How Language Influences our Perception & Treatment of Earth in the 21st Century Anthropocene

Victoria Llorens

Llorens AnthropoceneSource: sciencecircle.org

The written language allows us to better understand societies from days far past, and history and culture have been passed down through spoken word. Bringing in the sustainability side of things, I am interested in how we use language to describe the physical world around us and how that might shift as climate systems change. At this point when someone says the word “sustainability” they are trying to encompass such a broad concept that still has no real definition. I believe an inability to dialogue about climate change issues and solutions stems from a broader inability to connect. We are disconnected from the environment, from those around us through technology, and from precision of language. How can we work on these issues holistically to reignite a desire to be with Earth and leave her in better condition than the way we are heading?

A microcosm of my project comes from the name of Earth herself. In common speech and literature, even in works by environmentalists, people talk of “the earth.” Often they use this terminology not only when speaking of the physical ground but also the planet as a whole. We would never say “the mars” or “the victoria.” We subconsciously take ownership and dominance of the giving planet we are on when we objectify her. In The New Organon, Francis Bacon draws a connection between human’s capacity to understand particulars of language to obey and command it just as humans must, in his mind, understand nature to command and obey it.

In the 21st century we have surpassed a nature we can completely (or even at all) understand and manipulate. Human fault has pushed us into unprecedented territory. There is an uncertainty in our future uncommon since the holocene began. Changes happening in the span of one generation have not given language, which takes generations to develop, the time to catch up.

Many aboriginal and native cultures, more removed from the confines of western expansion, colonialism, industrialisation, and eradication, have somehow found the ability to retain thriving lifestyles in their simplicity. As humanity is faced with such questions as pinpointing the “we” of the anthropos, how can the lives, cultures, and languages of indigenous people guide us in redefining the good life and talking about a future we hope to imagine as prosperous?