“My dream is that people will find a way back home, into their bodies, to connect with the earth, to connect with each other, to connect with the poor, to connect with the broken, to connect with the needy, to connect with people calling out all around us, to connect with the beauty, poetry, the wildness” –Eve Ensler
I began this course with the idea that I knew a decent amount about the topic of environmental studies and the movement of environmentalism. I had always thought of environmentalism almost strictly in terms of the sciences, perhaps because Biology is my area of study. Beginning with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a classic in the area of environmentalism, the focus was on the science behind environmental degradation due to pesticide use. Following this were books that began to look at environmentalism in more of a philosophical way, or even fiction novels or nonfiction memoirs that told stories in the context of environmentalism. These books began to make visible the wide variety of ways in which environmentalism may be portrayed, and which one(s) are most effective…
In each of these books, there was one central motif —the idea of our connection, as humans, to the natural world, and how this relates to the idea of respect. Perhaps this was the theme that I recognized most easily within nearly every book because it is one that I feel so strongly about. It is this idea—the idea of connectedness and respect—that causes me to feel so strongly about environmentalism. But it is this idea that will hopefully be of the most value to readers as they read these essays and explore the relationship between the human and non human world.
Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring provides the scientific explanation for this connectedness of not only everything within the natural world, but especially our deeply intricate connection to the natural world as humans. She gives example after example of how human practices cause a chain reaction of events within nature, and how this chain of events eventually comes back to us. Rachel Carson depicts how such a small change to the delicate web of life has hundreds, if not thousands, of consequences. It is the lack of respect for this delicate web of life that Carson emphasizes, all while showing the reader how this is leading to our own destruction as humans.
Gary Snyder’s Turtle Island, a book of poems followed by a few essays, explores what it is that humans must do in order to stop this environmental catastrophe. Snyder’s poetry takes on a vastly different form than Carson’s Silent Spring, as well as the other books read in this course, but attempts to make a very similar point—our bodies are one with the earth yet there is currently a great disrespect for it. Snyder’s language in particular is what makes his writing so moving—he uses elegant, pleasing language in some pieces of poetry, and harsh, honest language in others. Both types of language though have the same intent of trying to foster some respect for nature within the reader. Snyder’s writing may make the reader think to a time and place where he or she felt a connection to nature, and this may elicit a response to behave in a more respectful way.
This idea of using language within a piece of writing in order to encourage a new respect for the environment within the reader has its roots in what Wendell Berry would call a “Crisis of Character.” The reason most people behave in this disrespectful way towards nature is due to the overarching thought process within American culture—the idea that simplification is good, and that humans are superior to/ above nature. This is what Berry is referring to when he says that the environmental crisis is a crisis of character. This destruction and disrespect of nature is so widespread and prevalent within many human cultures because of this simplification, or lack of connection.
Why does simplification or lack of connection matter though? Snyder explains this through his essays in The Practice of the Wild. By providing the reader with definitions of terms such as wildness, wilderness, and wild, Snyder points out the existence of the dichotomy between the civilized and the wild. The mere fact that there is such a large contrast between these two worlds is, yet again, where the problem lies. There should be no disconnect between humans and the Earth because that is where we came form. Without any connection between humans and nature, there can be no respect.
Lastly, there may be another theme which ties into the idea of connectedness and respect—the idea of ecofeminism. Ecofeminism, the idea that the Earth is treated in a similar manner as women, revolves around this idea of connectedness and respect as well. In particular, it is the lack of respect for women in the same manner as that of the Earth. It is forgotten that, like the Earth, women are the source of life for all humans. As is pointed out in my essay on Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms—“It is the masculine mentality which would deny us our right to our own bodies and our own sexuality and it is that same mentality that would deny the Earth and all of its creatures the respect and sacredness it inherently deserves” (Identity and Ecofeminism: Solar Storms).
This collection of essays brings to life this idea that there is a great disconnect between humans and the natural world, and it is this disconnect that leads to behavior that is disrespectful and damaging. The irony exists, however, in the fact that our destructive behavior will eventually be destructive to our own wellbeing. It seems crucial then, that these books be read and analyzed, just as was done through these essays, in order to realize the true extent of the environmental crisis. Perhaps then humans will “find a way back home, into their bodies, to connect with the earth, to connect with each other, to connect with the poor, to connect with the broken, to connect with the needy, to connect with people calling out all around us, to connect with the beauty, poetry, the wildness…” –Eve Ensler