Author talks nature

Keefe Watson and Keefe Watson

This year’s Earth Week featured speaker and former park ranger Jordan Fisher Smith, an author of a number of nonfiction books about humanity’s role in nature. In addition to reading a chapter from his most recent book titled “Engineering Eden,” he spoke to students, faculty and community members about environmental studies, population awareness and alternative facts.

Smith’s most recent book tells the true story of a death by a grizzly bear attack in the 1970’s Yellowstone park and the ensuing struggle to balance nature with humanity. Its full title gives a summary in itself: “Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight Over Controlling Nature.”

“I want us to see clearly, how things are really going with nature,” Smith said in his opening video Tuesday evening. “We have not succeeded in developing any level of independence from it.”

Smith spent time during Monday and Tuesday meeting with students in environmental studies courses; some of whom are pursuing degrees in the topic.

“I can think of no practical field more practical than this one,” Smith said. “It will be pointless to talk about economic growth in the middle of environmental catastrophe. There are no jobs on a dead planet.”

Smith studied environmental studies in the 1970s at the undergraduate level. He noted that this field of study was new then and is still relatively new today.

“The effects of the environmental crises can be measured in the biological and physical sciences, but their causes really lie in a knot of social, historical, economic, philosophical and religious factors-and race and notably gender,” Smith said.

Women throughout the world must be supported to claim control of their own bodies, including reproductive health and family planning. The issue of the environment and human population cannot be separated, he said.

“I write what’s called narrative nonfiction,” Smith said. “Narrative nonfiction tells a story the way a novel does – in vivid scenes with dialogue and other story-telling devices, except that you don’t get to make anything up.”

On the topic of fiction and nonfiction, Smith commented on the term “alternative facts,” brought up most recently by President Donald Trump’s aid Kellyanne Conway.

Smith looked into the term “alternative facts,” and found that in 1991 the Western Fuels Association and the Western Coal Association joined together and created the Information Council on the Environment.

“The intent of the new lobby was, and I quote, ‘Reposition global warming as a theory, not a fact,’ and ‘supply alternative facts to support the suggestion that global warming is good,’” Smith said.

With lobby campaigns such as this one, Smith understands why some people have, as he called it, the false belief that global warming is a theory and not a fact.

At the end of his lecture, Smith welcomed questions from the audience. One resident of Lucas County asked about the rampant killing of deer in her area, and what the right answer would be to control the deer population.

“It’s not an easy question,” Smith said. “One of the things about this book is it explores the whole issue” of deciding whether to let nature run its course or to intervene.

Smith enjoys talking to and with students, he said, as they are often more interested and motivated than older people.

“I want to incite some thinking about all these things, some questioning about all these things,” he said. “I want them to want to read this kind of writing; I’m not the only one who’s doing it.”

Other nonfiction environmental authors Smith suggests include Timothy Egan, Richard Preston, Barry Lopez, Terry Tempest Williams and Jon Krakauer.

Earth Week continues today with a screening of the 2012 documentary The Economics of Happiness at 7 p.m. in the Union theatre and tomorrow with a tree-planting event at 1 p.m. between the Carillon Place and Kohl Hall.