Human Ecology in the 21st Century | Dr Robert Fish | Think Kent

Human Ecology in the 21st Century | Dr Robert Fish | Think Kent



hello my name's Robert fish and I am reader in human ecology in the school of Anthropology and conservation here at the University of Kent last night I asked my seven-year-old son what's this – which replied daddy that's where we'd live if I were to ask you what this image signified to you perhaps you might come up with a similar proposition or perhaps you might say the world or planet Earth or climate or nature or environment perhaps for some of you it signifies our inconsequential existence in the great scheme of things to paraphrase the Hitchhiker's Guide to the galaxy an utterly insignificant little green planet can't wheel in its way around a small unregarded Yellow Sun I pass this image every day as I walk along the corridor to lectures and meetings it adorns the wall of our academic school we even have a globe suspended from the ceiling in the entrance to our department these symbols and artifacts are actually important to anthropologists and conservationists in our school we bring together researchers students who have a serious commitment to making sense of our relationship not only to each other but to nature as biological entities as cultural agents as citizens as members of communities as resource users and as consumers human ecology my own field sits right in the middle of that conversation it's a field of study that interrogate s– these many roles and relationships and seeks to promote understanding of nature's life-giving life-saving and life-affirming role in people's lives it's very easy to obscure and forget this point I'm reminded every time I read the newspapers and they say that the environment is variously 9th 10th 11th 12:15 20th number 100 on the list of public priorities voter priorities way down as if our number-one concerns for jobs homes health crime weren't all so fundamentally connected and rooted in our dependence on the natural world so in human ecology we probe and reflect on this relationship between people and their environments asking questions that are often quite profound very serious certainly complex complex and contested are we part of or apart from nature what ethical considerations should guide how we think and act towards the natural world how does the natural environment act as a constraint or limit on human action can we find in the study of the natural world clues about how humans organize themselves and perhaps most fundamentally how should we imagine plan and manage the environment as an asset for people now we can only begin answers questions I would argue by reflecting back on ourselves and our values and more generally on a vast body of knowledge and indeed images and representations that shape our assumptions here is Earthrise according to Time magazine it's one of the definitive images if not the definitive image that changed the world just reflect on that for a moment an image taken outside of the world act shaping our world we tend to think of representations as things that simply reflect our realities rather than create them but the truth is otherwise human ecology is no different many within my field myself included look at these images and tend to think of the earth as a system a social ecological system now that's a rather perhaps in elegant way of emphasizing the mutual dependencies of human and non-human processes our coevolution our cohabitation our common ground many of our approaches to managing this codependency are not fit for purpose if our purpose is in part to secure our place in the future much of the way in which human retirement relations function and developed certainly in the Western society are shaped by tired assumptions of an empty and spacious world that the only limits to action are our ingenuity and of converting nature into a limitless resource by way of applications of human capital not least through technological and scientific advancement in an important sense human ecology in the 21st century is about developing frameworks for action governed by the assumption of a full and congestive world rather than an empty and spacious world a world of scarce resources of multiple demands and of conflicting values there are many different pathways toward dealing with this complexity much of the current thinking in the field of natural resource management centers on recognizing more fully the many and diverse contributions that this thing called nature bestows upon us we actually struggle to communicate this point students of monty python may well remember the scene from the life of brian when john cleese asked what the romans ever done for us sanitation air apart from sanitation what the Roma's ever done for us roads yeah apart from the roads what the rome has ever done for us democracy old democracy this is much the same conversation that resource management still that they're in what does nature ever done for us food apart from the food fiber apart from the fiber clean water apart from clean water climate and water regulation and so forth and they asked why is this value realized so unevenly in the decisions we make why does some this value seem invisible in the decisions we make why can't we integrate understand these benefits or contributions more fully into our concerns and to coordinate ourselves better here is an image of a field in Lancashire taken recently after a flood or is it a lake how would the human ecologist look at that image well perhaps first a great example of how one combination of values about nature the need for shelter to meet demand and the sinan of land as a mechanism to realize that value are actually ignoring empirical realities and maybe that choice of location was built on another set of values the cultural value of a glorious view expressed as an attractive development opportunity it makes no sense to build on this location because it is contradicted by yet another set of values in nature that of nature as something perhaps rather uncontrolled war livelihood and life threatening and only partially foreseeable we might surmise that something was found wanting in the risk assessment here today human ecologist would look at this problem and look for some solutions from the perspective of a system we only have to travel a few hours north to North Yorkshire from this location to find communities investing in soft what we might call nature based solutions planting more trees building small natural dams tinkering with land management to slow the flow of water these investments can represent significant benefits on our traditional responses to problems to build the war little higher to hard engineer our way out of problems at least part of the approach in human ecology is to find patterns and approaches that work within a larger ecological framework there are many other examples of thinking emerging based on sitter systems perspective based on harmonizing out many and varied uses of the natural world if you're inclined to recreate in bathing waters in many industrializing and agriculturally intensive nations you might stand to ingest potential pathogenic presences arising from upstream land management practices you may do so simply from drinking the water from the tap so why not manage these problems at source why not compensate the land managers for changing their practices which are contributions to this problem rather than invest in say inexpensive water treatment technologies it will also save of course business from all those days of work that people have in from gastroenteritis and what of the view from your window if you are lucky to have a view over green splay or access to a park your luck is probably translating into a long-term cost-saving to the National Health Service so let's look at this let's look at this shadow economic value and invest in the natural health service let's make space for nature through a vision of ecological public health these are some of the ways in which the human ecologist might approach human environment relationships in the 21st century unraveling these possibilities we might say is built on a degree of optimism in this system's worldview there is potentially a lot of space for human ingenuity for a commitment to rational management trial and error as well as looking at management for an economic starting point including a role for the market but it is also a worldview that is more than purely economic it is more than purely scientific this one that encourages us to draw on more distributed forms of knowledge the role of civil society and it's about building institutions that represent the collective shared and public good the state above all it is one that recognizes with humility and a king critical eye that solutions are never final and beyond revision so as a human ecologist I invite you all to join this creative and urgent conversation about people and the environment in the 21st century thank you very much

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