In The Death of Nature, published in 1980, ecofeminist philosopher Carolyn Merchant wrote, with foresight and exactitude, of how natural ecosystems built on interdependence and reciprocity were turned into mechanistic, economic resources to be exploited by men. It is, for once, suitable to use the word men rather than humans as the book grapples with how patriarchal technologies dominate both nature and women by ‘reconceptualising reality as a machine rather than a living organism’ consequently resulting ‘in the death of nature as a living being’.
It is the type of book that remains at least as important today as it was following its original publication. In fact, as I watched the Dalai Lama’s and Greta Thunberg’s recent Zoom conversation, the book’s groundbreaking propositions came to mind.
In December 2020, the two global leaders, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and climate activist Greta Thunberg took part in a Zoom dialogue with leading scientists to explore the crisis of climate feedback loops.
Feedback loops are, as the phrase implies, the perpetuating loops of damage to the environment caused by global warming. If you take forests for example, the loop looks like this (simply put): Global warming causes trees to die from droughts, fires and tree-killing pests (which thrive in drying forests), and the death of trees in return causes more global warming. Trees are carbon sinks (storers of CO2 emissions), but thanks to the destructive feedback loop, they instead become carbon sources. The feedback loop is thus a symptom of what Merchant referred to as, ‘The earth’s sickness’.
In addition to forests, imminent feedback loops warming the planet include atmospheric temperature changes and the thawing of permafrost. In February, one of the most devastating natural disasters believed by scientists to be a consequence of permafrost thawing, took place in Uttarakhand, India, when a massive avalanche tore through a mountain gorge resulting in the death of dozens of people and hundreds missing. This is the kind of occurrence which epitomises the problems of ‘the death of nature’.
At the United Nations General Assembly in 2019, Thunberg opened her address with these unforgettable words, ‘This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope? How dare you!’
Watching her and the Dalai Lama discuss feedback loops, one cannot help but think that it indeed is a tragedy that such a young woman––and the other young women and men like her––need to lead the way for climate change to be seriously considered. Their minds should be preoccupied with less threatening scenarios. Yet one can also not help but be grateful, to witness one of the most inspiring thinkers share her views so eloquently, so exactingly. Thunberg may not know it, but her words embody what ecofeminists of yesteryears dreamed for future generations. I’ll end with what Thunberg
’s herself dreams of ––her closing words at December’s event: ‘If I could ask anything of you, it would be to educate yourself, to learn as much as you possibly can…We need to create a social movement; we need to shift the social norm.’
The review was originally publsihed in ESP Cultural Magazine.
Image is The Fire by René Magritte