From Guilt to Aspiration

Posted on September 15, 2011

Science, guilt and romantic fiction.

These are the three pillars on which much of the visual culture and narrative of conservation and environmentalism has been built over the last century according to a paper presented by Dr Joe Zammit-Lucia at St Anthony’s College, Oxford on the occasion of a European Society for Environmental History conference.

According to Zammit-Lucia, over the last century, three main elements have come to dominate environmentalism: the romantic representation of a ‘nature’ unsoiled by human intervention; the ‘documentation’ of the damage that humans are wreaking on this ‘nature’; and the celebration of conservation science as the true path towards protecting or re-constructing the romantic ideal.

“This narrative has created what has become an outdated and counter-productive dichotomy of conflict between the Human and the Natural” said Dr Zammit-Lucia. Quoting from a paper in a learned conservation journal where conservation was defined as “the protection of nature from humans”, he argues that “This continued pitting of people against nature is causing progress to stall or even regress. It represents nothing short of political suicide.”

Zammit-Lucia showed how it may be possible to build powerful links between the human and the non-human without invoking the traditional concept of a separate ‘nature’. “We are still struggling to find a narrative that gives people something to aspire to rather than things to fear or feel guilty about.”