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Raffles and Winklerprins- Amazonian Earth Changes

by on September 7, 2011

The article begins with the suggestion that there is no immaculate forest in the Amazon as is typical of a post-Enlightenment European perception. It is instead a blend of cultural and natural effects. The article goes more in depth about a topic we have been discussing in class- Where if any is the separation between Culture and Nature? The Amazon is an area which we largely and generally consider a wilderness and the people who live there are not given much importance and are instead seen as “invasive and contaminant”. The article goes into how the Amazonian people have been altering the land for several years before they had even thought. They don’t view it as contamination but rather alteration which would better suit their needs. Furthermore the article discusses the politics involved with forest alteration.

In class we have been discussing the separation between culture and nature. Why is there that separation? When did what humans do to manipulate the “natural” environment become social/cultural? I would say that rather than viewing what and where we alter the environment as a negative, we should view it as a process which was necessary to achieve our advancement. An example of this would be our alteration of the environment for resources such as food, things to provide shelter, medicines, etc. We are required to manipulate our environments for survival and the better we are at utilizing our environment the better it is for survival of not only humankind but our environment as well. One could even argue that to a certain extent we were/are thriving as a result of one another.

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14 Comments
  1. I agree with your statement, that humans should be considered more part of the natural environment. It seems we have a distinction of culture as the opposite of nature but isn’t it safe to say that we created culture to help us co-exist and live within an environment. I have also been thinking lately about the consequences that we might face today by not acting within the parameters of the environment. Has this always been happening? If not, then when, and why has it become a problem? It seems that we need to start acting within the parameters nature has set for us or nature will find a way of existing without us.

  2. To go along with Morgan’s comment, I too agree with your post because i am getting tired of hearing how much of a negative impact humans have had on the environment. I was delighted when i read that people are now beginning to understand that even in the ancient past, small amazonian and native american tribes were affecting their landscapes in order to keep thriving in the environment they lived in. No matter how much urbanization is put onto a certain environment, nature will always have a reaction to our actions; therefore, nature and culture will be intertwined no matter how one wants to perceive those boundaries.

  3. Frederick Reisen permalink

    I agree with both the blog post and the comments above, humans have been altering their environment forever. In fact every piece of nature alters the environment around them. Nature or the environment is dynamic, constantly moving and changing in an attempt to establish an acceptable balance. “Perfect” balance will most likely never be reached and perhaps has never happened. The difference I see in the actions of human over time is that as our science has progressed we have the ability to create compounds and products that are on the extremely dangerous side of the spectrum. In time nature and the Earth can and will deal with everything humans can dole out and in the end the universe is indifferent. I do not see our human impact as destroying nature and the environment as much is shitting in the bed we are about to sleep it. Earth will be alright without us.

  4. Frederick Reisen permalink

    humans over time*

    as much as it is*

  5. janellekramer permalink

    I completely agree. We are affected by our environment and the environment is affected by us. It becomes a problem when we abuse the environment and affect it to a point beyond resilience, beyond the point where the land can replenish the things that we take. When we abuse and use natural resources too fast, that’s when we separate ourselves from the land; we separate our needs from the land’s needs. We become selfish and hold the need for the land’s resources above the land’s need to replenish those resources.

  6. vcowdrey permalink

    I do agree with your statement that altering the environment should not be thought of as a negative and that we have always changed the places where we life so that we can thrive, but I do believe that the separation between humans and the environment has become more pronounced and given a negative connotation because we are no longer altering the environment to survive (even though in parts of the world people continue to fight for survival), but now it has turned into changing the environment because of greed. Like I said before this is not the case in all places of the world, but the places where we are seeing the biggest environmental degradation are in places that have resources, and our greed to squeeze as much money out of these places and leave no time for recovery is what has changed. We are no longer taking just as much as we need to survive; we are extracting and using up enormous quantities of resources globally. The gap between humans and our natural environment will grow until greed isn’t a factor, which will most likely never happen. Like the previous posts said, ‘the world will be fine,” it is just ourselves that will be miserable if we continue to change things without thinking.

  7. In the above comments, it seems that you are saying we, humans, are irrelevant to this broader nature. Is that what you mean? If nature will go on with out us, what does that mean, exactly. What will happen if humans species goes extinct? What does it mean that other species are going extinct, or vast areas are undergoing dramatic changes? What are the implications of the idea that the Amazon might have been densely populated previous to European contact and may in fact be a ‘garden’ or the remnants of a garden. Are there differences between the interactions that were creating that ‘garden’ and current interactions? Some of you have started to hint at these, but how do we know that currently our actions are driven by greed and previous societies’ were not? Are there ways to explore both what drove previous societies’ actions and their outcomes?

    • janellekramer permalink

      In terms of exploring what drove previous societies’ actions, we can only speculate and use second-hand sources to do research. However, humans are humans and overall, our driving factors are constant as a species. We want to be fed, sheltered, and given the opportunity to reproduce, just like any living creature. However, humans have the distinct ability to communicate and relate to one another, and therefore compare ourselves to one another. It can only be natural (apologizes for the controversial word) that some driving factors of humans would be to be better, higher, than our cohorts. This drive leads to greed. I do not believe the driving factors are different now than they were in the late 1400s, but our tools for implementing change to the environment are more drastic cause more change faster. It takes so little energy and so little time to dramatically alter a landscape. This notion is what marks the difference between us and past societies.

  8. In response to some of Nancy’s questions in her post, I would have to disagree that saying “humans are irrelevant to this broader nature” is not what I have observed in the above comments. It sounds to me more that humans are directly involved in nature and its changes over time. Nature will never be the same after we change it, even if it successfully moves on without us (which I believe it will). It’s the same as suggesting that dinosaurs had nothing to do with broader nature, this is not true. When they were here on earth, they changed their environment and when they went extinct, the environment changed once again. But life continues on. I think that, as humans, we tend to think that our own survival (and the survival of other organisms in relation) should stay stagnant over time but the fact seems clear to me that the world is always changing. Animals are always and will always be going extinct or changing to adapt to a different environment. I think it is necessary sometimes to just roll with the punches and accept the changes that are occurring on earth.

  9. I like the post Payal, in addition I also agree what Kelcy was saying in her comment above. I too find myself becoming annoyed with all the debate and conversation about how reckless humans are with the environment, and never any discussion about how these changes are allowing regions and culture to thrive. Nancy mentioned in one of the first classes that we were supposed to point out when our discussions were becoming negative and I think that this article did a good job in doing that for us during this topic. Overall, I was also glad to finally read an article about how positive things often come from human environmental change, historically as well.

  10. 242colleencarey permalink

    I think the comments you make are interesting and very thought worthy. I agree that how humans affect the environment should not always be seen as negative. We have also helped the environment to help us. As for the comment “we are required to manipulate our environments for survival and the better we are at utilizing our environment the better it is for survival of not only humankind but our environment as well,” I think that there is a fine balance when it comes to manipulating our environment for our benefit but then hurting it as we do so.

  11. punam gurung permalink

    i like your post very much because you stated both the relationship between human and the environment. Many people thinks that with the new evolution in the human beings we have destroyed the environment with the new technology and urbanization but did that happen only now or in the past too as We read and discuss in the class that native used to destroy the forest for the pasture of their cattle and more field for agriculture. Humans are created in this earth to survive in the environment for the basic needs and if we are required a little bit more alternation of the environment then it does benefit us. In addition to this, humans are also contributing some new aspects and ideas to preserve the nature too.

  12. Megan Powell permalink

    Just a note: I think that the idea that culture was created in order to help us co-exist with nature is a really interesting idea and I would love to hear an argument for it. Although I think it may be easier to argue that our culture is simply a product of our interaction with nature. I wonder if that is something that everyone could agree on (or maybe it’s just my line of thinking).

    Overall, the distinction that most people seem to assume without giving another thought to between nature and culture, and specifically between us, as humans, and nature is one that should be re-thought with the idea of culture/us being just one part of nature on the whole. Just like any other species we are affecting nature in our effort to survive and thrive and it in turn affects us in a continuous, cyclical interaction. But, I also think that as humans if we are to live up to our ultimate potential and therefore survive in the long run then we should take advantage of all of our highly evolved abilities including our awareness of self (and on the collective level) and our sense of moral responsibility. We know that our actions have effects on our surroundings and because we, unlike any other species, have an understanding of that relationship (at least in its most simplest form), we have a responsibility to try to do things in this world that will have a gross positive effect.

  13. i strongly disagree that the indigenous people of the Amazon should be viewed upon as contaminating the Amazon jungles. these people know of nothing else, and have embraced the amazon as there home and way of life. with that i believe comes a lot of respect and appreciation from the indigenous people. the amazon is the source of their livelihood so the prospect of them contaminating it is a cynical and ridiculous perspective. i think that there exists a different dichotomy between the forest and the natives who are neighboring inhabitants. i think that there is an existing respect and relationship between culture and nature going on here that “outsiders” could probably never fully understand.

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