Ways of Engaging Nature: Part 1

This is the introductory post for a new series, Ways of Engaging Nature.

Desert Arroyo used as dump, 1972 (Gene Daniels, EPA)

Desert Arroyo used as dump, 1972 (Gene Daniels, EPA)

As scholars, we often grapple with issues in the environmental humanities in academic terms. We spend our days indoors in offices, laboratories, libraries and lecture halls. We contend with theories, employ analyses, and integrate data in our research.

Although many people are acquainted with some of the environmental problems facing humanity, many of us are still not sufficiently attentive to the material reality of the problems.   

For over half a century, the public has voiced concern about how human activity is disturbing the environment. Beginning in 1970, the EPA started cleaning up cities across the USA, but we have made little progress in mitigating our contribution to climate change and mass extinction of species. On the contrary, we now hear in 2017 increasingly prominent voices denying scientific facts and the reality of anthropogenic climate change.

Oil waste on barren hillside, 1972 (Documerica, EPA)

Oil waste on barren hillside, 1972 (Documerica, EPA)

When facts will not move people to act on solutions, perhaps we need diverse ways of making vivid the problems we face globally and locally.

We need to remind ourselves and our fellow citizens of our place in the world. We are not disconnected from nature or isolated from its problems, despite how invulnerable some of us may feel.

We need to appreciate the unique forms of life, majestic landscapes, and precious resources we may lose forever if we fail to act.

We must work together to protect the environment rather than lay waste to it.

This series, Ways of Engaging Nature, will explore different modes of engaging with environmental issues and assess their potential for involving people more in actively working to solve environmental problems. Can some experiences change how we perceive the natural world? What will inspire us to conserve the environment rather than destroy it? What experiences will help us understand our place in the global terrain and make us care more deeply about our home on earth?

Mt. Blanca, 2015 (Peter McLennan)

Mt. Blanca, 2015 (Peter McLennan)

Shereen Chang is a PhD candidate in philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, conducting research in the philosophy of animal cognition, ethics, science, and environment. She is @shereen_chang on Twitter.