WHAT IS NATURE? AND WHAT IS NATURE FOR?
QUOTES FOR THE WEEK • The Lawn is nature under totalitarian rule. • Life without labor is guilt. Labor without art is brutality.(John Ruskin, 1819-1900, British artist, scientist, art critic, poet, environmentalist, and philosopher).
We will now look at the relationship between the natural world (here, in shorthand, “nature”), and the constructed world. And the essence of that constructed world is the “economy” and its categories and concepts—particularly that of households, and firms.
Our general interest here is how humans have come to use and to rely on nature.In one sense we may think of this as the question of how some piece (or some aspect) of nature comes to be seen as useful, valuable, essential to us in our daily living.This is, therefore, a process of “commodification” of nature.
I. The Economy and Nature: A Simple Model FIRMS NATURE AS A SINK FOR WASTES FROM ECONOMIC ACTIVITY wastes NATURE AS A SOURCE OF INPUTS FOR ECONOMIC ACTIVITY $ labor $ $ commodities $ HOUSHOLDS wastes
We have here a simple, local and isolated “economy” in which individuals extract objects from nature, and return waste products to nature. But human history is also one of augmenting local objects with those from outside of the immediate area (the local “economy”).This is where trade enters. And the history of trade is the history of encroachment and domination by one nation-state over another.
II. The Evolution of Nature as Tradable Commodity • Salt, pepper, aromatic spices and other early trade-goods are characterized by high value per unit of weight—so that transport over long distances was feasible. • This long-distance trade for mutual advantage became a realm in which distant “third parties” entered the market. • In order to control both supply and demand, it became necessary to undertake what we now call “colonialism.” • And this often became transformed into “imperialism.”
Colonialism was essentially a “partnership”—though an unequal one—between a nation-state with a supply of some valuable part of nature, and another nation-state who saw economic and military advantage in forming this partnership.In India, and also in Indonesia, the full extent of colonialism was played out in the evolution into full control—not just an unequal partnership.The same could be said for most other nations who fell under the “colonial yoke.”
As an indication of this extent of colonial/imperial rule, in 1890, five nations (Great Britain, the U.S., Germany, France, and the Netherlands), with a combined population of 172 million people held colonial authority and rule over 600 million people in all parts of the world.We were supplied with all manner of important (or merely pleasant) objects: tea, coffee, cotton, salt, spices, rubber, tropical fruits (banana, pineapple, oranges, lemons, gold, diamonds, pearls, etc.).And because of the unequal nature of this relationship, the colonial powers paid little or nothing for these valuable objects.
Much of the explanation for the Industrial Revolution, centered largely on the manufacture of textiles, was fueled with the cheap labor and cheap raw materials (cotton) from the British Empire in South Asia. Indeed, much of South Asia was called “British India”—and it was.In 1890, the population of Great Britain was just under 38 million, and they controlled British India with a population of almost 271 million. Indeed the combined population of Britain and British India rivaled the population of China (the most populous country in the world at that time with 383 million residents).It was not until the end of World War II that the colonial powers finally surrendered, often with much bloodshed, their possessions in the tropics.
The many sorry legacies of colonialism continue to haunt us today.Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Yemen, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Uganda, Kenya, Cameroon, Congo (both of them), Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, etc. are all the artificial creations of a time when aggressive colonial administrators and self-important kings and queens regarded the rest of the world as their private storehouse and playground.
In fact, if one looks at the poor developing nations in what we generally call the “Agrarian South,” you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of them that did not “belong to” some exploitive and ruthless nation-state in the “Industrialized North.”And we wonder why the “South” often gets cross with us in the “North” for insisting that they must stop cutting their trees, that they must preserve more of nature, and that they must become “good environmentalists” as we have (mostly) become.Do not be surprised if they tell us we are rich and “advanced” precisely because we exploited and usually degraded not only our own environment (our own “backyard”), but their natural resources as well.
It may seem that they are saying to us, “we are poor because you are rich.”This is too simple. But it is a fact that we are rich, in part, because of what we took (stole) from them. So the anger of a fellow like Osama Bin Laden, while extreme and directed to unpleasant and violent acts against the “North” in general, and the U.S. in particular (given our dominance in the world), resonates well in much of the “South”—even while most people there denounce his approach to rectifying centuries-old anger and bitterness.
With this brief background on colonialism and the forced trade it implied, we will now look again at the earlier (simple) model of a local economy in which we now introduce trade.
The Economy and Nature With Trade Foreign Countries Domestic Economy Nature raw materials IMPORTS FIRMS $ foreign exchange EXPORTS Firms NATURE AS A SINK FOR WASTES commodities commodities foreign exchange NATURE AS A SOURCE OF INPUTS FOR ECONOMIC ACTIVITY $ Households labor $ $ commodities HOUSHOLDS $ IMPORTS $ commodities environmental goods and services $
III. Colonialism and Nature Brockway’s article concerns the role of science in the service of colonialism • British East India Company – 1600 • Dutch East India Company -- 1602
Interested in spices, cotton, timber, etc. That is, the extraction and importation of exotic materials from the tropics for domestic consumption The British in India
The Evolution of Colonialism • But the British were also interested in the tropics as a laboratory for science and the nation state to support colonial outposts • The exposure to India induced an interest in tea among the British, but of course tea does not grow in Britain.
The Emergence of the Tea Triangle • Britain started out importing tea from China, but Britain had little to trade that the Chinese wanted to have • This created a problem in the outflow (drainage) of British pounds to China • A nation will run short of its own currency if it imports too much from elsewhere
Solving the Currency Problem • Some way had to be found to get tea from China without draining the British Treasury of Pounds, Shillings, and Pence. • The answer would be found in something that China wished to have • The answer turned out, unfortunately, to be opium
So the Tea Triangle Emerged • The British would grow opium in India • The British would take the opium to China • The opium would be traded (bartered) for tea that would then go to England
Hong Kong as a Colonial Entrepot • Hong Kong became a British territory in order to facilitate the opium trade (and trade in other goods) • China (at least Southeast and East China) was a colonial outpost. • Hong Kong and Shanghai were British • Macau was Portuguese
The Opium Wars of 1839-1842 • By 1830 the British had become the worlds largest drug traffickers, importing opium to China in exchange for tea and other goods. • This trade was centered on the inland city of Canton (now Guangzhou).
The Opium Wars (continued) • By 1836 China had criminalized the opium trade but the British bribed Cantonese traders and kept the trade vibrant • Opium dens and addiction spread • See: http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/CHING/OPIUM.HTM
The Brockway Article • Relates similar stories for: • Cinchona • Rubber • Sisal
The Dutch East India Company • In 1642 The Dutch established an outpost at Cape Town • The purpose was to provision the ships with meat, citrus, etc. • The Dutch were interested in spices (the “Spice Islands”).
The Outpost at Cape Town Fueled European Occupation of Southern Africa • Huguenot’s quest for religious freedom • Dutch immigrants seeking land and opportunity • Discovery of gold and diamonds • The rise of apartheid
And this brings us to the nexus between the interest in nature and the evolution of social and economic policy • The discovery of gold and diamonds in South Africa is best understood as the precursors to apartheid • After World War II the white mine workers began to agitate for higher wages and better working conditions. • With a large supply of impoverished black labor willing to work for practically nothing in order to eat, the white workers were soon fired and replaced by blacks. • Not surprisingly, widespread unemployment among these workers fueled the rise of a “white supremacist” government that lasted until 1994. • Nelson Mandela spent 27 of those years in prison
We see that nature and colonialism combined to produce a particular “economy” in most of Africa, South Asia, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. This history is important to our own experience here in the U.S. We were, after all, a colony of settlers--just as South Africa was.
IV. America as the “Garden” • Early European immigrants saw America as a garden—verdant, unspoiled, lush, productive and waiting to be both conquered as well as revered. • It was “empty” and there for the taking. • See The Machine in the Garden by Leo Marx • Recall Locke’s idea that nature was to be subjected to human conquest. • That is what nature is FOR—the purpose of nature
The Evolved and Created Purpose of Nature in America The original purpose of nature was to produce food and fiber • Trees were “for” lumber (that was their purpose); • Minerals were “for” mining (that was their purpose); • Land and water were “for” food and fiber production (that was there purpose); • Rivers were “for” transport, irrigation, and energy production (that was their purpose).
The significance of Environmental Awareness (Earth Day) in the 1970s was that it became obvious that we needed to work out a newPurpose of Nature • This meant challenging accepted attitudes and beliefs and behaviors concerning what nature was “for.” • It meant working out reasons to regard nature in other terms.
And thus the suddenly popularity of environmental literature • The purpose of this literature is to give us other reasons to see nature. • This literature helps us work out a new purpose of nature. • It gives us a meaning of nature that we did not see before. • By “meaning” I have in mind ways to talk about and to think about nature that was missing before.
V. BELIEFS, RULES & BEHAVIOR BEHAVIOR RULES BELIEFS Rules are the structural parameters of a society—these are both legal and cultural (or customary “habits of mind”). Beliefs are the thoughts and attitudes that inform and shape both rules and behavior. Behavior is the actual choices that people make—what they do.
The early vision was that nature was for the provision of raw materials for our sustenance and material enrichment. • Now there is an evolving sense that nature is for something less materialistic. • Perhaps nature is not just to extract from, and to receive our wastes? • Perhaps nature is to be “enjoyed” (“used”) in a way that does not take FROM nature, but regards nature as something we can “experience.”
And once we see familiar things in a new way, we can never see them in the old way again.