The Environmental Manifesto

This post was developed and authored by Megan Wiessner, M.Sc.

Core texts

Summary

These three short texts all raise questions about apocalypse, hope, and culture change, and might serve as a starting point for inviting students to explore their own fears around climate change as well as what kinds of cultural change they hope to see. As different as these manifestos are, each makes extreme claims about the value of optimism or pessimism, and each comes from authors with similar positionalities. After an initial conversation, they might be complicated with the less polemic and more complex viewpoints of other authors writing from within ongoing environmental catastrophes:

  • Komunyakaa, Yusef. “Dark Waters.” In The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity, and the Natural World, edited by Alison Hawthorne Deming and Lauret E. Savoy, 1st ed., 98–112. Minneapolis, Minn.: Milkweed Editions, 2002.
  • —–. “The Millpond”, “Venus Fly Trap”, and “Poetics of Paperwood.” From Pleasure Dome: New and Collected Poems. Middletown: Wesleyan U.P., 2004. Komunyakaa’s poetry and his reflection on his hometown of Bogalusa, Louisiana draw connections between environmental degradation and racism, offering a sort of alternative “nature writing” about what it was like as a child growing up in a deeply toxic environment.
  • Whyte, Kyle P. “Indigenous Science (Fiction) for the Anthropocene: Ancestral Dystopias and Fantasies of Climate Change Crises.” Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 1, no. 1–2 (March 2018): 224–42. Whyte reflects on how dystopic Anthropocene discourse obscures the reality of past and present catastrophe already experienced by Indigenous people in North America, and how their narrative traditions and notions of time in these traditions differ from dominant discourses.
  • Gómez-Barris, Macarena. The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives. Dissident Acts. Durham London: Duke University Press, 2017. Suggested Selections: Introduction pp. 1-8, Chapter 3, pp. 66-83, Ch 4. Gómez-Barris highlights the work of filmmakers, artists, and environmental activists from South America, using the notion of “submerged perspectives” to describe the view from within landscapes of extensive environmental degradation, and the possibility of continued resistance to extractivism.
  • Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015.  Suggested Selections: Chapter 1, Arts of Noticing; Chapter 2, Contamination as Collaboration; Chapter 4, Working the Edge, 17-34 and 61-70. Tsing uses concepts like “salvage”, “contamination”, and “precarity” as tools for understanding economic and ecological entanglements as complex and irreducible to simple stories of progress or destruction.

Discussion & Essay Questions

  • What is the assumed end goal of environmental action (whether or not it is possible to achieve) in each manifesto? Is the goal to ensure the survival of humanity? Is it to save a way of life called “modern civilization”? Or is that civilization the problem, threatening the very possibility of other ways of life? Is it to preserve some intrinsic value in the earth beyond the human? If so, where and how does the author locate and define such value?  Identify the values and goals motivating the authors of each manifesto. Where do they overlap, and where do they diverge? Are there internal contradictions or unresolved questions?
  • Choose one manifesto and one supplementary text. Imagine what historical and geographical factors shape each author’s viewpoint. How would the author of the supplementary text respond to the manifesto you have chose? And how would the author(s) of the manifesto respond back?
  • Is there a moral responsibility to hold onto hope, or to let it go? Who gets to hold onto hope, and who gets to let go?
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