Discover more from Chasing Nature
Gratitude and Saving Nature
New Readings for the Winter Solstice
Our Launch and My Gratitude
That’s a Canada Jay taking flight — an expression of my gratitude for our launch of Chasing Nature last week. Your subscriptions inspire me to write. Thanks! We’ve got lots to cover today, and since I will only add to your e-maelstrom no more than once a week here’s a digest of what’s new.
I’m backfilling Chasing Nature with a selection of previously published writing, much of it revised and updated. For the winter solstice, you’ll find a short essay about moths copulating in the cold called “Sex and Light.” And since we’re in the holiday bird count season, I’ve posted a long and provocative read called “Birdwatching’s Carbon Problem.”
This week’s WTF (in addition to the bonus Canada Jay and dirty moth pictures) shows another launch: Snow Geese lifting off. (WTFs, for paid subscribers, will be available to everyone for a few more weeks.)
In addition to WTFs and extra writing, I’m developing video content for paying subscribers — occasional lectures that you’ll be able to watch at your leisure, after which I’ll host an online chat for questions and discussion. First up will be gull identification in January. Yep, gulls, because whether you are a birdwatcher or want to be one, winter is our time for gulls, and gulls are among the most successful animals on earth. After gulls, and in time for spring, I’ll offer a lecture on point-and-shoot nature photography for ordinary people. Stay tuned — and if you’re not there yet, please consider an upgrade to paid status. Thanks!
The Biodiversity Crisis: 600 Years in the Making
If you missed the world’s latest attempt to save nature, the COP15 in Montreal came away this week with a sweeping agreement featuring a pledge to protect and restore 30 percent of the world’s ecosystems by 2030, what they’re calling “30 by 30.”
Seven years to salvage biodiversity. Seven years for nations to collaborate for the benefit of wildlife and wild places. Seven years to halt and reverse an extinction crisis whose origin actually began not during the Anthropocene but rather six centuries ago — and won’t likely be remedied in seven years. A more honest moniker might be “7 vs. 600.”
My reasoning comes from the work of an international group of academics and colleagues, collaborating as the Commodity Frontier Initiative (CFI), who have studied the history of commodities that most of us enjoy every day, including sugar, cotton, coffee, soy, petroleum and beef.
Although it might be easy to blame the extinction crisis on the general and contemporary crimes of tropical deforestation, factory farming, ocean depletion and global warming, a more sobering explanation lies in tracing the history of those and other commodities. This is hardly a simple story of growth — of farmers and miners and ranchers over the centuries producing or extracting more commodities from the land to supply a growing world population of consumers.
Instead, you cannot understand the biodiversity crisis — and how hard it will be to halt or reverse— without first recognizing how the commodities in particular have intersected with the most potent socioeconomic and political forces on earth: human knowledge and innovation, the power of the state, and most of all the phenomenal rise of capitalism over the past 600 years.
Taken together, those forces and their commodities present a long view of the destruction of the earth’s natural resources and biological diversity. Examined through the lens of the “commodity frontier,” it becomes clear that the arc of history has for six centuries bent toward exploitation and depletion. These are the deep roots of our biodiversity crisis (which I will attempt to convey to you in 5 minutes of reading and whose academic rigor will not be customary in my paid Substack posts).
Although there are many commodities to choose from, perhaps none illustrates this exploitation better than the sugar in your cupboard. …