There is no such thing as the “environment”


Sallie McFague, Blessed are the Consumers:

Everything is interconnected. Philosopher Bruno Latour has imagined such a world. Its primary characteristic is that there is no “environment,” no external world that is our playfield. Rather, there is “one world,” a cosmos, a totality of things, all of which are “insiders,” members of the collective who have voice. Hence, “we must connect the question of the common world to the question of the common good.” In other words, the two key moral questions are: “How many are we?” and “Can we live together?” Here there is no nature versus human beings, but rather one world; here we must internalize the environment, which we used to think of as “another” world. In this view, when ecological crises arise, they do so as a result of what Latour calls “a generalized revolt of the means”; that is, those parts of the collective whose “voice” has not been heard, who have been utilized solely as means: “no entity—whale, river, climate, earthworm, tree, calf, cow, pig, brood—agrees any longer to be treated ‘simply as a means, but insists on being’ treated also as an end.” This is not sentimental embrace of the lowly creatures whom we have previously abused; rather, it is the hard-headed implication that the world really is one process, which will not work efficiently or productively if its parts are not valued as subjects (in some sense) rather than mere objects.

Gordon White, Ani.Mystic:

If you try to define an environment for yourself, you come up with something like “a demarcated area of the natural world and those organisms that inhabit it.” The two main problems there are, firstly, your demarcating lines are never fixed. What could you use? A seashore? They—like everything else—are in a process of continual change. And, secondly, how do you decide what “lives” in these surroundings? Do migratory birds count if they only visit your “environment” for two weeks a year? What about species that lived there during the ice age? If not, what about species that arrived two hundred years ago? What is the cut-off point for citizenship in your environment, when an organism goes from “introduced” to “native”? How many water samples will it take to make the decision of who does or does not belong in your environment? Which collection of materialist-naturalist techniques will be used to determine the excluded, the foreign, the impure?

The whole concept of the environment is a sciencing up of the old imperial idea of Nature as both a delicate and precious woman in need of saving, as well as the audacious fraud that much of Nature can be described as blank, unclaimed “spaces” waiting for European flags to be planted in them.

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