Some final comments from my interview with Kim Hill:
‘It’s a very defeatist way of looking at things, and I don’t buy it!’
‘Please make him stop! He’s such a defeatist!’
‘So, the answer is don’t care? Do whatever?!’
A lot of people who advocate for novel ecosystems and new approaches in ecology and our understandings of nature and the environment are labelled as defeatist. We’re losers; quitters. But again the very notion of defeatism shows just how one-sided the conversation has been to date. A lot of people really do have the belief that there is only one way of seeing in this space and that it would be unacceptable to consider different views.
You often get this quite conceited assertion from New Zealand ecologists, in particular, that you’d have to be ignorant to think differently about many species or ecosystems – something that I personally find quite remarkable.
The science writer Emma Marris wrote a very good article for the journal Nature back in 2009 on the values of novel ecosystems. In it, she interviewed a young PhD student, Joe Mascaro, who was studying novel ecosystems in the forests of Hawaii at the time. She wrote that:
‘Standing in his Hawaiian forest, Mascaro is all too aware of change – it is something he values, even if humans did have a hand in the process. He never swore allegiance to preserving ecosystems as they were before humans arrived, as many conservationists of an older generation did.
And she quoted him as saying:
“People come up to me and say ‘it sounds like you’ve given up,’’’
To which he responds:
“I want to say ‘I never took up arms, my man’. This isn’t about conceding defeat; it is about a new approach” (in Marris, 2009).
That approach, I would add, is informed not only by an affection and respect for native species, but also for the thousands of species that we’ve introduced and that we also have a responsibility for in this country. It’s an approach that’s informed by a genuine appreciation that the environment in New Zealand has fundamentally changed since people arrived and will not be able to be restored now.
New Zealand’s biodiversity is going to keep changing, but not all of those changes are necessarily bad. And we don’t have to look at people as the bad guys all the time. We have this incredible diversity of life in New Zealand that’s being derived, like our human communities, from all around the world. All of our ecosystems, whether native or novel, are completely unique and all of the species within them – both native and introduced – have fascinating ecological and social histories that deserve to be celebrated
I’d put it to you that some of the ways that we’ve come to understand our environment in New Zealand don’t serve us well anymore. Many of our attitudes toward wildlife now come across as excessively blinkered, old-fashioned and inaccurate. That’s why I think we need to start thinking a whole lot less about how wildlife was in the past and a whole lot more about how it could be in future.
For me, that future is going to be diverse, vibrant, and full of novelty and surprise. It’s going to be characterised by constant change, reassembly and reinvigoration. Ultimately, I see it as Historian Erik Rolls saw it back in 1981, as:
‘feral, mongrel, hybrid nature, nature stirred up, nature [actually] enlivened by [our] human presence [and influences]’.
Featured image © Flickr