Each month, editor Mark Goldthorpe adds new stories he’s discovered (most recent reads at the top for each month, rather than in order of original publication). This is the ClimateCultures monthly selection of Views from Elsewhere so far for 2021.
- Eco-fusion is the new normal, as native and non-native species mix together
Writing for The Conversation (18/2/21), Ian Rotherham and Peter Bridgewater remind that, while many invasive species cause major problems, "the idea that all 'alien' species are inherently bad, and that invasions can be always effectively controlled, is mistaken." Furthermore, as "ecological novelty is now the order of the day, we must adapt both our ideas and our actions to this new reality."
Species of plant and animal, of course, have always moved around the globe and this has lead to processes of 'recombining' within local ecosystems - "eco-fusion or ecological hybridisation" - to establish new or novel mixes of native and non-native species. Such hybrid ecosystems are increasingly common "as the natural world is disrupted by air pollution and climate change, and more land is cleared for buildings or agriculture the numbers and types of fusion ecosystems are increasing." But the researchers warn that "in this context of change, our perceptions and decisions about which species to conserve and which to cull are less objective than we might assume."
They call for a more pragmatic approach to what counts as 'nature'. "In the tumultuous world of the Anthropocene, major changes to environmental conditions such as the climate, globalisation and human numbers, mean that both supposed native and non-native species will continue to interact and evolve."
- An Evergreen and Pleasant Land?
Writing for The Leverhulme Centre for Anthropocene Biodiversity (4/2/21), Pete Yeo takes inspiration from the famous lines of William Blake - immortalised in the hymn Jerusalem - "And did those feet in ancient time / Walk upon England's mountains green: / And was the holy Lamb of God / On England's pleasant pastures seen!" - to contemplate the changes in Britain's vegetation as a result of our changing climate.
"Whilst Blake’s ‘green and pleasant land’ clearly featured ‘pastures’, then as now England’s natural, spontaneous vegetation tends towards verdant yet deciduous forest. This has not always been the case; not so long ago in the geological past the climate was too frigid for most plants, whilst further back in time it has been decidedly subtropical. These warmer epochs witnessed the prominence of evergreen woody species, such as those constituting so-called laurel forest. Climate change is now inviting such vegetation back with profound consequences for our relationship with the land and its always evolving ecosystems."
After periods of Ice Age glaciation, which removed cold-sensitive tree cover, rising temperatures once again permitted some species to colonise or recolonise northward - "though these were descendants that had learnt to cope with cooler, drier conditions. English natives holly and ivy are both examples (to which we can add the conifer yew), whilst other laurel forest relicts such as cherry laurel, holm oak and rhododendron were able to make it to the British Isles during one or other of the warmer interglacial periods..."
And now the rediversification of European forests is underway in response to human-induced changes. "Admittedly, this is not simply due to our warming climate and reducing frosts that now allow seed-set and dispersal. The process has been facilitated by our global society, our love of trade and, especially, horticulture. This ecological mixing was likely inevitable at some point due to larger Earth cycles yet it all represents a great acceleration of evolutionary processes, and brings novel tensions. We are where we are, however. Whilst throw-back winters may occasionally slow evergreen progress, sufficient warming is already locked-in, however good our efforts at emission mitigation. This invites us to adapt and welcome laurel forest species, and to reconcile ecological and cultural tensions as far as possible, without need for Blake’s ‘chariot of fire’."
Pete's article has also been reposted at the website set up by ClimateCultures editor Mark Goldthorpe for Finding Blake, the project 'reimagining William Blake for the 21st century'; the site has also featured posts from ClimateCultures members James Murray-White, Clare Crossman and Salli Hipkiss.
- The peace of wild things
Aeon Magazine (11/1/21) shares a moment of contemplation that will strike a chord with many of us during the start of our second year with the Covid19 pandemic and its lockdowns. In this very short animated film by UK animators Katy Wang and Charlotte Ager, American poet, farmer and environmental activist Wendell Berry reads his short poem, The Peace of Wild Things.
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
- Mary Wollstonecraft as environmental prophet
Bee Rowlatt shares with Extinction Rebellion (21/1/21) her "piercing moment of realisation" of climate crisis - and the story of how she later followed in the wake of Enlightenment philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft's own journey to a prophetic insight in 1795 - retracing it in her book In Search of Mary. For Rowlatt it was "a humble example, when I noticed that sparrows, my scruffy childhood favourites, had vanished from London. For so long they cheerfully dotted the urban landscape, hopping and scrapping around. Surely sparrows had the least to fear from humans – they were common and therefore insignificant ... And then they were gone."
For Wollstonecraft, it was "on rough seas off the coast of Norway. She was on a mysterious treasure hunt, in the teeth of the French revolutionary wars, travelling with her baby, and a broken heart." Wollstonecraft's account of these travels, Letters from Norway "is a desperate and doomed love letter, gathering force from her powerful responses to the wild landscapes. And there in the midst of that rollercoaster journey, on a wobbly boat and surrounded by strangers, she is suddenly struck by compassion for future generations in jeopardy" when she foresees the whole planet overpopulated and subjected to humanity's activities, even "'these bleak shores. Imagination went still farther, and pictured the state of man when the earth could no longer support him. ... 'Where was he to fly to from universal famine? Do not smile: I really became distressed for these fellow creatures, yet unborn.'”
Howlatt testifies to the powerful personal impact of moments of imagainative experience and suggests that "as the climate crisis deepens, it matters that we observe moments like this, and mark their arrival. It is the awakening to human fragility, and to the role we play in our own demise."