Participatory ecology: Greens must embrace hunting

by Russell Edwards*

I. Ecosystems and death

Photo by Kat Clay

“Do we have to have so many bad ones?” asked the well-meaning teacher. We were being taken through a role-play of ecosystem interactions, at a science teachers’ conference. A great activity, by the way. Each of us represented a species. We were tossing a ball of wool between us, in order to form a representation of the web of relationships in an ecosystem. With each toss of the wool the thrower declared what type of interaction the new link in the web represented. Naturally, the most common type of interaction was predation.

To this teacher, and a handful of others who concurred, predation is “bad.”

As environmentalists, you and I value ecosystems. But in all ecosystems, predation is rampant. If one animal death by predation is bad, then the mass killing that ceaselessly occurs in every natural ecosystem is indescribably evil.

Furthermore, this “evil” is the rule, not the exception. Exploitative relationships between organisms are fundamental to ecosystems. All species except for plants rely completely upon some form of predation in order to provide the materials to build their bodies and the energy to power them. Plants kill each other, too, through competition. Mutualism exists, but even that is inherently extractive: its motivation (through selection pressure) is the getting, not the giving.

That’s just how ecosystems are. If we value ecosystems, we cannot possibly find overwhelming evil in the processes that underpin them. Either we’re wrong to value ecosystems, or, when all things are considered, death in the context of ecology is good. Death provides food to other organisms. Death frees resources for future generations, an essential component of a sustainable, finite system. Death makes way for reproduction and the creation of genetic diversity. Death before reproduction provides selection pressure, shaping diversity into evolution. As Gary Snyder says, “There is no death that is not somebody’s food, no life that is not somebody’s death.”

Most people understand that ecosystems function this way. Yet, as the story above illustrates, many people remain deeply uncomfortable with predation. The usual response is denial—the conception of ecosystems as a harmonious cooperative of peaceful creatures. A denatured nature, as in Bambi or Finding Nemo.

Photo by Tovar Cerulli

Where is the harm in this comfortable fantasy? Firstly, hidden beneath the denial is a deep-seated ambivalence about nature as it actually is. Secondly, this fantasy writes humans out of ecosystems: if it is bad to prey or be preyed upon, to consume or to be consumed, then the most important modes of ecosystem participation are illegitimate and the only ethical choice is alienation.

II. Be it or lose it

It is a truism in the environmental movement that environmental protection is a matter of “love it or lose it.”

But for me, the need goes further: we must be it or lose it. We must see human beings as part of nature; as animals living in ecosystems, being part of ecosystems. Until our culture makes this shift, the ecological crisis we have wrought will continue to accelerate. Not until we identify with nature will we truly protect ecosystems, not merely as we would a prized possession, but as we would a family member.

Photo by Somaskanda
Photo by Somaskanda

This is not just my point of view. It is central to the worldview of many indigenous cultures and is prominent in the environmental movement. “Human beings are part of the natural world,” affirms the opening sentence of the Australian Greens Environmental Principles Policy. Identifying humans primarily as ecosystem participants is a pillarstone of the broad-based deep ecology movement, with particular emphasis given to this aspect by writers Gary Snyder and Paul Shepard. It is also the starting point of ecofeminist analysis for Australian philosopher Val Plumwood, who identifies the human/nature dualism of Western culture as the source both of the ecological crisis and of our “denial of human inclusion in the food web.”

This is a message that has been out there for decades, but has failed to gain traction beyond environmentalists. Why is this? To me, the answer is clear. Our daily existence is not ecological. It is socio-cultural, and increasingly, economic. Our ecosystem interactions are totally mediated by distant third parties. We seldom even enter wild ecosystems, and when we do, we piously “look but don’t touch.”

We live in denial most especially of death. In our own deaths, we strive to deny ecosystems the feast of our corpse. Even so-called green burials exclude scavenging animals, restricting the bounty to microbial decomposers. Perhaps the greatest ecological travesty of all, our food is commodified and distributed by networks of strangers, denying proper ecological realisation both to humans and to the organisms we eat. As Val Plumwood put it, “all our food is souls.” Due respect to the gravity of such an ecological exchange surely demands that both parties participate, consciously and directly.

Photo by H Llewellyn
Photo by H Llewellyn

To genuinely see ourselves as ecosystem participants requires, obviously, that we actually participate in ecosystems. Directly. In hands-on ways that reignite the genetic memory we all possess, of humankind’s natural ecosystem roles. Those roles evolved over millions of years to equip us not as economic consumers, or even as farmers, but as hunter-gatherers. To participate authentically in ecosystems, at least occasionally (and always sustainably) we must enter intact wild ecosystems and spend some time obtaining our basic needs from them. We must find shelter there, gather wood, and warm ourselves by a fire there. We must sleep there, eat, and excrete there. And crucially, what we eat must come from there. We must forage and we must hunt.

Ah, the sharp drawing of breath. It’s a sound I’m sadly familiar with since I came—some years ago—to the realisation above, quit being vegan, and took up hunting. There isn’t space here to preempt the criticism this will draw. I’ll let my argument above stand for itself.

III. Policy reform needed

Australia desperately needs what the Greens alone have to offer: a genuine commitment to govern in the best interests of society and the environment, unbeholden to big business or narrow self-interest. But when it comes to ecosystem participation, its policy positions fall short.

We must defend the right of every creature, including humans, to engage in a full range of natural ecosystem interactions. Greens policy demands this when it comes to nonhuman animals, but support for human ecosystem participation is lacking. The Environmental Principles policy should be augmented to explicitly support sustainable, direct ecosystem participation, including extractive activities such as non-commercial (subsistence) foraging, hunting, and fishing, with this being linked to the existing opening Principle that “human beings are part of the natural world.” This basic ecological right should be extended to everyone, not just indigenous people.

To support this change, it is necessary to remove an overt attack on this right that currently stands in Greens policy. The Animals policy calls for “a ban on recreational shooting of all animals.” Presumably this would apply to conscientious subsistence hunters. Speaking for myself, “recreation”—literally to create anew—is a fair description of the spiritual renewal I find in ecosystem participation. And shooting is the most humane method of hunting available to me.

For this reason, conscience prevents me from becoming a member of The Greens at this time. But I really hope that those members who can see even a kernel of truth in this position will recognise a rights violation when they see it, and speak up to rectify it. I look forward to the day when I can join the fold.

Reading suggestions

  • Devall, B. & Sessions, G., 1985. Deep Ecology.
  • Plumwood, V., 2002. Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason.
  • Plumwood, V., 2012. The Eye of the Crocodile. (Free online.)
  • Shepard, P., 1998. The Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game.
  • Shepard, P., 2002. Man in the Landscape.
  • Snyder, G., 1968. “Song of the Taste.”
  • Snyder, G., 1990. The Practice of the Wild.


*Editor’s note: When you get an enthusiastically appreciative email from a fellow vegan-turned-hunter on the opposite side of planet, you smile. When he sends you a thought-provoking article that echoes many of your own thoughts and feelings, you sit up and pay attention.

The essay above, reprinted by permission of the author, first appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of Green Magazine, the membership publication of the Australian Greens political party.

To give us some political context, Russell offered these thoughts: “As a party, the Greens stand alone in Australia in providing genuine representation for the environment and social justice. The Greens’ policy positions on animals stem from an abolitionist approach, perhaps reflecting the influence of former Greens candidate and philosopher of Animal Liberation fame, Peter Singer, and former Vegan Society president, Senator Lee Rhiannon, among others. The Greens do not appear to have engaged with prominent competing strands of environmental philosophy which draw attention to the ultimately anti-ecological and anthropocentric aspects of abolitionist veganism. As a result, ecologically-focused hunters are stuck in a no-man’s-land on the redneck-vs-greenie front of the culture wars. This article was an attempt to engage Greens members with other strands of thinking that are more inclusive of humans in nature, and encourage them to rethink their policy position in opposition to ‘recreational shooting.’”

Please join me in thanking Russell for sharing his insights and perspective.

– Tovar


  1. Desi Mims says:

    This was a very interesting read. I would however say that there is an obvious direction being taken here that makes representative politics feel like it falls short, regardless of party. Regardless of how you feel about that evaluation, I think you’ll find the documents at the following link highly relevant. While I don’t quite consider myself a primitivist, they make some very solid points:

  2. Peter Mirick says:

    Excellent article that I hope will inspire others to see the light of logic. The day we entirely give up our evolutionary role as predators, we will become something other than human, for that has ALWAYS been the human role, providing us with a natural way of life and binding us to the real world. Urban cultural bigots, bereft of such ties, cannot be allowed to denigrate those who still accept that we have a responsibility to our prey and to ourselves to remain predators.

  3. Jeff Swett says:

    great essay. I’d suggest their official “greens” party isn’t that different than many of our own more politically active “greens”, although as an official political party ours aren’t much better off than the libertarian party at the moment. “Progressive” politically correct politics–mixed with a dose of “I care and if you disagree with me you don’t”–is not exactly something to invite many who would naturally fall into your camp, if you didn’t work so hard to alienate or exclude them. my 2 cents anyway.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for chiming in here, Jeff. I agree that environmental groups are often quite good at alienating “many who would naturally fall into their camp.” The same is true of many hunting-related groups, I think.

  4. Joe Keough says:

    Let me expound: “Predation is bad.” Too often, well meaning people criticize those that consider themselves omnivores, or worse, “hunters”. For decades, my simple answer to that criticism has been “anthropomorphism”. I felt that the greater the distance between people and their food source allowed them to remove themselves from reality. I can illustrate my thoughts through a recent incident involving nesting barn owls. I am a big fan of nesting “bird cams”. No one does it better than Cornell University. They provide numerous bird-cams online. This past spring, one of their nest cameras focused on a barn owl nest in Texas. I found it fascinating. Unlike precocial birds, many raptors begin to incubate their eggs as soon as they are laid. The theory as to why they do that makes sense. They may lay a clutch of five eggs. By the time they’ve all hatched, the brood may have a great disparity in age (as much as two weeks). In times of plenty, all of the young will survive. During times of scarce prey, the younger chicks will perish, but the older/stronger will survive. Again; makes sense to me. The barn owl nest featured this past spring experienced an incident of siblicide. The oldest chick was hungry and ate the youngest chick. The second youngest chick died of starvation, but wasn’t consumed by the oldest (presumably because the parents found a better food source). Disturbing? Yes. What I found more disturbing, was the number of observers that wanted the folks at Cornell to intervene. They wanted Cornell to respond to Texas and rescue the younger chicks. I’ll stick with my simple answer…

    • Tovar says:

      Interesting, Joe. I’ve read of a number of similar bird-cam situations, including one high-profile case involving eagles. This technology is creating a fascinating scenario, where people who rarely see much of the life cycles of birds (or animals) in the wild are given a small peephole into that world. Some people are awfully uncomfortable with part of what they see — the terrible accompanying the beautiful — and want humans to intervene to prevent the terrible: what Barry Lopez has called “the horror inherent in all life.”

      Honestly, I sympathize with their discomfort. But that discomfort is something we all need to come to terms with. (That’s part of what I wanted to tackle in my “natural causes” post a while back.)

  5. Holly says:

    Well this is nature, and I’ve seen the same human behavior on hummingbird cam forums when a crow has taken the eggs (or even young) of the featured hummingbird. No doubt it is sad if you’ve followed and become invested in those delightful little hummers, but the resulting demands to “shoot the crow” by viewers (I’m not kidding) in vengeance is so curious to me. The crow was just being a crow, having its meal. And forget about then trying to explain to fellow birders how you adore bird-watching yourself and then hunt birds (and then field dress and cook them)… they come to brand you some kind of psychopath!

    Also interesting to me is the fact that I get the most push-back on my very occasional hunting not from vegans or vegetarians, but from fellow omnivores and pescatarians. They question the necessity of my hunting and express anguish over the lost lives of my harvests, all while they themselves consume meat that others have killed and wrapped in neat little packages for them.

    One pescatarian even told me that because he only eats the meat of fish (and mollusks in my presence, but no matter), he prefers to call himself a “vegetarian!” I’m not sure how far from reality your reasoning must travel to actually stop seeing fish and mollusks as the animals they are, but my guess is that far too many humans are completely removed from the realities of our natural environment when that viewpoint is not only expressed without shame, but is tolerated in conversation as if it’s a sane point of view.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for these reflections, Holly.

      I think you are spot-on with the phrase “become invested in.” Daily contact with other creatures (even via webcam) and affection for them does lead us to become emotionally invested. This seems completely normal to me: a sort of extension of what we feel for companion animals who share our lives. My dog is part of my family and any other creature who tries to do her harm (human, dog, or otherwise) risks violent consequences at my hands. So I get the “shoot the crow” reaction. But that reaction also reveals a troubling inclination to intervene in wild creatures’ natural interactions (well beyond the bounds of our families), mainly to make ourselves more comfortable. Of course, someone watching a crow or hawk nest might be happy to see food arrive in whatever form, to keep those nestlings alive.

      The push-back from fellow omnivores is odd, isn’t it? I get the impression that wild animals occupy a completely different conceptual category for them. From their perspective, it seems to me that wild animals are free and beautiful (a point on which I agree), inhabiting a magical and innocent realm called nature (a characterization about which I disagree), and should be free from human harm. Farm animals, on the other hand, are not seen as free and beautiful, and are intended as food from the start: they are conceptually reduced, as Val Plumwood put it, to “living meat.” All this seems to suggest that, as Russell’s essay points out, that humans should exist and eat solely within a domesticated, agricultural realm are not part of wild ecosystems.

      As for fish-eaters preferring to call themselves “vegetarians,” well…

      • Russell Edwards says:

        Yep, funny those different categories — animal rights/liberation/veganism always tends to be built up from the way we view farm animals, with treatment of the huge issue of ecology, wild animals and predation tacked on as a failed afterthought… and indigenous lifeways generally conveniently ignored. (After all, nowadays, who wants to be seen to judging an entire indigenous culture as barbaric?)

        The other interesting pair of boxes people like to work with is pet vs not-pet. Pets are persons, other animals are not, because we want to eat them and we’re not allowed to eat persons. Val Plumwood refers to the latter hangup as use/respect dualism and it’s pretty central to her critique of the ecological crisis. Well-meaning as it seems to not use any person/creature/being/community/etc you respect, it also means you can’t respect any person/creature/being/community/etc you use. And you have to use nonhumans for food at the least, after all you can’t photosynthesise. So by hanging on to use/respect dualism you are guaranteeing that you’ll fail to adequately respect, at the very least, plants and the ecological communities where plants grow, which is all of them. That’s why trying to shift as many species as possible out of “use” and into “respect” — the veganism strategy — is guaranteed to fail in the end. Far better to take a cue from indigenous cultures, and dissolve and transcend the dualism. That’s animism and to me it’s the most sensible way to construct an ethics framework that includes nonhumans and the natural world.

        • Tovar says:

          I very much agree about the use/respect dualism, Russell.

          I can see how important my forestry and logging experience was in this regard. I learned — both physically and conceptually — to engage directly with my use of wood and integrate that with an abiding respect for trees, forests, and the land. Before that, as an environmentalist who had never handled a chain saw, I had a kind of “respect” which, in hindsight, seems somewhat superficial. In a sense, that transition gave me a template for learning to hunt.

          “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” When Leopold wrote that, of course, he was using “land” to refer to the entire biotic community (of which we are members, not masters).

          • Russell Edwards says:

            I’m glad you mentioned that. I’ve never felled a tree but collecting, cutting, splitting and burning firewood carries some of the same ecological joys for me as hunting. (Of course that’s a uniquely human trait, but it’s surely old enough to be burned into our genome.)

            Ted Kerasote penned a lovely essay all about logging and respect for fellow members of the ecological community :

  6. Jeffrey T. Nielsen says:

    “All our food is souls.” That hits home for me.

    When I was a young boy and had one of my first experiences (hunting rabbit at an old sheep corral with my father and uncle) the emotions of killing something to eat were hard to overcome and understand. I have always had a special kinship with animals and now I had just killed something that meant no harm to me so I could eat it and gain nourishment.

    I was overcome with emotions that ran the gamut. I was proud that my dad was proud of me and yet at the same time I held tears back. My dad didn’t say much that I recall outside of the standard congratulations and explanation of Nature but his eyes held an understanding of the emotions I felt.

    My father was raised on a dairy farm where his folks and his brothers helped raise chickens, pigs and a beautiful vegetable garden, so he had much more experience with the notion of “There is no death that is not somebody’s food, no life that is not somebody’s death” than I did hunting rabbits that day.

    I wasn’t oblivious to Nature, having spent much time as a child on the family farm, but I wasn’t as experienced with Nature as my dad was when he was a kid. He was raised on a farm. I visited the farm – but didn’t ‘live’ there. I know better now because the family farm was the one place I truly ‘lived’ with the innocence and wonderment of a child.

    I remember my father telling me of how he raised pigs that were like pets to him, only to have them sold at the local 4H event to be slaughtered for food. After coming to understand that his ‘pet’ pigs were to be sold to become food, he became detached from the animals he raised to ward off the harrowing emotions. He too felt what I felt. And it also took him awhile to understand and accept Nature as a part of life that has no shortcuts or bias.

    I continued to hunt in my teens and early 20s to round-out the ‘manliness’ I sought, but it took me many years before I was finally able to shed the ‘manly’ nonsense and embrace what is simply Nature.

    Like many have said before me, if I don’t feel the emotions similar to the ones I felt that day hunting rabbits as a youth when I harvest an animal, I will no longer hunt. I hope that day is the day that something else feeds on my soul. And if I happen to look on from the spirit world as something gains nourishment from my dead body, I will hold no ill will. Nature.

    • Russell Edwards says:

      Thanks for sharing such a lovely reflection. As someone who didn’t grow up hunting, I haven’t been through that “manliness” phase but see it on others. Actually I remember Aldo Leopold reflects on the same in A Sand County Almanac with a story from his youth of gunning down a pack of wolves and staring one in the eye. It’s the ugly face of hunting but surely everyone is expected and allowed to make mistakes during their maturation process.

      The stereotypical politically damaging news story here in Australia is about a kangaroo that has been nonfatally shot with a target arrow. Seems to pop up about once a month in the media. If our culture wasn’t broken and we had proper intergenerational mentorship for young people unfolding as ecological participants then I’m sure these ugly patterns would be less common and would pass more quickly when they did arise. I remember Richard Nelson, in The Island Within, describing some of the cultural traditions that exist amongst north American indigenous peoples that are designed to promote respect for animals (and luck, which in their view depends on respect) and to discourage any kind of boasting or gloating, even to the extent of not directly mentioning your intention to go hunting or, when you get back, your success. I seem to remember reading of something similar among some Australian aborigine groups.

      I can also strongly relate to your story about your father’s pigs. I feel the same way about our pet chickens, and the path of thought it has prompted me to go down causes me to hold grave doubts about the ethics of all livestock agriculture and more broadly about agriculture in general. (“All our food is souls” refers also to plants!) Not only do we incarcerate them and keep them alive only in order to kill and eat them, all the while forming a social bond of misplaced trust that inevitably leads to betrayal, we actually interfere with their very is-ness through genetic manipulation, which really takes enslavement to a whole new level. But what choice do we have? I can’t even come close to completely feeding myself with wild foods.

    • Tovar says:

      Thanks for these thoughts, Jeffrey.

      Some months ago, I had a chance to see John Houston’s film “Diet of Souls.” You can see the trailer here: “‘The great peril of our existence lies in the fact that our diet consists entirely of souls.’ So an Inuit shaman summarized the moral danger of being human.” In the Arctic context, where humans are almost entirely dependent on animal foods, the people are speaking of “souls” in a somewhat different sense than Russell is using the term. They are talking not only about animals, but about animals whom they believe to be their spirituals equals or superiors, and upon whom they also depend for sustenance.

      Houston spoke before and after the film. At one point he asked aloud what kind of cosmology and relationship-understandings would most likely evolve for humans living for many generations in such a stark, awesome, powerful landscape, where it is easy to perish and where your fellow inhabitants are big, powerful animals on whom you depend in these ways. It seemed to him, and seems to me, that the Inuit view depicted makes a lot of sense as the kind of understanding that would naturally emerge there.

      • Russell Edwards says:

        Wow, Tovar, that film sounds like essential viewing. Can’t wait to see it – thanks for sharing.

  7. Erik Jensen says:

    I have been having similar feelings for a long time on this “predation is bad” theme that runs through lots of nature shows. On the one hand, the scientific explanation in the voice over before an act of predation says that this is how nature works, but the music in the background is ominous, suggesting something “evil” is about to happen. It is in a lot of children’s nature shows as well, which I see a lot of because I have kids. Therefore, I think a lot of the nature programming is a big mixed bag. On the one hand, it gives a part of the public some enjoyment and education about wildlife, leading to some political and social support, but the sentimentality (my description) is scientifically off base and can lead to support for bad policy.

    Unfortunately, I think the strain of thinking you have described running through a lot of the non-hunting and fishing environmental supporters and most prominently in the Green Party itself is a misplacement of a legitimate revulsion against overuse of resources by human beings. It is taking that general legitimate position and applying it to every interaction between humans and other animals or fish.

    Interestingly, I have had the exact same run-in with the Green Party here in MN. I am “with them” on the need for the need to have economic justice and sustainability and that the two are linked. Plus, I am a left-wing populist by nature. However the MN Green Party platform is essentially anti-hunting and even fishing, it has flat-out ignorant and not scientifically based statements. Even though there are other policies that are great for hunting and fishing, it has this poison pill that they refuse to back away from.

    Not only is it just wrong and inconsistent, it is also is politically totally unwinnable. MN has a long history of progressive populism, and very high participation in fishing and hunting. Additionally, polling shows that there is overwhelming support for both activities even among people that don’t hunt or fish. So makes you wonder how they plan on getting past a few highly liberal parts of Minneapolis and St. Paul…

    • Russell Edwards says:

      I know what you mean with regards to “documentary” treatment of animals. But they’re not all bad. David Attenborough’s programs are usually exemplary. I think it’s legitimate to have some dramatic music, after all predation is a dramatatic and emotional affair for both parties, and is a total disaster for the prey animal, but I do agree that too often it’s cast as a “bad” thing to be happening.

      Actually the first draft of this essay had a section about this which I had to delete due to space constraints … may as well cut & paste rather than paraphrase myself! Here ’tis:

      We are of nature. I believe that understanding this is the only hope of humanity and most existing species and ecosystems. The alienation of humanity from nature must end. If humanity doesn’t come to grips with this, quickly, our present headlong rush toward global disaster will continue unabated.

      Superficially, this revolution of human thought may appear to have already taken place. After all, everyone professes now to love nature, don’t they? For decades now, children’s animated movies have given the illusion of progress by adopting the natural world or its inhabitants as protagonists. But invariably these films portray ecosystems as harmonious cooperatives of creatures under threat of destruction by the attacks of invading villains: human beings, sometimes aided by other predators. The historical alienation of humanity from nature is thereby reinforced. This much should be obvious to any critical viewer of Finding Nemo or Happy Feet, but the ultimate source of this genre is Disney’s Bambi.

      Eric Salten’s original novel depicted a brutal natural world of constant, gruesome predation and (due to its anthropomorphic and probably allegorical devices) misery. (Funnily enough, you’re likely to find it in the children’s section of your local library.) Disney, instead, deleted all scenes of predation by nonhuman animals, painting in its place a picture of peaceful interspecies cooperation besieged by malevolent human intruders: a vision that has dominated popular misconceptions of nature ever since. Salten’s novel climaxed with a dramatic resolution of the conflict between predator and prey, as Bambi’s father says of humankind: “He’s just the same as we are. He has the same fears, the same needs, and suffers in the same way.” In contrast, the Disney version ends when a human’s campfire destroys the entire forest and a hunter kills Bambi!

      Perhaps the apocalyptic version of Disney is a truer representation of the scale of crimes humanity has committed against itself and the rest nature. But the central precondition of those crimes has been the historical alienation of humankind from nature. The now universal misportrayal of ecosystems as harmonious cooperatives of creatures bears no resemblance to biological reality. The denial or demonisation of predation and the conception of humanity as unnatural intruder serves only to to perpetuate the alienation which led humanity to these crimes in the first place.

      We are of nature. If we and the rest of nature are to survive the coming centuries, we must embrace the alternative vision of ourselves as human animals in ecosystems. Not simply ceasing our attacks on nature, but being a part of ecosystems and sharing with them a common fate. When we attack nature, we attack ourselves.

      How can this be put into practice? Firstly, by education. People need to love nature as it actually is, not as it is romanticised in popular imagination and film. We should all learn about real ecology. In school libraries we should find more DVDs from David Attenborough, and fewer from Disney and Pixar. But secondly, and more importantly, we should identify with nature and see ourselves as legitimate ecosystem participants.

      • Tovar says:

        Thanks for posting this excerpted section, Russell. Well put.

        “The central precondition of those crimes has been the historical alienation of humankind from nature.” Amen to that.

  8. Paul Roberts says:

    Russell wrote:
    “In school libraries we should find more DVDs from David Attenborough, and fewer from Disney and Pixar.”

    They are already there most US school libraries. But most kids, and their parents, can’t sit through them. My wife is an elementary school teacher. She feels that part of her job is re-introducing children to nature, since fewer and fewer children get any exposure to it, much less meaningful exposure. One rather large problem is that so many children are raised on a steady diet of commercial “easy entertainment”. They are unable to sit through anything slower moving, or with intellectual content –really, much that’s not attention getting or emotionally gripping. My wife introduces her kids to David Attenborough, but it first takes awakening their intellectual minds, their thoughtful reflective selves. David Attenborough is riveting; the kids just don’t know it yet.

    Eric wrote:
    “…a misplacement of a legitimate revulsion against overuse of resources by human beings. It is taking that general legitimate position and applying it to every interaction between humans and other animals or fish.”

    Common culture’s view of hunting stems directly from ecological disconnection –from ignorance as to how the natural world sustains us. Some of it is understandable.

    The nation –the world– is urbanizing, and fewer people have meaningful experiences in the natural world. And most urbanites are more aware of “global issues” than they are of issues pertaining to their own back yards. Modern resource management is NOT understood, or appreciated for its amazing success (so far). It’s a story that everyone should know. But few do.

    However, this type of management appears only to be possible in a developed and affluent culture. The problem is, much of the world is not this way. Most of the world is not politically and economically stable. Much of the world is desperately disenfranchised, poor, and hungry.

    I’m currently living in SE Asia and hunting here is as destructive as it was in the America’s prior to the advent of “game laws”. There is subsistence hunting by disenfranchised cultures, and there is commercial hunting (the most destructive) for the pet and animal parts trades. This leaves a lasting impression on anyone aware of this. Hunting has a long and ugly history, and an on-going one in much of the world, to overcome.

    • Russell Edwards says:

      Thanks Paul. You raise a really vital point in your last sentence. I really appreciate the reminder and will carry it with me in future writings… context is everything!

      Incidentally in terms of commercially exploitative hunting, the Australian context is quite different to the US in terms of hunting. Our land fauna were deemed acceptable for the pot by European “settlers” but not valued at all as game by ego/trophy-oriented hunters, nor as marketable meat by commercial hunters. So we have no analogues to what happened with your game species in the US. So we also had no great movement of conservation-branded “sport” hunting ala Teddy Roosevelt. (Duck hunters were great defenders of duck habitat but this is not well known in the public consciousness.) So today we have a very different situation to the US 1) we have a well-managed commercial kangaroo hunting industry, with no once-bitten-twice-shy syndrome, no opposition on biodiversity grounds and in fact considerable support, but of course opposition from the abolitionist vegan brigade (NB I am also uncomfortable with the instrumentalising character of commercial food industries of any kind); 2) “recreational” hunting of native land fauna has no venerated tradition behind it so it was fairly easily outlawed decades ago with some exception by permit 3) hunters themselves still value exotic game more highly and try to sell their hunting on the grounds of invasive species management.

      So something like popping groundhogs / wombats from 400 yards would be unthinkable here, not so in the US, but a commercial harvest of deer / kangaroos is, I gather, unthinkable in the US, not so here.

      In contrast we have commercially and recreationally hammered our aquatic fauna. We still have a commercial take of critically endangered Southern Bluefin Tuna, meanwhile populist governments hypocritically decry the Japanese whale hunt.

      But what we both have in common, in stark contrast to many other parts of the world, is a genuine, precious opportunity for people to go out and participate directly and authentically in ecosystems.

  9. Paul Roberts says:

    “But what we both have in common, in stark contrast to many other parts of the world, is a genuine, precious opportunity for people to go out and participate directly and authentically in ecosystems.”

    Russell, thanks for the background on Australian hunting, and for taking the time to chat with us here.

    Yes, contexts are important. Trouble is, or at least it appears to me, that the increasing urbanization and disconnection of the world puts more people in a context that is outside of the ecological blueprint. (2008 was the year the entire world’s population became over half demographically “urban”, at the same date the U.S. was over 80% urban.) The US Park service is concerned for the future of National Park’s bc of the predicted fall in participation in, advocacy for, and focus of, the parks. Could such a legacy be at risk, and so short lived? In a wider question: Will the course of humanity strip us of that “genuine, precious opportunity”? In the US, maybe there will be enough space for the natural world. In SE Asia, things look much more ominous.

    I know why I love to hunt and it has nothing to do with killing –that’s the hard and sober reality at the end of an ecologically connected process. But, does that opportunity HAVE to involve hunting? If we are truly a meat eating species, or evolved toward “us” due to meat eating (as appears to be best fit consensus amongst the academics), then maybe people will need to come to terms with the complex values inherent in hunting, whether they participate directly or not. (Currently, such a trend is bubbling up, at some level, in the U.S..) Otherwise, hunting may go the way of fur trapping -a quaint, and horrific, past-time –a perversion of “authentic participation”. Not because it’s somehow inherently wrong, but collective culture –the culture of power– will act on its beliefs.

    Sorry to be… a downer.. behind the wonderful discussion above. But I have to entertain those hard questions, for myself. The urban world is all around us, and it’s closing fast.

  10. Russell Edwards says:

    It sure is closing in.

    Just now I was listening to a radio programme about “artificial photosynthesis” which was very concerning. It was presented as a “moral imperative” to develop the technology because it would not only displace fossil fuels but also allow for artificial atmospheric carbon sequestration, ammonia synthesis, starch/food synthesis, etc. Ugh!

    Synth-o-steak anyone?

    As if fossil fuels haven’t wrought enough damage by supercharging our destructive tendencies with an energy supply independent of the ecological food web. And as if renewables haven’t made it that much worse by turning what might have been a temporary burst of destruction into a permanent, sustained attack. But now to be looking at mimicking photosynthesis directly and thereby potentially entirely extricating ourselves from the food web, including for nutrition — that scares me, a LOT. It takes our conceptual separation from ecosystems to a whole new level. To the extent that the ecological crisis is driven by that conceptual separation, presumably the crisis will also soon move to a whole new level – in fact I think it’s not inconceivable that all nonhuman life could eventually be extinguished without impacting the material wellbeing of the human species. And if that’s seen as possible, it will happen, for so long as we only value human proliferation and affluence.

    Sadly the issue is much much bigger than hunting.

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