The long history of violence against the landscape is akin to an invasive bramble with many roots. The violence is wide spread and diverse; from genocide and removal of indigenous people from their homelands, the enslavement of black bodies to work the landscape, continual resource over-extraction, and environmental degradation and destruction through toxic waste and chemical mismanagement. One of the deeply embedded roots that enables these actions is a severance of human relationships from landscape ecologies, and with that, the traditional methods of land-tending. This rift is deepened by the cultural attitudes of Euro-colonizer society, and the language of disrespect it uses to dominate, suppress, and control nature. If any true environmental repair is to be undertaken, an important concept that humans need to embrace is the interwovenness of humans and the landscape. In many places, the landscape is as bound and coevolved to us as our physical and mental health and wellbeing is bound to sunlight on our skin and dirt under our fingernails.
If humans place themselves separate from and superior to the natural world, as Euro-colonizer values insist, violence against the natural world is enabled. Through the separation of humans from nature, nature can be commodified and its resources utilized and pillaged while maintaining distance from environmental repercussions. The stage is set for these repercussions in Rachel Carson’s 1962 “A Fable for Tomorrow”, where a mythical town is described, void of songbirds and filled with dead crops and livestock, still dusted in the snows of pesticide. Although the death is visceral, the fable still sits at the precipice of the repercussions yet to come. This is discussed in Steingraber’s, “Living Downstream”, sheer amounts of toxic industrial waste and chemical spills into the author’s home state infiltrate every medium; the soil, water, and air, all linked to human cancers. In areas with higher rates of toxic release, higher rates of cancers were traced back to the residents of the area, and adolescent exposure left people increasingly vulnerable to cancer in their adult years (Stengraber 2010). Those most vulnerable to these consequences are typically lower income black and indigenous communities, where not only is their access to the natural world severed, additionally severing important mental health benefits, but they live with the toxic health consequences more disproportionately than the communities that created the pollution problems in the first place (Rowland-Shea 2020). Akin to a braided river system, this pattern of injustice is part of the violence that enabled environmental harm in the first place.
Environmental pollution and subsequent human health damages can be traced to the views towards nature that are embedded into the colonial mindset; that nature is something to be conquered, subdued, tamed, and utilized through extraction. This parallels the attitude towards female, black, and indigenous bodies; The same way white men found women and black bodies to be property, the resources of the earth existed to be exploited. In the feminizing and simultaneous de-animating of nature, the “wilderness” and its inhabitants could be subdued and tamed. Through language that feminized nature while simultaneously drawing a deep line separating man from the natural world, resource extraction and disregard for ecological health is perpetrated. As Kimmerer discusses in her article, the use of the word "it" when referring to natural places, animals, and the landscape emotionally distances us, removing its sovereignty and animism, and therefore places it into a lifeless realm in which we can extract, mistreat, or overuse either without guilt or with a guilt that is reconciled by the dollar. This directly contradicts the cultural views towards nature that many indigenous people had and still hold, and this lens of animism is necessary for the coexistence of humans and the environment. "…I think the most profound act of linguistic imperialism was the replacement of a language of animacy with one of objectification of nature, which renders the beloved land as lifeless object, the forest as board feet of timber." (R. Kimmerer) Through language, we further sever ourselves from nature, placing humans outside and above the natural world and its processes and outside and above the consequences of our extractive and destructive actions. Seen in the rise of mental health crises, cancers, catastrophic forest fires, and food crises, we see that we indeed are not outside the realm of the natural world and its processes but in fact important parts of natural systems. The same way we are part of the land, the land is part of us. Indigenous ecological values and the philosophy of animism echoes this sentiment. In Kimmerer’s article, Speaking of Nature, Kimmerer speaks of how those that her ancestors used to call relatives are now called Natural Resources. This fundamental theme of the environment as a living entity, and not as an inanimate resource echoes in Smith's article, The Klamath now has the legal rights of a person. Geneva Thompson, associate general counsel for the tribe of the Cherokee Nation, explains “By granting the rights of personhood to the Klamath River, not only does it create laws and legal advocacy routes, but it’s also an expression of Yurok values," of which ecosystems, creatures, and the environment are seen as animate members of the greater family and the greater community. Through the European-colonizer system of capitalism, resource extraction is almost unquestioned; the trees exist as "standing timber", the minerals waiting to be mined, the rivers waiting to be rerouted into cornfields and swimming pools, where they can all then become "useful".
At this point in human history in the landscape, Earth is bound by our attitude of human superiority and economic priorities, which are likewise bound to our words and the way we refer to the natural world. A broader critical analysis of our cultural views towards nature and intersectional layers of environmental injustice is crucial. We need to start viewing our access and connection to nontoxic natural spaces as integral parts of our mental health structure, and value the natural world in a way that prohibits our creation of toxic natural spaces in the first place.
Carson, R. 1962. A Fable for Tomorrow. Retrieved from: http://silent-spring-book.blogspot.com/2014/05/a-fable-for-tomorrow.html
Kimmerer, R. 2017. Speaking of Nature. Orion Magazine. Retrieved from: https://orionmagazine.org/article/speaking-of-nature/
Rowland-Shea, J. et al. 2020. Confronting Racial and Economic Disparities in the Destruction and Protection of Nature in America. American Progress. Retrieved from: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/reports/2020/07/21/487787/the-nature-gap/
Smith, A. 2009. The Klamath River now has the Legal Rights of a Person. High Country News. Retrieved from: https://www.hcn.org/issues/51.18/tribal-affairs-the-klamath-river-now-has-the-legal-rights-of-a-person?utm_source=wcn1&utm_medium=email
Steingraber, S. 2010. Living Downstream: An Ecologists Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment. Da Capo Press.