The persistent discussion throughout this collection of readings was of the misguided conception that humans are the most important beings on earth, and the importance of changing this model both in thinking and in practice. This human-centered framework has been overwhelmingly limiting, and left us in a full blown environmental crisis, but one that will never change unless we dramatically alter our role within this larger system. Beyond proposing ideological shifts, I appreciated that this collection of readings attempted to provide more specific methods and techniques for initiating this shift and inspiring action.
Nathan Waterhouse explained it quite well: “although we don’t believe earth is the center of the universe, we still behave as if humans are the most important species alive today.” His discussion focused on the role of the designer, and the opportunities when we consider the larger system in which we belong. Although he acknowledged that design is “a very insecure discipline” I felt like his suggestions were overly optimistic and far too simplified considering the scope of this discussion. “What about the rights of nature, other creatures, or the planet itself?” While I appreciate the question, I am skeptical of design as our end-all-be-all solution – the designer as the savior. I worked as a designer for a long time, and the reason I moved away from it was because I felt overwhelmingly limited in the capacity for meaningful change. And ultimately, the scale of reach was determined by much larger systems at play, both social and economic. My doubt may just be a semantic one, about what design might be extended to include. Or it was the ‘What Can We Do About It’ list at the end of the article that left me dubious – better to have left the list off completely, in my opinion.
Donella Meadow’s article offered what Waterhouse’s was missing – a much broader perspective that considers the complex systems at play and the forces that are driving them. Understanding leverage points is powerful, as a small shift in one thing can produce dramatic changes across the board. Among the points of leverage, one that stood out for me was the idea of missing feedback as a common cause of system malfunction and the importance of information access. Providing a meter for someone to visually understand how much heat their using is so simple and effective. Above all, the most powerful opportunity for real change lies in the suggestion to detach, to let go, to transcend paradigms. To me this feels overwhelming in many ways, but also extremely encouraging – perhaps the most encouraging thought for me in this week’s readings.
Elizabeth Kolbert’s discussion of the Anthropocene was a warning to the world about the staggering changes that humans have already set in motion. The chilling details about what human impacts presented in terms of geological record were really significant for me, as was the discussion about human practice and farming especially. Agricultural practices have been slowly changing the world for thousands of years, and it is only because of the recent population explosion that everything has accelerated. It can be difficult to conceptualize the long term view, but Kolbert’s connection to human practices over time was extremely insightful (and shocking). Realizing that it is not our cities, but our agricultural practices that has impacted the geological record the most is staggering. And, understanding that the most profound changes to the planet are almost entirely invisible offers an even greater challenge. Is it possible to illustrate that this is a real threat? That our existence is at risk? And how to express the scale of this invisible thing? “We will only make changes when we perceive the real threat to our way of life, our existence…”
Human practices must shift, and our future depends on the ability to see ourselves as part of a larger whole. I guess that brings us back to paradigm shift.…it is an enormous, overwhelming, impossible challenge, but not without hope. Last week, Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter was especially fascinating for me in terms of thinking about humans vs. non-humans and the relationships between all things, and this week I was struck by Georgio Agamben’s perspective in The Open. We understand the environment or world that a living thing exists in is in terms of OUR world, the human world. But we do not share the same time and space as other living beings, there does not exist an objectively fixed environment in which we all exist. “There does not exist a forest as an objectively fixed environment: there exists a forest-for-the-park-ranger, a forest-for-the-hunter, a forest-for-the-botanist, a forest-for-the-wayfarer, a forest-for-the-nature-lover…” For me this added to Bennett’s perspective, and enhanced it, particularly in terms of the visual model it suggests. I’m still thinking about Queer Ecology, and a bit unsure about my perspective with it. What I do appreciate is Morton’s piece is is the importance of acknowledging the differences in all things, rather than the sameness. I don’t doubt the merit in a way to think about a ecology and what it means to be human, continued thinking about, modeling and re-modeling will only get us so far. In creating projects and continuing to develop my own understanding of Renatured, I am eager to move beyond such philosophical discussions and look instead at the realities of this thinking in practice…
READING LIST INTRO 3
Elizabeth Kolbert, Enter the Anthropocene, Making the Geologic Now (2012) (LINK)
Nathan Waterhouse, The Future of Human Centered Design (2013) (LINK)
Georgio Agamben, The Open, Umwelt (2003) (PDF)
Timothy Morton : Queer Ecology (2010) (PDF)
Donella Meadows, Leverage Points in a System (LINK)