Friday, February 06, 2015

Humans and Nature


                                      Comments due by Feb.14, 2015
An old controversy will find new ammunition in the new PBS program  "Earth A New Wild". In this miniseries M Sanjayan argues that humans and animals can find common ground. Can they?
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Conservation is often billed as people vs. nature. But a new documentary argues that cohabiting with wildlife can actually be mutually beneficial. It features a poor farmer in Africa, to take one example, who turned part of his land into forest and ended up with much more productivity.
The series EARTH A New Wild is hosted by conservation scientist M. Sanjayan, who takes viewers to 29 countries to show how animals and people can live more in balance.
National Geographic spoke with David Allen, the Emmy-winning executive producer of the series.
In the miniseries M. Sanjayan says, "Give nature a helping hand and people will benefit from it." What does that mean?
We have got to realign our attitude to wilderness. The idea that there is nature out there and people are separate from it shouldn't be part of our modern world anymore.
My own work making natural history films probably hasn't helped because we've romanticized wilderness. Take the popular BBC seriesPlanet Earth. If aliens had beamed that show to their planet and then come over to visit us, they'd be so horrified by the reality of what our world is like.
Nature and people are everywhere and are completely connected. There is nature out there that can be salvaged, but with us [staying] in the picture. So this film isn't about the isolated little pockets of wilderness that are left. For example, we show how New York City is trying to regenerate its bay with oysters. That brings nature right into a large city.
Another theme in the miniseries is people and animals finding common ground, including the landowners in Missouri who shared some of their water to make a wildlife refuge, which attracted more than a million snow geese.
People have actually been finding common ground with nature for generations, but many people underestimate the value of the nature around them. For example, in the "Plains" episode we show how herders are an integral part of the landscape. In the "Forest" episode we show how people are beginning to understand the value of a tree. There are many other examples of people really needing nature.
Common ground is essential, but the question is whether we're going to do it in a harmonious way that is good for people and nature or in a battle that is not going to help anyone.
The film presents an idea that may be counterintuitive to conservationists, that ranch animals that are threatened by predators are good for grasslands because they encourage plants to grow. You show a resurgence in biodiversity in Yellowstone National Park after wolves returned, and a spike in productivity on a Montana ranch after a cowboy started herding his cows as if predators were present, even though they aren't.
It's an incredibly controversial concept in some sense, but the idea that the plains evolved with giant herds of big Pleistocene animals that have since been largely taken out of the equation makes a lot of sense. The ecology is connected to the animals that graze the grasses.
The secret is not just to increase the size of your stock by ten times. It has to be a highly managed grazing system. You have to run your animals around as if they were driven by predators, so you never let them stand and graze in one place too long.
Still, any suggestion that domestic animals are good for conservation is a difficult thing to push because it's counterintuitive to those who have long pointed to the perils of traditional overgrazing. Finding this out for himself over the course of making the film was part of Sanjayan's journey, which also shows that he didn't approach the project as a know-it-all.

22 comments:

Kobe Yank-Jacobs said...

Hello Professor,

I joined ENV 112 late so I'm unsure if we're meant to reply to these blog posts for our grade or not. I shall assume we are.

I don't think it's about finding common ground, we do live on common ground and that's a fact. It's a choice we can make as the more developed species as to what degree we will share the grounds we all inhabit. As a moral choice the decision can really be split up many ways. On one hand you have a principled morality, by which we would be obliged to live by the maxim we agree is moral––likely that we must share to the greatest extent compatible with our own comfort, despite all costs. Or we may calculate the degree to which we share in a utilitarian manner, which, depending on how you go about it, could lead to vastly different conclusions. Either we see the word as a tool for our utility––by which encompassment we might continue to live as we do now––or we may include all species and seek to increase the utility for all, which would result in a vastly different conclusion. Even if we see it only for our utility we might find that we don't get the most long term utility out of the world by using it's resources and crowding out other species in the present. Thus, it becomes obvious that via any moral calculation we arrive at the need to better manage our use of resources and our interference with nature. To what extent and in what manner we find is an irrelevant debate until we can muster the political will to act at all.

Kobe Yank-Jacobs

Anonymous said...

I think that this is a very interesting and new perspective on the issue of conservation. Up until this point, it is mostly stressed that we need to work to try and bring our environment back to the way it was before humans began destroying it. Documentaries such as the TV series mentioned in the article (Planet Earth) show us how beautiful and pristine parts of our earth are, as if taunting us with the immaculate allure of nature without human influence. However there is an important narrative missing in this account, which is that of nature that has been influenced by humans. By showing the public stories of successful merging between humans and their environment, a more positive and progressive attitude about conservation can be shared.
-Rachael Pepper

Anonymous said...

Human's and animals can find common ground, although it takes time and a change in our habits. I think the only way this can be accomplished is through appreciation to nature. Appreciation of nature will only happen when more time is spent in nature instead of in the large urban centers of cities and towns. It is too late to change many things, although through appreciation we may be able to cut down on our influence. An example is our natural parks. Even though we have huge national parks through which many animals are living, a very large number of people drive through these parks every day. Many buildings and roads are built in these parks further destroying the habitat. I think that only by removing everything man-made from these parks, and only allowing humans to walk into the parks (no driving), will we be able to have common ground between human's and animals. Of course this is only a small area as national parks take up only a small percentage of our country, but it provides a good look at our attitude towards animals (more like entertainment than appreciation). In the interview the producer discusses how biodiversity increased due to the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park. This hints at the fact that nature will balance itself out and human's must have the ability to allow nature to balance out. Human/animal harmony will happen only through appreciation for the environment and an overall change in our actions.

-Frazer Winsted

Anonymous said...

This is a very important concept that most people don't seem to realize when they talk about nature. In this antropocentric age, we don't survive off nature but rather, nature survives around us. We shape our surroundings to fit our needs, and that means shaping nature and everything that inhabits it as well. I believe that it's important to understand this concept in order to move towards a better attitude towards conservation and the role that we play in nature. There is a common ground that can be established between humans and the natural world, and once we can understand our role in shaping this world, we can understand how to reach a compromise that benefits both parties involved.

-Marrina Gallant

Michael Giordano said...

I think it is extremely important to reconnect the human life with nature. I believe this disconnect has caused the many problems we face today because we don't appreciate no longer what this Earth has provided us and this mind set of taking without replenishing will ultimately doom our population. I found it quite interesting what the author said about films such as Planet Earth and how it makes a real big horrific situation more romanticized because I never really thought it about that way, but now that I understand where the author is coming from, I opinion coincides with that of the author because the reality is there is a huge problem with the way we are treating nature and it needs to be fixed immediately, I think the way to reconnect humans to nature is through education, whether it be through a class in schools, or through films. Without proper education on the issue, you can't come up with a solution.

Anonymous said...

It is definitely true that we have romanticized our planet through film and other media outlets. But even though we have done such great damage, to now know and forwardly make an act to conserve the natural world that has been untouched by humans and to restore what has been lost is a great step forward.
There is a way to completely be harmonious with nature again, but it a drastic measure that means decreasing our numbers substantially and ridding almost all technology to go back to the most basic of times in the human history.
We have the responsibility to restore what we as a species have damaged, and though these are small steps, if enough people make these small steps then there will be a magnificent change that will happen eventually. By restoring the forests and ending mono-diverse farms and areas, the soil will be healthier, and the plants will be abundant that grow from those areas.
This process will be long and will take educating the many about why and how this can be done. People, humans come from nature, we are a part of it and because we have become the dominant force we have the responsibility to protect it and undo what we have done. This is the best way to start the process.

Beverly Levine

Chelsea Dow said...

I read this article in National Geographic when it came out and found it extremely interesting, and it made me think of conservation efforts, adaptability, and resiliency. First, with conservation, I think that it is essential to realign the human species back to the animal inside of themselves. Humans have become so disconnected from nature that they forget they are a part of it. The buildings, structures, and technologies humans have created are nothing more but constructs built atop wilderness. Thus, I think that this show is essential in showing viewers how to connect back to the wild that resonates within them and that functions around them. This is especially true considering human influence causes such drastic changes to Earth's ecosystems. With adaptability, I think it's important that in this age of climatic changes humans adapt to their surroundings. In the case of the herding animals, running your animals as if they were being driven by predators shows immense adaptability. In Darwin's case of "survival of the fittest," humans have seemed to over exercised their power as a "fit species." I think that by showing adaptability in harmony with nature, rather than working above it or manipulating it, is a way towards creating a more sustainable future. Furthermore, for resiliency, the example of New York City and the oyster farms is a testament to the idea of nature in urban centers. In the age of the Anthroprocene and impending climatic changes, cities must be leaders in creating positive environmental change. Furthermore, creating a more sound environment for nature to thrive allows ecosystems to flourish, biodiversity to replenish, and wildlife and humans to thrive simultaneously. Conclusively, I think that this show will help viewers to perhaps reconnect with the animal inside of themselves, and strive for a future in which wilderness is forever important and abundant.

Anonymous said...

"...we've romanticized wilderness... If aliens had beamed that show to their planet and then come over to visit us, they'd be so horrified by the reality of what our world is like." I completely understand what M. Sanjayan is trying to say here. On the internet, I always see these beautiful pictures of trees in the forest and waterfalls and meadows and such, and part of me wonders just where these places are. In class today, we talked a lot about population and urbanization. These places must be in parks like Yosemite or something like that because humans have taken up so much space on Earth.

In the article, M. Sanjayan mentions a few different farmers who have combined some of their land and made a small wildlife out of the land, which attracted many animals. This is an interesting concept to me because you'd think that the farmers would never give up land to make a wildlife refuge, because it would cost them money, and that the chances of that refuge attracting pests would be incredible. He makes a good point though, when he says that "Common ground is essential, but the question is whether we're going to do it in a harmonious way that is good for people and nature or in a battle that is not going to help anyone." I guess that is what the farmers felt; living as harmoniously as they can with animals.

-E. Piper Phillips

Anonymous said...

"The idea that there is nature out there and people are separate from it shouldn't be part of our modern world anymore." Although I agree with this quote, I think that bridging the gap between humans and nature will take longer than environmentalists would like. Modernization and industrialization have kept the two apart for so long that regaining the appreciation for nature will be a long journey. However, just because it is going to be a tough endeavor doesn't mean that we shouldn't start now. Showing people just how much we depend on nature and teaching them that we should treasure it, is one way. Allowing people to interact with it, without any modern conveniences, can teach them to appreciate the simpler things in life and hopefully change their perspective on the environment.
-Emma Weis

Michael Tierney said...

I really like where this article is going. Planet Earth shows all kinds of scenario and many different kinds of environments, but it rarely shows any kind of human interaction with the environment. People have really changed the environment even though the show displays nature in a gorgeous perspective..

M. Sanjayan talks about the reintroduction of the wolves into Yellowstone. Almost immediately the biodiversity increased, new growth came up and the environment returned its balance. Balance is key in our world. When the article talks about how the farmers would herd their cattle as if there was a predator nearby in order to keep their consumption down and to keep the cattle on their toes for if an actual predator was to attack. The farmers are almost training their livestock to act like the buffalo once did. They would constantly move in order to keep away from predators and they grazed the land, but they kept the balance. I think more farmers should do this as well as give up some of their land to become forests instead of farmland. It would increase biodiversity, making their crops and livestock less susceptible to disease and other things, and it would rebalance the entire system.

--Michael Tierney

Anthony Jones said...

This was a very thought provoking yet familiar read. Although a very old source of discussion garnering major differences in opinion, this particular dialogue is one that is crucial to the environmental debate. Gone needs to be this phenomenon of Us vs Nature, Us vs. It. Rather, we must recognize, acknowledge and accept that we, humans, are a part of our environment rather than apart from it. Our Earth is not for our utility. It is not a tool nor is it territory to be conquered and controlled, it is home. It is this very Planet that provides us sustenance, life. While indeed it poses a challenge to equally nurture the Earth as it does us, we must find a “common ground”. We must nurture and nourish a healthy relationship with our Earth if we are to roll back the hands of time on our ever changing climate. Contrary to popular belief, common ground will not compromise quality of life, it will only enhance this very quality that the bounty of our Earth has provided. We took from the Planet, now it’s time to give back so much more. Conservation should, like Preservation, seek to protect into perpetuity for the sake of doing just that, rather than for resource allocation because “resource” implies protection for later use as utility. To put it simply, effective environmental proactive action will only come when we stop consuming. When we shift our values systems away from material being and onto a broader conscious scope; only then will we be able to maximize our Planet’s capability to endure, to heal and repair.

Anonymous said...

Humans are an interesting part of nature. Without humans, nature is completely balanced. We have naturally developed to consume resources and produce waste, that unlike all other living organisms, does not recycle through nature. It's almost as if humans are a disease introduced into nature... Regardless, this article points out that it is imperative for humans to change our behaviors to mimic those of wildlife. The article discusses acting like predators in order to decrease grazing and regenerating New York city's oyster population to restore balance to nature. If we are going to continue to live on Earth, humans need to restore balance to nature everywhere, not just on farmland. Otherwise we will use up the planets resources making Earth entirely unlivable. Then we'd face extinction or an Interstellar (the movie) type evacuation plan. In all we must set aside petty differences for the greater good of the planet.
-Chris Magnemi

Chrissy Cranwell said...

It's pretty hypocritical to say that we need to find a common ground. In reality there will never be a true common ground as long as we still believe that our needs surpass those of the animals and plants around us. We can find ways to allow nature to grow and flourish around us but once we hit a peak we will indulge in their resources and strip them away from the environment for our own needs again. Our wants surpass the needs of all living organisms. We need to regress to needs to achieve a harmonious common ground.

Anonymous said...

As a previous commenter pointed out, humans forget that we do not just co-exist with nature, we are part of nature. Our advanced awareness of ourselves and the world should not disconnect us, but instead it should strengthen our bond with all species as we take greater responsibility for our actions. In order to co-exist, humans would have to embrace the mutual tolerance between species. We cannot consider it another means to control nature. Humans have proved themselves to be extremely controlling, aggressive, and selfish in relation to their world. These habits would need to be willfully changed in order for true common existence to be found in addition to the already inherently common ground.

The concept of sharing space to create a more historically natural (and therefore stable) ecosystem would require a decrease in population. Although there are cited examples of cities contributing to common ground in the blog post, these types of solutions should be reserved for spaces like New York City that are currently irreversibly changed. Future construction should utilize the idea of common ground in planning and execution. At our current rate of growth, new cities would be at such a scale that biodiversity-conscious plans would be difficult to employ. I would like to believe that common ground is possible, but I will have to make the changes to my own life before I could ask anyone else to do the same.

-Nadya Hall

Anonymous said...

I believe as humans we are selfish in the way we look at the world. We do not look at ourselves as a part of nature but we think more about what nature does/can do for us. Once we all start thinking this way and try to make room for nature to co-exist with us we can reach a common ground and allow nature to grow and flourish with us. It will take a lot of work but I think that as humans we can do anything that we believe in strongly and if enough people believe that humans and nature can find common ground then perhaps we will.

- Victoria Kusy

Marisa Flannery said...

Once humans start to finally understand that this world wasn't made for them, "common ground" between nature/animals and humans will become more apparent. However, the overall actions of humans show that this understanding will take a lot of time. If people started being around nature more often, I think they'd realize that they don't actually need all the things they believe are essential. Continuing to air shows and post pictures about the interactions between humans and nature will help people gain more appreciation toward the Earth. Hopefully it will help them realize how dependent humans actually are on Earth and that the planet needs to be treated with respect.

Anonymous said...

Mr Allen has some really interesting points and i think the is absolutely correct. Humans don't consider themselves part of nature which is a huge problem. If everyone realized that they were a part of the ecosystem they were destroying they would probably pay much more attention to it. I actually saw another documentary about the wolves returning to Yellowstone and it really is incredible. with the introduction of just a few wolves an entire ecosystem flourished more than it had in a very long time. I am very interested to see the movie that they have made, it seems like it may be a good one to show friends who need to be taught about our planet.
-Nick Stanton

Anonymous said...

In this generation we don't live in harmony with nature. In reality nature just lives around us. People are so caught up in technology that most people think that future technology will be able to fix everything. Now I'm not saying that technology won't be able to fix a lot, but what I'm trying to state is that the environment can't be fixed by whats harming it. At this point people need to start changing. Such as going back to something that is more simple, like interwining things we do now into an environmentally friendly aspect. For example, the cattle grazing on the land the author speaks about in the article. The grazing of the cattle help the plants grow. Things like this will help show improvement in our environment as the years go on.

-Katherine Murphy

Joan Podolski said...

This article caught my eye because i am all for the animals. i always feel bad about something that is going on. what was interesting about this blog was that it was mainly about having animals and humans both work together to remain happy. In the article, the following statement was made, "People have actually been finding common ground with nature for generations, but many people underestimate the value of the nature around them." I couldn't agree more with what they said because there are plenty of people who really truly do not understand how important animals are for us. For example, spider, who doesn't hate spiders? i know i do, but they also keep other insects away. every animal has a job in this world. the idea of using animals to help us and not destroy the environment which they live either is a really neat idea and i am happy that someone actually sees the benefits. It is important to keep our animals close and function-able so we do not mess with the way the earth is supposed to work.

Sulana Robinson said...

Many human beings do not realize the impact the have as individuals on Earth. We are not only responsible for our ourselves but for the environment if we desire to continue human life in it. It most likely takes numerous years before people understand that the do not simply live in the environment and nature, but that it is all connected. We have just as much responsibility to protect and sustain nature. Nature is not just an endless financial benefit. It is a part of us and absolutely overlooked in its powerful role in creating life.

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