Clunes International Booktown – Part 3: Why I Care about Nature

Sunday – another beautiful, crisp morning in rural Victoria – the perfect setting to consider our relationship with nature. The panel, ‘Why I care about nature’, was to originally include Richard Flanagan, yet he became unavailable. That night on the news I found out why: he spoke at the Mt Wellington cable care protest rally.

Beginning with a seemingly simple question, Professor Andrew Reeves asked each panelist to outline ‘what is nature?’

Cam Walker, from Friends of the Earth, said that nature is beyond words – you know it when you’re in it – and it makes you feel different. Nature is transcendent. Jenny Gray, from Zoos Victoria, said that nature is what we line in and on, and questioned the accepted dichotomy between the built and the natural world – nature is all the life surrounding and within us. David Ritter, from Greenpeace, stated that we are nature, we are intimately connected, and endlessly cycling resources. Yet humans have that spark of life and ability to reflect on nature.

Cam further quoted poet Gary Snyder who discusses three kinds of nature:

  1. good: cultivated, land productive of a small range of favored cultivars
  2. wild: the opposite of ‘good’ – something to fight against: fight the bugs, shoo the birds, pull the weeds
  3. sacred: for preagricultural peoples, the site considered sacred and given special care were, of course, wild

Good, Wild, Sacred by Gary Snyder

Jenny discussed the intersection between wild and tame nature that is overlayed with human interaction and interruption. There is currently an imbalance between these ideas. David suggested that the idea of nature is socially constructed, and that we construct as normal what we find, but others with more knowledge can add more information. For example, a tourist takes a photo of one small part of the Great Barrier Reef that they have interacted with, and exclaim wow! Yet scientists would look at that image of a single angel fish amongst pale coral and have the ability to explain the reality of bleaching and loss of fish species.

In terms of nature and environmental activism, each speaker gave an interesting perspective from their area of expertise. Cam talked about site resistance and the power of locals who understand their ecosystem. These people, on the ground, defending their patch, often with their backs to the wall, usually wouldn’t describe themselves as environmentalists, but often have wonderful successes. Cam sees theses grass roots actions as an important part of future success in the fight against climate change.

From Jenny’s perspective, in the work to save endangered species, it all starts with a love for animals. She gave the example of a successful businessman who has recently donated significant funds for ‘big cats’, who explained that his love of these creatures developed from his first relationship with a kitten as a young boy. David sees global warming as a large abstract idea that is our most profound challenge an dis indeed a deeply personal threat. By 2100, the world’s temperature is predicted to rise between 3 and 5 degrees. This change is incompatible with civilised life as we know it. Perhaps shockingly, David said that recycling and removing plastic bags are useful, but will not reverse the coming change: we need big ideas and tough decisions now to make any meaningful impact.

This idea fed into Reeves next question: can nature and civilisation co-exist? David suggested that ‘earth and sun and moon’ will survive, but we can do better. Jenny found the current 4 year political cycles do not help politicians think and plan for the necessary 100 year focus. Cam said the wild nature is in free-fall due to resource consumption.

To finish, there were some suggestions for successful actions, such as actually praising and nurturing the positive politicians – perhaps we should be writing 10 letters of approval for every negative letter we send. cultural change is required as Australians tend to sit back and wait, but we need productive people and we need to support them.

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