Jan 20th 2021

Now’s the time to rethink your relationship with nature

by Matthew Adams

 

Matthew Adams is Principal Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Brighton

 

The pandemic has allowed many of us to develop a new appreciation of the great outdoors. But of course, this renewed engagement with nature comes at a time when our natural world is facing an unparalleled climate crisis.

I’m a psychologist interested in how people engage with and think about nature, in this precise historical moment when it is unprecedentedly threatened. In my new book Anthropocene Psychology I consider how we live in and with nature and how this poses profound and troubling questions.


Read more: Five must-read novels on the environment and climate crisis


If you’ve never heard of the Anthropocene, here’s a very brief primer. Anthropos is Greek for human and cene refers to a distinctive geological time period. The term is used to convey how, for the first time in history, the Earth is being transformed by one species – homo sapiens.

Though timings are still debated, around 1950 is considered the start date of the Anthropocene, as this is when rapid escalation of various factors began to converge. Factors such as the use of fossil fuels, population growth, tourism and travel, energy use, water usage, plastic waste, industrial agriculture, CO₂ emissions, deforestation, habitat loss and a warming climate.

Conscious of our connections

The idea of the Anthropocene can seem overwhelming and can generate anxiety and fear. It can be hard to see past notions of imminent apocalypse or technological salvation. Both, in a sense, are equally paralysing – requiring us to do nothing.

I consider the Anthropocene as an invitation to think differently about human relationships with nature and other species. Evidence suggests this reorientation is already happening and there are grounds for optimism.

For example, in just the last few years there has been an increasing number of academics in many different fields working on new understandings of how nature is deeply interconnected. Take forest ecologist Susan Simard, who looks at the way in which trees communicate with each other to enhance the health of forest ecosystems, part of a “wood wide web” that can also incorporate other species, including people. Then there’s the philosophers such as Timothy Morton and Donna Haraway both arguing that the Anthropocene provokes us to radically rethink how we perceive and relate to non-human animals and nature more generally.

Alongside these developments are indigenous North American scholars like Zoe Todd and Kim Tallbear renewing older forms of knowledge about the fundamental interconnectedness of humans, other species and landscape for new and receptive audiences. All are pushing at the boundaries of what we know about the entanglement of human and other forms of life.

Novel approaches to our relationship with nature are not limited to academic research. A recent Netflix nature documentary, My Octopus Teacher, is a more mainstream example. It documents a year in the life of filmmaker Craig Foster as he forges a life-changing friendship with an octopus. While Richard Powers’ Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Overstory interweaves multiple human stories with those of trees – shining a light on our connection and reliance upon the natural world.

These efforts are reflected in wider trends like the growth of veganism and animal welfare movements. Along with the push to grant rights to nature and natural entities. And the increasing vocalness of and receptiveness to indigenous knowledge and activism. There’s also been a rise of mutually beneficial animal-assisted therapies and nature-based interventions. All of which represent greater recognition of our entanglement with nonhuman nature.

Time to think differently

Precisely because it is unsustainable, the Anthropocene is likely to be short lived in the context of the planet’s history. And while this might seem scary or depressing at first, it’s a realisation that can invoke feelings of relief or even awe.

Activities like mindfulness or meditation in nature, along with “technology sabbaths” or structured time away from screens can help us begin to redefine our relationship with the natural world. Exercises that encourage us to contemplate deep time can also help us to avoid overwhelm and eco-fatigue.

While practices like this may seem naive or indulgent in the face of environmental crisis, it’s worth remembering that felt experience is essential to the momentum of any movement. And that becoming more conscious of the ways in which humans and nonhumans are inextricably connected is now more vital than ever.

The Anthropocene puts paid to any idea that we can carry on as normal. Indeed, even if all of humanity was wiped out tomorrow, it’s estimated the natural world would take at least five million years to recover. Which is why in the longer term there must be a fundamental reconsideration of how a significant minority of the global population live, get around, feed ourselves and exploit other humans and nonhumans.

 

Matthew Adams, Principal Lecturer in Psychology, University of Brighton

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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May 1st 2021
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Apr 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "We all owe Farah Nabulsi an enormous debt of gratitude. In a short 24-minute film, The Present, she has exposed the oppressive indecency of the Israeli occupation while telling the deeply moving story of a Palestinian family. What is especially exciting is that after winning awards at a number of international film festivals​, Ms. Nabulsi has been nominated for an Academy Award for this remarkable work of art. " 
Apr 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "When I crashed to the floor of my home in Bordeaux recently after two months of Covid-19 dizziness, I was annoyed. The next day I collapsed again. Now I was worried. What I didn’t know was that my brain was sloshing around inside my skull, causing a mild concussion. Nor did I know that I was in for a whole new world of weird and wonderful hallucinations."
Apr 13th 2021
EXTRACT: "Overall, our review has found that there isn’t evidence to back up the claims that veganism is good for your heart. But that is partly because there are few studies ....... But veganism may have other health benefits. Vegans have been found to have a healthier weight and lower blood glucose levels than those who consume meat and dairy. They are also less likely to develop cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes. "
Apr 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Pollock’s universe, the universe of Mural, cannot be said to be a rational universe. Nor is it simply devoid of all sense. It is not a purely imaginary world, although in it everything is in a constant state of flux. Mural invokes one of the oldest questions of philosophy, a question going back to the Pre-Socratic philosophers Parmenides and Heraclitus – namely, whether the nature of Reality constitutes unchanging permanence or constant movement and flux. For Pollock, the only thing that is truly unchanging is change itself. The only certainty is that all is uncertain."
Apr 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Many present day politicians appear to have psychopathic and narcissistic traits too. It’s easy to spot such leaders, because they are always authoritarian, following hardline policies. They try to subvert democracy, to reduce the freedom of the press and clamp down on dissent. They are obsessed with national prestige, and often persecute minority groups. And they are always corrupt and lacking in moral principles."
Apr 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "This has led some to claim that not just half, but perhaps nearly all advertising money is wasted, at least online. There are similar results outside of commerce. One review of field experiments in political campaigning argued “the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero”. Zero!"
Mar 30th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Father is an extraordinary film, from Florian Zeller’s 2012 play entitled Le Père and directed by Zeller. I’m here to tell you why it is a ‘must see’." EDITOR'S NOTE: The official trailer is attached to the review.
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "Picasso was 26 in 1907, when he completed the Demoiselles; de Kooning was 48 in 1952, when he finished Woman I.  The difference in their ages was not an accident, for studies of hundreds of painters have revealed a striking regularity - the conceptual painters who preconceive their paintings, from Raphael to Warhol, consistently make their greatest contributions earlier in their careers than experimental painters, from Rembrandt to Pollock, who paint directly, without preparatory studies."
Mar 26th 2021
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Mar 20th 2021

The city of Homs has been ravaged by war, leaving millions of people homeless an

Mar 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "There are two main rival models of ethics: one is based on rights, the other on duties. The rights-based model, which traces its philosophical origins to the work of John Locke in the 17th century, starts from the assumption that individuals have rights ....... According to this approach, duties are related to rights, but only in a subordinate role. My right to health implies a duty on my country to provide some healthcare services, to the best of its abilities. This is arguably the dominant interpretation when philosophers talk about rights, including human rights." ........ "Your right to get sick, or to risk getting sick, could imply a duty on others to look after you during your illness." ..... "The pre-eminence of rights in our moral compass has vindicated unacceptable levels of selfishness. It is imperative to undertake a fundamental duty not to get sick, and to do everything in our means to avoid causing others to get sick. Morally speaking, duties should come first and should not be subordinated to rights." ..... "Putting duties before rights is not a new, revolutionary idea. In fact it is one of the oldest rules in the book of ethics. Primum non nocere, or first do no harm, is the core principle in the Hippocratic Oath historically taken by doctors, widely attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher and physician Hippocrates. It is also a fundamental principle in the moral philosophy of the Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero, who in De Officiis (On Duties) argues that the first task of justice is to prevent men and women from causing harm to others."
Mar 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "Several studies have recently compared the difference between antibodies produced straight after a coronavirus infection and those that can be detected six months later. The findings have been both impressive and reassuring. Although there are fewer coronavirus-specific antibodies detectable in the blood six months after infection, the antibodies that remain have undergone significant changes. …….. the “mature” antibodies were better at recognising the variants."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Like Shakespeare, Goya sees evil as something existing in itself – indeed, the horror of evil arises precisely from its excess. It overflows and refuses to be contained by or integrated into our categories of reason or comprehension. By its very nature, evil refuses to remain within prescribed bounds – to remain fixed, say, within an economy where evil is counterbalanced by good. Evil is always excess of evil." ....... "Nowhere is this more evident than in war. Goya offers us a profound and sustained meditation on the nature of war ........ The image of a Napoleonic soldier gazing indifferently on a man who has been summarily hanged, probably by his own belt, expresses the tragedy of war – its dehumanization of both war’s victims and victors."
Mar 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "A blockchain company has bought a piece of Banksy artwork and burnt it. But instead of destroying the value of the art, they claim to have made it more valuable, because it was sold as a piece of blockchain art. The company behind the stunt, called Injective Protocol, bought the screen print from a New York gallery. They then live-streamed its burning on the Twitter account BurntBanksy. But why would anyone buy a piece of art just to burn it? Understanding the answer requires us to delve into the tricky world of blockchain or “NFT” art."
Mar 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "Exercise is good for your health at every age – and you can reap the benefits no matter how late in life you start. But our latest research has shown another benefit of being physically active throughout life. We found that in the US, people who were more physically active as teenagers and throughout adulthood had lower healthcare costs."
Mar 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "Although around one in 14 people over 65 have Alzheimer’s disease, there’s still no cure, and no way to prevent the disease from progressing. But a recent study may bring us one step closer to preventing Alzheimer’s. The trial, which was conducted on animals, has found a specific molecule can prevent the buildup of a toxic protein known to cause Alzheimer’s in the brain."
Feb 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "The art historian George Kubler observed that scholars in the humanities “pretend to despise measurement because of its ‘scientific’ nature.” As if to illustrate his point Robert Storr, former dean of Yale’s School of Art, declared that artistic success is “completely unquantifiable.” In fact, however, artistic success can be quantified, in several ways. One of these is based on the analysis of texts produced by art scholars, and this measure can give us a systematic understanding of how changes in recent art have produced changes in the canon of art history."
Feb 24th 2021
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Feb 16th 2021
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