Monday, July 28, 2014

Agreeing & Disagreeing with Emma Marris (Again)

It's hard to save nature when we're eradicating it. Every article I read, now a year after reading her book, sends me into tirades of frustration and commiseration / understanding with Marris. I wish for once, though, she'd delve deeper in to the issue and stop pounding the table (as I suppose I do) with the native / non native and conserve / accept it debate; this is the tip of the ice berg, and boy we all have a hard time getting past it. You can read her piece at National Geographic, and then maybe my response to it will make more sense. I suppose my biggest beef is always going to be not looking hard enough or honest enough at ourselves -- she does that toward the end of her piece, but it feels like lip service (I felt this way in her book, too, so it's not just the nature of a short article). Anyway, my reply to her thoughts:

Maybe we should be looking at the deeper issues here -- we cause climate change, we cause extinctions, we exacerbate drought and deluges and swings in the jet stream. It's fine to adapt, embrace the change that's upon us (novel ecosystems), but we need to be looking at the deeper socio-economic causes at play here, and if our ethical codes toward life (other species and our own, especially our future generations) are up to snuff. We show no intention or ability to think about the future. Look at the annihilation of prairie in the Great Plains, North America's Amazon rainforest, that could store massive amounts of carbon in the soil; we continue to eradicate it, watch topsoil slide away, poison the land and water with agricultural chemicals, leach out soil life and erase food sources for pollinators, but we don't learn to farm smarter. Yes, the real bad guy is us -- we are facing an ethical imperative here and failing badly at adapting in more profound, deep, and fundamental ways. We can embrace non native species in new habitats, but the fact is 30% of global plant species may be gone by 2060, and they will take a massive amount of animals with them -- no amount of non natives will make up for that biologic erasure. Plant your nonnative whatever out back, but recognize that this act echoes a larger system of our navel gazing and self-privileging in the anthropocene, and it might have larger consequences when we collectively plant like this. 

9 comments:

Verdant Landscapes said...

Urban planners, architects, landscape designers: the real client is the seventh generation.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Yes. I like how you said that! #stealingit. :)

Gaia Gardener: said...

I'm totally with you. I do not at all agree with the "just accept that things are changing and roll with it" crowd. I'm not naive enough to think that things will ever be the way they used to be, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be trying to keep them as functional as possible and - to that end - be helping people see the beauty in the plants and animals native to their area.

I just think the "roll with it" crowd is copping out.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Did you read her book? I was furious with her until about 3/4 of the way through. I have a tough time -- I agree, it feels so much like copping out, especially when barely lip service is paid to what we've done; it's like ignoring the core issue, putting a bandaid on someone with lung cancer (that's one stage of grief, and we need to grieve more). Then again, we have no choice but to work with what we've created -- we're screwed. I think what's significantly at play is the quintessentially American need to look on the bright side of life, to find the "happy." I find happy by facing challenges, exploring myself, getting deeper into topics, and finding freedom and empowerment through knowledge from all points of view. I also have my students exercise this. Anywho, rant over. :)

Diana Studer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Diana Studer said...

just been reading that the greatest bird diversity is in suburbia - where the birds appreciate, food water and shelter. Not an answer, or a solution, but a little encouragement all the same.

dryheatblog said...

While I don't see much evidence for a connection or between native species loss with replacement by exotics / crops and climate issues - for that, I'd recommend some meteorology studies on how the atmosphere works.

But the rest, fully agreed - all the wildlife that depends on native species, even we humans, really need to change our ways 180 degrees and start stewarding those connections back. At least in the US, we have more land to do that with, and it's encouraging to see those efforts in some areas, especially our urban areas.

Including we who get that, to get better work out there, and cause the retirement of the old guard, who mostly excuse invasive species and one's natives.

Sounds like a good read, someday. For now, I'll try to design more with such underpinning as yours in place.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Diana -- my guy tells me those birds (and I read the same piece) are more common songbirds. Our grassland birds are vanishing fast.
David -- If the tallgrass remained, we'd be sequestering carbon like a rainforest. If we had prairie strips among ag fields we'd lose 90% less topsoil and nutrients -- nutrients currently processed by releasing tons of global warming gases and using up lots of water in manufacturing. The links are out there. :)

Gene Petersen said...

Diana, I will have to disagree very strongly with that assessment. I can give you a very long list of birds you will never see in suburbia, but every species you do see in suburbia you will also see in natural ecosystems. How does that compute?