There haven’t been any recent attempts that I’m aware of, but I know it’s true. We had some very rambunctious raccoons rolling around our backyard during the Posada on December 17,and they were utterly unafraid of the dozen humans standing a few steps away. But they made no move to attack.
It’s actually a standing joke among my friends. I write and talk a lot about ecology and transforming urban life to harmonize with natural systems. I’m very concerned about climate change and probably pay more attention to the cascading bad news than most people I know. And yet I hate camping (dishwashing in the woods as far as I’m concerned). People and their pets (especially dogs) drive me crazy—I hate how people anthropomorphize their animals and then treat them like children. I eat meat with enthusiasm, and find proponents of animal rights and/or veganism too often some of the most pedantic, moralistic, and generally unhappy and unpleasant people I’ve met (with some exceptions, happily).
In spite of being an inveterate urbanite who feels safer sitting in a parking lot than next to a babbling brook buzzing with insects and birds, I think about nature and ecology a lot. Lately I’ve been reading a lot too, and I’ll be quoting from five different books during this post. It’s been a bit like taking a quick class in urban ecology, though the books covered here aren’t quite that focused. From the most philosophically minded, Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species (by Ursula K. Heise, University of Chicago Press: 2016), to the most down-to-city-earth Unseen City: The Majesty of Pigeons, The Discreet Charm of Snails & Other Wonders of the Urban Wilderness (by Nathanael Johnson, Rodale Press, New York: 2016), the books here help us take a big step back from the panicky urgency that arose in response to the election of Trump.
I understand that the Trump regime will be a wrecking ball to most of the environmental gains of the past half century. Moreover, developing a nuanced understanding of a healthy relationship between human life and nature will not only not gain traction, but whatever has been gained will likely be reversed now. But going into panic mode and rushing about without a strategy seems like a bad idea to me.
I decided it’s a good time to think deeply about where we are and where we might go. The fraught politics of inequality built on centuries of racism, sexism and general fear and loathing of “others” is not something that doubling down on the smug self-satisfied rhetoric of coastal know-it-alls is going to adequately address. It’s hard to believe that anyone in their right mind could vote for an obvious liar and huckster like Trump. But when you pause for a moment it’s easy to see that Trump is not such a departure really, and that Americans have voted for frauds and charlatans as president almost as often as not. Something primal happens to voters, apparently, and given the chance to support a venal, hateful demagogue who promises the moon an awful lot of people say “give me the moon then,” realism be damned.
I am thankful for the time I had to read these smart books, which in addition to the two mentioned, also include Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (by Frans de Waal, W.W. Norton & Company, New York: 2016), Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction (by Mary Ellen Hannibal, The Experiment LLC, New York: 2016), and Satellites in the High Country (by Jason Mark, Island Press: Washington DC 2015). An earlier book I read kept looping itself back into the conversation these books had in my head, which was Feral by George Monbiot that I briefly mentioned in an earlier post.
Monbiot argued in his book that we should restore apex predators into our environment to re-establish a sense of awe, fear, and excitement that we are lacking in modern life (imagine having to consider encountering a bear on the way to the corner store!). His book seeks to break with the dogmas of mainstream environmentalism, and to a great extent that is what is refreshing about all of these books too. Each of the writers in their own way is trying to rethink, reimagine, and propose a new approach to what has become an impossible cul-de-sac of environmental degradation, climate chaos, and rapidly accelerating extinction. All of the writers here have gone beyond the paradigms that beset radical environmental thinking only a generation ago, wherein humans were still largely outside of and the opposite of “nature.” All of them, in various ways, are trying to articulate new approaches to some kind of reconciliation, to finding a way that humans as natural beings can find an appropriate set of philosophical assumptions to shape new behaviors that in turn work with the logic of nature instead of being implacably against it.