Simon Estok & Ecophobia

by Zacharie DeJarlais

                               Trained as a   Shakespearean at the University of Alberta, I seek to theorize viable relationships between scholarship and activism, with ecocriticism and Shakespeare being my primary areas of research and publishing. 

Publications:

Ecocriticism and Shakespeare: Reading Ecophobia. New York and London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

The Feminist Ecocriticism Reader (co-edited with Greta Gaard and Serpil Oppermann). In-progress.

Question:

  1. Can you define what Simon is talking about when he uses the term ‘ecophobia’?
  2. Does your old, current, or future job takes part in ecophobia?
  3. Can humans learn to live with nature or is ecophobia a symptom of human behavior of always wanting more.?

Ecophobia: A Paradigm

Briefly, “ecophobia” is an irrational (often hysterical) and groundless hatred of the natural world, or aspects of it. Such fear of the agency of Nature plays out in many spheres. The personal hygiene industry relies on it, since capital-driven notions about personal cleanliness assign us preference for perfumes (for some more than others) over natural bodily odors; the cosmetic industry (in its passion for covering up Nature’s “flaws” and “blemishes”) uses it; beauticians and barbers (in their military passion for cutting back natural growths) are sustained by it; city sanitation boards display it in their demands that residents keep grass short to prevent the introduction of “vermin” and “pests” into urban areas; landscaped gardens, trimmed poodles in women’s handbags on the Seoul subway system–anything that amputates or seeks to amputate the agency of Nature and to assert a human order on a system that follows different orders is, in essence, ecophobic. Ecophobia is a subtle thing that takes many forms.

Ecophobia is all about fear of a loss of agency and control to Nature. It is ecophobia that sets the Old Testament God (within the first twenty-six verses of Genesis) declaring that “man” (anatomically and generically, at this point) is to have dominion over everything. It is ecophobia that allows “man” unquestioned use of land and animals. And it is ecophobia that posits Nature as the scapegoat for social problems (such as over-crowding and the diseases that over-crowding encourages). Control of the natural environment, understood as a god-given right in Western culture, seems to imply ecophobia, just as the use of African slaves implies racism. Similarly, misogyny is to rape as ecophobia is environmental looting and plundering. Like racism and misogyny, with which it is often allied, ecophobia is about power.

From “An Introduction to Shakespeare and Ecocriticism” by Simon Estok, in this winter’s issue of ISLE (Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment).

Links:

http://www.asle.org/site/resources/ecocritical-library/intro/reportcard/

http://simonestok.com/

http://www.achangeinthewind.com/2005/11/ecophobia_a_par.html

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Postcolonialism and the Environment: An Introduction

by Shauna Molloy

The two fields of postcolonial and eco/environmental studies have merged into a seemingly contradictory pair. The issues of colonising land in a manner that provides an ecoconscious perspective and practice are diverse and intricate. The complications involved in defining and combining the two fields are many. However, it is being done, and there is a great need for the two systems to make amends with one another.

The Chipko movement in the 1970′s, wherein the “peasant” or mainly working class population of Northern India protested against the practice of commercial forestry (Tiffan and Huggan),  is a prime example of where the two fields of postcolonialism and environmental studies have merged together. The phrase “tree-hugger” actually originates from the Chipko movement.

The women who worked in the forested area of Northern India protested the removal of the trees by embracing them, in attempt to prevent industry workers from cutting them down. The term “Chipko” comes from a word that means “to embrace.” In the practice of non-violent resistance as introduced to the people of India by Muhatama Ghandi, the people of India who became involved in the Chipko movement achieved the victory of saving much of the Himalayan forests from being destroyed, and the resources being taken from the indigenous people and outsourced for profit. The Chipko movement is an integral example of where postcolonialism and environmental concern come together and create an area for further awareness of integrity in the treatment of the land, and of the people and animals who live from that land.

It is necessary to take into account several of the intricacies when considering the fields of postcolonialism and environmental awareness/studies.  Such themes as dualistic thinking, ecological imperialism/biopiracy, and environmental racism, as outlined by the ecofeminist author Val Plumwood,  provide a framework from which to expand the concepts of fairness and integrity in cohabitation of the land with its natural inhabitants, of any and all species. Plumwood makes an argument on the very notion of humanity, as understood by the western culture–the culture that is responsible for the colonisation and abusive use of land and the original inhabitants found there–is “dependent  on the presence of the non-human: the uncivilised, the animal and animalistic. European justification for invasion and colonisation proceeded from this basis, understanding non-European lands and the people and animals that inhabited them as ‘spaces,’ ‘unused, underused or empty.’” (Plumwood). This is the basis of dualistic thinking, and marks a point where racism and speciesism as aspects of colonialism and abuse of environment can begin to be understood as aspects in postcolonialism and environmental studies.

The concept of the ‘human,’ (that is as the European/western culture has defined it, according to Plumwood), interest being given priority over the practice of equality and compassion for the well-being of all species and individuals involved in the commencement and progression of society and modern life is the essence of postcolonialism and environmental studies. The treatment of indigenous peoples and animals, (and the environment being lived in itself), even in regard to hunting practices between cultures ,and how they differ and which methods have historically been considered more respectable/respectful, are incredibly prominent in the discussion of how a balance can be achieved that is healthy for all inhabitants of the planet. There have been many wrongs in the progression of colonialism and the environment, and it is said that the first step to achieving the balance and finding a place of integrity to live from is in acknowledging the mistreatment that has occurred, as it is understood from the framework of equality.

Quotes:

“Ecology is permanent economy.”

-Sunderlal Bahaguna

“[Environmental Racism] is the connection, in theory and practice, of race and environment so that the oppression of one is connected to, and supported by, the oppression of the other.”

-Deane Curtin

“What do the forests bear? Soil, water, and pure air.”

-Chipko slogan

“The solution of present-day problems lie in the re-establishment of a harmonious relationship between man and nature. To keep this relationship permanent we will have to digest the definition of real development: development is synonymous with culture. When we sublimate nature in a way that we achieve peace, happiness, prosperity and, ultimately, fulfilment along with satisfying our basic needs, we march towards culture.”

-Sunderlal Bahuguna

“Passive resistance, unlike non-violence, has no power to change men’s hearts….What is to be done to convert the poison into nectar? Is the process possible? I know that it is, and I think I know the way too. But whereas the Indian mind is ready to respond to the effort at passive resistance, it is not receptive enough to imbibe the lesson of nonviolence which, and perhaps which alone, is capable of turning the poison into nectar.”

-Muhatama Ghandi

Discussion Questions/Topics:

Are there areas of your own daily life–reader of this blog–that you can pinpoint wherein you could practice more nonviolence?

How do we, the general American culture, continue to perpetuate the concepts of speciesism in our daily lives? How have we integrated a sense of equality with other species?

Are there still instances of colonialism being enacted in the world today, or are we truly ‘post’ the movement?

Video:

 

-Excerpt from Sudesha, a documentary on the Chipko movement.

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Ecofeminist Literary Criticism

By Britany Bach

Ecofeminism is a social and political movement that focuses on the oppression of women and nature as they are interrelated.  The term–often attributed to Francoise d’Eaubonne’s 1974 essay, “feminism ou le mort”– actually sprung up in many locations through dialogues among feminist and environmental thinkers and activists, who recognized conceptual and material connections between the oppression of women and the mistreatment of the natural world.  Since its early origins in 1980s activisms, ecofeminist philosophers of the 1990s branched out to explore the interconnections between sexism, the supremacy of culture over nature, racism and social inequalities.  So now, ecofeminism is not only concerned with the dominations of gender and nature, but also race and class.

Ecofeminism is important because it shows how environmental policies impact our everyday lives.  Women, children, working class individuals, poor people and people of color are the most powerless populations and their rights to health should be protected.  To further this notion, research has shown that women are the ones who are first affected by ecological degradation and atmospheric.  Environmental awareness and environmental health are crucial; political, economic, and social changes are needed to help bring about this awareness.

What are the Causes for Change?

By re-evaluating history, ecofeminist writers have formed conclusions for the change of man’s relationship with women and the environment.  Here are a few examples.

  • Some spiritual Ecofeminists believe that there was a time in history, around 250,000 years ago, when cooperation was valued, not competition, and that women were extensively worshipped in society.
  • Chellis Glendinning believes that humanity’s separation from nature occurred 20,000 years ago when humans evolved from hunters and gatherers to domesticating plants and animals.
  • Others think the relationship changed after the 18th Century European Enlightenment, when scientific and cultural transformations took place.

Why is there a perceived connection between women and nature?

                                    For example, mother nature, Gaia (Greek Mythology).

“Throughout history nature is portrayed as feminine and women are often thought of as closer to nature than men.  Women’s physiological connection with birth and child care have partly led to this close association with nature.  The menstrual cycle, which is linked to lunar cycles, is another example of closeness to nature’s rhythms,” (The Green Fuse/Topics).

The Western Culture

 In the Western Culture, women are valued as less than men, and nature is inferior to culture.  Most times humans perceive themselves to have no connection with nature; this lack of connection causes humans to abuse the environment.

Hierarchy of value

1. God

2. Man

3. Woman

4. Children

5. Animals

6. Nature

This hierarchy of value demonstrates both sexism and speciesim; woman and nature are inferior to man.

An Example

Vandana Shiva, an Environmental Activist and Ecofeminist, shares an example to further the understanding of the relationship between women and nature.  In doing so, she draws a picture of a stream in a forest.  Shiva believes that this stream is unproductive since it is simply there.  Although the water from the stream is used by the women’s families and communities, it is not considered “productive” until engineers come in and generate hydropower from the stream.

Through this she illustrates how society views productivity, economic gain.  Shiva furthers this by stating that both women and nature are considered passive, “land” in which man owns.

 Toward an Ecofeminist Standpoint Theory: Bodies as Grounds

“We are a culture generally deaf to both our bodies and the rest of material life, deaf at an increasing cost,” (Slicer, 61).

“It is nonsense to assume that women are any closer to nature than men.  The point is that women’s reproductive labor and such patriarchal assigned work roles as cooking and cleaning bridge men and nature in a very obvious way, and one that is denigrated by patriarchal culture.  Mining or engineering work similarly is a transaction with nature.  The difference is that this work comes to be mediated by language of domination that ideologically reinforces masculine identity as powerful, aggressive, and separate over and above nature.  The language that typifies a woman’s experience, in contrast, situates her along with nature itself.  She is seen, and accordingly sees herself, as somehow part of it.  Although men and women both wear historically manufactured identities, in times of ecological devastation, the feminine one is clearly the more wholesome human attitude,” (Slicer, 52-53)

“The earth is not a woman, not a single body but millions,” (Gaard, 13).

 

Discussion Questions

1.)  In Slicer’s Standpoint section, it is stated that, “The claim of ‘epistemic privilege’ amounts to claiming that members of an oppressed group have a more immediate, subtle, and critical knowledge about the nature of their oppressions that people who are nonmembers of an oppressed group,” (50).  What do you think about this claim? Are members from the “superior” group unable to understand nature, or build the same connection oppressed groups have previously made?

2.) Slicer’s third section, analyzes Jane Smiley’s novel A Thousand Acres.  The connection of the female body and nature is evident throughout the piece, focusing on the relationship between three females and their father (Larry Cook).  In one section it says, “When Larry, like Lear, suddenly decides to divide his kingdom among his appropriately obedient daughters, it becomes painfully obvious that Ty has been dreaming of this sort of inheritance all along.  The women’s bodies, like the body of the land, come to matter, come to meaning—in this ancient patriarchal system of exchange,” (63).  How do you perceive this statement?  Do women have control of their bodies, or does the power go from the father to the husband (similar to the land)?

Videos

Ecofeminism and the Green Belt Movement http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DM0275Uqiho

Information on the Green Belt Movement http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/a.php?id=178

And Ecofeminist Perspective http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NQbMVyPzRg

Work Cited

            “Ecofeminism.” The Green Fuse/Topics. Web. 27 Apr. 2011.           <http://www.thegreenfuse.org/ecofem.htm&gt;.

“Ecofeminism.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 27 Apr. 2011.             <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecofeminism&gt;.

“Ecofeminism: Women and the Environment.” Feminist Majority Foundation. Web. 27 Apr.         2011. <http://www.feministcampus.org/fmla/printable-       materials/women_environment.pdf>.

“YouTube – Ecofeminism and the Green Belt Movement.” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. Web.    27 Apr. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DM0275Uqiho&gt;.

“YouTube – TEDxGrandValley – Julia Mason – An Ecofeminist Perspective.” YouTube –    Broadcast Yourself. Web. 27 Apr. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NQbMVyPzRg&gt;.

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Lawrence Buell

by Benjamin Bakker


Lawrence Buell

                Lawrence Buell was born in 1939 in a city and state unknown. Not much is known about his childhood or adolescence, although after he was born his parents lived in Malvern, Pennsylvania. His mother was a well-known cartoonist who created the cartoon Little LuLu. He was obviously a very smart man because eventually he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Princeton University in 1961 before earning his Ph.D from Cornell University in 1966. After his studies were through, Mr. Buell became a professor at Oberlin College before moving on to the same job at Harvard University in 1990.

Lawrence has held many posts at Harvard, including the College Dean of Undergraduate Education from 1992-96, and that lead to him being part of the first class of Harvard College Professorships, which is a now-annual award “created to recognize those especially dedicated to undergraduate teaching” at Harvard. Said Buell on the importance of the award: “To be recognized publicly for what one considers inherently most important in one’s professional life is by no means to be taken for granted, and I am very grateful…Never during my eight years at Harvard have I taught an undergraduate course that I didn’t enjoy teaching.” The award comes with support in the form of a semester paid leave, commensurate summer pay, or money to advance the recipient’s scholarly work.  Buell also eventually chaired the the Department of English and American Literature and Languages, and he is on the graduate committee for degrees in the study of American Civilization. He is currently the Powell M. Cabot Professor of American Literature at Harvard.

A large part of Buell’s professorship is the importance he puts on undergraduate studies. He is such an important factor in it that the Boston Globe and Harvard Crimson have previously asked for commentary on the matter. Buell puts such a large focus on the undergraduate part of studies that he consistently put more importance on it that other professors at larger universities. He was a main proponent in the idea of open, walk-in office hours for students.


Bibliography

1973: Literary Transcendentalism

1986: New England Literary Culture

1995: The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture (Harvard Press)

2001: Writing for an Endangered World: Literature, Culture, and Environment in the United States and Beyond (Harvard Press)

2003: Emerson (Harvard Press)

2005: The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and Literary Imagination

2006: The American Transcendentalists (Editor)

2007: Shades of the Planet: American Literature as World Literature

Much of his writing has lead to him becoming one of the leading authorities on Ecocriticism, as he is widely called “the pioneer” of Ecocriticism. His most widely acclaimed book is Emerson, which was published on the eve of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 200th birthday. This book went on to win the Brooks-Warren Award, an award given to outstanding literary criticism.

Awards

2001: John G. Cawelti Award for best book in the field of American Culture Studies (Writing For An Endangered World)

2003: Warren-Brooks Award for outstanding literary criticism (Emerson)

2007: Jay Hubbell Medal for Lifetime Achievement in American Literary Studies

Some of the courses Lawrence teaches at Harvard include history of American Culture and Literature, and he has an interest in “environmentalist discourses, issues of cultural nationalism, and comparatist approaches to American Literary Study.” His area of expertise is the 19th century, particularly the antebellum era. The antebellum era in the United States refers to the pre-Civil War era, most specifically after the American Revolution and after the establishment of the U.S. as a soverign state.

Links

1)      http://english.fas.harvard.edu/people/faculty (Faculty Page at Harvard)

2)      http://www.symbiosisonline.org.uk/Buell.htm (A review of The Future of Environmental Criticism)

3)      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nW8D49VQB8Q (Video of him talking about his most recent work)

4)      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Lulu (His mother’s cartoon series)

5)      http://www.amazon.com/Lawrence-Buell/e/B001IXQ070 (Buy his books)

6)      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecocriticism (Ecocriticism page)

Discussion Questions

1)      In reference to his book The Future of Environmental Criticism, Buell claims that he uses that term instead of Ecocriticism as a way to use “strategic ambiguity” which distances his work from a “cartoon image” of the field “no longer applicable today, if indeed it really ever was.” What do you suppose he means when talking about the “cartoon image” of Ecocriticism?

2)      In the beginning of Chapter 5 on page 128, Buell lists four challenges that face environmental criticism. The fourth challenge he lists is “the challenge of establishing the significance beyond the academy.” Then on page 132, he poses the question of “how much will environmental criticism in literary studies matter to those outside its own disciplinary cloister, let alone to the lay world outside the academy?’ He states that teachers are doing an “exemplary” job in “breaking down classroom walls to send students into the field.” Do you agree with his statement? Or do you think that more could be done?

3)      In Chapter 2 on page 56, Buell states that “science fiction has taken a long time to win much respect from academic critics, including ecocritics.” He says that the reason is because some people think of it as “pop stuff,” not serious stuff. Why do you suppose that is? Does it even matter if science fiction gains the respect of ecocritics and others alike? What are some of the possible connections between science fiction and ecocriticism?

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Terry Tempest Williams

by Katey Parrott

Terry Tempest Williams

Born: September 8, 1955 in Corona California

Lived through “The Day We Bombed Utah” as a child. Seeing the connection between the bombing area and rise in cancer patients sparked her passion for environmental writing, which led to her to believe the bombing also exposed her family to cancer. Terry’s grandmother, mother, six of her aunts had mastectomies done, and her grandfather and brother even died of cancer.  She goes in depth about her family history in her book Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place.

In her writings, she mostly focuses on the changing environment, people changing because of the shifting environment. She is an advocate of preserving wildlife; she is currently the Annie Clark Scholar in Environmental Humanities at the University of Utah. She has served on the Governing Council of the Wilderness society, and was on the western team for the President council for Sustainable Development.

It is also said when Bill Clinton declared the new Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument he held up Testimony: Writers of the West Speak on Behalf of Utah Wilderness and said, “This made a Difference.”  She personally edited the book composing of twenty writers she asked to state their case on why wildlife mattered.

She currently lives in Wilson, Wyoming and Castle Valley, Utah with her husband.

Quotes:

            “I believe every woman should own at least one pair of red shoes.”-Refuge

“Finding beauty in a broken world is creating beauty in the world we find.”

“The Eyes of the Future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time.” –Red

“Our kinship with Earth must be maintained; otherwise, we will find ourselves trapped  in the center of our own paved-over souls with no way out.”-Finding Beauty in a Broken     World

The Clan of One-Breasted Women:  “The price of    obedience has become too high”

“The evidence is buried”

Awards:

  • Robert Marshall Award-Wilderness Society (2006)
  • Distinguished Achievement Award-Western American Literature Association
  • Wallace Stanger Award-Center of American West
  • Lannan Literary Fellowship
  • John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship
  • National Wildlife Federation Conservation award for special achievements

Books:

  • Finding Beauty in a Broken World (2008)
  • Illuminated Desert (2008)
  • The Open Space Of Democracy (2004)
  • Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert (2001)
  • Leap (2000)
  • New Genesis: A Mormon Reader on Land and Community (1998)
  • Writers of the West Speak on Behalf of Utah Wilderness (1996)
  • Great and Peculiar Beauty: A Utah Centennial Reader (1995)
  • Desert Quartet: An Erotic Landscape (1995)
  • An Unspoken Hunger: Stories from the Field (1994)
  • Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (1991)
  • Coyotes Canyon (1989)
  • Between Cattails  (1985)
  • Pieces of White Shell: A Journey to Navajoland (1984)
  • Secret Language of Snow (1984)

Videos:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUn4IuOHrRU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfmrFkpgE2Q

Discussion Questions:

  1. Although the majority of Williams family was sick and she knew the key reason for it she still stayed in Utah. Do you think she would have moved if she had children?
  2. She talked of women in her dream passing the nuclear test line into the town of Mercury, do you think this dream inspired her to cross the line too?

Works Cited

Barclay Agency, Steven. “Terry Tempest Williams :: The Steven Barclay Agency.”  Steven Barclay Agency. 2009. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <http://www.barclayagency.com/williams.html&gt;.

Bunton, Simmons. “Interview with Terry Tempest Williams : Terrain.org.” Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments : Issue No. 27 : Entropy. 2010. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <http://www.terrain.org/interview/17/&gt;.

Reporter, Book. “Author Profile: Terry Tempest Williams.” Bookreporter.com. 2002. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <http://www.bookreporter.com/authors/au-williams-terry-tempest.asp&gt;.

Tempest, Terry. Terry Tempest Williams: Coyote Clan. 11 Apr. 2001. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <http://www.coyoteclan.com/&gt;.

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Sandra Steingraber

Sandra  Steingraber

Ecologist, author, and cancer survivor

by Cody Jakubowski


Sandra Steingraber is currently a scholar in residence in Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York. She is recognized for her ability to serve as a two-way translator between scientists and activists.  She has testified in the European Parliament, before the President’s Cancer Panel, and has participated in briefings to Congress and before United Nations delegates in Geneva, Switzerland. She has lectured on children’s environmental health issues on college campuses, at medical conferences, and before the parliament of the European Union. She serves on the board of the Science and Environmental Health Network and is currently a distinguished visiting scholar at Ithaca College in New York. The Sierra Club has heralded Steingraber as “the new Rachel Carson.” In 2001, Chatham College (Carson’s alma mater) chose Steingraber as the recipient the Rachel Carson Leadership Award. In 2006, Steingraber received a Hero Award from the Breast Cancer Fund and, in 2009, the Environmental Health Champion Award from Physicians for Social Responsibility, Los Angeles.

When an interviewer asks about the inspiration she has received from Rachel Carson, Steingraber responds:

Carson is my guiding spirit. Like her, I went through an existential crisis in college over whether to study creative writing or biology, and like her I ended up doing both for awhile (I have a Ph.D. in ecology and a master’s degree in poetry) and finally brought the two together in my life as a full-time science writer. Like Carson, I seek to seduce my readers through some pretty tough science by finding a language beautiful and compelling enough to honor the loveliness of the biological systems that I write about. But Carson is also a counter-model for me. I write autobiographically about my own cancer diagnosis whereas she kept that part of her life a secret from her readers.

Her book, Living Downstream, an analysis of what is known and unknown about the relationship between environmental factors and cancer, is in works to take on a new life as film.

“I’m so pleased that the book will have another life in a different medium. I hope it will reach people who live in many of the toxic communities where I am invited to speak and who may not have a bookstore—as my hometown does not—to make this information available.

As for me, I’m actually in the film itself. Yikes. I’ve learned to be demonstrative as a public speaker at the podium, but privately I tend to be very interior. It’s a Midwestern quality I guess. It’s actually stressful to me to express, as a speaking person being filmed, some of the emotive qualities that I’m able to find a vocabulary for as a writer. But I’m learning as we go.”

References:

http://steingraber.com/bio/

http://www.bioneers.org/conference

http://www.ecoliteracy.org/essays/i-am-child-who-does

http://www.terrain.org/interview/20/

Discussion:

In filling out medical intake forms, what are your thoughts or experiences with regard to the “presumption that what runs in families necessarily runs in genes.”?

Do you feel any strain when choosing a level of environmental involvement and activism? Do you have any personal experiences you are aware of that contribute to an increased or decreased desire to be environmentally active?

Steingraber uses her creative and literary talent to promote an environmental message which she supports with statistics and scientific facts in the same way Rachel Carson did. What do you think of this method of environmental activism?

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Blacks in National Parks?

Lack of Blacks at National Parks Worries Ranger

ABC News / By ERIC HORNG

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif., Aug. 16, 2009

Shelton Johnson at Yosemite

America’s national parks have a quiet power and an arresting beauty, but to Yosemite National Park Ranger Shelton Johnson, they also speak the truth.

“They tell the story of us as Americans,” Johnson said. “They tell the story of ourselves as human beings, in this world, on this planet.”

Johnson is one of the country’s few African-American park rangers, and his is a rare face of color at Yosemite because less than 1 percent of visitors to the national park in California are black.

“There’s not a shortage of African Americans at Disneyland or Disney World,” Johnson said. “But when you visit these wild places, like Zion and Arches and Yellowstone, that’s when you start seeing less cultural diversity.”

Johnson, 51, said he would like that to change, but he believes the disconnect between blacks and nature has deep roots. Slavery, he said, forever altered how African Americans view natural lands.

“There’s actual pain, physical and spiritual pain, tied to working the earth,” Johnson said. “There’s just been this gradual loss of connection with the natural world.”

The stirring canvas of Yosemite is in stark contrast to inner-city Detroit, where Johnson grew up. He never dreamed he would become a park ranger until he visited Yellowstone National Park as a young man.

“It was so beautiful, it didn’t feel that it could be real,” he said of the park, which is located in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. “Inner-city environments have the power to be very self-contained, and unfortunately they can also contain even one’s dreams.”

Johnson became a park ranger in 1987. Today, he’s more than just a guardian of Yosemite. He’s a keeper of its history.

To park-goers, he tells of the Buffalo Soldiers, a group of black cavalrymen who in the late 1800s were charged with protecting Yosemite. They were in essence some of America’s first park rangers.

“When [the Buffalo Soldiers] were here, the park was in its infancy,” Johnson said. “African Americans are right at the beginning of the whole idea of national parks.”

Johnson is featured in a new PBS documentary on national parks from acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns, and he and Burns have traveled to inner-city schools to spread the documentary’s message of diversity.

But Johnson’s is just one voice, and his hope is that other African Americans will take up the cause.

Studies and surveys show that visitors to the nation’s 393 national parks — there were 285.5 million of them in 2009 — are overwhelmingly non-Hispanic whites, with blacks the least likely group to visit. That reality has not changed since the 1960s, when it was first identified as an issue. The Park Service now says the problem is linked to the parks’ very survival.

“If the American public doesn’t know that we exist or doesn’t care, our mission is potentially in jeopardy,” said Jonathan B. Jarvis, who took over as director of the Park Service last year. “There’s a disconnect that needs addressing.”

The Park Service does not log attendance numbers at individual parks by race or ethnicity. But in a comprehensive survey it commissioned in 2000, only 13 percent of black respondents reported visiting a national park in the previous two years. That compared with 27 percent for Latinos, 29 percent for Asians and 36 percent for whites.

“If Oprah Winfrey is recreating in a national park, or if it’s Snoop Dogg, then that is actually sending a message that this is an environment that is also for us,” Johnson said. “Whenever we visit a national park, we’re all going home. We’re all tying into our roots.”

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