Thursday, May 13, 2010

BP stands for...

Beyond Petroleum... as of British Petroleum's 2000 "eco-friendly" rebranding.

Just making sure you all are aware of the current oil spill crisis off the coast of Louisiana, caused by the leaking of a BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico.  There are some amazing images available.

No Impact (Hu)Man?

Thought you guys might be interested in a new documentary out about a self-confessed "guilty liberal" who wanted to try to live "lightly," or with zero impact, on the earth.

Here's his blog:

And the movie is in my Netflix streaming queue!

What I find interesting is the hubris already present in the title, which valorizes the efforts of a single "man" (how many times has Chiara helpfully reminded you to stay gender neutral?).  From what I've heard, much of the "drama" of the movie involves Colin Beavan's struggles to get his wife to support/enable his idealistic plans.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Human Nature?

Throughout this class, many of the writers portrayed Humans and Nature as a dichotomy. They saw humans and nature as separate entities. In some cases, such as the photographer taking pictures of the taxidermied animals, portrayed the relationship between human objects and animals as almost ironic. In class, when we viewed these images, we laughed when we saw the animals interacting with human objects. We laughed at the coyote in the yard, or the bear by the pool.

I disagree with that manner of thinking. Humans are a product and part of nature. Our technology is, in a way, a type of evolution. We evolved into bipedal animals, with opposable thumbs and an over-sized head and brain, in lieu of claws and sharp teeth. With those thumbs, we gripped rocks, spears, bows, swords, guns, pens, hammers, saws, and Hypodermic Needles. We have colonized every part of the world, and exterminated diseases for the betterment of our species.

However, if we look at other types of animals with extreme adaptations, we aren't alone. Take some types insects as an example. Ants and Termites have evolved to a hive situation, where enormous families of genetically identical individuals work and die for the good of the genetic lineage. Just like humans, these insects will alter their environment in order to suit their needs. Some species will even "Farm" aphids and other smaller insects, in order to feed their young.

My point with this example, is that we need to reevaluate what we consider "Natural." Is an ant's farming of aphids more natural than humans farming cattle? Is a cat eating grass when it feels sick less natural than a human taking aspirin (a natural component of Willow bark)? Humans may be different from other animals in terms of sentience and consciousness, but why do we consider our actions an opposition to nature, rather than part of it?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Word to the Wise

I attended Carolyn Merchant’s talk on transforming the ethic of control of nature to an environmental ethic of partnership. She described the Scientific Revolution as the turning point away from the perception of nature as Mother, provider, and sustainer towards the notion of nature in bonds, able to be captured and fully understood through the new-found wisdom indebted to science and technology. The controlled scientific experiment enabled the experimenter to posit questions to nature, as if nature can be put on trial with scientists as judges. The goal of the Scientific Revolution thus became the extraction of Earth’s knowledge and inner-workings through the controlled experiment and technological underpinnings. Philosophers and scientists of the time, such as Bacon and Newton, assumed a mechanistic view of nature; once seen as organic and active, nature was now taken as inert and that of a machine, able to be controlled and dominated. This marked the inception of what would become a centuries-long conversion of forests, deserts, and marshes to pasture lands; of foraging a new reliance on inorganic energy sources; of human expansion and pollution; of species extinctions; and of the collapse of ecosystems all in the name of man to “recover control that is his through divine bequest” (Newton, Novum Organum).

Next she traced the challenges to this mechanized view of nature, from Ernst Haeckel’s introduction of ecology, to Einstein’s Chaos Theory, to the conservation and environmental movements. At this juncture she proposed her vision of an ethic of partnership with nature, craft through an alliance with the Earth to bring equity between human and non-human communities. Whereas our society’s inherited ethic of control of nature is wrought through human domination over the environment, partnership is based upon relation and conceiving the Earth as a respected agent and partner of humans. Moreover, her proposed testament has both utilitarian and ecological undertones along with espousing moral consideration for both humans and other species, respect for cultural- and bio-diversity, and a method that includes women, minorities, and non-human actors.

Merchant’s speech correlated well with my own considerations of and engagement with the Earth, although it left me feeling somewhat hallow, knowing well that it is one thing to philosophize and expound upon ideals and an entirely different thing for those ideals to be implemented society-wide.

We have learned throughout this semester both historic and modern renderings of what “nature” is, our relationship with this concept, and the ways in which various mediums influence how we think of and position ourselves with the natural world. This analysis serves well in the arena of rhetorical critique and as a focal point around which to develop and perfect the art of argument and essay writing. For me, though, this theoretical realm of books and “knowledge” is not enough; I know that environmental liberation and justice is an activity above all else and requires concerted effort on an everyday basis, from the choices I make as a consumer, to the principles and parties for whom I vote, to the bike I ride, to the recycle and compost bins I fill, and to the professional aspirations I am currently pursuing here at Cal.

I am an economics and environmental studies major. Current markets attach a price to resources while there is no monetary value associated with the environment. There is something conceptually flawed with this disparity, and I consider this to be an extension and reinforcement of the control of nature of which Merchant describes. I argue that as responsible members of our society and of the Earth it is imperative to take a more critical look at the various ways we value the environment. Through this understanding, it is my personal prerogative to encourage and help mobilize economics of sustainability. My way is not The way, however, and it is up for each of us to decide how, what, and where we want our education to take us along with the moral character to which we ascribe.

Just as Food Inc. left us with the message of using our consumer privilege to make conscientious food choices in order to advance the food industry towards more sustainable, healthy practices, so too do I encourage all of you to make it a daily endeavor of making environmentally respectful decisions and to treat the nature that surrounds you with an ethic of partnership: to treat the Earth as part and parcel of our own kin.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Rethinking the Purpose

The first weeks of class I was constantly questioning the reading selection. Whats the point of reading this? How is this going to help me? How am I going to apply this to other classes? How is this rhetoric?
However as time passed and began to pay more attention to the conversations during class and reread the readings, the answer to these question were slowly piecing together. The importance of our reading was exactly trying to question our conceptualization of nature in society. Just the fact that these readings were making me question them, they were already doing there jobs. I began to understand that in the beginning I used to not understand and sometimes reject the ideas because they foreign to me.
The theme of nature can be so difficult because our society does not put much importance in the theory of nature-it is what it is lets move on to more important topics-. We are caught up with those more important things that we don't have time to question this unwritten rule of nature. This class highlights this unwritten rule and questions it and brings up a wide range of perspectives of what nature is. I am thankful for this wide range of topics because we had the opportunity to view all the ideas and come up with my own theory of nature.
I had a specific opportunity to do this when I wrote my first research paper because in order to do so i had to have a good grasp of my sources. Therefore it forced me to look more in depth in the readings and be able to apply it to "more important things" and even find flaws in laws implemented throughout the United States history (Wilderness Act of 1968) .
A other thing that helped me these different concepts of nature were all the presentations for my colleagues research topic. It was interesting to see the different interpretations of nature in relation to their topic. For example two of my colleagues presented on Jurassic Park in relation to nature, but one of them took a more scientific perspective while the other took a more philosophical/theoretical perspective.
Overall I found the class interesting and has left me with a new perspective of nature and how to apply nature to topics that we thought it could have no relation. I want to also thank the instructors for there great job in trying to make the course as interesting by having students engage in the conversations as much as possible.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Some more thoughts

Since that post got kind of lengthy, I decided to put my final thoughts about the course in a separate post. I definitely entered this class without any clue about the course topic and didn’t know what to expect when I discovered we’d be discussing “nature.” Overall, I enjoyed this course and the diversity of our discussions and course materials (videos, essays, games, photographs, and so much more). Like Skyler, Tim, and Christina, I realize that I haven’t reached a conclusive answer about the definition of nature and its boundaries, and nor have I really been able to define the relationship between humans and the rest of the world. Rather, I look at this class as providing me with tools to approach “nature” differently and think more critically about our interaction with the environment and “nature.” Perhaps it is not so important to reach an answer as it is to learn to think critically about what we categorize as “natural” and what we don’t and how that impacts our relationship with perceived “nature.”

I’ve also noticed that this class has impacted the way I look at objects I would normally take for granted and has caused me to question the “nature” presented in these common items. From thinking about the eco-friendly label on my Organix brand shampoo to analyzing the various breathtaking desktop backgrounds that HP offers on laptops for consumers (especially under the section titled “Nature” and “Landscapes”), I began to notice how much our interaction with “nature” and the values we attribute to “nature” is present in our everyday lives.

Lastly, I just wanted to say thank you to all of my brilliant classmates who brought such insightful thoughts and ideas to our class, as well as to Chiara and Alenda. You both have been so supportive and helpful, and have done a great job of guiding and improving both our skills of writing and of analysis. Thank you! =)

Nature as a Commodity to the Extreme…

During my flight home about a week ago, the flight attendants played part of a documentary titled “A Lion Named Christian” for our entertainment. It basically tells the story of two men who bought a lion from Harrods (a posh department store) in London, England in the 1960’s. Yes, you read that correctly. Two men bought a lion cub from a department store. I was pretty skeptical about this and actually did a little bit of research through Google to try to find a bit more on Harrods and its history of selling animals… This was one of the links that came up: It’s pretty much a summary of the documentary and contains some remarkable photos of lion cub living among humans. I also found which backs up this story about Harrods (scroll down to the section called “Fashion Accessory”).

For those of you who have not heard of this story or have not seen the youtube clip, here is a link to a few clips of Christian: I think it goes without saying that this documentary sparked my interest and offered a unique and rich site for analysis (lucky for me, our class has equipped us with some tools to begin examining this unfathomable phenomenon). First off, I thought sarcastically, “Wow. This is definitely taking the idea of Zoo Parade to another level. What better way to learn about an animal than to ADOPT it?!” And, of course, I felt quite disturbed by the fact that Harrods was simply “selling” this lion cub (though I think the documentary mentioned something about an application/interview process for potential owners) to regular people. I guess back then, having an exotic pet was a fashion statement/status symbol. According to the first link I posted, Ace and John (then men who raised Christian) were shocked by Harrods’ exotic animals department as well and went to check it out for themselves.

While watching these clips about Christian and his life with Ace and John, and, eventually, his “naturalization” in Kenya, a few questions kept bothering me:

1. Is it NATURAL for a lion to behave the way Christian was behaving (i.e. cuddling with and hugging humans and sleeping on a cot with pillows and blankets)? If not, then why did I feel sad when I saw Ace and John leaving Christian, as he looked towards them longingly? (Definitely an appeal to pathos!)

2. If the bond between man and animal is so “natural” then why is the video clip of the reunion so surprising and moving for many viewers? Is the bond actually unnatural? What about the relationship George, the man who was helping the lions develop “the pride,” shared with the lions?

3. What does this video and nature reveal about our interaction and relationship with our household “pets”? Do we possibly need animals more than they need us, or is it a mutual need developed once a relationship is established? (This just reminded me of The Little Prince and a quote about taming…)

4. At a more down-to-earth level, Ace and John talk about wanting to raise awareness of a need to protect endangered species, but what about the fact that they purchased it from Harrods, a place that sold furs a plenty? How can we reconcile this want to conserve wildlife and the trends of society and fashion?

I don’t have a complete answer to these questions, but I still think that there is something valuable in the relationship formed between Christian and Ace and John. In the documentary, two quotes that struck me were “Whether we were human or he was animal was sort of irrelevant” and “Everyone, lions, humans, felt we shared something special…” The love and emotion that this story evokes is a powerful sentiment that can be harnessed to inspire a more respectful approach to “nature” (as the other, the something greater than ourselves) and humankind…

P.S. Does anyone have any ideas as to how they got that footage of the reunion between Christian and Ace and John? I’m just puzzled since I think there would be some issue if a stranger-human were present…