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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Feb 24th 2021
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Feb 16th 2021
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Feb 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "In 2010 Carlos Rodriguez, the president of Buenos Aires' Universidad del CEMA, created the world's first - and only - Center for Creativity Economics.  During the next ten years, the CCE presented a number of short courses and seminars.  But the most important of its events was an annual lecture by an Argentine artist, who was given a Creative Career Award."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "It’s not hard to see why. Although AI systems outperform humans in tasks that are often associated with a “high level of intelligence” (playing chess, Go, or Jeopardy), they are nowhere close to excelling at tasks that humans can master with little to no training (such as understanding jokes). What we call “common sense” is actually a massive base of tacit knowledge – the cumulative effect of experiencing the world and learning about it since childhood. Coding common-sense knowledge and feeding it into AI systems is an unresolved challenge. Although AI will continue to solve some difficult problems, it is a long way from performing many tasks that children undertake as a matter of course."
Feb 7th 2021
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Feb 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "This so-called elite supposedly conspires to monopolise academic employment and research grants. Its alleged objective is to deny divine authority, and the ultimate beneficiary and prime mover is Satan.Such beliefs derive from the doctrine of biblical infallibility, long accepted as integral to the faith of numerous evangelical and Baptist churches throughout the world, including the Free Church of Scotland. But I would argue that the present-day creationist movement is a fully fledged conspiracy theory. It meets all the criteria, offering a complete parallel universe with its own organisations and rules of evidence, and claims that the scientific establishment promoting evolution is an arrogant and morally corrupt elite."
Jan 29th 2021
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Jan 23rd 2021
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Jan 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Anthropos is Greek for human.... The term is used to convey how, for the first time in history, the Earth is being transformed by one species – homo sapiens. ...... 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."
Jan 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "During the second world war, Nazi Germany banned all listening to foreign radio stations. Germans who overlooked their duty to ignore foreign broadcasts faced penalties ranging from imprisonment to execution. The British government imposed no comparable ban which would have been incompatible with the principles for which it had gone to war. That’s not to say, though, that it wasn’t alarmed by the popularity of German stations. Most effective among the Nazis broadcasting to the UK was William Joyce. This Irish-American fascist, known in Britain as “Lord Haw-Haw”, won a large audience during the “phoney war” in 1939 and early 1940, with his trademark call sign delivered in his unmistakable accent: 'Jairmany calling, Jairmany calling'. "
Jan 6th 2021
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Jan 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "A final, perhaps more sinister, possibility is that Johnson knows exactly what he is doing. His political style evokes a unique blend of dishevelled buffoon and privileged Etonian. He is someone who likes to bring good news and doesn’t take life too seriously. Making tough, controversial decisions threatens this persona and so hiding in the shadows until his hand is forced helps him to reconcile his identity threat."
Dec 21st 2020
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Dec 7th 2020
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Dec 1st 2020
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Nov 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "As the pandemic raged in April, churchgoers in Ohio defied warnings not to congregate. Some argued that their religion conferred them immunity from COVID-19. In one memorable CNN clip, a woman insisted she would not catch the virus because she was “covered in Jesus’ blood”. "
Nov 18th 2020
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Nov 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "Perhaps it is Piller’s discovery that when it comes to war there is no such thing as innocence...."