Category Archives: Second Thoughts

The World As Undeniably More Than Human

Initially considering the more than human world, I thought about it as though it needed a second sort of characterization. As though ‘more than human’ weren’t enough words so as to allow the idea to make a whole amount of sense to me. However, upon further contemplation, I’ve found that the more than human world is a perfectly fine means of describing the concept. I’ve discovered, through thinking with the authors we’ve observed thus far, that the description had only unsettled me to begin with due to a certain inherent uncomfortability of mine with the idea of further minimalizing the human species in reference to other things or concepts I’d previously been unaware of.

Whether this is due to a certain amount of inherent egotism found within humanity or just a personal failure to humble myself on behalf of the world around me, I’m still not sure and, in all honesty, I wonder about the degree to which the real answer is probably a mixture of the two.

Becoming acquainted with the thoughts of others who’re not only credible in this area of discussion but who also illustrate approaches to thinking which vastly differ from my own have allowed for a widening of my perspective, in ways. The fact being that environmentalism as a movement wasn’t something I’d ever considered myself to be even relatively well-versed in the particular details of, the somewhat stubborn reluctancy I’d taken up when attempting to make meaning out of the ‘more than human’ world as a categorization seems more than a bit unwarranted to me now. Through understanding the phrase via the lenses of multiple disciplines which all seem to be focusing their gaze upon the same ominous picture with regards to it’s (the more than human world’s) future, the idea’s gained credibility as a verifiably rational notion to me.

The world is so much more than that which pertains to humanity. We like to focus our view through a lens of self-centeredness as though this lens itself were an inherent prerequisite to living a productive and fulfilled life; however I believe that quality of inherence to be more or less, for the purpose of pacifying our species’ collective ego. Now of course there are other factors to be taken into account, such as the specific cultural values and personal biases which any individual might bring with themselves when attempting to confront an idea or concept which does little to fit itself comfortably within the perceiver’s comprehension, however these unavoidable subjectivities can’t be helped to a certain degree, and so while relevant in the scope of a fully realized explanation, don’t lend themselves to the same level of magnification with regards to exactly why it is that they might be marring what would otherwise be an objective view of our species’ widespread inability to recognize the world as so much more than just human.

In conclusion, I believe there to be a multi-faceted definition as to why humanity grapples so tenaciously with it’s own inconsequence in relation to the more than human world, in particular, an unrelenting inability to reconcile the objective with the subjective. Upon learning how to separate the objectively observed reality within which we all inhabit from each of our own subjective outlooks which we bring with us to any problem or thought, a certain clarity is gained and the ability to be able to make the distinction from that which empirically exists and truthfully effects us all vs. any delineations from that which we create due to our own subjective world views and perspectives becomes more palatable. It’s this quintessential distinction which I believe to be imperative in the further recognition of the accuracy of the characterization of the world as ‘more than human’ by our species as a whole.

 

 

Gary Snyder: Asking Questions

Mother Earth: Her Whales-

 

“IS Man the Most Precious of all Things?”

 

We must ask ourselves the question, what separates us from every other living being on earth? Is it the fact that we stand upright? Is it the fact that we are the most intelligent tool-using beings? Is it because we have built cities and incredibly diverse communities and weapons that defend us from harm and four walls that attempt to simulate some sort of physical division? Maybe we are too full of ourselves. We are so centrally focused—like we are the center of the universe. If you zoom out however, and try to view a broader scope of existence, we are just a speck of dust floating through an infinite cosmos. This is not to say that we are not important. Just on this tiny speck there are billions of people living out their lives and animals and plants that flourish in the natural landscapes. If we see each individual as one component in a larger schema—one cog amongst many in a clock, maybe we will be able to value nature and our connection to it.

 

Self-Indulgence/ greed

 

Why do people enjoy material possessions? Why is money the central goal of many human endeavors? The truth is, humans put this value on things. Gold is valuable because it is shiny and it is rare. Good for jewelry, a pleasant color and texture. Not as much because of its conductive properties or its value in technologies. Gems are sparkly and look pretty on a woman’s finger, but how many people could you feed with a diamond and ruby wedding band? How many trees could you plant? Would your money be better spent on charity for national parks? That is for the individual to decide, but most will choose the more expensive ring. I am not judgmental of people for being materialistic. I have my fair share of excess in my life, same as most, but that is not the point.

The point is that we must be aware of the reality of the situation; most people are consuming way too much. We buy and circulate currency and we eat and waste. Waste is now an accepted byproduct of our existence. Focus on how much we waste, and what might happen if we were to change our perspective. The difficulty of this is that the amount of waste that is produced in the world is simply inconceivable, so most people decide to put their blinders on and pretend like it is not a serious issue. We have created a society in which greed and consumerism is the driving force behind our economy and our world affairs. Instead of focusing on conservation of resources, we focus on exploitation of resources.

 

 

 

Why Log Truck Drivers Rise Earlier than Students of Zen

 

“There is no other life”

 

Is there really no other life on the Tyler Road grade on the way to Poormans Creek? Is this what the logger sees as he drives down the road before the morning commuter traffic? Does he hear the song of the morning birds? Does he see the squirrels and field mice scurrying from under his 18-wheeler? The man driving the truck sees only the passing by of yellow lines, one side broken one side solid. He sees the tree spades and the feller and the buncher, all posed neatly next to a shrinking forest. The trucker sips his coffee as he drives. In his mind are thoughts of being done with work and being able to go home to his family. There are no thoughts of the forests. THERE ARE NO ENVIRONMENTALISTS SITTING BEHIND THE WHEELS OF LOGGING TRUCKS. There are family men, maybe men who like to hunt quail and deer. Of course this is not all loggers, but of those who do hunt and enjoy forestry, do they fully comprehend the end result of their work? Perhaps not. If they did, would they throw away their hard hats and chainsaws? Perhaps not, these answers are not clear.

Sometimes it is easy to forget that we are part of an ecosystem. These other parts of the ecosystem are effected by our actions. We are not the only important life on the planet. This is the paradigm shift that we need. If some are more concerned about their lives than that of the coral reefs or the bacteria that dwell within them, they should be made aware of how those components are linked to our existence. What is the result of the coral reefs dying? How does this change our way of life? These are the questions that might not need be answered, but simply considered.

Transcendentalism in the Modern World

We live in a social age. We are constantly being fed who is who, what is hot, and what is not. In this virtual sphere, an entire aspect of who we essentially are is left to the unknown. We are multi-tiered individuals who are, in part, everything we have ever seen. Not often enough do we discuss where we have been, or how we felt in that moment. And not nearly often enough do we actually listen to what is being shared.
See, learning is a process of growing, much like cross pollination of plants within a forest. A solitary sapling has no chance of survival without the help of another sapling, shrub, or plant. A solitary human has no sense of ambition or drive without the inspiration of another. This transfer of information from one person to another is imperative to the expansion of person-to-person interaction, as one human can not live solely on their own accord without some sort of transfer of knowledge.
This is much like books, honestly. A book is comprised of ideas from a span of places, times, and people. See, yes a single person can write a book, but all of those ideas had to come from somewhere. Whether it be historical context, pop culture reference, or geographic location, a person had to experience ‘a thing’ to get them to the place where they are able to write about such.

(A picture I took in the White Mountains with my family a few summers ago)
Why do we read, even? What do you do once you have devoured- front to back- a novel? Do you just close the book and move on? Or do you jump up and change the world based upon this call to action? Probably, you do neither, or a mix of both. But what should you do?
I’m not saying the only way to respectfully read literature is to run out and go do everything the literature spoke of. However, there is a way to acknowledge how a work has changed your viewpoint.
Transcendentalist writers are known for their awareness of the world that “transcends” beyond basic senses. This lense through which to view the world not only forces the reader to think in a new way, but forces authors to think outside-the-box about the everyday world. It’s known that great authors such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Dillard thought and wrote through this lense. It forced them to think of the world in the same way French and German idealists had before, taking in the natural world as its own entity entirely. This also forced them to add their own spin- as they had been the reader and now they’re the writer.
There will always be the debate, “Does reading make us more empathetic?” Most will say no, and I will be apart of that no. However I believe that reading helps us to widen our perspectives, yet there is no real way to expand someone’s empathy without them making a conscious effort to do so. And even then, it’s all entirely subjective. Authors like Thoreau took into action the ideas of the writings of the time, as noted in Walden Pond. The book is a documentation of his two years in the woods, building his own small home, and living simply.
Walden Pond was quite controversial though, because he just kind of realizes it’s hard work and returns to the luxury of his home. That’s honestly something that makes me so mad. It is hard work. But it’s the best kind of hard work. I personally have been trying to work to make my life as sustainable as possible thus far, until I can retreat into the woods and build my own a frame. However this wasn’t an idea of mine until I had read Walden and been so mad.
I think that the book was very influential to me in high school, at the time when I was really first actually awakening to the world around me. My beloved English teacher, Mr. Wilkins, had been a strong lover of Thoreau and had us read many of his shorter essays, as well as Walden. It almost gave me a classic high school Hero’s Journey “call to action.” I had just started hiking the town state parks a lot with my friends again, the first time I had since I was in elementary school. It delivered to me a sort of reason for being.
Going to school in Vermont, and being quite the schooly, all we had ever done in science, or history, or English was read and learn about Vermont and the woods (we learnt other things as well but there’s this sort of almost, generationally ingrained knowledge in longtime Vermont families). Going back out into the world and becoming one with all of the literature, scientific background, and historical contexts of the land around me just felt surreal after Walden. I had found a reason for being, and it was absolutely fantastical.

Second Wave Environmentalism

The environmental movement plays a very large role in our society. We need to take good care of our planet because not everything can be replaced by man made products. There are some beautiful places on our planet, and if it wasn’t for Environmentalism and the environmentalist who participate in protecting our planet it may not exist the same today.

In Ramachandra Guha’s text, Environment: A Global History,  he refers to the environmental movement as “an ever-youthful social movement” (Guha P. 1) This movement helps protect our environment from the threat of development, from having our forest chopped down and vast ecosystems destroyed. Guha mentions how the environmental movement has also played a big part in preventing air and water pollution as well as radio active wastes from destroying our environment. This movement has forced congress to administer over seventy environmental laws. It is possible for all nature lovers to participate in the movement and help keep our environment clean, but if we want to continue to keep our environment safe and unharmed from the touch of industrialization we have to in Guha’s words, develope a “scientific appreciation of the natural world” (Guha P.3). Without all the public support surrounding the environmental movement, much of the success may have not of been achieved. It would have put nature at risk for becoming “a source of cheap raw material as well as a sink for dumping the unwanted residues of economic growth” (Guha P.4). To all environmentalist this became known as the Industrial Revolution: the outrage done to nature.

This is known as the first wave of environmentalism the, “viewing it only as a source of raw materials to be exploited” (Guha P.13). If it wasn’t for the laws and the work of all the environmentalist to protect our environment, the government may have used all our resources and destroyed our national parks.

Thanks to the second wave of environmentalism, the public was able to come together and save our national parks from ever being harmed. As long as these laws are in place, and the public has a great intrest in saving our environment, our national parks will be unharmed from the touch of industrialization.

Environmentalism and Social Justice

“Environmentalism is a question of social justice” that is the one thing in my notes that stuck out to me the most over the past two weeks of classes. It’s an interesting concept to think of, one would often attribute Social Justice to be about the equality of rights and access to opportunities for humans in a society, the keyword in this sentence would be human. While Social Justice is about equality of people, Environmentalism on the other hand is concern about protecting our environment. By pure definition, one would find it difficult to think of how Environmentalism and Social Justice could be placed within the same category as one another, the two appear to be polar opposites of each other. Though, as I thought more and more about the idea of Social Justice and Environmentalism its correlation began to make more and more sense in my mind. Much like Social Justice, Environmentalism is the idea of fighting for something that cannot always fight for itself and may not have access to the resources to argue its case. For Environmentalism it’s fighting for nature; the trees, the plants, the animals, the air we breathe, none of those things are able to speak for themselves, nor are they able to take care of themselves in situations such as deforestation or animal testing. Both Social Justice and Environmentalism are about fighting for those that are the silent minority. When discussing topics such as Social Justice we often think of these discussions as being separate from the Earth, as if we take the idea that these events are happening on our planet completely out of the picture, though, it’s what happens on earth that often causes issues that eventually lead to discussions about social justice. People in impoverished areas who are hit by a hurricane or drought often do not have access to the proper resources to be able to help them in those situations. For instance if America has a massive drought in our food belt prices of crops will go up due to the scarcity of food which will also cause the price of meat to go up in price since farmers will need to feed their animals. As a result, those who are in more poverty stricken areas will not be able to afford the new cost of food and may end up starving as a result. Climate change also means longer winters which for those in the north means more money spent on heating and for the proper gear for the weather, just like increased price in crops those in lower income areas will once again struggle to afford what they need to survive the conditions. Events such as these put many children at a serious disadvantage to ensuring that they have the same chances as other kids their age who live in higher income areas. This is not to say that all Social Justice issues are interweaved with environmental disasters or events, in fact most Social Justice issues have little to no relation to the environment. Although, for Social Justice issues such as poverty those situations can be, and have been affected.

While I do believe in Climate Change and the idea that we should protect our planet as well as the effects it has on the planet, I often have some issues with the way we approach the subject. It seems to me that nowadays soon after disasters such as Hurricane Harvey people will often come out in droves to point at the event and say “see this is what climate change causes”, and while yes that may be true it has always seemed to me like bad form and bad timing. There are people who just lost their homes, their businesses, possibly even their pets or loved ones and then comes along a group of people who are essentially saying that this is because of climate change and for people not taking it seriously. The tone in which some people say these statements can often be harsh and even placing blame on the people who have just survived this event. I’ve always been in the mindset that one should help  someone first and talk about why it happened later, rather than spending time telling them why what they did was not the brightest idea or placing the blame on them. What good does it do to yell at someone in  pain? This doesn’t exactly play into the previous discussion of Social Justice and its relation to Environmentalism, it’s something that has been on my mind as of late with current events. It just bothers me that people are so quick to bring up climate change as the cause of these events but often do not attempt to donate any materials or provide any money to relief funds in order to help those who have been affected by these disasters. Humans are a part of the environment too and just like animals and plants need help as well, it would be wrong to try to disconnect ourselves from nature or to think that just because we may live indoors that we are not from the earth.

Fountains of Life

Scottish environmental philosopher and founder of the Sierra Club, John Muir, was a strong believer in keeping our earth preserved. To him, resources were finite, and we had to make the best of it. Something Muir once said stuck with me. He said, “The mountain peaks and forest reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life,” (Guha  53). Muir is saying that these natural parts of the world are useful, but not just in the sense that we usually think. Yes, timber and irrigation are both important, but they’re also “fountains of life.” But what does it mean to be a “fountain of life”?  

When we think of a fountain, we think of water, and we usually wonder where the water is coming from. We look for the source.  All supplies start at the source and are moved outward to other places in need. So in a fountain of life, we probably think our sources are food, water, or oxygen. But Muir is saying that there’s more than just those main sources of basic human life. It’s more than the basic needs. He’s saying there could be other sources for this fountain of life. What about the dirt? What about the bugs and the animals in the forest? Could they, too, be sources of life?

To answer that, we need to look at the second part of a fountain – what the fountain is providing for. Some would say a fountain of life provides solely for humans. But female environmental writer, Rachel Carson, says, “All forms of life are more alike than different,” which prompts us to wonder what other forms of life are out there and how we are similar. How can a human be the same as a bug? She further explains how humans are “not in control of nature but simply one of its parts: the survival of one part depended upon the health of all,” (Carson xvi). Here, she explains how, not only are all living beings important, but the survival of one depends on the others. 

This idea connects to that of John Muir again, when he says, “The universe would be incomplete without man; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest trans microscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge” (Guha 52). Muir explains the importance of every living being, just as Rachel Carson explains how all living beings depend on one another and are all connected and similar. Carson also explains these connections when she explains the process of DDT passing through the ecosystems.

For example, fields of alfalfa are dusted with DDT; meal is later prepared from the alfalfa and fed to hens; the hens lay eggs which contain DDT. Or the hay, containing residues of 7 to 8 parts per million, may be be fed to cows. The DDT will turn up in the milk in the amount of about 3 parts per million, but in butter made from this milk the concentration may run to 65 parts per million. -Carson p. 22

From this, we can see how chemicals are passed through the environment into animals and back through all over again. So as Rachel Carson said, all living beings depend on the health of one another. If one is ill, the whole ecosystem becomes ill as well. We see how fast germs pass through kindergarten classrooms, imagine that happening with the food you eat and the animals that create that food. Imagine that happening with health, and our “fountain of life.” One source of life and health reaches out to all.

“All” probably includes the insects, animals, plants, and people, but how do we all share this one source of life? This, “fountain”? As time goes on humans continue to use much more than they really need – taking away the homes of certain bugs and animals, or even their lives. If we’re “all” in this together, why are humans taking so much? It seems as though humans feel they’re more important than other members of the environment.

And we kind of are, aren’t we?

After all, we’ve heard about which animals are smartest – dolphins, apes, pigs – but nothing compares to our human brains. We have opposable thumbs, can make rational decisions, and can communicate in verbal languages. Humans are biologically on top, right? After all, we’re at the top of the food chain, we have the weapons and skill to take out any other animal in the world. Plus we can eat them if we want! Those lions don’t stand a chance!

But let’s think about that.

Without all those other animals in the food chain, could we really survive? Aren’t we all part of one web living together on this one earth? John Muir addresses this by saying, “Why should one man value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation?”(Guha 52). We’re all a great creation, so why does one of us have to be better than the other? We all have to work together to live on this beautiful world. 

And it really is a beautiful world, although we forget that sometimes. John Muir mentions the importance of nature, saying “wildness is a necessity,” in addition to explaining that “over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home” (Guha 53). Muir explains how children need to experience nature and how important it is to be in a natural environment occasionally. By looking at the world for a natural perspective, we begin to see the trees differently, the grass differently, and trash looks out of place. Muir explains the importance of visiting nature. Aldo Leopold explains how you should do more than visit, but nature should be an every day occurrence. I’ll end on a quote from Guha about the beliefs of Leopold, because if we’re all aware of the environment, we can all preserve that “fountain of life.” Here’s Leopold’s thoughts:

Ethically he hoped that an attitude of care and wonder towards nature would not be expressed only on occasional excursions into the wild, but come to be part of the fabric of our daily lives, so that on weekdays, as much as on weekends, we would come to tread gently on this earth – Guha p. 58

 

The Environmental Ethics of John Muir and Aldo Leopold

Nature’s object in making animals and plants might possibly be first of all the happiness of each one of them, not the creation of all for the happiness of one.” John Muir, quoted from Environmentalism: A Global History by Ramachandra Guha.

In this day and age, determining what is considered to be “ethical” is a more than difficult task. There are billions of people all over this world, and every one of them is an individual with their own beliefs and their own dreams, and to say that every human is connected in some greater scheme of things is very hard to grasp at times. But something did put us all here, on this one Earth, together, and whether you believe that evolution created our lives, or God himself, sometimes you have to just admit how beautifully insane it is that we are all existing on the great planet that sustains everything we know to be reality. Occurrences as magnificent as this do not just happen by chance, and therefore wouldn’t it seem more than natural that we, as humans, no matter how different we may be from one another, have a moral duty to keep Mother Earth safe from any harm? Ideally, everyone would possess this moral compass to navigate the more than human world but unfortunately, not everyone agrees on what exactly is ethical when it comes to environmentalism.

After reading part one of Ramachandra Guha’s Environmentalism: A Global History, I was struck by this idea of what exactly it means to be environmentally ethical. Even renowned environmentalists, John Muir and Aldo Leopold possessed differing views on this, and yet, both of them shared the same end goal: the conservation and protection of nature (56). Muir, who was born in Dunbar, Scotland in 1838 — and moved to Wisconsin at a young age — made a name for himself as a writer and lecturer intent on discussing the need to protect the Western wilderness (50). Muir was in love American forests and every organism that walked in them because to him “The universe would be incomplete without man; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge” (52). He wanted to protect the wildlife in the West from the power hungry grasp of capitalism and industry as he thought that forces such as these would destroy the environment as we know it, and clearly, he was spot on. However, Muir had an interesting take on how exactly to enforce this protection, “[He] thought the parks must be guarded by the military, […] Soldiers with guns might make sure that ‘not a single herd or cow be allowed to trample in the Yosemite garden,’ a garden ‘given to the state for a higher use than pasturage’” (57). For someone whose appreciation for nature was infinite, I found this series of beliefs rather hypocritical. Muir wanted so badly to protect the beauty of the Western wild that he willingly cited armed soldiers as the way to do it, and furthermore his mention of cows and “hoofed locusts” (sheep) being among the ones nature needs to be protected from is just plain wrong (56-57). Call me old fashioned, but to me guns and nature conservation don’t really mix, cows and nature conservation? Yeah, that seems like a much better combination to me. So although Muir is celebrated as being one the most famed environmentalists of his time, I’m not too sure I agree with his ethics when it comes to actually protecting the environment. Let the cows and sheep eat and exist in nature, it is just as much their home as it is ours.

Now then, Aldo Leopold, the other environmentalist that I will be discussing, was born in 1887 to a family of German immigrants. He devoted much of his life to the Forest Service, later becoming very active in creating The Wilderness society, “[…] an autonomous pressure group that embraced both a philosophical credo — an intelligent humility towards man’s place in nature — and a practical program, the setting aside for posterity of wild areas as yet untouched by mining, industry, logging, roads, and other such threats” (55). Leopold did not really possess Muir’s “siege-like mentality”, instead Leopold was more concerned with “[…] human behavior outside the national parks” rather than in them” (57). Before Leopold, environmentalists like Muir were so intent on putting up walls around beautiful sanctuaries that they seemed to overlook the fact that solely protecting national parks from “hoofed locusts” or sweet little cows would not be enough to conserve the Earth’s wildlife. Leopold had a new approach that no one had taken before,

Ecologically, he moved from the protection of species to the protection of habitats and on toward the protection of all forms of biological diversity. Socially, he recognized that wild areas could hardly be saved without a wider reorganization of the economy on ecological principles […]. Ethically, he hoped that an attitude of care and wonder towards nature would not be expressed only on occasional excursions into the wild, but come to be a part of the fabric of our daily lives, so that on weekdays, as much as weekends, we would come to tread gently on this earth. (57-58).

I think Leopold really was doing our world a huge service when he branched away from traditional environmentalist thinking. It is because of him that people are able to be more aware of the impact that they are having on the environment and how they can make that impact a little less major. He also imparted his wisdom that it truly is every human’s responsibility to do their part in taking care of the natural world, the only issue is that not everyone is willing to agree on what the most ethical approach is when it comes to the conservation and protection of nature.

Before I end my post, I wanted to mention something I wish the environmentalists featured in Guha’s book would talk about more, and that is the duty that we have to respect and and protect the animals on this planet. I’ve noticed that in the first part of this book there is a lot of talk about conserving environments, but not much about the protection of animals themselves. Even Muir himself seemed somewhat hostile toward these innocent creatures simply because he seemed to believe they used his beautiful nature reserves as their personal stomping grounds, when in all actuality, the wilderness is their living room, bedroom, kitchen, and toilet, so how exactly can they be expected to only exist in certain areas? Animals cannot be taken out of the equation of environmental ethics and conservation because much like their environments, they help the world function properly, and more importantly, animals are sentient beings just as we are, so ethically speaking, we have a responsibility to protect them just as we would a rare kind of plant. In later blog posts I hope to explore this topic more in depth, specifically focusing on environmental ethics as they adhere to consumerism, and the extremely horrific meat industry that is in place in the U.S. today.

William Wordsworth’s Contribution to Environmental Literature

 

While I am an English Literature major and have had the opportunity to study a wide array of literature, I have not had the opportunity to examine literary works in the context of environmentalism until I enrolled in the “Writing in an Endangered World” class taught by Dr. Mark Long. My readings in Environmentalism: A Global History written by Ramachandra Guha have introduced me to the environmental aspect of literary criticism and analysis.

Published in 2000, Environmentalism: A Global History investigates the cross-cultural impact of environmentalism in his native India as well as the United States, South America, and parts of Europe. Regarding the overall thesis of his book, Guha writes, “environmentalism goes beyond the literary appreciation of landscapes and the scientific analysis of species. I argue that environmentalism must be viewed as a social program…” (Guha, 3). This brief excerpt from Guha’s book particularly struck me and reminded me of a lecture I attended from a previous literature class at Keene State College. Environmentalism surpassing the “literary appreciation” suggests that this social movement is a living revolution as opposed to a sterile, textbook analysis driven approach to societal change. Guha’s definition of environmentalism reminded me of a lecture in an “African American Literature” class when Dr. Michael Antonucci discussed the element of a “living text” in the work of contemporary African American writer, Jeffrey Renard Allen. This concept of an alive text is directly related to environmental literature. Similar to Allen’s literary depiction of living in the gritty underbelly of Chicago slums, environmental literature discusses issues that are relevant in today’s society. In the first chapter of his book, Guha communicates this concept of a “living text” to his readers. 

With the emergenceof Romantic era literature in the nineteenth century, environmentalism came to be a common theme for authors. In addition to the works of the Transcendentalist authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, Guha includes the works of the English poet William Wordsworth who, together with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to kickstart Romanticism, the literary and art movement that examined the relationship between nature and humanity. Guha connects the exposition of the Romantic movement to the Industrial Revolution which improved and expanded “coal mines, textile mills, railroads, and shipyards” in England (Guha, 10). Regarding the literary style of Wordsworth, Guha writes, the “affirmation of country life, in direct opposition to the emerging urban-industrial culture, was perhaps most eloquently expressed in a rich literary tradition, flowering in some of the finest works in the English language” (Guha, 11). Wordsworth’s writing was at the heart of the environmental concern at the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution. 

William Wordsworth: painted by Henry William Pickersgill

As a keen observer of nature, Wordsworth noticed the damage done to the natural world from industrial factories and cities which significantly increased the levels of pollution. Referring to Wordsworth’s concern with manufacturing’s impact on the environment, Guha writes, “The poet was profoundly out of sympathy with the mores of city life, with its impersonality and its elevation of money making above all other values” (Guha, 11). 

Wordsworth’s sonnet, “The World Is Too Much With Us”, criticizes the impact of the Industrial Revolution on the environment. Written around 1802, this sonnet is in the Italian form and first appeared in Wordworth’s Poems, In Two Volumes that was published in 1807. The text is as follows:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

This poem illustrates Wordsworth’s rejection of the materialism of the Industrial Revolution. His claim that “Little we see in Nature that is ours…” depicts his disapproval of man’s abuse of the environment for monetary gain or power. In this sonnet, Wordsworth also assigns an almost mystical, spiritual element to nature. He personifies the “Sea” and makes reference to mythical characters such as Proteus and Triton to remind humanity of nature’s power that must be respected. Similar to Guha’s thesis in Environmentalism: A Global History, Wordsworth argues that mankind must detach from the tangible world and learn to preserve and appreciate the spiritual natural world.

As a proponent of the Romantic movement, Wordsworth also writes with a sadness for man’s increasing distance from the natural world. Similar to Thoreau’s move to Walden Pond, Wordsworth also spent time immersed in the natural environment at Dove Cottage in Grasmere, in the Lake District of England. At Dove Cottage, Wordsworth lived with his sister Dorothy, and eventually with his wife Mary. At Dove Cottage, Wordsworth observed nature and worked on developing his ecocritical philosophy for which he would become famous.

Dove Cottage: Grasmere, England

Reading Guha’s book significantly broadened my perception of Wordsworth as a poet and my understanding of his writing. Before taking “Writing in an Endangered World”, I was not as familiar with Wordsworth’s significant, almost Thoreauvian, contributions ecocriticism and environmentalism.

Wolves can Change Rivers

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe” – John Muir

This quote by environmentalist John Muir is one of my favorite quotes by John Muir. I placed this quote within the heading of my blog because it has such a deep meaning behind the importance of even the smallest things in the universe. John Muir is an environmental fore father to the United States National and State parks; and to land preservation and conservation as well. John Muir found the true beauty in the natural world in one of his favorite places the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in Western California. Within Muir’s writings one can see his true respect to the land and all of the creatures that lived there. He tells of how many different species that he had observed had complex interconnected relationships with one another, and to the land as well. Muir understood that all the individuals within our environment work together in a complex system that has taken millions of years to fall into balance.  It is not a hard concept to grasp that humans have undoubtedly had a negative impact on the natural environment. We take the worlds natural resources and turn them into products to create an easier lifestyle for ourselves. By doing this we have demolished our forests, driven species to extinction, and changed the true form of our planet. Muir had foreseen the grim future for planet Earth long before today. With his love for the planet, and for the Sierra Nevada Muir formed the Sierra Club. Formed in 1892 by Muir and many of his supporters the Sierra Club is an environmental organisation that fights to protect millions of acres of wilderness from decimation, as well as contributing to passing of many of our environmental regulatory acts; such as the clean air act. The Sierra Club was a necessary organisation to form otherwise the natural world today may have had a different look. Muir was an Environmental hero for his unconditional appreciation for the environment and all that reside within it.

The image found below this short section is the work of visionary artist Alex Grey. This piece is named “Gaia” after the Greek God of Earth. Gaia is more than a Greek God, it is a theory stating that Earth is a single organism made up of many complex systems and individuals that make itself. On the left you can see the world in an human unaltered state; and on the right you see the work of human industrialization and the fiery remains it has left Gaia, our mother Earth. I believe this image does much more than show the work of human development, beside the tree multiple humans can be seen on either side. On the left the human is a part of nature and only takes what he needs to survive; on the right you see men in suits who are part of the corporate world that revolves around money and production. This depiction of Alex Grey’s art is of my own interpretation, but I wish for you the reader to look upon it and interpret it as you will.

Image result for alex grey gaia
Gaia -Alex Grey

Gaia

As an environmental studies major i have studied in depth the complex relationships between different organisms and their non living physical environment. One thing many environmentalists know is how fragile the systems within ecosystems are. Every part in an ecosystem is important and is required to maintain uniform in order to keep equilibrium and stability within the system. An amazing example of how these systems can change is the story of the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park. This video is an amazing example of how altering an ecosystem on the level of only single organism can do much much more than just give that one species a home and life.

“In Nature nothing exists alone.”

-Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Author Rachel Carson in Silent Spring, also writes about how complex and delicate the systems within our environment are. Her bestselling book, Silent Spring, has done well in contributing historically towards the environmental movement in the last century. Silent Spring speaks of the development of our natural world from a time where life had just begun. Carson writes how over millions of years life on our planet has evolved, and with it the ecosystems created from an individual species have also evolved. As I have stated previously our ecosystems are composed of many different species and nonliving things that shape that ecosystem. The nonliving physical environment and the living species that live there form a complex relationship that is very delicate and has taken millions of years to form. Carson also writes of how humans at an alarmingly fast rate have begun to destroy and alter these systems out of their equilibrium.

It’s truly amazing how smart we humans really are. We have done so much in the development of industrialization. We are so smart that have even figured out that we’re collectively destroying our planet. But it seems we’re ignorant to the fact that we don’t care that we’re destroying our world, and with it ourselves. Pioneers in the environmental movement such as John Muir, and author Rachel Carson, have done well in leading the way towards an environmentally friendly, and respectful human race. But in order for these visionaries ideas to become successful, all players in the game of life must play together to work towards a brighter greener future.

Eye Opening

Growing up in a world of science is something quite eye opening. I have had the amazing opportunities in my life to learn with every experience that I have through a scientific lens. Why? Both of my parents have backgrounds in the field of science. My father, the most brilliant man I know, is a science teacher. Anything I could ever wonder about he seems to have the answers for me; I am biased about it of course. My mother has her degree in marine biology, this is why I think I have come to such a serious love for turtles over the past twenty years. Sitting in class everyday I find myself wondering about the more in depth things that we could learn through writing about the environment.

The fact that all over the world there are billions of people who will never understand what we have. Our world is so amazing and provides so many different materials that we all need to survive and all we keep doing is trashing it. After reading the first section of Environmentalism by Ramachandra Guha I became interested in what we as humans have done to our earth. Of course the question, “are we destroying our own earth?” is such a huge one that we can probably never answer it fully. Even if we did there would always be a controversial side against whatever it is we say.

I found myself wanting to think so much farther into the information that I have prior knowledge on. Learning about all of the different eras of environmental trails and tribulations clears our minds to the truth about how we got to where we are now.  Environmentalism is to have concern about the environment and I personally feel that everyone no matter what, has concern. We humans and animals live on earth, this living, orbiting, and growing thing that some how supports our lives. That is insane just to think about even the slightest bit. Our minds don’t have the capability to wrap themselves around what we truly have here in this world and the lives that we are living every single day until we die.

Unsplash -Jay Wennington

Listening to all of my professors this semester and in previous semesters I haven’t really thought too much about the deeper meaning behind their teachings. You just kind of do the work, whatever they say you just do it. But in this course, Writing in an Endangered World, I am very interested in seeing how we progress. Learning about our world and the environment through a critical lens of writing is one thing that I find to be very incredible. Using words to describe and create the world is a beautiful quality that people have. Writers such as John Muir who physically go out into the environment and then write about their experiences are the types of writers that tell the true and full story. I want to be a writer who has the ability to tell the full truth even if that means it is the ugly truth. Reading other writers gives the opportunities to the reader to clearly think through the elements of non-fiction and what certain writers such as Muir and Rachel Carson are truly trying to do when they fill in the lines of a book with their stories. Every detail is physically right in front of them and we luckily have the experience to be able to mentally be there with them.