Monday December 04, 2017
The Enright Files on changing the way we think about the natural world
Our relationship with the natural world may be our most important, aside from our relationship with each other, yet it has become seriously out of balance. Humans have wrought enormous destruction to the environment, to other species and to the global climate in the name of progress and improving our quality of life. In this month's edition of The Enright Files, Michael speaks to three people who are changing the way we think about our relationship with the natural world, from one-on-one relationships with animals to the massive, unwieldy issue of our impact on a geological scale.
Brian Brett: Growing up as a "parrot among crows," androgyny and human-animal relationships
"We sort of almost emotionally and mentally morphed into each other. And so there was a real kind of bonding that actually might have been more interesting than a bonding between two different humans."
– Brian Brett, on his relationship with his parrot Tuco
Award-winning Canadian writer Brian Brett has a dog, as do so many of us. And he's well aware of the intelligence and uncanny psychic and emotional interspecies bond that exists between humans and dogs. But he forged an intense relationship over decades with another animal.
Brian Brett says he was born strange. He was born with Kallman's syndrome — a hormonal condition that left him biologically androgynous. That set him off on a lifelong exploration of what it means to be "Other". Neither female nor fully male, but — Other. People who look unusual. Outsiders and outliers. And non-human creatures.
For 25 years, he made that journey into the heart of otherness with an African grey parrot called Tuco — named after the ornery, but comical bandit in spaghetti western The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Tuco the parrot is by turns puckish, obstreperous, demanding, hilarious, cantankerous — and always lively. He became, in Brett's description, his spirit guide through the confusion of life.
In June 2016, Brian Brett visited The Sunday Edition studio to talk about his remarkable book: Tuco: The Parrot, the Others, and a Scattershot World.
Peter Wohlleben on The Hidden Life of Trees
"Our way of looking at nature comes from the age of enlightenment. Two or three hundred years ago, scientists began to look at nature like a big machine, without any soul, without any feelings. Within the last decades, we changed our view on animals... but why do we treat plants like second-class beings?" – Peter Wohlleben
After reading Peter Wohlleben's international bestseller, The Hidden Life of Trees, it's tempting to think of trees as the kinds of beings one might encounter in the enchanted forests of fairy tales.
Wohlleben writes of trees as having something approaching intelligence and sentience ... communicating with each other and with other forms of life.
They have their quirks and individual personalities. They patiently wait for decades for their chance to grow and claim their place in the forest canopy. They unfurl potent arsenals of chemical defences against pests and predators. They actively rear their offspring.
They're part of a dense resource-sharing network that crackles with communication through the soil. They acquire wisdom over centuries of standing firm, bending with the wind, and weathering storms, fires, disease and changes in the climate.
To paraphrase an adage beloved of some biologists, ecology isn't rocket science — it's much more complicated. And science is revealing a staggeringly complex web of life in the forest.
Peter Wohlleben spent two decades working for Germany's forestry commission — these days, he manages an old beech forest in the municipality of Hummel, about 40 kilometres from Bonn. His book, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, is published by Greystone Books.
Katharine Hayhoe on changing minds about climate change
Of all the issues confronting humanity, climate change may be the hardest for us to collectively wrap our heads around. It forces us to confront the impacts we're having on the natural world and suggests we need to fundamentally change the way we live.
Given the scale of the problem and what it asks of us, it's not surprising that a lot of people have been resistant to taking action — or even to believing that it's real.
And then came Donald Trump.
The U.S. President is committed to overturning former President Barack Obama's climate legislation. And climate science itself seems under assault in Washington. Trump himself has infamously mused that climate change is a hoax.
It's all contributing to an atmosphere of anxiety and even despair among those who feel climate change is perhaps the greatest peril facing civilization — and fears that Trump's most lasting legacy will be moving backwards on climate change.
It's why thousands of scientists demonstrated in the March for Science in Washington and other cities across the U.S. and the rest of the world last spring trying to convince the public and policymakers to take action.
Katharine Hayhoe is a Canadian who has become one of the most prominent climate scientists in the United States. She's the director of the Climate Science Center and a professor of Political Science at Texas Tech University.
She's also the host of a PBS online series called Global Weirding, and she's devoted herself to changing minds on climate change — particularly those of conservative Christians.
**The Enright Files is produced by Chris Wodskou.