land around the falls has been altered to create a frame of “natural scenery.” In addition, there have been adjustments made over time to divert more water over the falls in order to create a more sublime view for visitors.
Intricacy in nature is illustrated in Benyus’ discussion of Biomimicry. Biomimicry is the imitation of elements within nature for the purpose of benefitting humans. Biomimicry uses imitation of nature to solve complex human problems. According to Benyus, the natural world performs incredible tasks every day, and humans can learn much by studying these seemingly simple processes. For example, many organisms use CO2 as a building block for things such as shells. By studying this transformative process, scientists have invented a form of cement synthesized from CO2. By imitating the seemingly simple task of shell construction, humans have been able to create a process that could help solve the serious problem of global warming by decreasing greenhouse gas emission.
The examples brought up by both Spirn and Benyus illustrating the complexity of nature relate to a larger theme of human perception. This idea of perception is deeply integrated in many of the discussions in this course thus far, as a person’s definition of “nature” is largely due to personal perception. Like many of the readings assigned thus far in the semester, both Benyus and Spirn perceive the “human” and “natural” worlds to be separated. Benyus states that the human constructs, such as Biltmore, are admired because they are assumed to be preserved bits of “nature” rather than engineered landscapes. This brings up the question of whether places like Niagara Falls and Yosemite would continue to be admired if perceptions changed. Are landscapes beautiful to human society because we perceive them as the antithesis to what we represent? If this was true, it would be interesting to combine the idea of constructed nature and admiration with the arguments brought forth by Bill McKibben in “The End of Nature”. McKibben argues that due to the large-scale effects of climate change, there is no such thing as “nature.” If all landscapes are altered by climate change, does this mean that all landscapes products of human culture? The biosphere is a complex entity, by reading Spirn’s article and watching Benyus talk we get a sense for the complexity and consideration needed when thining about the natural world.

Written on November 4th, 2013 , Uncategorized

Annie Dyroff

Reflection Paper Week #8

I found the readings for class this week particularly interesting in that they discussed both “nature” and “community,” two of the most difficult terms to define that this class focuses on. As Robert Gottlieb describes in “Nature in the City”, “nature is the most complex word in the English language, that’s partly due to how its meanings and reference points are continually changing. Nature is not just in the eye of the beholder but also in the language used to describe what one sees.” Furthermore, in “Community in the City”, Gottlieb goes on to describe, “While nature could be considered one of the most complex words in the English language, community might be as difficult to define. That difficulty is reflected in the changing and uncertain ways the term is used and acted on as well as how its meanings have changed over time.” The discussion of how nature is defied is interesting because this topic has come up multiple times during class discussions throughout the year. For example, the group that drew the notecard with “nature,” during our last class, immediately groaned because of the debate that often comes with the word. Though we have discussed it on several occasions, I feel as though we still have never reached a conclusion on how to properly classify nature, as our definition of nature seems to change depending on the assigned readings that week.

I personally agree with the ideas about nature put forth by the articles. Both articles by Gottlieb, “Community in the City” and “Nature in the City” as well as the article by Giovanna Di Chiro, “Nature as Community: The Convergence of Environment and Social Justice” argue that the division between human and nature needs to be unified into an amalgam of the two concepts. The mainstream definition of the wild and natural is “a place where humans are not, and should not be in large numbers.” This definition causes a large disconnect, as it causes an “us versus them” type dynamic. I feel as though this disconnect is yet another thing blocking environmental progress. Gottlieb in “Nature in the City” puts it well when he says, “by maintaining that separation, environmentalists were caught in a bind, often forced to choose between being either a nature movement or a people-centered social movement rather than both.” I feel as though when forced to choose, the mainstream will choose self-preservation in a human-centered movement.

I enjoyed when Gottlieb’s article, “Nature in the City”, proposed that “overcoming the divide can be accomplished by creating … mixtures between two entirely new types of beings, hybrids of nature and culture.” By merging social components and environmental interests, people become an integral part of what should be understood as nature. This idea of dissolving the human-nature divide incorporates one of the other main topics in the articles, community. To me, the inclusion of humans in the definition of nature is a parallel to the new “inclusive” definition of community that is illustrated by the Boyle Heights neighborhood described by Reinvent in “Community in the City”. More progress was made when the community in Boyle Heights saw past their differences and worked together. In the same manner, if humans see past the mainstream created differences between the “human” world and “natural” world, much more environmental work could get done.

The common difficulty in defining both “nature” and “community” is that they are constantly changing and adapting. While this ambiguous feature of the words is frustrating at times, I believe this is a perfect trait. The environment is constantly changing and evolving due to both natural and anthropocentric causes, and therefore I believe that its definition should adapt with it.

Written on October 14th, 2013 , Uncategorized

Annie Dyroff
Reflection Paper Week #7

“The Fire ant Wars,” by Joshua Buhs and “Nature and Space,” by James Scott have different ultimate arguments, however, there is a common theme of simplification between these two articles. The focus of “The Fire Ant Wars” is that when solving environmentally related problems, one should make use of environmental history in addition to the history of science that is typically referenced in order to make more well informed decisions. Simplification comes into play, as they simple solution is not necessarily the best solution as exemplified in the history of the fire ant in the united states. “Nature and Space” reasons that a narrowing of vision and simplification can be a good thing in some respects, however, oversimplification can also be detrimental in certain situations. This reasoning is exemplified in the European development of “Scientific Forestry.”

In “The Fire Ant Wars,” Buhs describes the history of the fire ant infestation that occurred in the United States from 1910 through the 1950’s. Fire ants first arrived in Mobile, Alabama, and spread quickly across the south. The USDA wanted to eradicate the “dangerous” pest with the use of pesticides. Pesticides were to be sprayed over all land in America, as to make sure that there were no survivors. “The Fire Ants War” connects with the theme of simplification in the USDA’s strategy in dealing with the fire ant infestation. At the time of the fire ant spread, insecticide was the go-to weapon against nature. The USDA believed that if they simply applied pesticide to all land, the ant problem would be easily solved. In opposition to the simple pesticide solution was a group of early naturalists who saw the potential to integrate rather than eradicate the ants. The USDA’s quick fix to the ant problem was quickly discovered to be a failure. The quickly adaptable ants re-inhabited the areas already sprayed with the pesticide.
The USDA was not able to keep up with the growing population of the ants.
“Nature and Space,” started to describe the European timber strategy called “Scientific Forestry”. Scientific forestry was a monoculture approach to forestry. The underbrush of forests was cleared out and trees were planted in militarily neat rows at uniform ages. Not wanting to deal with trees of different sizes and ages, foresters uniformed forests in hopes that it would be a more simple and higher yielding strategy. The monocropped forest strategy was successful in the short run, however, in the long run it was less lucrative. The monocropped forests were more fragile and vulnerable to the stresses of weather and disease.

In both articles described, the government’s attempts to simplify the understanding of natural processes backfired. In buhs’ article about fire ants, the USDA simplified the role of fire ants within the ecosystem by assuming that the ants were solely destructive, and underestimating their adaptive abilities. In Scott’s article describing scientific forestry, the inventors of the strategy simplified the forest ecosystem. By underestimating the importance of species and age diversity, these forestry scientists had an opposite influence on the trees than they had hoped for. By simplifying nature, the powers in charge hurt rather than helped themselves.

The oversimplification idea that has been presented in each article reminds me of the bigger theme of this course in the question we have discussed, “what is nature?” In our discussions and readings throughout the semester we have been confronted time and time again by this question. The answer may seem simple at first glance, just like the strategies formed in Buhs and Scott’s articles, however, after reading the works of Thoreau, McKibben, White, Lovelock, and others the answer becomes more abstract. Does nature include humans? Is nature solely naturally occurring phenomena, or does it include manmade structures? Does nature even exist despite the fact that humans have altered almost all aspects of the biosphere? After considering each of these questions, the concept of nature does not appear simple anymore. To answer the question one needs to do research and consider many sides of the argument. In the same way, the authorities in Buhs’ article needed to consider the environmental aspect of history, and the authorities in Scott’s article needed to consider the many uses of trees and the whole forest ecosystem. Our biosphere is a complex entity, and these two articles can show us that existing in a sustainable manner while still meeting the needs of the growing human population is not a simple task.

Written on October 7th, 2013 , Uncategorized

Annie Dyroff
Reflection Paper Week #6
The term “organic machine” may seem like an oxymoron to some people, as modern society has largely associated the implementation of machinery as an end to nature. Conversely, Richard White in “The Organic Machine” demonstrates the interconnection between humans and nature through his well-documented history of the Columbia River.
On the first page of “The Organic Machine”, White states, “My argument in this book is that we cannot understand human history without natural history and we cannot understand natural history without human history.” White argues that for the hundreds of years humans have been developing the land, nature and industry have been connected. Instead of the common idea that machinery overcomes nature, White reasons that machinery and nature are intertwined. To White, machinery and industrialization are simply nature realized in a different form.

To me, the notion that nature is not lost through development brings up the thought of where the natural-unnatural line is. “Steam was wind in the boiler of the boat, trains imitated eagle or swallows darting from town to town. What seemed ugly in isolation became beauty when reattached to ‘the whole.’” If manmade items such as trains and boats are considered nature, than it seems as though almost anything can be classified as “natural.” What is there to stop humans from developing all of the forests and damming all the rivers in the United States, if these are just “new forms” of nature. This inclusive definition of nature set forth by White almost seems as a strategy to allow the guilt free development of our nation’s wilderness.

The argument set forth by Richard White is very different from what authors such as William Cronnon and Bill McKibben would reason. In, “The End of Nature.” McKibben sees the large human influences on the environment as destructive and damaging. McKibben sees alterations not as a new realization of nature, but rather as the ruin and end of the natural world. Similarly, Cronnon reasons that, “…our very presence in nature represents its fall. The place where we are is the place where nature is not.” The importance behind such differing viewpoints on nature will have large consequenses when it comes to events such as policy making.

Written on September 30th, 2013 , Uncategorized

Written on September 17th, 2013 , Uncategorized

In Bill McKibben’s, “The End of Nature,” the author brings forth many important points about the human-nature relationship. McKibben exposes the reality of global warming, and stresses the urgency with which society needs to start addressing the problem. The overarching message McKibben communicates to the reader is that due to the large scale changes humans have made to the environment, there is no true “nature” anymore. Conversely, I disagree with McKibben’s theory on the end of nature. I believe that despite the large scale changes society has caused, Mother Nature is still an unpredictable entity, and therefore nature continues to exist.
McKibben reasons, “over a year or decade or lifetime bit and impersonal and dramatic changes take place (5).” In the past few decades, our world has seen enormous changes due to human activities such as burning fossil fuels. Society has caused such large changes to the environment that, “we ended the natural atmosphere, and hence the natural climate, and hence the natural boundaries of the forests, and so on (66).” What McKibben is trying to say through this book is that when we as humans effected the environment so much that we affected the weather, everything else on earth will be effected. In other words, “we have ended the thing that has, at least in modern times, defined nature for us – its separation from human society (55).” Because the climate and weather affects all forms of life, human’s impact on life is all-encompassing. This sweeping human impact is reasoned by McKibben to make everything on earth artificial and manmade (50).
On the contrary, I find flaws in McKibben’s argument. McKibben argues that there are no longer large forces of nature. “We are no longer able to think of ourselves as a species tossed about by larger forces – now we are those larger forces. Hurricanes and thunderstorms and tornadoes become not acts of God but acts of man.” I completely disagree with this statement by McKibben. I do not believe that we humans are the larger forces at work in present day. McKibben says that hurricanes and storms are no longer acts of God, however, I do not see how the blame can be put on humans as we cannot control the weather. The earth continues to be at the mercy of natural disasters such as hurricanes, tsunamis, and drought. If man was the large force at play in the world, man would have taken advantage and used it’s power to create perfect agricultural conditions, and prevent tragedies such as the most recent flooding in Colorado.
I agree with McKibben in that man has greatly influenced and altered the environment, however, McKibben sees influence and control as synonymous. On the other hand, I feel as though there is a distinct difference between the two. Simply because humans have changed the environment does not mean that they control it. Nature is still a force that we will continue to deal with.

Written on September 16th, 2013 , Uncategorized

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