Michelle Nijhuis On Species Solidarity


Michelle Nijhuis is one of several science writers who have made our pages better in the 10 years since we started this platform. This essay is in good company:

Species Solidarity: Rediscovering Our Connection to the Web of Life

As climate change intensifies and human activity impacts every corner of the planet, repairing our world increasingly means realizing that our fate is intertwined with that of other animal and plant species — not separate from theirs — and that we must think and act accordingly.

If it wasn’t already clear, the Covid-19 pandemic has made it painfully obvious that our lives are entwined with the lives of other animals. Our health depends on theirs, not only because viruses from their bodies can enter ours, but because we survive thanks to the soil they fertilize and the plants they pollinate. And as climate disruption escalates, it’s evident that many animals are buffering us from its worst effects, maintaining ecosystems that absorb carbon and help mitigate the effects of sea-level rise.

Conservationists have long cared deeply about the survival of other plants and animals, often for reasons that go well beyond self-interest. But sociologist Carrie Friese, a researcher at the London School of Economics, speculates that in this era of intersecting crises, conservationists and others will be more and more motivated by a sense of multispecies solidarity — a profound understanding that, as Rachel Carson warned in 1963, humans are “affected by the same environmental influences that control the lives of all the many thousands of other species.”

To anticipate such a shift is optimistic, to say the least. But our modern habit of distancing ourselves from other forms of life isn’t as deeply-rooted as it often seems. Over the course of human history, plenty of societies have maintained reciprocal relationships with other species, and many still do. It’s not impossible for those of us in industrialized societies to rediscover that sense of connection — call it solidarity — and one way to start doing so is to drop “nature” from our vocabularies.

In recent decades, many scientists and writers have argued persuasively that if there ever was such a thing as the “natural world,” it’s long gone. The collective human footprint is now so large and deep, they say, that it affects the entire planet, even places humans don’t inhabit. While that’s all too true, the word “nature” is more than just inaccurate. The vagueness of the concept allows us to believe that humans exist outside it. And if we can imagine that nature is over there, far away, we can also imagine that the damage we are doing to it is sad but not dangerous…

Read the whole essay here.

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