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Why Bother (Paper #10, Draft 1)

Leigh Alexander's picture

Allie Cavallaro

Paper #10

14 November 2014

Why Bother

I think, assuming, as humans that we have the willingness, knowledge, and ability to fix large scale environmental problems is foolish. Even if we could unite the planet in a common goal (unlikely) to make a change, who is to say that we have the knowledge or technology to do so? Without the both knowledge and willingness, there is no ability, but even if there was ability, knowledge, and willingness, who are we to claim that we are superior enough to make a change that actually matters? How can we matter when in a matter of years, us and everything we’ve ever known will be crushed into a layer of rock no thicker than a cigarette paper (Kolbert #)? We really don’t.

Things species have been dying off for (millions/trillions) of years, far prior to the disturbances created by humans.  In fact, Kolbert points out that this era of extinction we are in is far from the first, but, rather, is the sixth in a series of mass extinctions in earth’s history (Kolbert #). Creatures die out. The dinosaurs and the mammoths, two of the token remembered species, are gone and missed by a species whose current population had never even seen one.  “Fit it!” They say. There are quite a few problems with that.

            Making a change usually requires a majority agreement or consensus for a successful attempt.  Yet when has our planet ever agreed on anything together? We argue and fight wars.  June Jordan writes, “…partnership in misery does not necessarily provide partnership for change,” (Jordan 47).  Therefore, just because many of us are discontent with current environmental situations, doesn’t necessarily mean that we have the power to unite and fix those issues. A desire is much different than an action. (Something, pref environmental congress has like just done nothing about. Shouldn’t be hard to find with some Google help).

Moreover, our lack of knowledge regarding the intricacies of earth’s ecosystems can lead to large scale mistakes. (example of complexities from 6th Extinct) This ignorance, has the ability to produce larger damages than we already have created, is alluded to in Raven’s At Play when Stuart Cooke exemplifies the lasting damages unsafe human interactions with wildlife can have on the wild species, and  the “longer term consequences of engaging in a relationship we wouldn't be there to sustain,” (“Ravens”).  Likewise, Teju Cole points out, that damages can also arise from lack of knowledge that is difficult to fix due to “more complex and more widespread problems” such as “serious problems of governance, of infrastructure, of democracy, and of law and order,” (Cole).

Our ability to affect this planet will not stem from our collective knowledge of ecosystems and the environment, and all our powerful feeling to believing that we, tiny beings have the power to change something great, rather it will stem from our acknowldgement of our own ignorance.   Hopefully from that we will begin to deflate our sense of self importance and see the world for what it truly is: a beautiful mass of shifting tectonic plates and a cycle of species and extinctions.  We don’t live in a stagnant world.  Species die out, as we someday will too, and there is no point in denying that.

There is also no point in hoping that it won’t happen, and much difficulty in the prospects of preventing it from happening. There is no true point in stretching out the lifespan of a species for a few more years when all of us are just going to be dead eventually anyway.  The way I see it is that without blatant disrespect we should go out and enjoy the world for what it is at the moment and accept the fact that it our great-grandchildren will see a much different place.


I think I might want to focus on how the planet tends to shift and how we should stop being upset about it rather than writing something that is just saying how the world is crap.  I also kind of wanted to write this “everything is crap” draft to talk myself out of it. I think I’ve successfully used a few sources out of context and poked enough holes in my own arguments for me to stop believing it. 


Anne Dalke's picture

Leigh Alexander--
I’m appreciating the long-term view you are taking here, and think it makes a very good counter-story. So now: where does that leave activism? (I’m thinking of Geek, and of Van Jones…in the larger construct you’ve developed here, are their activities just silly and self-indulgent, ways of making them feel important, when the larger task is useless?)

I’m caught by your line, “a desire is much different than an action.” Maybe you’d like to look @ a text Jody and I selected, which we haven’t found room for in the syllabus, Eve Tuck’s “Suspending Damage”: ?
Tuck’s focus is on social change, but some of what she says about “desire” might speak to where you are. Or better, actually: you’ll find an ecological version of this in Freyda Matthew’s “On Desiring Nature”: --which we also selected for but couldn’t find room for in the syllabus…

Ah, were there world enough and time!