DISTANT NATURE
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INTENTION
It is challenging to write with conviction about ecology when I realise that the time I spent in Palestine changed my core understanding of environmental systems itself—I find myself questioning the hierarchic dualities of material within which we design, cultivate and live. I am compelled to question my previous perception of what Nature means and acknowledge the deep integration between the human-made and Natural world.

One might argue that to use the word integration with regards to pollution, contamination and waste disrespects initiatives that work to restore the earth to a state of ecological balance. My understanding is that until we legitimately acknowledge unnatural materials as parts of a complex, intimidating and almost-dystopic environmental system, we will not find solutions that create positive environmental changes. This is because they do not acknowledge how comfortable and acclimatized we are to abused, industrial environments1.

Furthermore, bringing social structures into this system further complicates matters; we must acknowledge that each individual has a different perception of an organic seed, a plastic bag, or a bottle of fertiliser2. How do we include such nuances within a conversation on ecology? How do we talk to children who have grown up in environments more plastic than not about clean rivers, virgin forests and pristine nature without alienating them?

I started to wonder how I might have a dialogue with farmer about their relationship to land. How would I do this without transposing my ideas of sustainability onto theirs, judging and negating what ideas might be different from my own?

Whilst I came to Palestine with the idea of mapping green initiatives and creating a database of ecological projects, it became apparent to me that—as in many other parts of the world—such instances are often reduced to selective places, often within cities, often within specifically urban social groups. It is not enough for a socioecological movement to remain within circles of privilege—they need to subvert boundaries of class, religion and economy. However, rather than critiquing the projects, the people or the initiatives, we need to instead question whether it is perhaps the methods that form the basis of these movements which are inherently noninclusive. Often, they are founded out of Global North perspectives that are culturally irrelevant, not relatable or perhaps simply perceived as boring3?

From the aesthetic of the gardens designed—colourful, wooden pallets—to the language used to describe them—local, organic, produce, community-space—to the techniques used to form the actual spaces—raised-beds, spirals, vertical gardens—I find that designers, community-activists, artists replicate and reproduce templates from one topographical zone to another without asking how we might instead create something from the specific landscape, the plants and the knowledge present around us, within the space we would like to work with. Whether in Ramallah, Bombay or Istanbul, the gardens I see unfortunately repeat themselves.

Not only is this contrary to the core ideals of permaculture and ecology but also dangerous. . Whilst it is true that problems addressed in communities are often global, the ways in which we approach them—transposing environmental design-interventions from one contextual landscape to another—disregards the nuances and subtleties present within different places. Such actions are contrary to my belief that ecology is formed out of local knowledge, out of temporal experiences of daily life and understandings of the natural and human world that are personal, subjective and particular. From a small instance, such as whether we compost our kitchen-waste or not to how we compost it; from what we do with the final decomposed organic matter to whether such infrastructure for biomass management exists, each action within our everyday lives is defined by cultural, socioeconomic, political and geographical settings present around and within us. 

1Of course, Industrial Ecologists have done this for many years; however, I believe that we need to bring this perspective beyond the realm of a specialized knowledge system to one that is more inclusive and accessible.

2These might seem like simple examples, but I intentionally start with small commonplace themes that lead up to larger, complex webs.

3What comes to mind as I write this is the numerous classes I took in Bombay with young adults on urban ecology. I found that they had been taught about nature in a way that made it a burden; something backwards and primitive that served no purpose beyond beauty, when landscaped in the right way


                                 
               




                                   

















                    


zdesouza@coa.edu  bio instagram