Humans and Nature: They Aren't Mutually Exclusive

Our discussion regarding our personal definitions of nature was extremely enlightening, and I think it was quite telling that we all have different interpretations of this commonly used term. Like many things in the world, the simplest concepts are sometimes the most personal and complex; we all have different perspectives on what one would assume to be the overtly “obvious.” Dr. Vesna’s “What is Nature?” question stuck with me for the remainder of the week, and I actually decided to research it a bit more. After sifting through numerous sites and e-journals, I found this statement from an ecologist:

"If nature is somewhere that humans are not, we lose sight of the fact that we are just another species intimately intertwined in the complex web of biological systems on this planet. However, if we place ourselves within a definition of nature, the definition then becomes essentially meaningless by extending to everything on Earth." (Wickson)

This quote highlights what I think is the most interesting component of humans trying to define nature - we see ourselves as separate from the environment and, when we try to see ourselves as just another component of it, we tend to take pause, unsure how to use this information to classify ourselves as superior. I think our constant struggle with processing the human-environment connection can be seen in the effects we have had on the world. The devastation human action has caused can only be seen as an act of rebellion, a species trying to show that it does not need to protect what it does not need (this is clearly a perspective stemming from a fallacy, yet it remains very prominent - why else would people be so willing to say “Why should I care about the environment when I am going to die anyway?”).

THE ANTHROPOCENE

Figure 1. The Anthropocene from: “Welcome to the Anthropocene.” Anthropocene.info, http://www.anthropocene.info. Accessed 11 May 2019.

As an anthropology major, I have spent the last four years discussing humans - the good, the bad, and the ugly. A large part of this has been focused on human impact and the present time period labeled the Anthropocene. A time bomb furiously ticks away as we approach the day when humans have gone too far, plunging into the precipice of guaranteed extinction. Yet, the sound of this time bomb has become background noise to us; we have turned a blind eye to the news stories on global warming and the images of animals being forced to coexist with our trash (figure 2). Labeling the “human effect” as its own distinct geological epoch is an attempt to shake the human population awake - what has been done will go down in history (“The Age of Humans”). One can see the creation of the "Anthropocene" term as humans finally trying to acknowledge the connection they have with the environment (“The Age of Humans”).

Figure 2. Hermit Crab with Glass Bottle Shell from: Living Sanny,

http://livingsanny.blogspot.com/2010/11/plastic-trash-animals-dying-and-humans.html. Accessed 13 May 2019.

While doing research for this blog, I found an amazing, interactive website that helps explain the Anthropocene and the effects of the human existence. I spent a great deal of time combing through the site, and I realized just how important something like this is. People need to be educated about these issues if they are expected to help stop them. Yet, as I mentioned in our Thursday discussion, just knowing there is an issue is not what is going to get the public to make the necessary changes to their lives - they need to be told how they can be a part of the solution. There is so much negativity and hardship in the world that it is understandable that the majority of the human population puts up blinders to what they cannot fix (its the definition of self-preservation). But, if more sites like Welcome to the Anthropocene are created to educate and to provide means of taking action, then we might just be able to turn back the extinction clock.

BRINGING HUMANS INTO NATURE

As previously discussed, the divide between humans and nature is evident in society, and, even more importantly, in the majority’s (lack of) reaction to the impending irreversible consequences of human action. Researchers have found that issues like global warming and environmental destruction are just as emotional and social as they are physical and biological (Jarvis). Neither of these concepts are new, and many organizations bridge them together in an attempt to advocate for environmental protection/change (figures 3 and 4). This creativity is clearly needed; it causes the audience to immediately think of themselves in relation to the (dying) world around them. Yet, despite this impact, it is doubtful that this form of messaging will garner the necessary support required to make a real difference. The creativity holds our attention for a second, getting us to think about the issue. However, the message is finite, slipping away from us the instant something else commands our attention. We are in need of something that makes a greater impact… unfortunately, I don’t know what that successful method of messaging will be.
 

Figure 3. Ford Environmental Conservation Award Advertisement from: Fernlim, http://fernlim.com/bits/686/humans-and-nature-as-one-jwt-for-ford/. Accessed 14 May 2019.

Figure 4. World Wildlife Foundation Advertisement from: “WWF FishMen in Belgium,” Inspiration Room, http://theinspirationroom.com/daily/2009/wwf-fishmen-in-belgium/. Accessed 14 May 2019.

ZINE IDEA

Prior to Ye Rim’s explanation, I had never heard of the concept of a “zine.” But, as the story frequently goes, once I heard this term, I started to see references to it everywhere: Facebook, the news, UCLA advertisements, and everything in between. I wanted to ensure anything I chose to describe as possibly “zine worthy” told the human-nature relationship story that I have outlined in this lengthy blog post. I knew immediately which photo I wanted to share with this class:

Figure 5. Humans and Nature: Enemies Through Time from: Malott, Jillien. “Malibu Hiking Trail.” 2018.

I personally took and edited this photo, and I think it captures the presence of humans within nature. I intentionally was heavy handed with editing and modifying the original image, highlighting the all-encompassing reach of humans. The only human in the photo is nearly hidden by the filter’s heavy contrast, his shadow being his most prominent and clear feature. Coupled with the man walking out of the frame, this signifies the fact that humans are fleeting - our existence is not guaranteed to be forever - yet, the “human effect” will always remain, darkening and obstructing the ground we walked on.

SIDE DISCUSSION: I made sure to take note of one of the zine references I saw on Facebook because I thought it might be of interest to members of this class. Per Facebook, Powell Library is hosting a “Zine Fest” from May 28 through May 31 where students can learn about the historical significance of zines, browse zine collections, and create zines of their own!

Figure 5. Zine Fest from: Powell Library. Powell Zine Fest Event. Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/events/1081578038696171/. Accessed 11 May 2019.

Works Cited

“The Age of Humans: Evolutionary Perspectives on the Anthropocene.” Museum of Natural History, http://humanorigins.si.edu/research/age-humans-evolutionary-perspectives-anthropocene. Accessed 14 May 2019.

 

Fern. “Human and Nature as One [JWT for Ford].” Ooh! Fernlim,

http://fernlim.com/bits/686/humans-and-nature-as-one-jwt-for-ford/. Accessed 14 May 2019.

 

Jarvis, Brooke. “How Do We Get People to Care About the Environment?” Pacific Standard,

https://psmag.com/environment/how-do-we-get-people-to-care-about-the-environment. Accessed 14 May 2019.

 

Le Page, Michael. “Climate Change: How Long Do We Really Have to Save the Planet from Catastrophe?” Post Magazine, https://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/long-reads/article/2182663/climate-change-how-long-do-we-really-have-save. Accessed 12 May 2019.

 

Macleod, Duncan. “WWF FishMen in Belgium.” Inspiration Room,

http://theinspirationroom.com/daily/2009/wwf-fishmen-in-belgium/. Accessed 14 May 2019.

 

“Plastic, Trash, Animals Dying, and Humans Changing.” Living Sanny,

http://livingsanny.blogspot.com/2010/11/plastic-trash-animals-dying-and-humans.html. Accessed 13 May 2019.

 

Welcome to the Anthropocene. Felix Pharand-Deschenes and Anne-Marie Doucet/Globaia, 2012, http://www.anthropocene.info. Accessed 11 May 2019.

 

Wickson, Fern. “What is Nature, If It’s More Than Just a Place Without People?” Nature, vol. 456, no. 29, 2008.