THE END OF NATURE PDF
I N T R O D U ~ O N to the Norton Book of Nature Writing. GILBERT WHITE Bill McKibbenls The End of Nature (;1) has earned a place in the. "You must read The End of Nature. You mustn't be happy about it, but please read it. It is a great and terrible work, like few that have been written." -Rick Bass. Reissued on the tenth anniversary of its publication, this classic work on our environmental crisis features a new introduction by the author, reviewing.
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REFLECTIONS about the greenhouse effect. Scientists already knew that carbon dioxide, a by-product of fossil-fuel combustion combustion. The End of Nature. Book Excerpt. Nature, we believe, takes forever. It moves with infinite slowness throughout the many periods of its history, whose names we. The End of Nature. Reissued on the tenth anniversary of its publication, this classic work on our environmental crisis features a new introduction by the author .
Can it be that the venerable idea is no longer meaningful?
If that seems improbable on its face, it is because nature is our oldest, most nearly universal name for the material world, and despite the alarming extent of the transformation — and devastation — we humans have visited on it, that world is still very much with us.
But why, then, is the general idea of nature — nature in all its meanings — falling into disuse? What other reasons might there be for the seeming end of nature?
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But, first, these preliminary caveats. I do not mean to suggest that the imminent disappearance of nature — if that is what we are witnessing — is a peculiarly American development. But in view of the crucial role played by the idea over the course of American history, a reassessment of critical stages of that history may prove to be revealing. But it also should be said that the word nature is a notorious semantic and metaphysical trap.
As used in ordinary discourse nowadays, it is an inherently ambiguous word. We cannot always tell whether references to nature are meant to include or exclude people.
As Raymond Williams famously noted, nature is probably the most complex word in the English language. However wary of chauvinism one might be, it would be foolish to deny that when Europeans first encountered American nature, it truly was, and to some extent still is, exceptional — perhaps not unique but, like Australia, a continent even less developed at the time of contact, surely exceptional.
It was exceptional in its immensity, its spectacular beauty, its variety of habitats, its promise of wealth, its accessibility to settlers from overseas, and, above all, in the scarcity of its indigenous population. Hence the remarkable extent of its underdevelopment — its wildness — as depicted in myriad representations of the initial landfall of European explorers on the Atlantic seaboard of North America. In that stock image, the newly discovered terrain appears to be untouched by civilization, a cultural void populated by godless savages, and not easy to distinguish from a state of nature.
In the beginning, then, Europeans formed their impressions of American nature in a geographical context: it was a place, a terrain, a landscape. But they invariably accommodated their immediate impressions of American places to their imported — typically religious — preconceptions about the nature of nature and the character of indigenous peoples.
Thus all of the significant American ideas of nature are hybrids, conceived in Europe and inflected by New World experience. To Bradford they are more like wild beasts than white men. The concept of satanic nature provided a useful foil for the sacred mission of the Puritan colonists. His enemies had charged him with infringing on their liberty, and in his uncompromising response in the General Court he develops the distinction between two kinds of liberty: natural and civil.
Allusions to wild nature served to reinforce the doctrinal barrier between themselves, the elect, and the unregenerate, whom they consigned to the realm of natural lawlessness. Their geographical location underscored the theological argument: the only escape from natural unregeneracy open to them was the reception of divine grace.
By the time Thomas Jefferson wrote his draft of the Declaration of Independence, the theological notion of a dual nature — part profane, part sacred — was being supplanted by the unitary character of Newtonian science and Deism.
Here, the initial identification of American nature with the landscape expanded to embrace the natural processes, or laws, operating behind its visible surface.
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Because the newly discovered celestial machinery obeys physical laws accessible to human reason, Newtonian physics had the effect of bringing humanity and nature closer together. Besides, the mathematical clarity and precision of the new physics made the old images of a dark, disorderly nature repugnant. By invoking a secularized idea of nature on behalf of a quintessentially political cause, Jefferson helped to narrow the gulf separating humanity and nature. But for that purpose, the idiom of the natural sublime was even more effective.
An ardent practitioner of the neoclassical aesthetic, Jefferson credits the beauty of the Bridge to its symmetrical form, or, as it were, to the strikingly close approximation of its form to ostensibly natural principles of order and proportion. He begins his description of the bridge with a detailed analysis of its exact dimensions, as if reported by a detached observer writing in the third person. If the view from the top be painful and intolerable, that from below is delightful in an equal extreme.
It is impossible for the emotions arising from the sublime to be felt beyond what they are here; so beautiful an arch, so elevated, so light, and springing as it were up to heaven! The rapture of the spectator is really indescribable!
But even after the triumph of Romanticism, the separateness of nature remained a largely unchallenged if unstated premise of public discourse. Since no authoritative biological counterpart to the Newtonian laws of nature had yet been formulated, supernatural explanations of the origin of life were not yet vulnerable to the challenge of scientific materialism.
By the same token, pantheism retained its status as a Christian heresy, and dutiful communicants were advised to be wary of the feeling of oneness with nature. In , four years after resigning his pastorate in the Second Unitarian Church of Boston, Ralph Waldo Emerson anonymously published the essay Nature, which came to be known as the manifesto of Transcendentalism, a New England variant of European Romanticism. The balance of Nature may be read as an effort to devise a reasoned explanation, or justification, for this transformative experience.
On the one hand it expresses his growing skepticism, on both theological and scientific grounds, about the received idea of a separate nature.
Ever since Darwin, nature writers have taken pains to stress the incomprehensible length of this path. Our mountains have been pulverized by a process almost as slow. The age of the trilobites began some million years ago. The dinosaurs lived for nearly million years.
Since even a million years is utterly unfathomable, the message is: Nothing happens quickly. Change takes unimaginable—"geologic"—time. This idea about time is essentially mistaken. Muddled though they are scientifically, the creationists, believing in the sudden appearance of the earth some seven thousand years ago, may intuitively understand more about the progress of time than the rest of us.
For the world as we know it—that is, the world with human beings formed into some sort of civilization, the world in which North America, Europe, and much of the rest of the planet are warm enough to support large human populations—is of quite comprehensible duration. People began to collect in a rudimentary society in the north of Mesopotamia some ten or twelve thousand years ago. Using thirty years as a generation, that is three hundred and thirty to four hundred generations ago.
Sitting here at my desk, I can think back five generations in my family—I have seen photos of four. That is, I can think back nearly one-sixtieth of the way to the start of civilization. A skilled geneologist might get me one-thirtieth of the distance back.
THE END OF NATURE
Baker argued in his Presidential address at the in Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America, there are grounds for classifying geology as a semiotic science. Unlike physics, which is nomothetic, dealing with general laws, geology is ideographic, dealing with particular entities such as outcrops 6 and rock formations.
And, in ways that parallel other ideographic disciplines such as medicine, rendering these particularities meaningful involves the reading of signs in order to infer what underlies them, in both 7 space and time. And the idea of nature as a book has a long history, particularly in European Christianity, with the book of nature often described as a complement to the book of scripture, with both equally authored by God.
In Of Grammatology, Jacques Derrida talks about this tradition of nature as divine writing, and specifically as a book.
I found in them nothing but lies and error. There is thus writing that is human, fallen, finite, artificial, instituted, fallible, often deceptive, that takes us away from presence; and then there is writing that is natural or divine, the self-grounding meaning towards which words point.
It is this latter notion of a pure writing that Derrida sees as lying behind the notion of presence, of the voice of which writing is only a fallible copy.
But of course Derrida rejects any final separation between natural and artificial writing. But they will also help us to think about what happens when the human starts to be written into the geological record — what kind of coming-to-an-end of the great stone book of nature this might represent, and what this might mean for our understanding of the human itself. Up until now, the latest chapter in the book of geochronology has been the Holocene, the most recent division, or epoch, of the Quaternary period.
The earlier epoch in the Quaternary was the Pleistocene, starting about 2. The Holocene, which started about 12 Ka, around the time that humans started clearing forests for agriculture, has been a long period of unusually clement and stable climate. But it was the suggestion in by ecologist Eugene F.
In terms of environmental ethics, one might say that geology is brutally consequentialist — it does not matter what one does, or why one did it, just what consequences it will leave behind. Geological accountability all depends on the account that is laid down in the great book —now not in heaven, but in the rocks of the Earth.
So, in a number of papers Zalasiewicz et al. But even supposing the Anthropocene is accepted as a new unit of geochronology, the question remains of how the date of commencement of the new epoch should be determined. There are two ways of officially settling points of transition between units of geological time. For example, it is decreed that the Proterozoic eon that preceded the Phanerozoic commenced at 2, Ma. The golden, round, visible end of the spike typically has the letters GSSP, the name of the geological time unit of which it marks the start, the year of its placement, and a line that marks the exact plane of transition in the rock.
These spikes are thus like permanent bookmarks in the stone book of nature, marking the boundary between its parts, chapters and sections. The ICS, which formally defines units of the Geologic Time Scale, has since placed more than 60 19 such golden spikes. For example, in a spike was placed in a formation in Australia to mark the base of 20 the Ediacaran period so far the most recently designated unit of geological time at about Ma.
Some spikes are at the first or last appearance of a fossil creature; some are just placed at a crucial change in the character of the rock; some are at a chemical layer — for example, the bottom of the Ediacaran Period is defined by a chemically distinctive carbonate layer left after last great snowball earth, when the whole Earth had been frozen during the Cryogenian period.
The End of Nature
But if a spike were placed to mark the beginning of the Anthropocene, at what point in geological time should it be set? After all, the human is the first geological force to become conscious of its geological role. So maybe the Anthropocene in all its geohistorical specificity really starts when humans become aware of their role in shaping climate, and this awareness shapes their active relationship with the environment.
Steffen et al. However, they acknowledge that it is as yet unclear whether this putative third stage of the Anthropocene would take the form of a deliberate reigning in of our technological impact on the environment, or a dramatic radicalisation of it within a logic of planetary management. So maybe the Anthropocene proper is still to come, and its character still to be determined. But more fundamentally, however, perhaps there is something intrinsically odd about asking where this particular golden spike should go.
Is its appropriate position a technical matter, to be determined by objective tests? Or does it depend in some sense on our understanding of the human — of the Anthropos of the Anthropocene? Furthermore, to whom is the plaque-like end of the spike addressed, and when is it to be read? If by present humanity, is it a badge of pride or of shame? If by some future observer, is it an invocation, the summoning into being of the God Species, that must grasp the vocation of planetary management?
Or is the implied audience an imagined future geologist?
Or to the signs and sculptures being designed to warn future inhabitants of the earth — who may or may not have written language — of the dangerous presence of nuclear waste?
And where will the top of the Anthropocene layer be? Can there be a top? Or is this the last layer, the end of layers — a chapter that renders the book of geology both impossible to continue and impossible to complete? What is this species which is supposed to have become so consequential for the planet that it may have a unit of geological time named after it?
Some vocabulary from the practice of biological taxonomy may be helpful here, concerning the relationship between a species name and individual specimens.
So who would be the onomatophore of the Anthropocene? Who would carry the name of Anthropos? Let us consider a number of ways of characterising the maker of worlds that is the geological force of the Anthropocene. Homo faber, the human as fabricator, not only acts as the conqueror of nature, removing material from its location and from the cycles of growth and decay in order to make enduring things.
Living things qua living things are so caught up the flows and cycles of nature that in respect of them it makes no sense to separate means and ends.To Bradford they are more like wild beasts than white men. It is a difficult point to prove. Not species—individual plants. His enemies had charged him with infringing on their liberty, and in his uncompromising response in the General Court he develops the distinction between two kinds of liberty: natural and civil.
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Bill McKibben - Author. The paper must include at lease one of each of the following: a theoretical text Morton, Chakrabarty, Feder, Kerridge, Wrenn, Dark Mountain Project ; a piece of creative non-fiction Kolbert, Anderson, McKibben, MacKinnon, Scranton ; scientific writing Crutzen, Jackson ; a poem; a film; a work of fiction; one work of not on the syllabus, any genre. Using thirty years as a generation, that is three hundred and thirty to four hundred generations ago. It also meets an elective requirement in Environmental Studies.
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