Conservation gets personal
"We are the world" has a different meaning for nature theorist and English Associate Professor Stacy Alaimo. We, as humans, are part of the world, part of nature, down to our DNA. And what we do with nature, to nature, we do to ourselves.
In her new book, Bodily Natures: Science, Environment and the Material Self (Indiana University Press, 2010), Dr. Alaimo focuses on trans-corporeality, or the interchange of human body and environment. Think of it as a broader version of you are what you eat.
You are the water, soil, and air where the food grew and was processed ... and the industry whose waste leaks into the soil and water table ... and the cars whose carbon monoxide floats in the air. You are what you eat, where you live, what you drive, and so forth. You are, therefore, the world. And the world is not in great health.
"We're used to seeing ourselves with boundaries," Alaimo says of perceived physical limits. "There are benefits of seriously thinking of our bodies in this world. We are not closed or impervious."
Alaimo became interested in environment and ethics as a child in Pinconning, Mich., a place known for its cheese but also pollution. Her hometown is on Saginaw Bay of Lake Huron, an area of numerous Environmental Protection Agency Superfund cleanup sites.
Her Bodily Natures theories originated while writing her first book, Undomesticated Ground: Recasting Nature as Feminine Space (Cornell University Press, 2000), where she analyzed concepts of nature in feminist writing.
"The idea of sustainability is to keep going, to minimize the footprint we've made," she says. "Houses today are two and a half times larger than those built in the 1950s. We are out of touch with nature."
Change has to be personal, an individual making clear choices for a better world, she says. And it has to be more than just a feel-good act, like recycling soda bottles, to impact such a vast issue.
"Because we've poured so many chemicals into the earth, we can't go back," Alaimo says of a cleaner pre-Industrial Revolution world. "We need a great deal of science to understand what we've done. We need science, and we need the politics behind it to improve our world, ourselves. We talk about curing cancer. We should talk about preventing cancer."