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The New Romantics: Unpacking the Human Relationship to Nature

The New Romantics: Unpacking the Human Relationship to Nature

September 14, 2020


Aubrey, This is a great blog that covers the class readings, our discussion, and your personal connection with the concepts raised--all in context of COVID. I love that you have provided some interesting readings and posed a couple of relevant, thought-provoking questions. You may not prove to be popular with your student colleagues in the course, as you have set the bar very high for future class blogs! Thanks so much and I hope that the smoke dissipates soon.  Bill

Aubrey, this is a awesome blog and I love that you described your personal experience with the Romantic poetry and painting and its ties to nature.
I would like to respond to your last question: Do crises create action or inaction, and it is possible to instill an intrinsic value for nature into human society to such an extent that it changes the way we globally interact with natural resources and the environment?

I think crisis creates actions in some people and inaction in others. Looking at it with only a US perspective, we are seeing this now during the Climate crisis - we have some people pushing for lifestyle changes while others do not believe that they will see the effects from climate change in their lifetime. I think our culture needs to change before our idea of nature changes to be more intrinsic. -Lizzy P

Thanks for the commentary you provided and the questions that you posed, Aubrey. The images of the mountain west covered in haze seem to be a clear reflection of the widespread extent of fires (for NIFC current fire perimeters, ref. URL: (URL: https://data-nifc.opendata.arcgis.com/datasets/wildfire-perimeters) many of which are burning with great intensity (for ESA Copernicus Fire Intensity map centered on the western US, ref. URL: https://www.windy.com/-Show---add-more-layers/overlays?fires,41.096,-107... ). The western landscape is certainly becoming more prone to burn as temperatures rise with climate change and vapor pressure deficit increases (URL: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2020/09/most-important-numbe...). Humans and nature are clearly threatened by this trend.

We need to reevaluate and revise our practices of land management. The prevailing governance culture / pyropolitics seems to be based on a outdated and ultimately self-defeating model (Minor and Boyce 2018).* The land ethic that Leopold saw a need for may exist in past cultures (i.e. pre-European settlement), and it may ultimately be the case that land managers need to return to the way the landscape had been managed prior to western conquest (URL: https://www.npr.org/2020/08/24/899422710/to-manage-wildfire-california-l... ).

In response to the first question - "Do crises create action or inaction?" - I would say that depends in large part on the type and magnitude of the crisis. I would characterize our response to widespread wildfires in the West as reactionary thus far, i.e. mobilizing the firefighters and containing the blazes where possible. The larger climate change in which it is embedded and of which it is symptomatic certainly has provoked a lot of action in terms of activism, academic research, international collaboration, goal setting, etc.. However, we can see that progress is being constantly impeded by the inertia of the "business as usual" political economy, e.g. fossil fuel production / consumption, meat production / consumption, and other practices that the exploitation of humans and nature by large corporations. A lack of US leadership is also to blame.

With regard to the second question - "Is it possible to instill an intrinsic value for nature into human society to such an extent that it changes the way we globally interact with natural resources and the environment?" - I would say the answer to the first part is YES in certain cultures, but I am on more uncertain ground in terms whether / how the translation of cultural change into practical change at the global scale takes places without reforming the marketplace and governance structures that are driving the patterns of land-use (e.g. agriculture, ranching, mining), energy (e.g. fossil fuels, hydropower, nuclear, etc.), and management of the global commons (i.e. atmosphere and oceans). Setting aside concerns about feasibility, I do share a sense that such change would be desirable. There does not yet seem to be sufficient support for the kind of str

* Minor, J., & Boyce, G. A. (2018). Smokey Bear and the pyropolitics of United States forest governance. Political Geography, 62, 79–93. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.polgeo.2017.10.005

24kkelly's picture

Aubrey, this is beautifully done! The imagery here is powerful and I think it serves both as a homage and a warning that we have these precious gifts - air, mountains, sunlight - that we can either enjoy or destroy. To see this "big sky" filled with smoke and looming over the landscape is truly unsettling. Please take care out there.

Aubrey, this is a really great piece! You perfectly captured the essence of romanticism and our relationship to nature. I really like how you tied it into the past two class sessions and the COVID pandemic as well. I think you propose very good points at the end too. I believe crises do create action, but it usually is a last-minute decision in place just to mitigate the current situation. I also believe it is possible to instill an intrinsic value for nature into human society because it already exists within all of us. We just need to be reminded that there is more to our world than our society has told us. It can be disheartening to witness climate change and all of these negative environmental events, but you are completely right. We cannot give up hope, because this planet and the people that inhabit it are all that we have, and we cannot waste it.

I really enjoyed the discussion you evoked on whether this pandemic can change people's mind or actions/inactions to protect nature, and if not, what can change them? I can only speak for myself, as I go out into the nature during the pandemic, I definitely feel closer to nature as I pay more attention to the trees, flowers, birds, and creek when no one is around, but when other people come along, my mind shifts to social-distancing mode. Also, prior to the pandemic, I was generally very good about avoiding as much plastic as I can, recycle materials and etc. But since the pandemic, with all the supplies consumed in the household for sanitation purposes, I am also hesitating on what should or can be recycled or what shouldn't/can't be. I think since the pandemic, the education effort has been emphasized on fighting against the COVID, protect yourself and the public health, and the education on recycling has been lagging. Of course, this priority is incontestable. However, recycling education and actions shouldn't be compromised. Or environmental education in general. I think this is my second thought for your discussion question "if not pandemic what can strengthen our land ethics?". Environmental education! I think children from an early age should be inculcate this "romantics" for nature from their family and the education system, to respect, cherish, and coexist with every element in nature. So our jobs are to first develop these senses if land ethics within ourselves, so when we become parents or educators, we can pass on our "romantics" for nature on to the next generation.