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Liquid loss: Learning to mourn our companion species and landscapes

Dillon, Teresa

Authors



Abstract

“The world tells a big story: living arrangements that took millions of years to put into place are being undone in the blink of an eye.”[1]

In 2015, a team of biologists, zoologists and ecologists[2] published a paper that examined whether human activities are causing a mass extinction. Using “conservative assumptions”, they compared base rates of animal and species loss with previous extinction periods. Their analysis indicated that the current extinction rates of mammal and vertebrate species vastly exceed natural average background rates[3], their conclusion stating that the sixth extinction, the “biological annihilation” of species, was well on its way[4]. The opening quote, drawn from Tsing et al.’s edited collection ‘Arts of Living on A Damaged Planet’, refers to this death as the “undoing of living arrangements”, and while this ruin may not be even, or equally distributed, it does affect us all. For instance, pollinator communities critically impact agricultural systems, their decline disproportionately affecting the livelihood of subsistence farmers and local producers, whose goods sustain global food supplies[5].

Whether one chooses to consciously pay attention to such loss or not, what I would like to put forward in this short paper relates not just to the registration of this death as a statistic or number, but as a particular form of grief that is intuited at levels that go beyond the measurable and tangible.

Grief and mourning are considered as ‘natural’, legitimate processes through which loss becomes graspable. If we are to make the assumption that all life on earth is interconnected, and the loss of species through extinction is ‘felt’ on a human level, then the question arises, how do we legitimise the sorrow that accompanies such passing, without further complicating or pathologising such grief?

As homo sapiens we practise a myriad of funeral rituals that help us to come to terms with human kin death; we have developed complex post-death rituals, burial behaviours and remembrance symbols that can last generations. We have approaches, treatments and performances that dictate how we manage corpses that are governed and protected. We have developed theories on the impact of human bereavement, including models and coping mechanisms to recognise and guide us through it. If we are moving towards or returning to a more-than-human position, how then do we treat the loss of our fellow creatures with the same compassion? How do we begin to accept, cope with and understand the mourning that accompanies the loss of companion species and landscapes?

REFERENCES AND NOTES

[1] Tsing, Anna, Heather Swanson, Elaine Gan and Nils Bubandt. Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017, p. 1.

[2] Ceballos, Gerardo, Paul Ehrlich, Anthony D. Barnosky, Andrés García, Robert M. Pringle, and Todd M. Palmer, “Accelerated Modern Human-induced Species Losses: Entering the Sixth Mass Extinction” in Science Advances 1, no. 5 (June 2015), e1400253 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.

[3] Background rate is the rate at which species would go extinct without human activity.

[4] Ceballos, Gerardo, Paul Ehrlich, Anthony D. Barnosky, Andrés García, Robert M. Pringle, and Todd M. Palmer. “Biological Annihilation via the Ongoing Sixth Mass Extinction Signalled by Vertebrate Population Losses and Declines.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(30), E6089-E6096.

[5] IPBES. The Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services on Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production. S.G. Potts, V.L. Imperatriz-Fonseca, and H.T. Ngo (eds.). Secretariat of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, Bonn, Germany, 2016. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3402856.

Citation

Dillon, T. (2019). Liquid loss: Learning to mourn our companion species and landscapes. Screen City Biennial, 2,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 23, 2019
Online Publication Date Oct 1, 2019
Publication Date Oct 1, 2019
Deposit Date Mar 10, 2020
Journal Screen City Biennial
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 2
Public URL https://uwe-repository.worktribe.com/output/5633463
Publisher URL http://journal.screencitybiennial.org/2019/10/16/liquid-loss/#_edn1




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