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Saturday, June 15, 2024
Step back, take time to recognize the earth

green room

Step back, take time to recognize the earth

Aldo Leopold's ""A Sand County Almanac"" seems to pride itself in being unapologetically divisive. Leopold wrote, ""A thing is right when it tends to preserve integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."" This is as bold a statement now as it was back then, even after decades of environmentalism and green consciousness.

The Green Room has existed for about six months now, and it began by highlighting what individuals could do for their community and for their environment. In the beginning, we tried to capture the energy and idealism associated with modern environmentalism. Since then, we've featured debates on nuclear energy, celebrated earth Day, raised awareness about environmental health hazard and it all will culminate with a panel on social responsibility and sustainability in the Madison community.

But the new environmentalism encompasses more than just these things. One of our goals for starting this section at The Daily Cardinal was to provide a philosophical framework for the future of environmentalism and eradicate the ""us versus them"" mentality associated with the movement.

We've strived to provide readers with the knowledge to see why statements like Leopold's land ethics are not universally good for the environment. More importantly, we've strived to show that environmentalism and good science is primarily about good narratives. There are multiple ways to look at every situation, and there are no silver bullets for environmental cleanup.

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Many historians credit Leopold's ""Almanac,"" along with the American transcendentalist movement for our current views of environmentalism. The transcendentalists believed the natural beauty of our earth was something to be restored. Modernism took this idea farther. By tarnishing the natural world with our industrial tendencies, we were wandering farther away from our ""Edenic"" past.

This transcendental philosophy explains the national park movement. We preserved nature by closing it off from industrialization. Although effective, it is a very romantic way of approaching environmental stewardship. In preservation, we separate ourselves entirely from nature. The parts of it that we do embrace, we embrace behind human boundaries.

As artists wrestled with industrialization and consumerism, ecology became a self-aware discipline. It's amazing, but the idea of observing nature as a dynamic system did not become relevant until 1935. British botanist Sir Arthur Tansley coined the term ""ecosystem,"" finally providing a framework for studying natural systems. Ecosystem studies are about monitoring nutrient movement through a landscape, be it through animals, water cycling or some other source.

Around this time, UW-Madison annexed what is now the Arboretum for study and preservation. Leopold worked there, helping to establish the prairie and some communities resembling Door County systems, replete with delicate Canada Mayflower. Seventy years into this restoration experiment, we have to ask the question: What about the Arboretum is natural?

Nothing, really, and that's not a bad thing. The Arboretum represents the next step in environmentalism. Leopold's idea of wilderness no longer exists, as humans have exerted their influence over pretty much everything. Looking at things this way, environmentalism becomes a game of system dynamics. Our stewardship isn't so much about bringing us back to some elusive and harmonious time zero, but about building a sustainable and resilient community.

To do this, we must recognize that the earth spins on its own terms. This makes phenomena like global warming especially disconcerting (and its deniers even moreso). Perhaps we've taken things too far and the planet is compensating? Regardless, we cannot continue deferring responsibility for the earth's well being. A strong community takes responsibility and ensures sustainability for everyone's benefit.

For me, most things come back to either the failed experiment Biosphere 2 or the Talking Heads. As far as new environmentalism goes, it's both. Biosphere 2 taught us that natural systems have their own plans. Nature dances, and it is our responsibility to learn the dance and continue along in stride. And as David Byrne once sang, ""There was a shopping mall / now it's all covered with flowers,"" an ode to flux, flow and the impermanence of it all.

So how do we make sense of it all, knowing that even nature is under our control? We take a step back and recontextualize. We pour our energy into little things, understanding the importance of green space and reusing resources. In stepping back, we can see how we're supposed to dance, because we need the earth much more than it needs us.

Anthony Cefali is a senior majoring in biology and English. Please send all feedback to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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