Welcome to the Anthropocene!
I'm looking across Lake Union at the Capitol Hill neighborhood and the downtown skyscrapers of Seattle. Its a swath of concrete and asphalt with the Cascade Mountains in the background. Over the past 160 years, as the city has grown, the collection of plants and animals living here has changed significantly as development has created winners and losers. The winners are the living things either brought here by human beings or those that find the new environment to their liking - organisms like dandelions, silverfish, English ivy, and bed bugs. Welcome to the Anthropocene, the geological epoch in which human changes to the earth have outpaced natural changes. Our efforts have significantly affected landforms, the atmosphere, and both fresh and salt water environments. We conceive of nature as existing apart from humans and human-constructed environments - something pristine. Yet, especially when we consider changes to the global atmosphere, no place on earth is untouched by human beings. Instead, I think there is something to celebrate in nature that finds a way to take advantage of human-made habitats. These are the weeds that colonize a vacant lot; insects that find their way into even the cleanest of houses; bacteria that cover every surface and have even adapted to living within us.
I'm an entomologist, with a long time interest in environmental issues and a recent educational foray into religion and ethics. This blog is a place where I intend to discuss the confluence of those interests.
I hope that learning more about our partners in the Anthropocene will foster an appreciation of them that will lead to greater respect. We often don't see, or even attempt to eliminate these fascinating organisms. In addition to discussing life associated with human-made environments, I want to consider how we relate to these animals and how they relate to each other. How we humans intervene in nature that surrounds us is a particular interest. To what extent is it right for us to interfere with their lives? Here, our discussion may veer into the realms of religion and ethics. It's my intention to write in a way that's accessible to all, but that doesn't sacrifice scientific accuracy. Throughout, the central figures will be the living things that are closely associated with us, who have found ways to get along and in some instances support us. I'll be talking about the finer points of ants, spiders, bacteria, weeds, and a variety of other small life that form the family of nature underfoot, our partners in the Anthropocene.