Thoughts of Lost Innocence

Gone are the days when one could write about nature the way Edwin Way Teale and Euell Gibbons did. I grew up on those books, and others like them. Books like those were so optimistic, as though nature would always be what it was then.

Not that there weren’t ominous clouds on the horizon. Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring during that same era. But she, too, could still see nature as something fairly stable. Her trilogy on marine life showed that same innocent quality as Teale and Gibbons.

Nature writing isn’t like that anymore. You can’t read any recent nature writing without grim warnings about climate change, or mass extinction, or other global catastrophes. Innocent enjoyment of nature has gone the way of every other kind of innocence.

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nothing gives a severe drop in mental health like browsing the nature selection of my librarys ebooks. i look for something nice to read and its like ‘i know… i know were dying… can i just… read in peace for a bit…’ but even the peaceful books still hurt because they may not be titled, like, “The World Is Dying” but theres no possible way to not go there, because thats just what it is

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I have never read a book about nature in that manner. I have only watched documentaries. Two that I remember most fondly as a child were the Private Life of Plants and the first Blue Planet series. Comparing to the nature documentaries nowadays, I seem to recall that there was a lot less emphasis on the human impact in the natural world, and it is grim and humbling.

Yet every time I am outside in the nature I find myself at peace being among the trees and flowers, watching insects and other creatures fly or crawl by. Innocent enjoyment of nature may have gone nowadays due to these ominous warnings about environmental collapse, but I believe true enjoyment for nature can’t be faked. But certainly I hope the combination of the two will be motivators for us to strive for a more environmentally sustainable future (even though it certainly doesn’t seem that way atm).

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I think it’s okay, or perhaps even good, that it is difficult to find nature writing that doesn’t remind us of the urgency of the global climate crisis. We can’t afford to stop paying attention and working towards a sustainable future (not saying anyone on this site isn’t, more a commentary on society as a whole). However, I do find myself craving a healthy dose of hope and inspiration to go alongside the information that will inevitably get me down. I think that’s important to engage with writing that inform, but also motivate. A book that I read recently that I think achieved a good balance in action, information and hope was Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend it.

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A not so famous book about nature that I found absolutely wonderful in its subdued lyrical quality is “Death of a Hornet” by Robert Finch ( http://blog.devicerandom.org/2016/07/01/death-of-a-hornet/ ) - I think you would love it.

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Something to think about:

Many people may withdraw their attention from the environmental and climate crisis, and have a sense of learned helplessness, because of what has been called “apocalypse fatigue” and the never-ending stream of negativity that seem to imply that no matter what actions one takes, the problem remains and the crisis just carries on.

We need to balance the negativity and alarm bells with the stories of hope, achievements and small victories that have taken place.

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i’m actually reading that one right now, and i’m really enjoying it so far!

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That’s why I started reading Mongabay.

I just miss being able to feel like nature was something solid – I mean, when I was a kid, I had a book about endangered species, but it didn’t present the situation as hopeless; it presented it as something that there were people doing real things to address. But the climate crisis – it just doesn’t seem that way. Earlier today I searched YouTube for Greta Thunberg, and it looked like there were almost as many videos by her haters as about her message.

That book about endangered species gave the impression that most people cared, and that the problems those species faced could be mitigated. When it comes to the climate crisis, the impression is that most people don’t care, and that that is what makes it insoluble.

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My conservation biology course required that I watch this talk by Elin Kelsey about Circumnavigating Hope. It’s a very thought provoking lecture about the psychology and neurological importance of shifting the dial from mostly doom and gloom to a mix of doom and gloom and hope. Its audio quality is pretty bad, but I still think it’s worth a listen. Not sure if this is 100% on topic, but I was reminded of this discussion while writing my response fort the class and figured some of you may enjoy.

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I find it best to think about nature in the broadest possible historical context. Then you will see that nature has been oscillating between extremes for billions of years. We’re heading for world with fewer species right now, but nature has survived through events like that several times. It may lead to the end of our species, but whether it does or does not, nature will still exist and eventually diversify again.

That does not justify crimes against nature. I’m just saying that you should not panic or feel too anxious or depressed.

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This is an interesting take that I need to really digest. My gut reaction is “what the heck, we need to care about protecting this planet and not become complacent!”- but that’s not your point, I can see that.

I agree that nature will persist after humans. I think that it is natural, though, to become depressed and anxious about the current state of affairs when it is causing massive human and non-human suffering. Try as I might, thoughts of “there will still be life in 1000 years, even if there are no humans” doesn’t bring me much comfort.

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You know, I have been having more thoughts about all this lately. Over the years, I have seen people become concerned about the environment, and ask if they should go back to school and study biology. And as big a passion as I have for biology, my general advice would be: no.

If you care about the environment, learn about microplastics. Learn about DDT residues, and how long they persist in soil, and about radionuclides and how long they persist. Learn about greenhouse emissions – not just CO2 but methane and all of them. Learn about clean water, clean air, soil contamination, acid rain, and what Superfund is all about. Learn the difference between sustainable and renewable, and that plastic recycling is a hoax.

This knowledge base will equip you to protect and defend the environment far more effectively than knowing biology or even ecology.

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As a person finishing up their wildlife conservation and management degree, I totally see what you’re saying! I think that if people want to study biology specifically they totally should- but if your end goal is defend the environment, then what we need is interdisciplinary cooperation on a massive scale. We need people from every discipline to be informed and work together. One of the greatest downfalls of academia, at least in my eyes, is the tendency to fail to collaborate.

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Becoming depressed and anxious is an understandable human emotional reaction. You are certainly not alone in feeling that way. I feel it too sometimes.

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