Complexity in Plant’s Definition of Ecology

“Ecology teaches us that life is in a constant state of change, as species seek ways to fit in particular environments which are, in turn, being shaped by the diversity of life within and around them.” (258)

Although this quote may seem self-explanatory, I find it complex because it can be used for and against environmentalism. If life, and therefore nature, is in a constant state of change then why do many environmentalists struggle to keep things constant: keep animals from becoming extinct, keep the polar ice caps from melting, and keep the oceans clean? Of course, these are extreme examples but they are environmental issues because humans are the ones causing the change. Now, does this change count towards the “constant state of change” Plant describes? Does this constant state of change that life is in only include changes made by nature and outside powers only? Humans are a species and we are just trying to “fit in [the] environments” which we live in; and, as we do so we cause change to happen to that environment—though it may not be positive change. However, does it matter if it is positive or negative change which takes place? If change is inevitable, then it can be argued that the change the world is undergoing is just part of life, and maybe it is meant to happen—far reaching, but true. This quote becomes more complex when we compare it to the statement above it—“Social ecology seeks ways to harmonize human and non-human nature…” (79). The idea of harmonizing our interactions with the non-human nature contradicts the idea of “constant change.” If we are in harmony, then nothing is changing—we are at a perfect state of balance and equality. Also, is not a human part of nature? If we are included in the hierarchy of species then we must be part of nature, so why must there be two types of nature? I believe that the only way to answer any of the above questions is to first determine what Plant includes in her definition of “species” and determine whose “life” is in constant change—our lives and nature’s life or just one of the two. If we decide to argue for the environment, then there should be two types of nature and humans should not be included in the definitions of species in this quote; and, the change that we cause should not be part of the constant change that life undergoes. However, all of this is arbitrary.

Plant, Judith. Home! A Bioregional Reader: Ch./Art: Revaluing Home: Feminism and Bioregionalism; Searching for Common Ground: Ecofeminism and Bioregionalism p. 21-23, 79-82. pub. New Society Publishers 1990


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by yribaf on October 5, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    I have to disagree with an argument you have posed. The idea of harmonizing our interactions with non-human nature does not contradict the idea of constant change. Living in harmony with the rest of the natural world does not eliminate change. Living in harmony simply means that we don’t exploit nature by clearing away entire forests and damming rivers. If we lived in harmony with nature then we would only take what we need from it in order to survive. We wouldn’t clear forests to farm, but instead we would eat wild fruits and vegetables and hunt. We don’t even have to strictly be hunters and gatherers, we could also farm some foods, but living strictly off of domesticated plants is not sustainable. If we lived in harmony with nature then we would be evolving with it instead of decimating entire wild habitats which will no longer evolve, and, in turn, hurt ourselves since we are intrinsically tied to the earth; if it dies, then so do we. Everything in nature is in a state of constant change, including the species homo sapien. We are an animal and we are natural. We are natural because we do not have to create our bodies, our hair, our skin, our bones, we just are. If something is natural then it works perfectly without being altered. The world we live in now isn’t natural because it constantly needs to be altered to maintain this form of reality. The idea of a duality in nature between us and the rest of the natural world is an illusion. We are natural, but we are also the epitome of a parasitical species, at least with our current world view which consists of a dichotomy between our species and the rest of creation.

  2. Posted by al002 on October 6, 2011 at 11:50 am

    I agree with your assessment of Plant’s quote defining ecology in that the definition itself is very straightforward but when you consider all the individual components that make up the definition it becomes more complex. Also I think it is important that you pointed out that environmentalist struggle with this definition of ecology because of the “life is in a constant state of change” (258) element of the definition. Do human actions influence the ‘state of change’ more than non-human and if so how is this significant? Either argument can be convincing and supported by scientific observations. However, as you mentioned social ecology can create more confusion and complex elements that environmentalists and anthropologist are constantly considering when trying to solve these issues.

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