In Week 4, we explored the End of Nature as signified by our global impact on the climate. With a similarly gloomy narrative, Stephen Meyer details how anthropogenic activity is changing “natural” selection to human selection. Proponents of restoring the environment and keeping its species alive, such as George Monbiot and Stewart Brand, further strengthen Meyer’s narrative. One could view re-wilding and restoring nature as very positive. Yet such campaigns will not change our current relationship with nature, in which we dominate nature and decide which species survive. In the words of Jack Turner, nature is becoming man’s “dependent . . . a patient,” (110). What I found most alarming in the reading was Meyer’s discussion of “ghost species”. I am concerned, more broadly, that affects we are having on nature, on species, and ourselves may remain hidden until great damage has been done, like a cancer. Speaking of cancer, DDT is a perfect example of this phenomenon. By the time scientists could recognize and stop the application of DDT in the United States, the persistent insecticide had already affected the environment, and will remain in the environment for years to come.
Coming from a philosophy perspective, Val Plumwood dissolves our exaggerated ego as a species. By going from a master of nature to little more than a crocodile’s next meal, the illusion of control over nature is broken for her. In some cases, I doubt that Plumwood would disagree with the science of ecology. Her anecdote of nature, though powerfully cathartic, has its limits. By saying “limited” I take the position that while we do not control nature on the micro-scale, we are changing the climate and replacing natural selection with our own influences. I first read Plumwood’s article two years ago for a class on sustainability, social justice, and human rights. At that time, I linked Professor Plumwood’s narrative to climate change, and how our inconsideration of science would lead nature to get back at us in the future. But wouldn’t this be a man-made nature now? I imagine so. In the theme of this week’s topic, I believe that nature will get back in some sense. Even Meyer, despite his cynicism, speculates that nature may make a come back; that humans are a temporary disturbance to nature. In a roundabout way, nature is still incapable of going against what is good for humans. I have concluded that will never be fully in control of nature, but that we have a very strong, negative influence upon our environment. As McPhee’s Atchafalaya demonstrated, nature will always take its course. Even at great expense, our efforts can only delay the inevitable workings of time. These negative affects may show signs in the environment first, but will eventually inflict some moral, economic, and social costs on humanity.
How will we preserve biodiversity? Turner and Meyer appear to agree in their arguments against the current preservation regime. Meyer laments the conception “Wilderness-Act wilderness”. By his argument wild areas ought not to be defined by the absence of humans, but instead by the relationship between humans and nature. Turner also takes issue with the reserve mentality with the reasoning that nature is too interconnected to be supported by small, disparate patches of land. In concurrence, Meyer advocates small reserves only for the purpose of buying time towards repopulating larger-scale, ecologically connected reserves.
Does any of this matter? Of course – sustaining biodiversity and blunting the impact of climate change will have two main benefits. Nature is a part of our culture. By losing so many species, we’re going to lose a part of ourselves. One may also argue that these organisms have an intrinsic right to live freely. More importantly, we are in a position to maintain an ecosystem that is already somewhat friendly to our habitation. With more man-made droughts, wildfires, and other man made calamities, the world will become an even tougher place. The sociopolitical gears of change are turning, albeit slowly towards progress on environmental issues. If we fail to cut carbon sooner rather than later, geo-engineering may become our risky and expensive last resort.