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A Living Ecosystem

In this article we will consider the importance of relating to the environment as a living ecosystem. The Concept of 'Other'. A history of separating humans from nature has paved the way for both resource exploitation and othering, meaning the subordination of “others” where “others” could be humans other than ourselves or species other than ourselves.

In this article we will consider the importance of relating to the environment as a living ecosystem.

The Concept of ‘Other’

A history of separating humans from nature has paved the way for both resource exploitation and othering, meaning the subordination of “others” where “others” could be humans other than ourselves or species other than ourselves.

We will now consider another form of dualism that has similar negative effects. This is the separation into living and dead. What difference does it make to relate to nature or the environment as a living ecosystem, rather than something dead and are there examples to learn from?

An Interactive Environment

The world consists of a number of different environments, where organisms live and interact with each other as well as with water, air, earth and light so as to find food, space and shelter.

Arguing that ecosystems consist of the interaction between living creatures and dead material builds on ideas that are not necessarily productive. Drought, flooding and the climate crisis are happenings in which the environment and humanity are braided together: The immense powers of weather, wind and water-movement affect the living conditions on the planet.

The Human-Environment Relationship

In the book “Death of Nature”, Carolyn Merchant argues that the scientific revolution brought with it a mechanistic way of dealing with nature. In fact, nature was treated as dead, as a machine that could be used to produce resources for humans. Animal bodies were produced as food in meat-factories, waters were tamed for the production of electricity through damming, and forests were turned into timber. This way of using nature took the vivacity and ecological co-dependency out of the equation in favor of judging nature by its market value.

Here both Anthropological and Archaeological knowledge can provide other ways of relating with the environment. For example, anthropologist, Deborah Bird Rose has learnt other, more respectful ways of approaching the human-environment relationship from Aboriginal knowledge. Instead of approaching the environment as a dead resource there for the taking, Bird Rose works with the concept of Country. Country is “a living entity with a yesterday, today and tomorrow, with a consciousness, and a will toward life … Country is not a generalized or undifferentiated type of place, something ‘over there’ to be drawn or operated on. Rather, it is a concept in which the “values of life are pre-given … ”. The environment can then be addressed as nourishing terrain for several multi-species others.

We are Nature

These thoughts should not necessarily be understood as “looking back”. Instead they contain wisdom and advice about another way of getting on in the world. There is no going back to an un-spoilt garden of Eden.

Firstly, there is no such thing as pure “Nature”. That idea is built on unproductive othering. Instead humans are in “nature” and “nature” is in us.

Secondly, the environment in the Anthropocene in all corners of the world is braided together with anthropogenically processed materials, such as plastic, concrete and soot. In short, there are no such purities as “nature” to be had.

In conclusion, we must challenge dualisms such as Nature:Culture, Living:Dead or Human:Non-human. To learn, we must ask who benefits from such separation – Qui Bono – and are there better ways of acknowledging how the world is knotted together across such boundaries?

This article draws from the following works:

Bird Rose, D. 1996. Nourishing Terrains: Australian Aboriginal Views of Landscape and Wilderness (Australian Heritage Commission, 1996)

Merchant, C. 1990 (1980). The Death of Nature. Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution. New York: Harper Collins

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