the environment — non-intervention is a form of intervention

This is it. Tomorrow I’m presenting my paper ‘Another Inconvenient Truth? Some Implications of the Biblical Doctrine of Providence for a Christian Response to Climate Change’. I’ve posted an outline on my resources page, which may help if you’re going to be there (I’ll probably post my complete paper afterwards too).

But I want to float an idea that’s not going to make it into my paper — which is already twice as long as it should be!

Byron (following Rowan Williams) reflects on the folly of the romantic notion of conservation. Beyond the fact that the attempt to absent ourselves from the environment (or parts of it) — e.g., by trying to wind back the clock or scrub out any trace of human intervention — leads to us abdicating our responsibility, I want to suggest that a genuine ‘hands off policy’ is actually impossible.

Just say you choose to protect and fence off an area of wilderness, or bait a tract of land to remove introduced species — two policies vigourously implemented by the good people of Australian Wildlife Conservancy (with seemingly beneficial result). This policy cannot succeeded in being ‘hands off’ or non-interventionist because it relies on human intervention — of course, we may feel that it’ll have better outcomes than unchecked development for example.

But in the end non-intervention simply is a form of intervention. A point made by one of my favourite poets, Wallace Stevens, in ‘The Anecdote of the Jar’:

I placed a jar in Tennessee, 
And round it was, upon a hill. 
It made the slovenly wilderness 
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it, 
And sprawled around, no longer wild. 
The jar was round upon the ground 
jarsAnd tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion every where. 
The jar was gray and bare. 
It did not give of bird or bush, 
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Once the jar — symbolising human presence — appears on the scene, nothing is the same. A network of significations anchored on the jar configures the landscape, constituting it as ‘civilization’ or ‘wilderness’ (no longer truly wild because under the sway of human signifying processes).

The question is therefore not ‘Should we intervene (or not)?’ but ‘What sort of intervention should we make?’

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