With Friends Like These, Wilderness and Biodiversity Do Not Need Enemies
“Those orchestrating and profiting from the ever-growing transformation of the natural world into commodities have always had apologists.”
In this essay, David chooses five of what I think are the most outrageous pronouncements by major figures in the HCC crowd. He starts with:
1) Wilderness and biodiversity protection goals must be curtailed and clearly tied to human interests in order to be achievable.
Johns responds with an explanation of how foreign this statement must sound to those who have understood the science findings of how the planet takes care of itself and how much work in cooperation has already been achieved.
I am irritated to see such a blatantly pragmatic and anthropocentric statement. Earth is not all about humans. How much wilderness is left has no bearing on the intrinsic value of habitat undamaged by humans. As for biodiversity, it should not be coupled with wilderness. Biodiversity is our name for the fecundity of the planet. Even if we don’t understand the whys, recognising its existence as a celebration of Earth’s energy is enough to merit working with it rather than wiping it out as a by-product of our colonisation of all life.
2) Humans have always been everywhere, [ridiculous, blatantly false. We are a recent and deadly result of what we call evolution.] have fundamentally changed virtually every place on Earth, so there are no pristine lands (wilderness) to protect. [Again false, humans have not fundamentally changed anything. Fundamentally, all we see around us IS the Earth. We have only diminished Gaia’s health and eliminated much of Gaia’s protection implementations. Yes, we have destroyed but not fundamentally. The non-existence of wilderness is a worn, tired and thoroughly bashed concept whose day has come and gone. Just because the wilderness of history has been abused almost beyond recognition doesn’t mean that we have to cease all effort to reserve adequate habitat for other-than-human beings. Johns devotes several pages refuting this statement.
3) Humans are part of Nature [this is absurdly obvious unless one believes that we are aliens or that we have been genetically modified by aliens] and so our effects on other species, our efforts to dominate, and our attempts to turn the world into a garden are all natural.
I find this attitude almost complete unbelievable. It seems to me that it must have been issued from the ravings of insanity – seriously. This is tantamount to the following belief: Thousands upon thousands of humans kill other humans; humans are part of Nature, so killing each other is natural. I could go on with other examples but they are too absurd to write down. We have sound environmental ethics that are accepted by subject matter experts as sound and in tune with an ecocentric worldview. No other living being kills and destroys out of what we have labelled as greed. Rapacious, especially insatiable killing is not and never has been seen as natural; let’s don’t go there!!!
4) Humans are part of Nature, and reserves of various sorts separate us from the natural world.
This statement seems to me to be rather weak. Violent fathers are separated from their wives and children so they will not be harmed or killed. Humans who kill, rape and steal are separated from the innocent and peace-loving others in a society. I recently saw a photo of what was claimed to be the last remaining West African black rhino. It seems obvious that black rhinos were NOT separated from humans soon enough. I think I’ve made my point.
5) Human wants must take priority over needs of other species, even to the point of extinction.
Well, this takes the cake. Perhaps this is why Michael Soule, as I interpret his statements, does not consider HCC as a conservation group. I fully agree. That’s why I say that they are a human centred conservation group. I suppose I’m meant to come around to the idea that being natural, I should expect to encourage people to have as many children as they like because that is ‘natural.’ Being that we are natural, then it follows that we should grab every available square inch of planetary surface to house and feed our children. Then if one goes further with this hubris and sees oneself at the pinnacle of Evolutionary development and decides that humans are the hope of the planet or that humans are Gaia’s way to become aware of itself. [I’m at a loss for words here as our language is confined to a subject being a person, place or thing and our grammar 3rd person singular as a he, she or it. Where do you fit a living, loving, conscious planet? He, she or it?]
So, being natural does not justify an attitude that it is acceptable or right livelihood for us to crowd out so many other beings. For that matter, we do try to crowd out our gut and stomach microbes that are essential to our health. We swallow medicines that indiscriminately kill both harmful and beneficial microbes instead of looking at the whole system as a balanced, living organ and working with it rather than poisoning it.
Before I continue digging a hole for myself, I must go back to the idea of justifying our behaviour. Morals and ethics are human concepts. When we preserve a human centred perspective, then it is logical that we promote human centred morals and ethics. However, over the last 500 years or so, our scientific evidence points out that we have essential dependencies, unavoidable dependencies. We don’t even know how our heart keeps on beating. We don’t cause it to beat. In fact, we might even start to question whether there is actually a ‘me’ in our body controlling everything. Peter Russell, an evolutionary futurist http://www.peterrussell.com/index2.php] wrote a paper that I once possessed which contained a fascinating thought experiment as follows: Suppose you placed your five senses in one room and the rest of your body in another room. Now where are YOU? Our body is composed of several highly developed organisms made up of highly specialised cells and millons of microscopic beings living both within these cells and swimming around outside them both inside our bodies and outside on our skin. Where is the controller located? Where is the me? I don’t know and even if I did know, we have not developed a language for me to explain it. Why, because we are caught in an inadequate worldview that doesn’t incorporate our 21st century spiritual and scientific experience. When HCCs advocate human priority over other species, do they consider that that priority shift might take the form of eliminating necessary beings that make up the cooperative venture we call ‘my body’? Furthermore, what’s with ‘my body’? What gives us ownership of these millions of beings and complex organisms? Enough said.
David johns closes with a brilliant quote from D.H.Lawrence:
“We are bleeding at the roots, because we are cut off from the Earth and the sun and the stars, and love is a grinning mockery, because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the tree of life, and expected it to keep on blossoming in our civilized vase on the table.”
‘A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, in Phoenix II, ( London: Heinemann, 1968), 504. Johns continues:
“This is the great sacrifice we have made, and it need not be.”
Well, of course, this is shocking but nothing new to capitalism. Most of our major industries leave billions of Pounds/Dollars, whichever currency, of pollution and waste for governments to clean up and finance from taxes. Then, to heap insult onto injury, over the last century especially, western legislatures have granted favourable tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy who in turn own the companies being subsidised. Nice work if you can get it. Is it any wonder that: “The total wealth of the richest 1,000 individuals and families in Britain has more than doubled in the last 10 years to £547bn, the survey reported.
There are now 117 billionaires on the list, up from 104 in 2014, with 80 of them living in London.”
“Back in October last year [sic 2014] as a 65 year old I was offered the winter flu vaccine and a pneumonia prevention injection. I happily accepted this as I had heard it prevented some of the winter flu’s that normally circulate. The long and short of it was that since that day I have had continually re-occurring sore throats, coughs and colds and it has really prevented me from doing a lot of “to camera” videos. I might have has about 5 weeks in total between the injection and now that I have been able to perform a normal level of health. This week I bit the bullet and went to my GP. She sort of agreed that there is some evidence to suggest there is a link between the pneumonia vaccine and reduced immunity afterwards. I had a vampire suck bloods for investigation and a chest X-ray and hopefully there will be an answer next week. I had planned to take a week’s photographic holiday on the Scottish Island of Arran and hopefully capture images of the new seal pups born around May. At the moment It’s on hold as mountain walks are just out of the question as I’ve tried a couple of local peaks and it was really hard work breathing in without coughing my bootlaces up!!!”
From Graham’s Photo Blog
Ptolemaic Environmentalism by Eileen Crist one of the editors.
Following is a short bio:
“Eileen received her Bachelor’s from Haverford College in sociology in 1982 and her doctoral degree from Boston University in 1994, also in sociology, with a specialization in life sciences and society. She has been teaching at Virginia Tech in the Department of Science and Technology in Society since 1997, where she is the advisor for the undergraduate program “Humanities, Science, and Environment.” She also teaches part time in the Department of Animal Studies at The Humane Society University. She is author of Images of Animals: Anthropomorphism and Animal Mind. She is also coeditor of Gaia in Turmoil: Climate Change, Biodepletion, and Earth Ethics in an Age of Crisis and Life on the Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation. Eileen is author of numerous papers and contributor to the late journal Wild Earth. She lives in Blacksburg, Virginia with her husband Rob Patzig where they also teach yoga together.”
Oecumene is an ancient Greek word meaning the inhabited world. A deeper investigation revels, according to Crist, that it actually signified that other-than-humans did not inhabit, only people. She points out that this is one of the first “human imperialistic concepts.” Crist also identifies oecumene as a “significant sign of the lodging of anthropocentrism. As I understand it, anthropocentrism is so deeply entrenched into our language and worldview that it has become all persuasive, unchallenged and almost completely under the guise of ‘naturalness.’ Reading further we find more characteristics and biases of this ‘ism’.
It seems to me that HCC advocates a completely dominant human presence. We shall have a “gardened planet”. This is just a “euphemism for colonized earth.” Further:
“And humanity is not penning another interesting chapter of natural history, but heralding the end of a sublime one – as long as we stay the course toward a coming world of 9, 10, or more billion people, running a global capitalist economy, and governing by the conceit that this planet is human real estate.”
The HCC advocates like to throw out the delusory comment which goes something like ‘Well, humans are also a part of nature so what we do is natural, isn’t it?” Well, not exactly. The pursuit of policies leading to all the results of an increase of CO2 is anything but natural. Ecocide is a better name for it.
There are so few of us who would deny our neighbours and the rest of humanity social justice. Not many of us will risk losing our jobs or being arrested for terrorism but by and large most of us would like to see it stepped up a bit. After all, if an authority can grab your neighbours and disappear them, then we might be next. However, the foundation of wealth creation has been brought about by cutting down, grinding up, digging up, chopping up and killing for food a huge proportion of the living world. Again, HCC advocates would have us take it all and create a planet for humans, by humans and especially of humans. The remaining life on the planet will be managed in “gardens” and “animal reserves” like governments treat vanquished people. We should learn to act as Gods and get good at it. Some think it is our destiny.
Well, again, I’m sorry but we just don’t have the wisdom or knowledge.
I like Eileen Crist’s final paragraph. Here is a sample: “There exists another path into the future, one which is more elegant, more beautiful, more ethical, and more becoming of the human spirit: on this path, wild nature –terrestrial and marine – is reinstated as the unbroken, rich-in-life tapestry within which human communities thrive in integration with their inhabited bioregions.”
Beautifully written. But I must make a final comment; not with this many people. We are too many and thus out of balance with any and all bioregions. We can and must cut back.
The Conceptual Assassination of Wilderness
David W. Kidner
In this essay, Kidner writes about “…the ways industrialized modes of thought have undermined our ability to recognize the degradation of wilderness and wildness throughout the world.” In education, children’s personal, live connections to Nature are substituted by conceptual abstractions such as ‘food chains’. Direct experience of being among other-than-human beings are replaced by videos and nature trails In my youth, my friends and I played outside on grass, gravel, dirt; in wind, rain and open skies such that we were at all times aware of the outdoors environment around us. Today, most people never even bother to look up and notice whether there are clouds, how fast they are moving, whether it looks like rain soon. In so many words, we go out of our way to insulate ourselves from the effects of the outdoors. It seems to me that youth today live mostly a cyborg-like existence almost totally excluding all but man-made instruments of convenience. Nature has become ‘resources’ and ‘raw materials’. Fallen limbs and trees have become ‘fuel’ rather than homes and shelter for birds and insects. It is as if Nature exists, as Kidner puts it, “without intrinsic structure, values or tendencies.” Earth itself has no intrinsic value thus no rights; only humans and corporations have rights. It is beyond belief to me that a corporation selling matches has more rights than the great Amazon rainforest.
William Balee, for instance, asserts that natural history is essentially ‘human’ history because only an anthropocentric worldview counts as important enough to include in a history book. As Kidner writes, “Industrial humanity does not so much construct nature as sweep it aside, replacing it with a quite different system that is hostile to and destructive to nature.”
Peter Kareiva, chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy, where he is responsible for developing and helping to implement science-based conservation, writes the following from an article in Nature Conservancy Magazine: “How do we achieve conservation results? Make it relevant to people, says our chief scientist.”
Following: “The alternative message is a goal of providing billions of people with a natural environment that is managed to meet their needs in perpetuity. We have to change the way people think about conservation, so that its connection to their well-being is ingrained.”
I find this statement fascinating. Let us look at what the natural environment means. “Natural environment means all living and non-living things that are naturally on Earth. In a narrow sense, it is an environment that is not influenced by people. The environment that is influenced by humans can be called “the built environment” or cultural landscape.” http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_environment
So by definition, a natural environment is not managed by people, especially an environment designed to fit human needs. Earth is NOT all about humans. Nature is NOT all about humans.
The following comes from the Nature Conservancy home page:
“Our Mission: conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends”
I read this as meaning conservation for lands and waters with emphasis on all life, not the needs of humans.
Kidner closes with:
“Kareiva’s vision thus manages to combine ecological, moral and social pathologies into a single disastrous whole. It is therefore not a vision that seeks to preserve nature at all. Rather it is the offspring of industrialist ideology and seeks to materialize this ideology in the form of a fully domesticated world from which all forms of wildness, whether human or nonhuman have been extinguished.”
Who says conservation is all about Science? Modern science has no concern for ethical behaviour. No concern for caring, nurturing. Since when was science all about humans? If Kareiva speaks for Conservation science, then I suggest the Nature Conservancy must change their mission statement.
Continuing from the article by Paul Kingsnorth
“The neo-greens do not come to rejuvenate environmentalism; they come to bury it.” Paul Kingsnorth
“This is what intelligent green thinking has always called for: human and nonhuman nature working in some degree of harmony, in a modern world of compromise and change in which some principles, nevertheless, are worth cleaving to. Nature is a resource for people, and always has been; we all have to eat, make shelter, hunt, and live from its bounty like any other creature. But that doesn’t preclude our understanding that it has a practical, cultural, emotional, and even spiritual value beyond that too, which is equally necessary for our well-being.
The neo-environmentalists, needless to say, have no time for this kind of fluff. They have a great big straw man to build up and knock down, and once they’ve got that out of the way, they can move on to the really important part of their message. Here’s Kareiva, with fellow authors Robert Lalasz and Michelle Marvier, giving us the money shot in their Breakthrough Journal article:
‘Instead of pursuing the protection of biodiversity for biodiversity’s sake, a new conservation should seek to enhance those natural systems that benefit the widest number of people….Conservation will measure its achievement in large by its relevance to people.’
[from Conservation in the Anthropocene Beyond Solitude and Fragility Authors: Robert Lalasz, Peter Kareiva, Michelle Marvier. Lalasz and Kareiva work for the Nature Conservancy and Michelle Marvier is professor and department chair at the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Santa Clara University.]
There it is, in black and white: The wild is dead, and what remains of nature is for people. We can effectively do what we like, and we should. Science says so! A full circle has been drawn, the greens have been buried by their children, and under the soil with them has gone their naïve, romantic, and antiscientific belief that nonhuman life has any value beyond what we very modern humans can make use of….The neo-greens do not come to rejuvenate environmentalism; they come to bury it.”
I can think of nothing further to add to this horror story. Paul has summed it up so nicely. Again, I say, this excellent article is well placed as an introduction to a series of articles written as a defence of what love of the Earth is all about.
8 May, 2015
Erle Ellis is a senior Fellow (2012) of the Breakthrough Institute. Tom Butler quotes Erle: “amazing opportunity” that “humanity has now made a leap to an entirely new level of planetary importance.”
I agree with Associate Professor Ellis but not for the reason he is most probably promoting. We are important as the most lethal killer of Earth beings ever to emerge from the womb of Gaia. How can this be? I don’t understand it. We are important as a focal point of efforts to curtail the continuing damage. We are important as a case study of what we must avoid, what we must cease to be. Know your enemy is a saying of extreme importance to all of us as we come to realise that we are the ‘enemy within.”
9 May, 2015
“It is hard to interpret Ellis as anything but a straight-ahead celebrant for a cyborg generation alienated from the natural world, steeped in simulacra, and inclined to believe that any environmental problem can be solved through a techno-fix” It appears that the Human Centred Conservationists wish to build a world “thoughtfully manipulated, perhaps even ‘sustainably’ for human ends.” Tom Butler
A human-centred conservation policy by definition not a conservation policy at all. As Tom Butler says: “These developments not only make humans usurpers but advance this way of life as right.”
It is without a doubt possible to steer a course through modern times, climate change and all, which honours the needs of humans as well as other-than-humans. Taking it down to the most basic level, a personal level, we just cannot survive without the other-than-human beings, especially the microscopic, that share our – ah but do they belong to us or Gaia? – bodies.
Rise of the Neo-Greens
Please find a bio here.
Paul writes a good introduction to the ideas of what I have called Human centred Conservation. Choosing to place this article first in the book was an excellent choice in my opinion.
“Now that ‘science’ has shown us that nothing is ’pristine’ and nature ‘adapts,’ there’s no reason to worry about traditional green goals [according to the neo-greens(sic)] such as protecting rainforest habitats. ‘Is halting deforestation in the Amazon….feasible?’ Kareiva and colleagues ask, ‘Is it even necessary?’ [see]
Somehow, you know what the answer is going to be before the authors give it to you.”
I suggest that few, if any, environmentalists are calling for an “original purity; uncorrupted or unsullied” www.thefreedictionary.com/pristine conservation area. It is well known that there is almost nowhere on, in, or under Earth that the boots of humans have not trampled, scarred or polluted. So what? What debilitated mind would use that fact as a reason to continue the destruction?
‘Nature adapts’ Thankfully true. Humans adapt also as in learning to walk with crutches or to communicate with sign language. Some poisons we find in our environment, especially our food don’t kill us but they do weaken our immune systems. Is that a reason to accept their insertion?
Is halting rainforest destruction feasible? Of course it is feasible. I’ll grant that it is not probable given the politics and greed of present governments and the corporations that rule them. Is that a reason to stop trying? Of course not. ‘If you can beat them, join them” is never a solution but the attitude of a sick mind.
And to question the necessity is not only sick but insane. Climate scientists have solid evidence of the measure in which rainforest destruction is contributing to climate change, especially the distribution of moisture by wind currents. Now what I have just said is anthropocentric. We need to protect and preserve the rainforest, as well as other habitats, because they have inherent value and are more valuable and essential to the health of Earth [In the future, I’ll refer to Earth as Gaia.] than humans. Of course, we don’t know exactly what is valuable and what is not valuable to the health of Gaia but our destructive way of life makes it necessary that we at least try and implement preventative measures to the best that our knowledge of Gaia allows.
Comment on the article: Handle with Care
BY EMMA MARRIS
“We owe it to them to improve our scientific understanding, our gardening prowess, so that we can ensure their continued persistence into the future.” Emma Marris
Here I agree. Humans have interfered so destructively in the natural efforts of Earth to self-regulate that we have no choice but to “manage”, even though we lack the wisdom to do so.
“An entire book was recently released to counter the growing popularity of these ideas, the sum of which has been termed “new environmentalism.” The promotional material for Keeping the Wild: Against the Domestication of Earth declares that,” Emma Marris
Promotional material often emphasises controversial ideas and is obviously biased towards raising eyebrows in order to increase the probability of a sale. The following “New Environmentalism” claims are examples of the extremism that the authors of the book (an anthology) object to.
A sample of some of the Claims of the “new Environmentalism” copied from Keeping the Wild: Against the Domestication of Earth.
“To succeed, conservation must serve human aspirations, primarily regarding economic growth and development; Maintaining ‘ecosystem services,’ not preventing human-caused extinction, should be conservation’s primary goal; Conservationists should not critique capitalism but rather should partner with corporations to achieve better results; The Anthropocene has arrived and humans are now de facto planetary managers.”
Following up from the last post, the first item on the list of Human Centred Conservationist claims is:
1) The Anthropocene has arrived and humans are now de facto planetary managers;
According to Wikipedia, “The Anthropocene is a proposed geologic chronological term for an epoch that begins when human activities have had a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems…
As of April 2015, the term has not been adopted formally as part of the official nomenclature of the geological field of study.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropocene
Not only has the term not been approved as a geological epoch but no starting date has been approved.
So, firstly, the word Anthropocene has been proposed as the latest geological epoch and not as a generalised new word for the human global impact. Secondly, any word that reflects a human dominated ecosystem should not or cannot at the same time incorporate a distinctively additional responsibility of being planetary managers. From a planetary perspective, a large group of vandals wreaking havoc with planetary infrastructure would never be rewarded with a managerial promotion. Granted, colonialism – came, saw, conquered and then governed. I hope that is not what the “new Conservationists” have in mind.
I’ll be looking more deeply into what organisations and prominent people play a part in the new conservationist agenda. So far, I have identified The Breakthrough Institute.
“Breakthrough Journal exists to modernize political thought for the 21st century. Founded shortly after the death of heterodox sociologist Daniel Bell, Breakthrough Journal embraces Bell’s view that ‘A new public philosophy will have to be created in order that something we recognize as a liberal society may survive.’
Situated at the intersection of modernization theory, pragmatism, and liberalism, Breakthrough Journal publishes long-form essays and short articles aimed at challenging conventional progressive and environmental wisdom in service of creating a relevant and powerful new politics.” http://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/journal/about/
Stewart Brand is a Fellow of the Breakthrough Institute
Whole Earth Discipline: Why Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Transgenic Crops, Restored Wildlands, and Geoengineering Are Necessary Paperback – September 28, 2010 Stewart Brand
THE BREAKTHROUGH INSTITUTE
436 14TH STREET, SUITE 820
OAKLAND, CA 94612 510 550 8800
In the Breakthrough Journal Issue Number 2 (Winter 2012) there can be found an article called: Conservation in the Anthropocene Beyond Solitude and Fragility Authors: Robert Lalasz, Peter Kareiva, Michelle Marvier. Lalasz and Kareiva work for the Nature Conservancy and Michelle Marvier is professor and department chair at the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Santa Clara University.
A shortened selection from the article can be read from the link below.
“The Conservancy has over one million members, and has protected more than 119 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers worldwide. The Nature Conservancy also operates more than 100 marine conservation projects globally. The organization’s assets total $6.18 billion as of 2014.”
Interesting information on the work of Chet Bowers
“Bowers specifically develops arguments around consumer identity and the commoditization of cultural commons as the root of our contemporary conceptual crisis. He argues for the redevelopment of a plural cultural commons to replace consumerism and the cultivation of ecological intelligence in place of destructive linguistic patterns. While this premise may sound simple, or even trite, Bowers provides a detailed and critical rationale for why we must avoid widespread ecological collapse and how we might actually go about making the transition to sustainability, particularly as teachers in formal classroom settings.”
C. A. Bowers’ The Way Forward: Educational Reforms that Focus on the Cultural Commons and the Linguistic Roots of the Ecological/Cultural Crises: A Review By Clare Hintz
The following are some of the most controversial claims made by Human Centred Conservationists:
1) The Anthropocene has arrived and humans are now de facto planetary managers;
2) If ‘pristine wilderness’ ever existed, it is all gone now; moreover, focusing on wilderness preservation has poorly served the conservation movement;
3) Nature is highly resilient, not fragile;
4) To succeed, conservation must serve human aspirations, primarily regarding economic growth and development;
5) Maintaining ‘ecosystem services,’ not preventing human-caused extinction, should be conservation’s primary goal;
6) Conservation should emphasize better management of the domesticated, ‘working landscape’ rather than efforts to establish new, strictly protected natural areas.
7) Conservationists should not critique capitalism but rather should partner with corporations to achieve better results.
Tom Butler comments:
“These ideas, individually and collectively, are worthy of close inspection; respectful debate; and in view of the editors, vigorous rebuttal.”
Vigorous rebuttal is my primary objective in this post and future posts.