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.
The origins of 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.
Ecology Versus Environmentalism
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.
Discourses in critical ecology
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.
Indigeneous and non-eurocentric approaches to ecology
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.
- A Guide to Intersectional Environmentalism
- Theoretical Lineage of Critical Ecology, Critical Ecology Lab
- Why the Anthropocene began with European colonisation, mass slavery and the ‘great dying’ of the 16th century, Mark Maslin, Simon Lewis https://theconversation.com/why-the-anthropocene-began-with-european-colonisation-mass-slavery-and-the-great-dying-of-the-16th-century-140661
- Catriona Sandilands — Essay: Unnatural Passions? Notes Towards a Queer Ecology
- Dennis Martinez — Indigenous ecology / concept of “kin-centric”
- Enrique Salmón - (Also popularized the concept of “kin-centricity”) Book: Iwígara: The Kinship of Plants and People, American Indian Ethnobotanical Traditions and Science
- Dr. Carolyn Finney, Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African-Americans to the Great Outdoors
- Vandana Shiva - Critique of Agribusiness / Impact of Globalization on ecosystems and food systems, ecofeminist activist/physicist/badass, writes on global & transnational environmental justice, climate justice. She has a great interview with For the Wild podcast and countless amazing books published.
- Robin Wall Kimmerer (Potawatomi / Anishinaabe) - Indigenous perspectives on botany & Western science, books: Braiding Sweetgrass & Gathering Moss, essay: “Why Nature Needs a New Pronoun”
- Linda Hogan (Chickasaw) - Introductory Chapter in Pt 1 of The Handbook of Contemporary Animism, ed. Graham Harvey, Routledge 2013.
- Dr. Kim Tallbear - kinship beyond settler paradigms, All My Relations podcast episode: “Decolonizing Sex”
- ed. Camille T. Dungy, Black Nature: Four Centuries of African-American Nature Poetry
- Anna Tsing - The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins
- Donna Haraway - Staying with the Trouble, Making Kin Not Population
- Dr. Joan Roughgarden, Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People
- Susan Stryker — Essay: “My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage”
- David Abram - ecophilosophy, “new animism,” The Spell of the Sensuous
- Mark David Spence, Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks
- Dan Flores, Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History
- Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice
- Carla Bergman and Nick Montgomery, Joyful Militancy: Building Thriving Resistance in Toxic Times
- Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism
- Macarena Gomez-Barris, The Exctractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives
- Karla McLaren, The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings are Trying to Tell You
- Ann Cvetkovich, Depression: A Public Feeling
- Teya Brooks Pribac, Enter the Animal: Cross Species Perspectives on Grief and Spirituality
Jason A Josephson-Storm,