If it wasn’t already clear, the Covid-19 pandemic has made it painfully obvious that our lives are entwined with the lives of other animals. Our health depends on theirs, not only because viruses from their bodies can enter ours, but because we survive thanks to the soil they fertilize and the plants they pollinate. And as climate disruption escalates, it’s evident that many animals are buffering us from its worst effects, maintaining ecosystems that absorb carbon and help mitigate the effects of sea-level rise. Conservationists have long cared deeply about the survival of other plants and animals, often for reasons that go well beyond self-interest. But sociologist Carrie Friese, a researcher at the London School of Economics, speculates that in this era of intersecting crises, conservationists and others will be more and more motivated by a sense of multispecies solidarity — a profound understanding that, as Rachel Carson warned in 1963, humans are “affected by the same environmental influences that control the lives of all the many thousands of other species.”
Earlier this year, political scientist and Black feminist Julia Jordan-Zachery asked the question, “What do Black women think about the rain?” She was sharing emergent questions from her research pertaining to Black women, not specifically related to environment studies. Her question echoed some of my own inquiries into the conversation between water, skies, fire, and the currents of Black life. Her question also posited that Black women, complex and disparate, observe and connect to the phenomena called nature. Jordan-Zachery presented a path into the brambled and verdant terrain of Black people’s wonder and delight in the natural world. Environmental scholar Carolyn Finney notes that “One of the biggest challenges for individuals whose work is considered ‘environmental’ is how quickly anything related to African Americans and the environment get designated as an ‘environmental justice’ concern.”
As has now been widely reported, the Amazon rainforest is on fire due to a mixture of fires started for land clearance and the effects of climate change. People start fires to clear out rainforest so as to use the land for other purposes, such as cattle ranching and farming. It’s a crime against the rainforest, but also against the indigenous people who live there and whose land it arguably is. Destruction of the Amazon is not new – it’s been happening for decades. But this time the scale is different, with the fires are being furthered by a fascist government.
On March 2, hundreds gathered in Honduras to commemorate the life and work of the renowned Honduran activist Berta Cáceres on the second anniversary of her assassination. Carrying torches, Cáceres’ supporters marched to the city center of La Esperanza to demand justice for her 2016 assassination. The march was made up of students from the Honduran National Autonomous University, families from the communities organized by the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, or COPINH, which Cáceres founded in the early 1990s, as well as international supporters of the late environmental activist. During the march, chants of “Fuera JOH,” or “Out with Juan Orlando Hernández” — which are a major part of the protests against the fraudulent November presidential election — were mixed with chants of “Berta did not die, she multiplied.”
By Staff of GE Trees - In April and June of this year, the Campaign to STOP GE Trees organized a delegation to Chile to examine and document the impacts of monoculture pine and eucalyptus plantations in the country. This post includes a photo essay of from the delegation in a community ravaged by the worst wildfires in the country’s history–directly connected to tree plantations. This photo essay, “Chile’s 2017 Devastating Fires – The Legacy of Pinochet Continues” was shot by GJEP co-founder and Langelle Photography Director Orin Langelle. In Portugal in June, a drought and heatwave caused a wildfire to explode into an uncontrollable firestorm that killed dozens of people. The fires were fueled by highly flammable eucalyptus plantations, as the video below explains.
By Kelly Clancy for Nautilis - But we know now that that picture is incomplete. Evolutionary progress can be propelled both by the competitive struggle to adapt to an environment, and by the relaxation of selective forces. When natural selection on an organism is relaxed, the creative powers of mutation can be unshackled and evolution accelerated. The relief of an easier life can inspire new biological forms just as powerfully as the threat of death. One of the best ways to relax selective forces is to work together, something that mathematical biologist Martin Nowak has called the “snuggle for survival.” New research has only deepened and broadened the importance of cooperation and lifting of selective pressures.
By Kiana Herold for IC - Indigenous battles to defend nature have taken to the streets, leading to powerful mobilizations like the gathering at Standing Rock. They have also taken to the courts, through the development of innovative legal ways of protecting nature. In Ecuador, Bolivia and New Zealand, indigenous activism has helped spur the creation of a novel legal phenomenon—the idea that nature itself can have rights. The 2008 constitution of Ecuador was the first national constitution to establish rights of nature. In this legal paradigm shift, nature changed from being held as property to a rights-bearing entity. Rights are typically given to actors who can claim them—humans—but they have expanded especially in recent years to non-human entities such as corporations, animals and the natural environment.
By Jon Letman for Truthout - Painfully aware that the internet now delivers the carnage of war onto our screens in real time, the US military has made a concerted effort to redefine itself as a "helping" force, offering disaster relief and defending the weak and vulnerable. Increasingly, this includes protecting the environment. By rebranding itself as a guardian of nature, the military improves its own public image and achieves a veneer of unassailability while bolstering its primary mission, which is, of course, the ability to wage war.
By Staff of EC - I don’t cry very often. But this week I cried twice. For the rhinos. It breaks my heart that they’re going extinct. In order to make myself feel better, I try to intellectualize this. It’s totally irrational, I say to myself, to be sad for the rhinos. Why not be sad for the fairy shrimp, going extinct right here in Southern California? There are so many things to be sad about: police shootings, for example.
By Chris Hedges in Truth Dig - Those whose lives pay homage to the sacred are considered by many in the modern world to be eccentrics and cranks. On the other hand, those who live disconnected from the sources of life, who neither fear nor honor nor understand the power of nature, who place their faith in human technology and human power, are celebrated and rewarded with power as they propel the planet and the species toward extinction. The natural world, if we do not radically reconfigure our relationships with each other and the ecosystem, will soon teach us a severe lesson about unbridled hubris. “The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization, and, above all, by the ‘disenchantment of the world,’ ” Max Weber wrote. “Precisely the ultimate and most sublime values have retreated from public life either into the transcendental realm of mystic life or into the brotherliness of direct and personal human relations.” This strange confluence, where those who hike to the peak and those who ride in cars and trains meet in uneasy silence, is emblematic of the clash of cultures that threatens to doom the planet and the human species. One group knows and respects the power of nature, is able to feel its majesty and is aware of our insignificance and smallness before the cosmos.
Taken for granted in the climate change discussion is the assumption that nature or the environment is something that can or should be commodified, yet the structure of capitalism is such that it seeks to commodify everything, including human life (labor) and the environment (land and natural resources). The commodification of nature and the environment, inherent in the capitalist system, is problematic in its own right. Within this economic system, land, as well as labor, are seen as a commodity – something that can be purchased – and an essential part of industry. Yet what does it mean to say that something like “labor” and “land” are commodities? Karl Polanyi, the great economist, anthropologist, philosopher and sociologist, argued that both are not created as something to be sold. Labor is essentially human activity, a necessary part of life. Land, synonymous with nature, is not produced by man and in fact, encompasses man as a part of itself. When we sell the right to harm the natural environment, we are effectively selling something that is not ours. Yet many seek to solve the climate change crisis through market mechanisms and through the buying and selling of rights to pollute or degrade the natural environment through things like carbon taxing and trading. This is effectively selling the rights to pollute something that is not ours to sell.