Monday, August 17, 2020

Quotes on ecological adaptability

A few statements I've collected on this topic. These are direct quotes from the authors cited.

I want to propose another way of thinking, one that regards human cultures not as completely independent forces changing the world, but as strategies that people develop in order to adjust to the natural world and exploit its resources. Instead of making nature a subset of culture, as Russell does, historians might see culture as a subset of nature. We can think of this approach, following the lead of biologists, as redefining culture as a mental response to opportunities or pressures posed by the natural environment. In other words, culture can be defined as a form of “adaptation.”

The word adaptation is as familiar to historians as it is to biologists. Historians often talk of cultures clashing and adapting to one other, mixing and merging through trade, immigration, and mass communications, or they talk about societies adapting to new technologies like the automobile or computer. More rarely, however, do they talk about people adapting to their natural environments. And this is a huge failing: historians have paid insufficient attention to evolutionary adaptation in general and in particular to the role that culture plays in adaptation to environment–adaptation to the capacity of soils to grow crops, the supply of water needed to sustain life, the vicissitudes of climate, the limits to growth and material consumption in a finite landscape.
"Historians and Nature." Donald Worster. The American Scholar. Spring 2010. Accessed May 25, 2010.

The weakening of the energetic connection between humans and trees and birds and earthworms has removed an essential link in the organic processes of planetary life. The breaking of any links among species ultimately leads to the disintegration of social cohesion within the human species. Without sufficient appreciation of the need for mutual support, we have contributed to the shrinking of the life force holding together all creatures large and small.
Paul Von Ward. Gods, Genes, and Consciousness: Nonhuman intervention in human history. Charlottesville, Va.: Hampton Roads Publishing Co., 2004. p. 333.

Have you ever seen a child take apart a favorite toy? Did you then see the little one cry after realizing he could not put all the pieces back together again? Well, here is a secret that never makes the headlines: We have taken apart the universe and have no idea how to put it back together. After spending trillions of research dollars to disassemble nature in the last century, we are just now acknowledging that we have no clue how to continue — except to take it apart further.
Albert-Laszlo Barabasi. Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life. New York: Plume, 2003. p. 6.

To many environmentalists, any intervention, even in favor of "struggling" species against "aggressive" ones to correct the results of human intervention, can amount to biological fascism. One distinguished environmental historian wonders whether a campaign to eradicate invasive plants in the Everglades might not be Nazi in spirit. The garden writer Michael Pollan and others have noted that Heinrich Himmler supported a movement to promote native German plants and garden designs to the exclusion of foreign organisms and landscape ideas.
Edward Tenner. Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences. New York: Vintage Books, 1997. p. 123.

To have bears we must kill bears, honoring each death with the electronic tweet of a cash register. So goes the argument. To me it's a tedious paradox, not a liberating insight, and no matter how often I hear it, applied to one or another magnificent species in their various corners of the world, each time I find it tedious afresh. But, beyond quibbling over details of linkage and enforcement, I can't rationally disagree.
David Quammen. Monster of God: The Man-Eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the Mind. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 2004. p 294-95.

Modern civilization's exploitation of the natural environment is not unlike the way Madoff exploited his investors. It is predicated on the illusion that it will always be possible to make future payments owing to yet more exploitation down the road: more suckers, more growth, more GNP, based — as all Ponzi schemes are — on the fraud of 'more and more,' with no foreseeable reckoning, and thus the promise of no comeuppance, neither legal nor economic nor ecologic.
"We Are All Madoffs." David P. Barash. The Chronicle of Higher Education: The Chronicle Review (Sept. 4, 2009). Reprinted in UTNE Reader (Jan-Feb 2010), p. 48. is of ultimate significance whether we conceptualize land as a commodity, which we buy, sell, develop, or preserve at our whim, or as a community, to which we realize we belong, or from which we pretend we can remove ourselves.
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Taken alone, each component can easily get out of whack: the economic can become merely utilitarian; the spiritual, overly abstract; and the national risks degenerating into chauvinism. The overarching contemporary environmental perspective provides a unifying synthesis for our time.
Jeremy Benstein. The Way Into Judaism and the Environment. Woodstock, Vt.: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2006. pp. 20, 181.

Society is evolving beyond stewardship models. White people are not the stewards of black and brown people. Men are not the stewards of women. Marriages are based on legal equality, not the husband having dominion over his wife. The old stewardship models are being rejected for a new understanding of the interdependence of all the unique cultures and qualities that make up society. Similarly, the stewardship model ultimately may be replaced by an ecological model based on interdependence and kinship.
I believe there is a kinship model retrievable from Genesis that is deeper than stewardship; a trace of nature mysticism that forms the biblical basis of the lost gospel of the earth.
Tom Hayden. The Lost Gospel of the Earth: A Call for Renewing Nature, Spirit, and Politics. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996. pp. 98-99.

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