This article sets out the concept of ecology and how it became a topic at the heart of global environmentalism and green politics. By highlighting some of the entanglements between ecology and our social world it encourages fellow activists to dive deeper into critical approaches towards ecology.
Ecology as knowledge on the interactions in the biological world, has several origins, many being ignored or destroyed by Western colonialism. When we follow the Western scientific tradition on ecology to its roots, the first concepts can be traced back to the writings on natural history in antiquity. For instance, in the writings of Herodotus we find a description of the interaction between Nile crocodiles and birds that forage for leeches in their open jaws - an interaction that we would now call mutualism. With the advancement of Western scientific research in the 20th century, ecology became a separate field of study. Studying how organisms interact with each other and their environment and to uncover how they form more or less self-sustaining systems (that sometimes span the entire globe), has led to an explosion of insights in the interconnectedness of the human and nonhuman world (elaboration needed: which were often profit driven - first population research on lynx’s fur). With the growing consciousness that men’s interference in these ecosystems was and is merely destructive, ecology started to gain widespread attention outside of academia. In the Western/Anglosaxon world the book Silent Spring (1962) by Rachel Carson, in which she links the destruction of ecosystems in the U.S.A. to the usage of pesticides by the agricultural industry, is often named as the kick-start of the global environmental movement. In the last decades, ideas emerging from the science of ecology like interdependency, holistic thinking and resilience have become key concepts in the environmental movement. Moreover, ecology has become a generic term to describe any kind of interactive system XXXX.
Critical ecology tries to uncover how colonialism, white supremacy and other oppressive systems have formed and destructed our environments. Human beings and their ideologies are thereby seen as fully submerged in, and affected by, more-than-human processes.
Ecology can function as an invitation to research the many unforeseen ways in which we are affecting and affected by our (living) surroundings, and thereby generate consciousness on the lasting impact of human actions. The limitations of ever fully grasping the functioning of the living systems that we inhabit (that often function in very different timecycles than human ones), can thereby lead us to a position of humbleness and carefulness towards our own doings.
Ecological research and practice are crucial to understanding and guiding more positive relationships between people and ecosystems. However, those who call themselves ecologists have been shaped and held back by often exclusionary Western approaches to knowing and doing ecology. European ecologists benefited from colonial access to land for expeditions and establishment of field stations that helped, and continue to help, form foundational theories in ecology and evolution. To make ecology inclusive of the diverse people inhabiting Earth’s ecosystems, people must expand their knowledge, both in theory and practice, to include different perspectives, approaches and interpretations.
The climate crisis affects all of us differently based on the markers of our identity. Poor black, brown and indigenous women and LGBTQIA+ people are at the frontlines of climate disasters and the conflicts that these spark, and thereby face the strongest hardships.
Jason A Josephson-Storm,