Poetry News

Global Warming Is Caused by Desire: Talking With James Sherry at BOMBLOG

By Harriet Staff


Over at BOMBLOG, we're delighted to see a conversation with James Sherry about his most recent work, Oops! Environmental Poetics, out late 2013 with BlazeVOX. Zoe R. Panagopoulos gets right to the heart of it:

Oops! Environmental Poetics addresses poets, ecologists, politicians, environmental scientists, and anyone else concerned by climate change. But don’t go stuffing your ears yet in anticipation of the dreaded term, "global warming." This book isn’t your average finger-pointing, guilt-inducing publication about landfills and green energy; it’s a proposed set of concepts and theories for overriding an age-old way of thinking that’s informed the system for too long. It’s a series of suggestions for maintaining "connectedness," not a list of bills that Congress should be passing. It’s a poem and an essay and a far cry from An Inconvenient Truth. Sherry proposes a new thesis on the front of global warming: that it is caused by desire.

They talk about the various forms and methodologies employed in the book's construction, as well as its potential audience, environmental poetics, and...sexual reproduction, among much else. A great excerpt:

ZRP You draw much attention to the roles of “highly productive individuals” and how they directly and indirectly influence us. How must those roles change in order for an environmental culture to sustain itself?

JS This may be the most important question for changing how people view the biosphere. We have been duped into thinking that all this competition is really going on [between highly productive individuals]. But if you in fact look at how these highly productive individuals interact, they are not competing; they are working closely together; coopetition is their phrase. They are creating scenarios that they will benefit from in the future. They are promoting the public idea of competition in order to set one person against another, one group against another to weaken those groups and make individuals more brittle. But that’s not in fact how they work, and it shouldn’t be the way we work.

We as intellectuals are concerned about education, but in fact the greatest threat to humanity is the mis-education our children—including those of the rich and powerful—receive that is rooted in competition, or the adult support of it in sports when all sport is really collaborative and rules-based. After WWII corporate leaders viewed their role as stewards of American prosperity. But gradually the resurgence of conservative ideology driven by those oligarchs and their captive mouthpieces, young people now think interaction in the world is about competition. Everything turns competitive. Oops! tries to show that most interactions are not only cooperative or commensal, but that evolution itself is more about mutual aid than competition. In fact, competition in nature and in culture only really relates to reproduction. Human inference has spread competition all over society. We look at so many things in terms of sexual reproduction for which it’s really an inappropriate metaphor.

ZRP Sexual reproduction seems to be one of the primary means by which you remind us as humans of our connections to animals.

JS Bi-parental sex is really a response to risk in ecosystems. As risk increases, sexual competition becomes more important. As risk decreases, sexual competition becomes less important. If you look at animals, they compete heavily during rutting periods, fighting for mates and the like, but the rest of the time there’s virtually no fighting or competition going on among them. If you look at other organisms that don’t use bi-parental reproduction but rather have a single sex reproduction, you can see how competition disappears almost entirely. And for those organisms, you don’t always have clear species lines. But the most interesting example is among those organisms who could be either single parent or bi-parental. In those cases where there are a lot of parasites in the environment, they tend toward bi-parental reproduction. But in the case where there are fewer parasites, that is, a less risky environment, then they tend to have a single parent reproductive process. Think also of risk and queer theory.

So how can we overcome our own cultural bias toward projecting sexual reproduction throughout social interactions? Competition is an outlier and of increasingly little use as human overpopulation dominates ecosystems. We can compete for fewer and fewer resources, or we can realize that cooperation and symbiosis represent the core of our relations in society and in our interactions with the biosphere.

ZRP Oops! calls fault to society lacking a true “environmental culture,” claiming that achieving such requires a “contemporary cast.” Do you feel that this up and coming generation (which includes your son—and me) is equipped for that task?

JS The cause of global warming is desire. Young people are more aware today and can transform that desire. To implement these changes they are going to have to start looking around them to see what it is they must do, heads up. As environmental degradation increases, people’s view of their world will increasingly focus on how they understand nature. In that way, nature becomes socially constructed. Instead of seeing the world through a Chaucerian lens where we identify ourselves through our role or job—the knight, the squire, the priest—we are starting to separate socially by how we view nature. The entrepreneur sees the world as a skills-controlled cornucopia. The hermit sees it as a freely available cornucopia. Nature has unlimited resources for the physicist since matter can be neither created nor destroyed, while the ecologist sees resources as limited. Michael Thompson has several interesting essays on this topic and I cite his work in Oops!.

Think about how you might view nature differently depending on what you do. As a writer you might see the world differently than you do as a woman. Accepting inconsistency in our world view is consistent with how nature operates. The fixed rules are few and the optional formations many. Your identities in environmental terms are built from components: the intermediate organizations that define you as much as your inherent/natural self.

Read more where that came from at BOMBLOG.

Originally Published: February 25th, 2014