ENST 406

04/26/17

Jackie Goodwin

Second Nature is a humorous account of the author’s own experiences of maneuvering his relationship with nature through keeping a garden. As a reader of Pollan’s books, I was expecting to sense the upper class, elite white male complex that I typically do in his work, but failed to see that in Second Nature. Instead, Pollan writes what many Americans have experienced in gardening with an ounce of sarcasm and casualness. He laments the traditional American obsession with lawns by attempting to connect with his neighbors as if to say, “I am a conscientious homeowner. I share your middle class values” (61), yet ponders certain rebellion regarding the traditional maintenance of his lawn. In discussing the history of his land and journey to gardening, Pollan is able to effectively communicate what his place in nature is, while taking the reader for a ride through his life’s fumbles and moments of discovery.

Pollan openly discusses the crude relationship that Americans have with the land, specifically through land ownership. He writes that we often have a “skewed” relationship to nature by thinking that our lawns exhibit the natural setting, even though they’re constantly doused in chemicals and manipulated. Here, Pollan explains with historical evidence and a strong opinion exactly what I’ve needed answered throughout our course. I’ve yearned to hear a first hand account of someone working through their relationship with nature, knowing as much as we do. He openly uses his experiences to educate the reader on our their hypocrisy, while explaining why it harms the planet morally and physically. Pollan uses gardens as a way to “meet halfway” between the perfect manicuring of lawns and wildness. It increases one’s awareness of the natural world in a more give and take relationship, as opposed to the dictatorship that is meticulous mowing and landscaping.

Throughout the book, Pollan debunks common misconceptions about what nature and wildness truly are, tieing into much of what we’ve already discussed in class. He does this very well when speaking about weeds and how they are often seen as wild and “in the wrong place”. He counters this by arguing that weeds are just as cultivated as any other plant. Their placement is often not wild, but once the result of man’s impact. Instead, he writes that wilderness is a taboo in our culture and further drives a wedge between us and nature. Pollan follows this pattern consistently throughout Second Nature, exploring a common phenomenon in man’s relationship to land and quickly showing its faults. This style of writing held my attention well and contributed to the overall success of this book.

Pollan’s journey of self-reflection in relationship to the natural world, specifically how we manipulate it, has encouraged me to think about my own relationship with nature. I appreciate Pollan’s perspective more than the romantic authors we have read, including Thoreau and Abbey. Pollan is more honest about his faults and hypocrisy in becoming a steward of the land, whereas Thoreau and the like place themselves on pedestals, expecting a level of respect for their sacrifices and immersion in the natural world. Pollan tells a relatable story that I can personally identify with, as I’ve always had a fascination with gardens. My parents never gardened, but my grandparents had a small and respectable garden at their home in Washington. Loaded with fresh vegetables and strawberries, I loved watching them tend tirelessly to these plants who depended on my grandparents’ care to thrive. As I move forward in my own life, I see myself experiencing an introduction to gardening similar to that of Pollan’s, likely starting with pest management as he describes with his pesky woodchuck and experiencing many certain failures along the way.

Leave A Comment, Written on April 26th, 2017 , Uncategorized

Wesley Lickus

Human Place in Nature

Professor Beevers

26 April 2017

Week 14 Response

Pollan seeks his “proper place in nature” through a detailed and objective insight into gardening through the seasons. He teaches his reader what he understands as the differences between transformed and untransformed nature; a place where humans control their “tame suburban plots” completely and a place where they control less. Pollan’s past gardening experience did not prepare him for the real nature, for the “large and rapacious animals, hegemonies of weeds … killing frosts in June and September, and boulders of inconceivable weight and number” (3). Perhaps both places, the countryside of New England and his small garden plot can be considered natural, so then it was the change in his environment that was the unexpected transition.

Pollan presents a refreshing and realistic view on his environment as a modern environmentalist. In his introduction, Pollan discusses the influence that Thoreau had on his childhood. But now, Thoreau’s lack of action while living at Walden deems him as an incomplete thinker according to Pollan. There is no longer a need to return to wilderness as Thoreau did, as there is little wilderness left. Wilderness is becoming smaller and only found in small microhabitats such as those that Annie Dillard explores in her “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”. The narrative that Pollan presents while thinking back to his childhood as a backyard explorer should inspire us all to think back to those moments that we all share. Pollan lived in an inspirational setting where the garden was allowed to take over the lawn. His childhood imagination is one we can all think back to, “There is room enough for a world between a lilac and a wall” (7), he says. There is life at all angles, and all levels of our existence. As humans we may have to search a little harder to seek them out.

Pollan’s battle with his resident woodchuck puts him in touch with a dark attitude towards nature. Nature continues it’s ingrained instincts in an unfaltering goal of survival, and reminds Pollan of “how willing we are to poison her in the single-minded pursuit of some short-term objective” (44). Our human dominant instinct shines through the simple task of protecting our tomatoes.

Though I wouldn’t consider the lawn in front of my parent’s house in Maine as being under “totalitarian rule” (48), I do understand Pollan’s point about the contrast between the ways of managing the human-centric naturalized landscape. However, I disagree that a lawn “represents a subjugation of the forest as utter and complete as a parking lot” (48). A lawn encourages less runoff than pure pavement, and can be managed in a way that doesn’t use harmful chemicals. Pollan also developed a much needed point regarding the naturalist’s dilemma: nature unchained will take over, and a garden even located in the most secluded of places will soon be overrun with plants and animals we see as pests. A garden from this point of view is largely unnatural, however justifiable because of the end goal we all need which is food.

Why has the garden become a tool to express political viewpoints, flaunt socioeconomic status, or support communities that “define [themselves] in opposition” (206)? A garden is not an object that should draw or support conflict, or generate grievances between gardeners. These are in fact the exact opposite and most unnatural things a garden should do. A garden should make us happy and hopeful, and act “as a place, both real and metaphorical, where nature and culture can be wedded in a way that can benefit both” (5). As unique people, we will have different ways of gardening, but we must not loose sight of the goal we are looking to achieve.

At times, no matter how educated or able we are to critique the idea of a garden and discuss if it deserves the title of nature or if establishing a boundary between the garden and outside world gives the plot an unethical superiority towards critters that see it on the menu, we must step back and admire the earth we cultivate for what it is more simply. Started from tiny seeds, these plants grow into monuments each summer, and bear fruit to feed us. Through these small plots of land, we build value towards and a closer understanding of humanity. We teach each other and build community around the slow magic that is the growth of a plant, and we earn our escape from the plastic bagged mystery sitting on supermarket shelves. A garden is as natural as we make it, as our own context sees as right for us. Any garden, I think, is a good garden.

Leave A Comment, Written on April 25th, 2017 , Uncategorized

In Michael Pollan’s novel Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education, he describes the act of gardening as an intimate relationship with nature, in which one learns the give and take of the land.  Unlike hiking and other adventurous outdoor activities, gardening may not offer an immediate emotional high; hours of shoveling dirt, weeding, pruning, watering, sunlight and patience must occur before one experiences the fruits of their labor.  However, I have found that the slow, tedium of gardening teaches you not only about the soil stuck under your fingernails, but about yourself.  It is these hours spent outside away from technology, toiling away rain or shine, which have allowed my mind to race away into a state of personal reflection.

Throughout my childhood, I spent days outside helping my father with yardwork, sometimes willingly, sometimes not-so-willingly.  Living on a 17-acre farm, there was always something to do, and in my father’s eye, it was best to be proactive.  In the small rural town of Shickshinny, our neighbors were few and far between.  Nevertheless, he insisted that we mow every visible field that wasn’t used for agriculture.  Heaven forbid yellow dandelions began popping up in front of our home.  This often-entailed hours with the lawn mower, sculpting clean rows back and forth in the large open fields.  Granted, on a riding mower this wasn’t the most physically challenging task.  So, to keep things interesting in the more intricate spaces, I zipped around apple trees and bushes and sometimes skidded down hills, challenging the monotony of the orderly rows.  Gliding across the grass, my thoughts often wandered through that week’s events or big decisions ahead.  It was sitting on the tractor that I contemplated hardships with friends, college choices and what I was going to have for lunch when I was finally done with mowing the lawn.

While Pollan’s experiences varied from my own, I was constantly drawing upon similarities from his stories, sparking suppressed or forgotten memories.  For instance, I recall walking through my grandmother’s cul-de-sac neighborhood, rows of identically sided homes separated by lush green lawns and strips of sidewalk.  As I strolled with my parents, we came across a home whose lawn was unlike the rest.  My parents scoffed at the presence of a garden in the front yard, teaming with vegetables and surrounded by overgrown grasses.  Like Pollan’s experience, there was rumored contention with this uncivilized and rebellious neighbor.  At the time, I also was uncomfortable with the disruption in the neighborhood’s orderly façade, agreeing with my family’s complaints.

However, over the past few years, I have thought back to this unique lawn and the societal norms that sculpted by opinion of what right and wrong looks like.  American culture tells me that I am a part of a larger society and should contribute to my community’s success by doing my part, including mowing my lawn and caring for my neighborhood’s appearance.  My obsessive-compulsive tendencies tell me that everything should be neat and orderly, sculpting landscapes in an organized fashion.  My environmental education at Dickinson tells me to convince my dad not to mow ever single field on our farm; alternate fields seasonally and let them fallow to save gasoline and sequester carbon!

On the other hand, my wild side tells me to let go and let fields revert to nature.  So often I get caught up with wanting to understand and maintain control of everything in my life, including the environments around me.  However, the Earth and its systems are so much more complex than I will ever comprehend.  Through self-reflection in the fields, I have grown to know the importance of simplicity.  To accept the ups and downs of each day, and to appreciate the simple moments and memories of dirt under my fingernails and between my toes.

Leave A Comment, Written on April 25th, 2017 , Uncategorized

In response to the title of one of the TED talks – “The dawn of de-extinction: Are you ready?” – Yes. Yes, I absolutely am ready. I’ve actually thought about this in the back of my mind for years that science could easily reach the level of bringing extinct species back to life and preserving endangered ones, and now it’s actually happening.

Scientifically speaking, being able to redesign nature or restore it to its original functions is a fantastic idea, though when it comes to intervention at the global level, I have several concerns. Perhaps I am uneducated on the subject, but proposing the release of iron slurry into the oceans or sulfate particles into the atmosphere just seems to have too many unknown variables at stake. Technologies such as GMO plants have been tested and proven to be safe for human consumption because they have surpassed the level of controlled laboratory testing and theoretical simulations, and it was possible to test them in the laboratory because it’s easy to grow and monitor plants. It’s not nearly as easy to make a mini-Earth with its own gravitational and magnetic fields for the purpose of simulating a release of sulfate particles into the atmosphere.

The NYT opinion piece also implanted another concern about geoengineering into my mind – conservatives. (I feel I’m justified in mentioning this in a paper, because we’ve reached the point at which modern politics has such an extensive reach into our lives that it can no longer be separated from society and everyday life. In short, we no longer have the luxury of sparing ourselves personal frustration because to ignore the issues would spell disaster.) A particular quote from the piece resonated with me strongly: “Engineering the climate is intuitively appealing to a powerful strand of Western technological thought that sees no ethical or other obstacle to total domination of nature. And that is why some conservative think tanks that have for years denied or downplayed the science of climate change suddenly support geoengineering, the solution to a problem they once said did not exist.” For the most part, conservative ideologies have some echo of self-motivation, while liberal ideologies tend to have an altruistic component. Both are important to societal and governmental functionality, but this self-motivation, if left unchecked, can become problematic. It develops into greed, selfishness, and the willful ignorance of things that either do not directly impact the individual or have solutions which would result in some reduction of personal gain.

I fear the impact that politics will have on the successful implementation of any of these solutions, as the nature of today’s politics when a solution is proposed is either to immediately shut it down without consideration, or to hastily push it through without perfecting it first. I hide in my little scientific bubble because it’s the only place where reason and logic and patience take precedence over personal feelings, but I realize that’s a bit of a selfish action since the introduction of scientific developments into society requires, at some point, legislation regulating or encouraging its use. A technology can have the potential to be a miracle: cutting off funding for future research can prevent this, while on the other hand prematurely introducing it before research on the full extent of its impacts is completed can result in disaster.

 

(Note: I was going to polish up my response this morning but I had to walk into town to pick up my poster for the SSRS this afternoon. Come by if you can!)

Leave A Comment, Written on April 12th, 2017 , Uncategorized

Krysti Oschal

12 April 2017

Response Paper: Week 12

Is environmentalism a wealthy man’s hobby? Prominent environmentalists since the beginning of the movement have been predominantly wealthy. It is not often that you see people in the third world advocating for renewable energy or “greener” farming practices. This week’s readings spanned a variety of topics from geoengineering to GMOs to the value of biodiversity. The readings, although some indirectly, seek to answer the question “at what cost?” is the environment worth preserving. E.O Wilson wrote a piece for the Sierra Club titled, “A Biologist’s Manifesto for Preserving Life on Earth”. Wilson argues that half of all of Earth’s land should be set aside to be preserved. He believes that by setting such land aside humanity will be able to ensure the survival of 80% of the world’s species. On the most basic level, one should be asking is Wilson’s claim even valid? Have scientists even identified 80% of the world’s species? Scientists find thousands of new species every year! Ironically, in a general sense the people who would agree with Wilson are some of the staunchest “social justice” advocates. Advocating for Wilson’s point of view and social justice causes are not easily reconcilable. The forced preservation of 50% of the Earth’s land is most certainly going to impact those in the developing world more than a millionaire in a penthouse in Manhattan. The question that needs to be asked is do those advocating for such causes believe that a few hundred species of insects are more valuable than millions of human lives?

Similarly, an Op-ed in the New York Times discusses the merits and risks of geoengineering. Geoengineering raises many questions, however what I ended up paying most attention to in the article was one line, which said “… that is why some conservative think tanks that have for years denied or downplayed the science of climate change suddenly support geoengineering, the solution to a problem they once said did not exist”. The author never states which think tanks are writing such pieces or what their exact positions. He bashes conservatives by speaking in general terms, a think tank will obviously put out a more sophisticated analysis than gloss over one sentence summary written in this op-ed.

Stephen Meyer’s “The End of the Wild” is consistent with the message from other writer’s we have read this semester, especially Bill McKibben. While I disagree with Meyer’s argument, I appreciate his straight-forward writing style. Unlike other environmental writers he is direct, he has no qualms about letting the reader know that if you disagree with his position that you are immoral. Meyer writes, “Therefore, we should not evaluate these efforts in terms of their capacity to stop the end of the wild. Their enduring value is that they establish a moral imperative. Like the Ten Commandments, they remind us who we could be.” I appreciated Meyer’s honesty, but his entire book highlights why it is increasingly challenging to find common ground on environmental issues. Telling people that they are immoral or do not understand the consequences of their actions is both arrogant and off-putting. People understand that there are trade-offs to their actions. Meyer may disagree about the worthiness of the trade-offs, but that does not mean that the trade-offs are immoral. When environmentalists frame their positions on the basis of morality, it becomes challenging to find common ground to tackle environmental issues facing society. Have you ever won an argument by telling someone that everything they believe is incorrect? My conjecture is most likely not. This week’s writings highlight the central reason why this debate over environmental issues will not be easily solved. The entire debate boils down to freedom. Should people be able to decide for themselves how to live their lives? I believe most people would say yes. My point may seem dramatic and potentially out of context, but is particularly relevant to this discussion. These writers believe that they know what is best for humanity and the environment. They believe that if you disagree you not educated enough to understand the severity of your own actions. Implementing these writers’ ideas means reducing the ability of individuals to make their own choices. For example, if we set aside 50% of the Earth to be preserved, we are severely restricting where an individual may choose to live. Personally, I care about the environment but I value freedom. It is because I value freedom that I do not agree with the majority of the mainstream environmentalism.

Leave A Comment, Written on April 12th, 2017 , Uncategorized

It took billions of years for nature to create the biodiverse tree of life that humans originated from. In this time species evolved to combat changing climates, to be able to protect themselves from dangerous prey, and to essentially be the most efficient beings possible. Natural history shows us that the interactions within ecosystems greatly influenced the way species adapted, as seen particularly in tree bark being able to withstand the heavy tusks of an elephant, or in seeds only being able to germinate once they have passed through the digestive system of a megafauna. This is discussed in the Ted Talk “For more wonder, rewild the world” in which George Monbiot makes the case for reintroducing species into ecosystems in order to restore them. These species range from the wolf in Yellowstone to elephants in England. Some of the species we could reintroduce have gone extinct, yet Steward Brand tells us in his Ted Talk “The dawn of de-extinction. Are your ready?” that technology exists to bring these species back.

Humans have successfully broken off entire branches of the tree of life. While some species have died off naturally, simply adapting into other species, human intervention in the biosphere has brought us to a point where more and more species are dying because of humans. As Wilson states in “A Biologist’s Manifesto for Preserving Life on Earth,” “The biosphere does not belong to us; we belong to it.” Does this give us the responsibility of bringing back species that have disappeared because of us? We have the ability to bring back the branches of tree of life that we have knocked off, yet our industrialized, globalized, society and economy is reaching the exact opposite way. While it can be argued that technology has brought us to the predicament we are currently in, it can also be debated that technology can also help us through geoengineering and synthetic biology. When delving into this realm of science it is essential to implore the precautionary principle, but this is not the way environmental policy in the United States works.

Something that is essential to remember when discussing climate change and technology, is that we have seen time and time again that the earth is a self-regulating system. This is important to note, because in our industrialized world it is sometimes forgotten that technology is not always necessary, in fact it can be costly and often times we do not know the consequences of its use. Because of this, my views on geoengineering the climate are that it is unnecessary. To “seize control of the planers climate…” for humans to have “total domination of nature” is simply unwarranted. Technology is not necessary to lower carbon in the atmosphere, as we can see through carbon sequestration in the earth’s soils, and through whales. We can promote natural cycles in order to combat climate change instead of using technology that interferes with the earths systems.

There are ways to use technology that can be beneficial and not pose a threat to the environment. For example, precision breeding, as discussed in “Beyond GMOs: The Rise of Synthetic Biology.” Precision breeding uses technology to pinpoint certain genetic traits in a plant that make it hardier or help it withstand drought. Using this information biologists can breed other plants so that the DNA involved in drought resistance is more prominent. This type of selective breeding is in a way speeding up evolution for these plants, as in nature they would slowly evolve to become drought resistant with climate change. These examples illustrate ways in which technology can be used in beneficial or detrimental ways. By implementing the precautionary principle and following natural processes, there can be a way in which technology is used to help the environment.

Leave A Comment, Written on April 12th, 2017 , Uncategorized

Valerie Weiner

“Rewilding of human life” is one of the most selfish, misguided concepts I have ever heard of. Not only does there seem to be a misunderstanding of the value of nature itself, but also of human nature. We need to recap how we got here: people misused and abused nature because they both wanted to live ‘full lives’ and at the same time did not understand that lifestyle impacted the environment. Now, we have lost things. Species, environments, entire ecosystems, some entirely gone. And now, we’re sad. Well too bad. The world adapts and changes daily and at this point we should focus this energy on prevention rather than reinvention—because that is to the benefit of both humans and the environment. Both Georgie Monbiot and Steward Brand seem convinced that genetic modification for the sake of ‘rewilding’ is a good thing—but for whom?

George Monibot mentions two definitions of rewilding: the mass restoration of ecosystems and the rewilding of human life. It seems, however, that what he means to say is the mass restoration of ecosystems for the rewilding of human life. Based on Steward Brand’s explanation, this means that technology like captive breeding and genome modification are actually not in the best interest of the species—they are to combat what Monibot calls “ecological boredom”. This is not, in my opinion, a good enough reason to revive the saber tooth tiger.

This is the essential problem with human kind. We think anthropocentrically, so we create and solve solutions in this cycle of which we are the center. Monibot and Brand recognize this, and believe that these de-extinction practices are actually the key to breaking us out of this destructive cycle. Are they arguing that de-extinction will somehow bring us closer to nature? Or that it is just something fun to do in a society of desensitized zombies? Do either Monibot or Brand even think nature needs to be saved? They both seem more concerned with saving human boredom than anything else.

Brand attempts to excuse his approach by saying that “we have the ability now, and maybe the moral obligation, to repair some of the damage” –sure, that’s true. But de-extinction is playing God, not repairing damage. More importantly, I don’t think that de-extinction will have the impact either speaker thinks it will. These are not ‘real’ animals. This will not provide people the experience the speakers think it will. I think of it as similar to going to a zoo. You see a tiger, but you know that not a real tiger. You watch it walk around in a cage, back and forth. When you know that real tigers run in the wild and stalk their prey and this tiger doesn’t know how. These de-extinct animals will not know how to live in these new, adapted environments. Brand even notes that the science is not perfect and many test animals die quickly. These experiments are clearly not to save the animal, but for the people to ‘not be bored’.

In essence, this project would turn the entire world into a zoo. There would be tours of wooly mammoths, photo ops with saber tooth tigers, and dinner with dodo birds. Sure, people may no longer be bored. But this does not mean they have any more intention to save the environment than they did before. Why should we save anything if we think science can just bring it back? I believe this approach will kill more ecosystems and native species that have adapted for centuries since the existence of these creatures than ever before. It is dangerous, and frankly scares me quite a bit.

Leave A Comment, Written on April 12th, 2017 , Uncategorized

Wesley Lickus

Human Place in Nature

Professor Beevers

12 April 2017

Week 12 Response: “Recovering / Redesigning Nature”

I feel that this planet is facing larger problems than many of the readings for this week suggest and acknowledge. So to that extent I agree most with George Monbiot’s TED Talk “For more wonder, rewild the world”. There are similarities between his and Stewart Brand’s presentations, but Monboit notably presented within the context of life as it stands now. I find myself disagreeing with the idea of de-extinction because it appears as a denial of what humans have done. Yes, species go extinct naturally, but over enormous amounts of time not a single human lifetime. There is no such thing as not believing in human influenced climate change; there is only understanding it, or not. Humans are the reason our planet is changing in ways history has never seen, the reason these articles and presentations exist in the first place. The way Monboit eloquently explains the trophic cascade reveals much beauty. The way in which whales bring their nutrients to the photic zones of oceanic ecosystems may not be glamorous, but they are in their own right beautiful in the way that they evolved to be, and warrant respect for this. Humans have no right to entirely put an end to such systems. I am sure that our globalized economy and expansive shopping lands have, at some point, disrupted the lifecycle of these great creatures. This is the sacrifice of living the way we all do. However with an understanding of the planet’s cascades, and the human place within it, change may be able to be made to benefit the whales and in tern us.

Monboit’s view and understanding of trophic cascades should make the fact that nature knows exactly what it’s doing clear to anyone watching it. Humans came in and shook everything up to the point that nature was no longer natural. But we can now see, with the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park, that if nature is allowed to perform as nature, it will. It will change every aspect, some unimaginable such as the flow and paths of streams and the abundance of animals that the park was in fact generated to preserve and allow every American to see. If humans believe they still need to be incorporated in the land, allow Native Americans to reestablish themselves on this land; they were meant to be there in the first place. His talk discusses the importance of “stepping back” as he says, and letting the nonhuman world decide. For the nonhuman ecosystem knows what it needs and will return to its uninterrupted state. What is to come is not all good, however. Take Reineman Wildlife Sanctuary, the preserved property home to numerous Dickinsonian research projects. With no human influence, the deer population is out of control, and the introduction of wolves on a small piece of land is unlikely.

Unlike the known and studied interactions within a food chain, geoengineering has no base on which to assess the impact of changes that may occur under its influence. Large projects, without insightful and detailed research into Earth’s large weather cycles such as India’s monsoons, have the potential to devilry disrupt these heavily relied on systems. Disruption of these systems would spell disaster. The global movement to curb the effects of climate change by returning the planet to its more nonhuman state would be attacked by those not involved in what needs to be a global mindset. Countries must work together and could not allow for further environmental injustice by having more wealthy countries like the US and those in Europe benefit from such engineering while countries like India see their relied on monsoon weather cycle go away.

Wilson disregards small, grassroots efforts developed by concerned citizens of this planet. “The problems can’t be solved piecemeal”, he says in describing that these efforts are not good enough to make a difference. This pessimistic view discourages me, for I feel that small individual efforts are the most important component to understanding and respecting the earth. The attitude these professionals have towards their work has the ability to exclude those not in their circles. This is not a time to exclude people or countries.

To conclude, taking a step back I understand the drastic changes that we as humans need to make on our lives. These changes are slow, however, and to Hamilton’s point, “We’ve engineered every other environment we live in — why not the planet?”. Maybe it is time to take unprecedented action, altering the planet to preserve our future.

 

Leave A Comment, Written on April 12th, 2017 , Uncategorized

04/11/17

Jackie Goodwin

This week’s collection of readings branch far beyond what we have discussed previously in this course. In looking at how humans are beginning to manipulate the environment through advanced technology, it’s becoming more clear that our ethics revolve purely around ourselves, not what would be beneficial to the planet. Meyer’s central argument in The End of the Wild is similarly cynical to my own perspective, and draws on Bill McKibben’s concepts in The End of Nature. Meyer enforces that there is no untouched landscape in nature, nothing that has evaded man’s impact. “What separates the Brazilian rainforest from New York’s Adirondack Forest Preserve from Manhattan’s Central Park is only a matter of degree” (9). He argues that the fuel behind degradation is twofold, as our deliberate efforts to protect and manage life infringe on nature’s rights as much as our disregard for the natural environment. While some may see these arguments as hollow, I found it validating to read a passionate piece that vehemently shows how man’s impact on the world is linear with no linear solution. Meyer’s acknowledgement of developing countries added a layer to his argument that I found to be extremely important and often overlooked in writing of this nature. Amidst the mention of a few western influenced projects in Africa and Latin America to “fix” what has gone wrong in the environment, he discusses how climate change and economic globalization have accelerated these issues for the developing world. He does argue that this is not just a problem caused by the world’s wealthy, something I could refute with ease as it is the exploitation of these developing countries at the hands of the western world that contribute to many pollution issues. India and China are following suit according to how the United States prospered-how can we deny them that right? I would have appreciated a more in depth analysis from Meyer in this section.

The discussion on extinct species and geoengineering came up quite frequently in the materials for this week, posing an interesting moral question to environmentalists. I have always argued against GMO’s purely because their existence is against what nature intended. However, if man is diminishing species by ruining their habitats and creating an unsuitable landscape for them, man has already intervened, so isn’t it at his hands to resolve it?  I found the Monbiot argument largely superficial. While I agree that it is in man’s best interest to be highly exposed to the natural world in any form-city parks, a small garden, blue skies- “rewilding” is simply a concept that I cannot accept. His “ecological boredom” is only proof that the world cannot give him what he thinks he desires. By further altering these systems, we are only showing the generations to come that anything can be manipulated, that we can play God. I feel similarly for the geoengineering argument and that of Brand’s stance. If we transplant extinct species into the common goat, we are playing God. We are encouraging animal suffering and perpetuating a system that is not and can never be sustainable. The Hamilton example of ocean fertilization was a simpler example of this notion that we can manipulate the environment to alter our effects, but proved how easily ripple effects can take place that cause harm to other areas of a functional ecosystem. In short, we have done enough to exhaust every being on this earth. To attempt to go back in time and bring back extinct species will only tell the wrong story to our children. It is no question that we have devastated the planet. But in bringing back species and geoengineering the world around us, it will not become more natural. We will not revert back to a desirable state, meanwhile the effects of climate change, ongoing resource extraction, ocean acidification, and events of disaster will persist.

Leave A Comment, Written on April 12th, 2017 , Uncategorized

Before this seminar, I have always thought the idea of humans controlling their environment too much was wrong. I have been broadly against using too much technology to solve our problems, or first and foremost, create our problems. It has always been difficult for me to decide what alteration or technology is too much or too far however, since the beginning of the semester my considerations have transformed. I would say that right now, I think I fall more in support of the human-hand in trying to solve environmental issues at large. It still makes me uneasy to think about humans completely altering everything we encounter including animals, food, and the air we breathe. I am apprehensive as there is no way of assuring the outcome or the long-term stability (in terms of human success).  The readings for this week and the technology they discuss are astounding.

Synthetic biology is rising and scientists are creating organisms with whole new gene clusters. At first glance, I would think “Oh, that’s too much”, but more I think about it I realize that we need to consider the intentionality. It seems to me, from a brief look at the subject, that nobody is deceivingly trying to create a Jurassic-Park-like scenario or toxic monster foods designed to kill us in five years. Yes, we might be taking the upper-hand-human-rules-all approach by thinking we are above nature and can solve everything with our brain power but at the same time, are we not intentionally trying to fix our problems? In the case of poverty and hunger for example, it would be stupid to not use such technology.

“Synbio” could potentially change the way we farm and eat food. Through this process we could, “deliver more-nutritious crops that thrive with less water, land, and energy, and fewer chemical inputs, in more variable climates and on lands that otherwise would not support intensive farming”. Originally, I would have thought that bringing synthesized DNA to the  farm and to my plate seems far too frightening for participation. In fact, I had that conversation with someone last week. The possibilities of engineering what is quoted above, are traits of our agricultural system today that already need improving. If we could improve them all, perhaps we could equally feed all mouths of the world a balanced diet. If a community has no access to fresh, healthy, and nutritious foods grown out in the field but they could access it from the lab, why not take that opportunity? Why not degrade our land, air, and water less? Why not save the lives of millions of animals killed in slaughter houses?

People hesitant on this subject might perceive it as an extension of chemical agriculture but the article Beyond GMO’s was smart to highlight that agriculture itself and the food that comes from it, is artificial. A synthetic product producing company put it terms that we are improving the efficiency of converting sunlight into proteins and carbohydrates to be consumed for nourishing our bodies. At the surface, this sounds ideal and I would support it but think it is essential to compare risks and benefits and carefully asses each gene and trait we intend to use before setting them out into our ecosystems.

The TED talk by George Monbiot raised the point that humans are not the only species capable of altering their environments at a large scale. He did this through the examples of wolves altering their ecosystem network but also the physical geography and through wales who have the capability of changing the physical composition of the atmosphere. Both cases are huge changes that seem to me, like they still could have happened without the human-hand. We view them as not sustainable because we term it that way, but do we have a proper view of what correct assemblages of species are? These are thoughts I never would have anticipated crossing my mind as an environmental studies major but I have been challenged to think that we are animals just as the rest and we are trying to improve our health, comfort, and well-being.

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ENST 406 Senior Seminar

Understanding the Human Place in Nature — Spring 2017