The Rhetoric of the Environment Debates

Of all the things that this class has made me question, the rhetoric we use today to discuss the environment is one of the areas that troubles me the most.  Our relationship with the environment is one of the most debated and volatile topics in our world today.  It seems with our modern perception of the environment and of the term ‘natural,’ that it is hard to speak positively about the way we use our environment.  The rhetoric is filled with words such as abuse, greed and destruction.  Most people associate natural with untouched or preserved.  Our readings have shown us the corruption and danger behind a word like “preservation.”  Our rigid definitions of these words contribute to our heated debates about these topics.  They create a rhetoric around a binary concept of Us vs. Nature.  This suggests that any human interaction with nature is inherently bad for the environment because we are altering its natural state.

This class has made question this rhetoric and question if we can truly have a positive interaction with the environment.  From all our readings, it seems to me that something that’s in its natural state is fulfilling it purpose on the earth.  This does not mean it is untouched.  To use the example of the commodification of timber in William Cronnon’s Natures Metropolis, yes the trees are being taken from the original environment, but they are being used to serve a purpose.  They are helping to build infrastructure and helping to stimulate an economy, which helps a people survive.  Is this tree not fulfilling a purpose and thus, is it not natural?  Its obviously difficult to think of something that has been commoditized as natural, however, I believe that commodification is just as natural a process as the growth of a forest.

The difficulty in trying to look positively at environmental interaction is where to draw the line.  Where is the line between an action on the environment being natural and an action being abusive or greedy.  The critic to my approach might agree that the commodification of lumber is a positive good, but when does it become deforestation?  How much timber can we extract before it becomes greedy?  Chelsea asks a great question in her blog post, “Will there ever be a point where we as humans will tip the scale too far in our direction and forever upset the world as we know it.? Obviously human motivations play a big part in answering these questions.  However, even with all the reading we have done, I can still confidently say that I do not have an answer everyone.  We have run into a number of qualifications in this class.  They seem to be popular in environmental history.  So I believe that the answers to these questions have to qualified and have to be studied on a case-by-case basis.  The definitions of environment and nature are so ambiguous that the answers to these questions must be as well.

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