Throughout this course, not only did we become knowledgeable on many of the prevalent environmental issues in today’s world, we gained a thorough understanding of the different types of environmentalism and the philosophies surrounding these views. Communicating Nature is an excellent book that seems fundamentally necessary for the transition of a student like myself from an environmentally conscious outdoor enthusiast to a true environmentalist. I feel that this course has led me through this transition, helping me to develop a keener awareness for all environmental issues, not just the ones I have briefly studied in the past without exploring in enough depth.
Communicating Nature was a great text to begin with in this course because it gradually guides us into an understanding of the sphere of environmentalism, especially in an academic and definitive way, and this gradual approach entailed drawing the reader in by discussing the environment in ways that they can relate to and identify with. This is especially true for me and other environmental enthusiasts because we all love the outdoors, usually because we had frequent connection with it growing up, and this book begins with discussing how connections with nature as a child can be direct, indirect, and/or symbolic. The early chapters of this book carried us into the different sub-spheres of environmentalism by explaining why and how many of us feel about and/or perceive nature, which often has much to do with where one is raised as a child and cultural contexts.
Environmental ideologies are then presented to the reader after they have identified with this text on a basic level, in this case loving the outdoors since a young age like me and many of my classmates have. This exposure to different environmental ideologies allows the reader to explore beyond this basic connection in order to discover which type of environmentalist they are, whether their characteristics and views are parallel those of one group or several. These groups included unrestrained instrumentalism, conservationism, preservationism, ethics/value-driven ideologies, and transformative ideologies. One of the most principal connections I had to the ideologies described early on in the book was through the descriptions of the value in having a notion of the human race as an integral species in the vast, functional biosphere, in addition to being an intrinsic biotic factor sharing earth with operative abiotic factors. Although I had already possessed a similar notion prior to taking this course, this began the reinforcement of my ideology about the natural world that occurred throughout exploring the material I was exposed to in this course. Moreover, this course and Communicating Nature led me to identify with ‘transformative ideologies,’ which is described in the book as involving trying to seek the deep underlying causes of anthropocentric society and lack of environmental consciousness and desire to make serious reforms to reverse these major overlying issues (Corbett 28). I plan to spend my life practicing my own transformative ideology in order to contribute to making the necessary societal and ideological reforms in order to positively sustain the life of all the biotic creatures on this planet.
Anthropocentrism, the idea that the humans are the central, higher beings in this universe, is a common philosophy that many humans develop naively. I do not identify with this ideology, and Communicating Nature elaborates well on the issues in our world inherent to the common existence of anthropocentric human beings. For me, reading deeply about the defining characteristics and issues surrounding anthropocentrism just further reinforced my notion of that ideology, as well as my philosophies concerning the natural world that we are all fundamentally a part of. I lead my life as a constant daily practice within my own sphere of environmental consciousness, sticking passionately to my moral responsibility in leading by example to protect the earth and the living creatures I interact with from the detrimental dangers caused by careless human activity. I have a moral responsibility as an environmentalist to reverse and prevent the various detriments to the best of my ability to make up for where others were mindless, and in order to protect those around me and myself. For me, these are freshly resonant motives in my mind because I found inspiration in learning about so many of the harsh truths involved in the prevalent environmental issues of this time. My overall transition into a more conscious and concerned environmentalist involves leading by example more and more over time, which requires a continuous responsive effort to reduce my impact.
Watching No Impact Man and doing my own ‘no impact journal’ this semester not only helped me understand the weight and frequency of my ecological impacts, it inspired me to continue my journal writing so that I can analyze my lifestyle and thus how I can further reduce my ecological footprint. I intend to discuss this analysis of my journal and impacts relative to the writing and philosophies of some of the famous environmental authors and thinkers of the human race, such as Henry David Thoreau, in a final paper I am writing for another class. Thoreau is an ecological thinker/writer who I identify with most regarding environmentalist literature. The texts of his that we read this semester from Huckleberries and his journals supplemented his book Walden, which we also read an excerpt from. However, I read much more of this book for another class and wrote several papers on his philosophies about society, and I identify with many of his ideologies, especially those concerning the near impossibility of escaping signs of human civilization in finding a truly natural place. One quote that resonated in my mind from Walden was when Thoreau states, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, realized that I had not lived” (19). I identify with Thoreau here because I feel that society has become so complex that even the simple necessities of living are difficult for me to focus on, thus isolating me from living a sustainable lifestyle of simplicity that I could lead so easily, peacefully, and happily.
I also deeply appreciate reading about his lack of a need for money and how money and societal growth have caused the exponential decrease in the level at which society values education. Thoreau’s solitary self-sustaining lifestyle at Walden Pond, Massachusetts, where he wrote the book, is exemplary of the sustainable lifestyle that I desire to live and how deep connections with nature in remote places can provide outstanding clarity about the human race.
Colin Beavan, the maker and star of No Impact Man, is another truly inspirational and intelligent man, and he and his family have set a wonderful example of the benefits and the struggles involved in trying to consciously reduce your impacts and needs many of us are so comfortable with. The work of Thoreau and Beavan have inspired my efforts to be aware of my ecological footprint always and consistently aim to reduce it until it is minimal. This will always pose challenges, but many of the challenges one faces in this type of lifestyle transition result from an anthropomorphized, disconnected society that makes us so comfortable and lazy that habits become very hard to break.
Until reading about the ways in which humans anthropomorphize and commodify so many natural entities in Communicating Nature, I never really realized how drastically the commonality of such anthropocentric actions disconnects humans from the natural world that they are innately interconnected with. A pertinent example as familiar and simple as a Disney movie suffices in this scenario, where animals are personified and used as characters in a story to attract children, but more importantly, to generate capital for the film makers and the rest of the film industry. Although I do not condone this as a moral action, the commodification of animals and nature for entertainment for youth is something that caused a love and interest in nature to resonate in my mind and my way of thinking growing up. I believe that this is in many ways important in today’s world, where children are much more disconnected from the environment.
One text that we read several times this semester that really resonated in my mind and reinforced my ideals about respecting living things was Am I Blue? This essay, by Alice Walker, is absolutely beautiful writing that questions the lack of respect and attention paid to animals, specifically concerning their emotions, through a personal recollection of the author’s. She describes the lack of consideration for the feelings of a lonely horse that roams the pasture next door to a country house she once rented, and how she established a friendly relationship with it by feeding it apples by the fence on a daily basis. This parallels my behavior around animals that I have been exposed to throughout my life because I respect their complex existence and they fascinate me, so I have always had a keen interest in trying to peacefully interact with any animal I encounter. Walker describes how a female horse is brought to the pasture to breed with Blue, the horse she has become friends with, and how he never has seemed so happy and exuberant. However, Blue becomes depressed when the female horse that he has fallen in love with is taken away after the mating process, which exemplifies the lack of consideration of other livings things that humans so often are guilty of. Walker makes excellent points in this essay about how people should be more conscious of animal well being and their emotions because we can learn so much from them. I will repeat my favorite quote that I used in last week’s blog because it is such a powerful, important message in very few words. She states, “People like me who have forgotten, and daily forget, all that animals try to tell us. ‘Everything you do to us will happen to you; we are your teachers, as you are ours. We are one lesson’ is essentially it, I think” (Walker 7). And we do always forget what animals can tell us. We should pay more attention to the suffering and pain we see animals like Blue, or the dolphin performers at sea world dying of depression, or the marine life that washes up on beaches because sound pollution has killed them. These biotic creatures inhabit the same planet we do and are exposed to the same problems and pollutants. If they are affecting other living things who are chemically and physically similar to us, then obviously they will affect us too. Humans should be way more conscious and caring of animals, instead of commodifying them for profit like the horses in Walker’s essay and the dolphins who are auctioned to be performers for human amusement, especially because their suffering is cruel, unnecessary, and indicative of the hardships that humans also face or will have to face.
The commodification of true biological organisms, in my opinion, is cruel and wrong. The Cove was a very heartbreaking documentary that exemplified how violent the commodification of living creatures can really be. It explores the capturing of dolphins during their migration along the coasts of Japan, which involves the auctioning of ‘adequate’ dolphins for show business (human amusement locations, such as Sea World) for hundreds of thousands of dollars and the cruel, moralless slaughtering of the rest of the ‘inadequate’ dolphins to be sold for their meat. Food, Inc. was also an upsetting eye-opener concerning the corporate food industry that harmfully commodifies livestock, raises them abusively in filthy unsanitary conditions, alters their chemical and biological functions, and ultimately poisons the human race. Corporations like Monsanto, Tyson, and Purdue are just some examples of these cruel powerhouse market monopolies that have no notion of how to adequately care for any living thing, and I intend to advocate against them, in addition to staying away from their products for the rest of my life.
The modern world is centered around the consumer, perpetuating the commonality and acceptance of citizens who are constantly preoccupied with whatever they need and want. With society so focused on the consumer, infrastructure is continually being developed to make the connection to the natural world less and less necessary every day, which exacerbates the disconnect from the environment and the lack of care and respect towards it that is inherent in most human activity. More recently, even as this problem seems to worsening on a daily basis, there seems to be a revival of sorts of an environmentally conscious attitude and revolution, but the market exploits this ‘green revolution’ too.
Marketing companies play off of the popularity of ‘going green’ by advertising products and labeling products as environmentally friendly and ‘all-natural,’ meanwhile many of them still have many of the pollutants and toxins in their ingredients like all the other products that are not marketed as natural and safe. Their skulduggeries involve creating an atmosphere of false environmental respect and sustainability, which deceives the common consumer who is often so unaware of common environmental issues that they don’t think twice about their purchase. Yet, they are naively adhering to this false atmosphere in actuality. This wrongful exploitation of consumers perpetuates into a vicious cycle that exacerbates the continual disconnection between humans and nature and the neglect of nature inherent in this divide. Overall, Communicating Nature introduced our classmates to these horrible realities that now seem so obvious to many of us, and this provided an adequate and substantial foundational awareness about the relationship between the human race and the natural world that leads to its continual neglect. I appreciated this text because it provided that thorough definitive understanding of the different aspects surrounding the interdisciplinaries of environmentalism; I became even more aware and concerned with the issues that are addressed within these spheres that are exemplified in the numerous supplemental texts and media sources we were exposed to throughout the rest of the course.
The various documentaries we watched throughout the semester were the most eye-opening sources for me, mainly because it provided realistic visual proof of the truths behind so many environmental issues and the worsening resultant problems that we must address now before it is too late. Earth 2100 was an extremely realistic portrayal of what is going to happen to society in the United States if we do not begin to address the contemporary issues threatening the flora, fauna, and abiotic environments we all live in. The aforementioned common consumer-driven society and markets make it seem that resources are virtually unlimited for anyone living in America because these things are at our fingertips. However, if we do not diversify our energy sources, move away from corporatizing industries, specifically the food industry (we all saw the endless list of issues surrounding this in Food, Inc.; i.e. animal cruelty, lack of cleanliness, toxicity), spread awareness more methodically, and change our infrastructural growth to maintain the safety of our citizens and prevent the worsening of the issues surrounding global warming and human impact, then the fate of the United States parallels the events portrayed in Earth 2100.
We will run out of drinking water, something that is already so limited, especially because industries so often contaminate our water sources. We saw how frequently this occurs in Gasland, which also exemplifies the dangers of this contamination. This film shows us that we have more reason than ever now to stop the move to begin the use hydraulic fracturing for the extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale shelf that sits below the land surface of New York State, among others. Not only do the hundreds upon hundreds of transportation trucks used in the fracking process significantly contribute to carbon emission pollution, the fracking process contaminates excessive amounts of water used in the process and many underwater drinking aquifers with the chemicals and residues left behind. This has caused cancers, birth defects, disease, loss of hair, flaming faucet water in residential homes, and many other issues for the inhabitants of areas nearby fracking sites. I will continue to fight and advocate against the allowance of fracking in New York State and the rest of the country for my lifetime because these horrible risks and tradeoffs make the process completely unsafe and unsustainable. Dear Governor Cuomo and Bidder 70 are other amazing documentaries that reinforced my views on fracking and truly inspired my motivation to advocate against fracking by demonstrating the emotional power and effectiveness of peaceful protesting.
Humans also will over-exploit our food sources and natural resources, especially because of issues surrounding agricultural pollution, like over-cultivation and eutrophication. This will lead to the further collapse of food chains and thus more of our diverse food resources, along with the eventual collapse of the human tier of the food chain.
Our continual use of carbon-emitting transportation will also exacerbate the pollution that already has sped up the global warming process, which causes a wide number of other issues that pose threats to the human race. This includes ozone depletion, which is increasing risks of cancer and increasing the frequency of the formation of secondary pollutants that develop from the mixture of human-produced primary pollutants that are trapped in the atmosphere following their release. The ozone depletion also causes more ultra-violent sunrays to reflect back towards earth off the thick layer of pollution in the atmosphere once the rays have already been repelled off of the earth’s surface, which speeds up the warming process. This is causing drastic sea-level rise because glacial ice in the colder biomes of the world are melting more and more rapidly. By 2100, New York City, along with some of the world’s other most populated areas, will be under water because the sea level can raise an average of three feet globally by that time.
These major issues and the high potential for the resultant problems surrounding global warming and the general environmental/societal neglect are realistically portrayed in Earth 2100, Gasland, Food, Inc., and the other media we viewed throughout the semester. Continuing to neglect life and the environment will perpetuate the global warming process and the problems that result, which also will worsen the weather conditions globally. Drastic changes in temperatures have enormous influences on the weather because temperature and weather conditions are directly related. If the temperature changes, so does atmospheric pressure, thus altering wind patterns and currents that are directly related to pressure change. With significant changes in weather, the devastating major natural disasters we have witnessed in the past several years will be worse in the future.
We all experienced firsthand the destructive forces of Hurricane Sandy, and that event alone should be enough to invoke concern and demand for greater awareness about such severe weather and how to stay safe from it. The rarity of such a substantial storm in this area is a direct sign of how weather conditions will intensify in the future, so I hope that there is a growing concern and willingness to make lifestyle changes among U.S. citizens in order to prevent the worsening of the conflicts caused by global warming. My project group reported about the severe devastation of Hurricane Sandy, its causes, and potential solutions for the future in our Earthstock project. Not only did this project introduce our class to basic environmental advocacy and the research and spread of information involved in spreading awareness, it also educated my group-mates and I about the necessary precautions and transitions that occupied coastal areas must undergo in order to stay safe and in tact when more severe storms hit in the future. Earth 2100 simulated a potential realistic precaution for enormous storms that could affect these areas in the future, which was the installation of a large sea wall with gates to enclose New York Harbor and shield it from threatening storm surges. Contemporary scientists are actually considering implementing these types of security measures, even scientists like Malcolm Bowman, a current marine scientist and expert professor on sea level rise that spoke at the Hurricane Sandy Symposium. We also must take more adequate measures to preserve and maintain the dune systems on our coastlines that prevent significant erosion and protect coastal inhabitants from major storm surges and tides. Europe has already implemented regulations on distances between coastlines and buildings and maintaining of sea grasses on sand dunes that keep them in tact. Engineers and construction teams there have also already built functional protective sea walls. Although these engineering aspects of protecting coasts from sea level rise are important, our Earthstock project also educated us on the importance of spreading awareness about the importance of dune preservation, necessary flood insurance plans, and danger zones during severe weather. Advocacy and communal effort is necessary to expose our society to these necessary precautions, and the Earthstock project was a great microcosm of real environmental advocacy that exposed my classmates and I to its basic logistics and benefits that we will use to spread awareness on major issues in the future.
This course has been an enjoyable transformation for me because we were exposed to so many different materials that educated me on the importance and necessity for living sustainably and advocating this lifestyle and the need for acknowledgment and action regarding the prominent environmental issues that threaten the life of this planet. The various texts and media we were exposed to showed me that this is crucial for human existence to continue, and that a sustainable lifestyle is both realistic, healthy, and overall extremely beneficial to oneself and others. I now have fundamental skills in advocacy and knowledge a multitude of environmental issues that I can spread awareness on and further build my knowledge on in the future. I also have a multitude of available sources to access further information concerning these topics that will help me to do so, such as my favorite source the Environmental Workings Group, which I like because it has a multitude of sections describing nearly every environmental issue truthfully, along with sources and articles concerning them. This course has reinforced many of my environmental ideologies, while incorporating new disciplines that have helped me grow into a more sustainable, conscious ecologist. I identify with the transformative ideology group within environmental ideologies, while possessing qualities that led me to self-proclaim myself as a deep ecologist. I am positive and hopeful that I can use all of the knowledge I have gained in this course to spread awareness and help all living things that I possibly can for the rest of my life.
Corbett, Julia B. Communicating Nature. Island Press: Washington D.C., 2006. p. 28.
Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. Wilder Publications, LLC.: Radford, VA, 2008. p. 19.
Walker, Alice. “Am I Blue?” Living by the Word: Selected Writings, 1973-1987. 1986.p. 7.