The Instrumentalization of Nature

Luke (Ecocritique Reader), “Chapter 7: Marcuse and the Politics of Radical Ecology”

In Chapter 7, Luke explores Marcuse’s theories and influence on the New Left. Luke describes Marcuse’s criticisms of human social institutions, which he claims have negative impacts on human dimensions. Marcuse, in his writings, asserts that technology is a “form of social control and domination” (Page 143). This week’s readings highlight the theme of Instrumentalization, converting something into a tool utilized simply as a means to an end.

Here, the reading asserts that the increased use of technology has increased the human ability to have dominion over Nature. Luke argues Marcuse’s ideas on pacifying nature are more realistic than some modern ecologists. The reading underscores the importance of finding a balance in the utilization of natural resources, “since nature is a human construct in both theory and practice, truly non-anthropocentric society or post-technological economy is pure fantasy” (Page 150). This demonstrates Marcuse’s critical tone towards a more idealistic preservationist. Overall, the instrumentalization of nature is a vital component of our materialistic and modern consumer culture, it is near impossible to separate the delicate intricacies of the two.

Instrumentalism is the pragmatic view of using something as a tool or instrument to solve real problems. In the case of instrumentalism of Nature, Nature is used as the instrument to meet human consumptive needs. Natural resources are harvested for construction, food, energy, and technology. By using Nature as an instrument we are obliterating our constructions of a delineation between “nature” and “society”. Nature is at once as much a part of our production

system as we are a part of it. The instrumentalism of Nature has defined the past century. The chemical composition of Earth has been significantly altered at an unprecedented rate. Humans have harvested resources from all over the world. Ecological critics condemn this anthropocentric behavior while capitalist applaud it. The readings for the class have hinted that these forces are very delicate and intricately entwined.

Luke, Chapter 11: “On the Road to Marrakesh: A Politics of Mitigation or Mystification for Global Climate Change?”

In Chapter 11 Luke evaluates the political sphere of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. From the 1992 Rio de Janerio global summit to the 2015 Paris Accords it is clear that there is still significant discourse and disagreement over how to best combat this issue. The specifics of how to implement limits of GHGs and to what extent they need to be reduced has become a very polarizing topic. Luke claims there is still much to learn about climate change, however, once this knowledge is obtained it may be too late. Throughout the chapter, Luke talks about economic incentives and programs such as cap n trade. Will these alone be enough to curb increasing global surface temperatures and reduce GHG emissions – it is not likely. Luke’s evaluation of these policy instruments in order to combat the wicked problem of global climate change demonstrates that there is still significant disagreement about best use practices. In this context, policy instruments used to mitigate climate change are debated because they may reduce the capacity of environmental disruption, but at the compromise of real efficacy to maintain global production industries and the economy. Implementation of large scale instruments has a way of obscuring the feasibility of achieving policy goals. Sometimes the act of organizing to solve an issue can have more merit than the actual impact of any solution, which is where

mystification has been applied.

Pleistocene Park

This is a modern-day example that relates very much to our discussion of global climate change and the instrumentalization of Nature. Nitika Zimov and his father, Sergey manage Pleistocene Park in the arctic of Siberia in hopes of restoring a previous biome in order to slow the effects of global climate change. They utilize land use management in order to create a sanctuary for large mammals like bison, oxen, and even lab-grown wooly mammoths. While this may resemble something out of a sci-fi action movie, the motives are to conserve this permafrost swatch of the Arctic. This demonstrates instrumentalization because the policy and action of preserving this tundra as a sanctuary for these animals is an agent for hopefully slowing the effects of climate change on this region.

Stubberfield, “Chapter 2: Building the Laboratory: Instrumentalizing the Greater Sage-grouse in Wyoming”

Stubberfield’s chapter illustrates this concept of instrumentalization within the context of Wyoming’s Greater Sage-grouse population. The greater sage-grouse was going to be listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2010 because the bird population was declining due to habitat fragmentation and anthropogenic activity (page 59). However, this designation would also require the State to restrict development across a large portion of land (page 60). Such restrictions would have been a disruption to Wyoming’s economic dependence on extractive industries, so they used the Core Area Protection (CAP) strategy as an avenue for addressing the  

problem. This policy framework was an instrument to restructure authority over the landscape, from Federal conservation legislation to Wyoming’s own reterritorialized management zones (page 64-65). It is a way for the State to balance its financial and ecological interests by establishing a mitigation credit economy, which in turn authorizes the development of technonatural lands (page 65). Wyoming still allows 5% surface disturbance within their Primary Habitat Management Areas, and gives developers the option to restore the habitat on-site, or create a new one adjacent to their operations (page 78-79). The policy instruments used to justify production in ecologically sensitive areas still place environmental conservation within a commodified context and allows the State to elude federal land management designations.

John Todd – The Ecological Design Revolution | Bioneers

Human intervention in ecosystems, as with the Wyoming case, are not always a detriment to environmental health. Biologist, John Todd, speaks on his ecological design work which has powerfully restored various landscapes into thriving habitats, successful water filtration systems, and opportunities for social growth. The (Agricultural) Eco-Industrial Park he advocates for is a great example of instrumentalizing an existing network of businesses (or farmers) to sustain a new form of economy that is local and interdependent. Todd also explains a production process in which low value materials, for example brewery waste, are combined with an instrumentalized organic component, like quality manure, to increase the waste’s value. In a world where anything can be commodified, this seems like a good way to re-evaluate the capabilities of natural elements and their monetary yield.

Student bios:

Emma Wilson is a Junior at the Virginia Tech Honors College, studying Environmental Policy and Planning. Emma loves hiking, trail running, and playing lacrosse. Emma is passionate about spending time outdoors and environmental resource conservation! A fun fact about Emma is that she has broken both of her arms.

Amariah Williams is a senior in the Smart and Sustainable Cities program; she has a minor in landscape architecture and enjoys her positions within various Tech organizations, such as the IAWA. In her free time, she likes to decompress with a nap, activities in her sketchbook, a puzzle, or a bike ride if the weather is nice.