Erle Ellis on “Postnatural” Environmentalism

Erle Ellis, whom has mapped the world’s anthromes, writes an provocative editorial in Wired about what environmentalism means in the Anthopocene. In  Stop Trying to Save the Planet he proposes a “postnatural” environmentalism:

Nature is gone. It was gone before you were born, before your parents were born, before the pilgrims arrived, before the pyramids were built. You are living on a used planet.

If this bothers you, get over it. We now live in the Anthropocene ― a geological epoch in which Earth’s atmosphere, lithosphere and biosphere are shaped primarily by human forces.

Yes, nature is still around ― back-seat driving, annoying us with natural disasters from time to time, and everywhere present in the background ― but definitely in no position to take the wheel. That’s our job now. Don’t blame nature for global warming, sea level rise, invasive species, mass extinctions, crop failures and poverty. That’s our thing.

… Ours is a used planet. Thanks to us, Earth has become warmer, less forested and less biodiverse for millenniums.

So what now? First of all, we’ve got to stop trying to save the planet. For better or for worse, nature has long been what we have made it, and what we will make it.

And it’s time for a “postnatural” environmentalism. Postnaturalism is not about recycling your garbage, it is about making something good out of grandpa’s garbage and leaving the very best garbage for your grandchildren. Postnaturalism means loving and embracing our human nature, the nature we have created to feed ourselves, the nature we live in. What good is environmentalism if it makes you depressed about the future?

This is about recognizing that our farms, and even our backyards and cities, are the most important wildlife refuges in the world and should be managed as such. We can keep people out of places we want to think of as wild, but these places will still be changing because of global warming and the alien species we introduce without even trying.

2 thoughts on “Erle Ellis on “Postnatural” Environmentalism”

  1. The obvious problem with Ellis’ position is his apparent assertion that humans are, or could ever be, outside of nature. Being a species that evolved within this human-shaped biosphere, we are ‘nature’ and it is us. We shape it as it shapes us.

    I don’t think any reasonably intelligent and informed environmental advocate believes that we can somehow preserve the biosphere, or even functional parts of it, in some frozen, pre-human state. Instead, I see the goals that we appear to share with Erle, based on his post-rant conclusions, are to preserve options for the future: clean air and water, arable soils, a livable climate, sustained availability of natural resources, and as bio-diverse and functional ecosystems as is possible.

  2. I appreciate how Ellis places responsibility on people’s shoulders, but I also don’t think that his ‘post-natural’ stance is compatible with an ecological (or “environmental”) message. If we live in post-natural conditions, how can ecology be relevant — let alone important ? This formulation implies, for instance, that we can choose whether or not we will pay attention to oceanic conditions — because that nature just doesn’t matter anymore in a ‘post-natural’ world.

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