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What constitutes Ecological Intelligence?

Hgraves's picture

“The advantage of speaking about ecologies rather than societies is that it reminds us how our societies are intertwined with a broader natural world that they draw on to sustain themselves, that they are affected by, and that they affect”(Bryant). What constitutes ecological intelligence? I propose it is realizing the importance of “ecological intersectionalism”. Granted intersectionalism is a word we made up in ESem, it is very useful in fully painting the picture that it is necessary to acknowledge that something isn’t an entity of its own.; everything is interconnected in some way.

 I really took a liking to the article, Greening the Ghetto, where it focused on activist Van Jones and his attempt to green the ghetto. When most people first heard this they probably thought greening the ghetto in the sense of making it more eco-friendly. But I interpreted this title in many different ways because it related to many issues connected to each other going on within the ghetto just as he saw his approach as the way to fix many solutions as opposed to one because they are all interconnected. The title greening the ghetto, to me, not only meant making the ghettos more green ecologically but also economically, as in green with money. In Van Jones’ solution, bringing in these jobs would not only fix the economic issue that these ghettos have by giving these lower socio-economic households more money, but considering the jobs would be “green” jobs, it would help ecologically as well. Realizing that these two problems can’t be fixed as one can ensure a more long-term solution. But in order to fix these solutions, one must first be ecologically intelligent and in that it comes with realizing that everything works as a system and when there is a hiccup in one part, it affects the other parts within the system. Think about it this way: while you find a solution to one problem, the way you fix that first issue has an effect on the other issue, most likely making it worse because everything is interconnected. And then you’re left with a bigger second problem to solve because you didn’t factor in how the solution would alter the other problem because it was separated as an entity of its own. In Greening the Ghetto, Jones said it best in his response to people questioning his method of trying to solve two problems with one solution, “ ‘Yes, it may be difficult to address climate change and poverty at the same time, he says, but it's even harder to do so separately. ‘You've got to have a holistic, integrated set of solutions or you're going to wind up with half your energy being used up to fight 'Drill, baby, drill!' “he told me. ‘People say, 'Oh, we'll take a shortcut.' Well, those shortcuts are a lot longer than they look’" (Kolbert).

 Another author who proves how this “intersectionalism” is important is Stacy Alaimo in Porous Bodies and Trans-Corporeality. Levi Bryant quotes Alaimo saying, “The problem with thinking of nature as elsewhere, of thinking of culture as outside of nature, is that it cultivates a way of thinking that makes ecological issues seem like the peculiar concern of people who like spotted owls and beautiful canyons. In other words, ecological issues come to seem like issues that are only of interest to people who have a particular aesthetic taste. Meanwhile, the person who thinks of nature as an “elsewhere” to which you go to camp, says ‘look, I like camping and spotted owls as much as the next person, but these things don’t affect my real life where I have to make money to live. These issues are just of no importance to those necessities!’”(Bryant) As shown in this quote, when these issues or any issues that are interconnected in many ways are viewed as separate then the possibility of fully caring and understanding what is going on around you decrease because one will seem more important. Combining these issues and personalizing them in a way that ecological improvement doesn’t seem like concern for only  the rich and economic improvement seem like a concern for the poor will quicken the ability to help fix both issues being that everyone will be on the same page that a solution is needed.

Alaimo describes my term “intersectionalism” as thinking trans-corporeally. She says, “To think trans-corporeally is to think the manner in which the local is the global and the global is the local, but also to see how we are constituted by the world around us… It also allows us to see how these issues are not simply issues of people who have a particular aesthetic appreciation of “nature”, but rather how they are issues of the very fabric of our bodies and minds or what we are”(Bryant).  And I agree with both her and Van Jones. Separating these issues isn’t fully understanding what’s going on around you because either one will take precedence of the other or one won’t get solved. Thinking “intersectionally” or as she puts it trans-corporeally is what constitutes ecological intelligence.

Works Cited

Bryant LR. Stacy Alaimo: Porous Bodies and Trans-Corporeality. Larval Subjects [Internet]. 2012 May 24 [cited 2014 Dec 8]. Available from:

Kolbert E. Greening the Ghetto: Can a Remedy Serve for both Global Warming and Poverty?.      The New Yorker. 2009.


Anne Dalke's picture

Some reading notes on this paper:
* you name the key ‘ecological idea’: everything is connected
* you use Van Jones as a concrete example: ‘greening the ghetto ecologically and economically
* you use Alaimo as a theoretical example: thinking trans-coporeally
All good. And so…? An on-the-ground example @ BMC? (Monday night’s demonstration?)

Some talking notes, from our final writing conference:
* writing was a struggle for you this semester: you had to learn to make it more "critical," "'presentable," a little bit more "professional" and "thought out," not as transparent, but carrying a deeper meaning...
* you think it's better than it used to be: you're more conscious about what you're saying, spend more time thinking about it ahead of time, and re-reading it afterwards to check that the reader can understand what you're saying
* your reading is limited to what's assigned in class, and you see your classmates drawing on outside material--you'd like to do more of that (like checking out Van Jones' TED talk)
* you were most pleased with this last essay (having taken a liking to Van Jones, and the idea of 'porosity'), and with the one about the woods, M. Carey Thomas and you (just fascinated by that material)
* the papers that might have used more work include the one on All Over Creation (you were working on a new idea that didn't get spelled out carefully enough), and the one on "handicapped," which had an interesting starting point but not a thesis, even on the re-write (so making sure you've got a good thesis can still be a challenge)
*you'd like to re-do paper #11, to focus more on Van Jones' improvement of the ghettos, and juxtapose that with what we are trying to do here @ BMC: what would he say, if we brought him here, to help us to think structurally and systemically, rather than individually and personally...