Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences

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We Need to Expand the Definition of What’s Natural

In his Earth Island Journal article, Ted Grudin explores how an inadequate description of the world hinders the environmental movement

What does the idea of the artinatural mean for environmentalism? ESS lecturer Dr. Ted Grudin argues in his recent Earth Island Journal article that environmentalism as a movement has reached a point of crisis. Not only have traditional environmental concerns like clean air and water been fragmented and pushed to the margins in mainstream politics and media, but the movement itself cannot garner sufficient support to combat human existence-threatening crises: global mass extinction, runaway global warming, rising sea levels, the proliferation of toxics… and the list goes on. Why hasn’t the environmental movement been able to better shield society from these catastrophic developments?

Grudin postulates that the sooner people grasp ecological interconnectedness — rather than insisting on boundaries between false categories — the better chance societies have of forging sustainable policies. There is the idea, for example, that human-made objects like cars, computers, and buildings exist in a realm separate from the natural — these objects are referred to as “artificial.” This conceptual distinction is a dangerous myth because it hides the ecological interdependencies upon which humanity and all living things rely. The human-built world is simultaneously artificial and natural. Borrowing a term once used in the field of landscape architecture, we could call things that are both artificial and natural “artinatural.” This term implies that everything artificial is — and always was — still natural."

An artinatural perspective calls for a more powerful means of framing and representing the complex relationship between self and the life-supporting ecosystems on which it depends. Planet Earth’s life cannot afford its survival to be thought of as a special interest or externality; rather, the continuation of life on earth must become society’s highest priority.

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