Is this one of the greatest commentaries on an animal video?
Is this one of the greatest commentaries on an animal video?
Earth Stewardship is a popular term among my fellow conservation biologists and ecologists lately, what with the Ecological Society of America embracing the term as one of its primary guiding themes for the coming decades. While some of us scratch our heads about what it might mean, precisely, in scientific terms, the ESA has chosen the theme no doubt in order to communicate with a broader public. Stewardship… the word has a strong spiritual / religious resonance… and what ecologist would argue with the call to use our science to transform humanity into better stewards of this planet? Gives us some hope of turning things around even as we teeter on the brink of ecological disasters manifold…
Stewardship also has a better ring to it than that other religiously charged word: Dominion. Some of the world’s dominant religions tell us that their reigning deity gave us dominion over the earth and all its creatures, which were presumably created for our sole benefit. Of course, evolutionary biology tells a different story, but even then we are tempted to place ourselves at some apex of evolution, borne on the branches of, but somehow apart from, the magnificent tree of life. The first creatures (maybe) to comprehend our own story and control our destiny…
Whichever version of this tale of our being you choose to believe, surely our actual history on this earth must give you pause… for we haven’t done a very good job of it, have we? It has been closer to sadistic domination lately than any meaningful stewardship. Or don’t you remember? In that case, you’ll want to watch this three-and-a-half minute animated history of Man’s dominion over Earth. It also makes for a great prequel to the film Wall•E, whose silent first half is some of the loveliest bit of filmmaking magic seen this century. Let’s hope we can steer away from that fate sooner rather than later…
via Jess Zimmerman on Grist.
This film also reminds me of an animated short I had seen long ago as part of a midnight special show screened in a film festival, sometime when I was in graduate school. I think it was at the Old Globe Theater in La Jolla which played a significant part in my cinematic education. As part of this midnight screening, reserved for more risqué, ‘grown-up’ animated fare, I remember seeing a powerful little film which showed a similar history of ‘man’—except in that film, in every instance, whatever the man did turned into a big arse farting out noxious fumes, with the closing shot showing the entire earth as one giant arse spewing dark smoke as the screen faded into credits! Hard to forget that visual, even though I completely forgot the name of the movie!
Anyone else seen that film? This was during the early days of the internet—I think I had Mosaic on the mac in my lab then—well before YouTube was even a glint in its creator’s eyes! I’ve forgotten the name of the film, and so haven’t been able to find it since, even though the imagery of our collective arseholery lingers in my mind. If you’ve seen it, remember the title, and/or know if/where it is online, please do drop me a line! I would love to include it in my next Reconciliation Ecology class along with the above film.
Now what can we do to become better stewards of this spaceship Earth as we start another revolution around our Sun?
Even though I was brought up steeped in religious traditions—of the orthodox north Karnataka Madhwa Brahmin variety, no less—I grew out of them in college and have never really felt the need to seek any comfort in imagining a supernatural deity of any sort watching over me ever since. Of course, the broad and ambiguous philosophical traditions of Hinduism allow for atheists to remain part of the fold, because it doesn’t require firm belief in any particular (of its thousands of) deities, but rather emphasizes practice, or karma. In this, Hinduism may be closer to being a philosophy and culture more than an organized religion, unlike Bill O’Reilly’s latest delusions about Christianity. In recent years, especially after two decades of mostly living in the US, I have drifted away from much of the cultural practice as well, and find myself nonplussed by Hinduism as much as by any other of the world’s religious traditions. As to the dominant / mainstream (fundamentalist/supremacist) practitioners of these religious traditions… that’s another story.
These late night reflections on religion may seem rather odd on this blog, but they’re triggered in part by a nocturnal viewing of the sun (more on that below), and a recent essay by Indian environmental historian Ramachandra Guha where he tracks the rise of Hindutvawadi trolls on the internet, as part of the overall rise in Hindu supremacist (which may be a better term than fundamentalist, given Hinduism’s lack of singular fundamental texts or beliefs) movements in India. It was interesting to learn that my own upbringing was somewhat similar to Guha’s – except that my father in his later years joined the urban middle class throngs voting for the right-wing parties. I am glad, though, that in raising our own family now in America, we have managed to avoid what appears to be a common trajectory for many immigrant communities: a tracking back to a more rigid form of religious/cultural practices, often coupled with support for more conservative/religious politics in the US, all of which seems driven by the search for identity in a foreign land. I don’t go to the temple, for example, and have given up on attending various “cultural events” organized by local Hindu communities because I cannot stand their politics (which too often refract Indian communal identity politics in strange colors); or the trolls who show up to defend their interpretation of Hindutva in the manner Guha describes.
So how do I deal with that immigrant’s identity void? And how will I deal with questions about our culture and tradition that may come as my daughters grow up and face their own inevitable struggles with identity?
Science and secular humanism have served us well so far, and I hope they will provide strength to my girls when they come into their own as individuals embedded in a society that remains far too beholden to outdated religious ideas worldwide. I’m confident that we will find some ways to figure things our using these frameworks without having to resort to belief in some supernatural divinity.
But if that long-dead religious impulse ever gets resurrected (can’t imagine why, but the faithful keep telling me the day will come!), and I find myself in some spiritual void seeking an emotional crutch, I think I will probably take up Sun Worship. After all, the Sun actually exists, and is largely responsible for powering the evolution of life on Earth, and will keep life going here until it expands and swallows the planet in a distant but inevitable future – long, long, long after we are all gone, recycled back into the stardust that was forged in the interiors of other, older suns.
Here’s my prophet of choice, George Carlin, describing how, overnight, he became a Sun Worshipper (at around the 3:30 mark in this clip):
Of course, Carlin jokes that his conversion wasn’t actually overnight because you can’t see the Sun at night!
How Carlin would have loved this video, then, which showed up on my computer screen late last night, making me suddenly feel a strong urge to worship the power of the Sun (and triggering this blog post):
Isn’t that truly awe-inspiringly spectacular? And to think that the Sun was tossing off that little flare at the same time as I was sitting in my living room late at night, peering at my laptop screen in my insomniac way, looking for inspiration to finish a bit of writing on a long-overdue research manuscript!
The video comes from the Helioviewer project, which allows one to visualize and explore the surface and inner heliosphere of the Sun from the comfort of one’s living room, using imagery data from NASA and the European Space Agency (the other ESA)! So not only do we not need to build any temples or churches to worship the Sun—who doesn’t give a shit about what we do anyway, because the Sun just IS—we don’t even need to wait until dawn to spend some quality time contemplating the face of this wondrous and powerful deity!
So that’s the other reason why I am up at night now, rambling on about religious impulses in this blog post!
Let me leave you with another awesome little video from just a couple of minutes ago:
How can you not worship that?
Earlier this week, I wrote and recorded my next commentary for Valley Public Radio’s “The Moral Is” series – this time about global warming / climate change, and the moral costs of denialism. Of course, I couldn’t help but keep up a “serious academic” professorial tone to the whole thing – sadly. What can I say? Its a professional constraint/hazard of being a staid old professor. Now I wish I had really done something more along these lines:
As mentioned here recently, the inaugural Ravi Sankaran Memorial Lecture was given by historian Mahesh Rangarajan during the Student Conference in Conservation Science in Bangalore a couple of weeks ago. The entire lecture is now available on youtube for those of us who were not able to attend in person. It is a long video, but well worth the listen, so settle down with this when you have an hour or so free:
Here is my own tribute to Ravi, written during the immediate pangs of grief when he died.
Just re-watched the haunting 2010 film “Winter’s Bone” with K, who could barely watch the shocking climax. It struck me again (as it must have others) that the Oscar-nominated 17-yr-old “Ree”, saddled with looking after two younger siblings and a chronically depressed mother, seems to have been Jennifer Lawrence’s audition role for the role of “Katniss” in the now mega-hit “Hunger Games“. Bone is grittier, more realistic, and therefore more shocking in some ways, although I also liked the Games very much for the punch it packs. Especially for S, who falls in the demographic for which that story is written/filmed.
I wish, though, that Lawrence had stuck with Ree’s ragged wardrobe and stark Ozark environs, instead of Katniss’s rather designer poverty-chic duds and the faux-retro 1920s coal miner / Appalachian look of District 12. Why on earth did they choose to make the poor people of Panem’s District 12, which is set in some indeterminately distant future of North America, look like they were from early 20th century Appalachia? There are plenty of poor folks in Appalachia (and the Ozarks) even now, and they for sure don’t dress like their ancestors did a 100 years ago! Why would they go back in the future? The contemporary Ozarks landscape as depicted in Winter’s Bone – which was filmed on location in real contemporary homes in Missouri’s hinterland – carries more degradation and menace than anything in the production design of the Hunger Games‘ District 12.
Even S, who now likes to pretend she is Katniss with home-made bow-and-arrow prowling the woods in our suburban backyard on lazy springtime afternoons, found the movie’s Katniss too fancily dressed up (even before the reaping and the Capitol makeover) to be the real huntress on the pages of the powerful book. Its like Ree from the Ozarks got a makeover to become Katniss from District 12, who was then transformed into a shiny recruit in the hunger games, and eventually the symbolic Mockingjay. Guess which incarnation came closest to winning an Oscar and which one is sweeping the box office?
Why didn’t they get Debra Grabnik (who crafted the sucker punch packed in Winter’s Bone) to direct the Hunger Games franchise too instead of Gary Ross, who did a good enough job sticking close to the book, but smoothed some of the potentially rougher edges even in the production design? Will they draw courage from the box office success now to make the next two episodes look more realistically grittier (like the Harry Potter franchise did)? Let’s hope so.
Nice short video overview of the ScienceOnline2012 unconference I attended last january, just days before my life went into a turbulent period from which I am still recovering. I had several blog posts in mind to record my own experience at the meeting, and summarize the discussion in the un-session I was able to lead there. It is nice to see this video which reminds me of the warmth of that unconference, and jogs memories that should help me write those blog posts… just as soon as I’m done catching up with all the other more urgent scheisse that has piled up at work in my absence! In the meantime, enjoy this video, which even has my own hairy face on camera for a second, laughing at something Brian Malow, the Science Comedian said during lunch on the final day. Its only been a couple of months, but feels so long ago that I have to say: ah, the memories!
Sad times indeed, now that Adrienne Rich too has disappeared. At least we still have her powerful voice with us… if only we choose to listen.
A 3-minute journey through the last 250 years of our history, from the start of the Industrial Revolution to the Rio+20 Summit. The film charts the growth of humanity into a global force on an equivalent scale to major geological processes.
The film was commissioned by the Planet Under Pressure conference, London 26-29 March, a major international conference focusing on solutions.
The film is part of the world’s first educational webportal on the Anthropocene, commissioned by the Planet Under Pressure conference, and developed and sponsored by anthropocene.info