How disconnected from landscapes we have become. I was disappointed by the metaphors that former fire Chief Greg Mullins used when responding to the 2019 Australian fires.
He said, "The enemy is geared up ... it's like [the enemy's] suddenly got nuclear weapons." Mullins remarked that, "Climate change was the enemy."
This was echoed by another former fire Chief, Lee Johnson. He went further suggesting, "national military-style training" to deal with the, "locality of battles in a greater climate change war."
I absolutely applaud the efforts of firefighters and have personally worked beside them in the recent NSW bushfires. However, I never thought for one moment that we were at war with Mother Nature.
Indeed, as the Indigenous fire practitioner and author, Victor Steffensen says, "the only reason we are seeing all this degradation to landscape is not just because of climate change, but it's because of bad management."
Perhaps we should all ask the question that Ethan Gordon, PhD Candidate at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, did in his recent article, 'How Language Shapes our Landscape Decision Making.'
He says, "What is the consequence of treating ecological systems, that are in distress because of human actions, as if they are a nuclear enemy? To fight and destroy the environment is to fight and destroy ourselves. Human beings are in no way separate from the natural world ... this approach has narrowed foresight; no longer can we see the potential for ecological reconciliation. Instead, we only see the 'enemy.'"
Let's contrast these metaphors with those of Indigenous people. They speak instead of "fire knowledge holders" and "becoming part of country."
Note the difference in metaphor use. Is it any wonder that we haven't been able to 'close the gap' when there are such stark differences between our conceptualisations of nature.
According to Gordon, these differences in metaphor use reflect competing discourses. The former is born of colonialism, "and hence carries heavy militaristic symbolism."
He says, "This is not a reflection of the individuals who have spoken these words, so much as it is a reflection of a society still gripped with colonial power. This power dynamic is clear in the metaphors as they reinforce independence, specialisation and control. They align with common conceptual metaphors that shape western thinking on nature."
My own approach is to work with nature, and do my best to understand the lessons she imparts.
It is worth remembering that we need her more than she needs us. I will watch this so called 'battle' unfold. It is clear who will win in the end.
- Gordon, E., 2020, 'How language shapes our landscape decision making,' https://www.linkedin.com/in/ethan-gordon-0a403b164/
Lorraine Gordon is Southern Cross University's Director of Strategic Projects at the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance and Starting Farm Co-operatives and Collaboration Program.
She is also an Associate Director at Southern Cross University's Centre for Organics Research.