Jenna Witzleben

MFA Thesis Blog

This blog contains experiments, project and reading reflections, unanswered questions, and more relating to my year-long thesis as part of my Master's design program. From Sept. 2016 to May 2017, I explored rewilding human beings and the environments we inhabit at multiple scales including investigation around individual fears of nature, regional food production systems, and global overpopulation. The final works of this thesis can be found in my portfolio.

Rewilding Our Hearts

Rewilding Our Hearts by Marc Bekoff is another great book, with similar themes as JB MacKinnon's The Once and Future World.

Bekoff begins with the overall mentality shift that needs to happen for rewilding to be successful. Currently our practice of science and the general way we look at the natural world is very objective. But humans are subjective by nature and the subjectivity and emotional aspects of science need to be encouraged in our interactions. Having empathy should not warrant criticism. Bekoff argues, and I agree, that this shift not only will improve our connection to nature, but a more empathetic world can also improve our connections to each other.

This book takes a more general overview of rewilding, with few specific recommended changes including: reintroduction of large carnivores, increase in large roadless areas, and links between roadless areas. I appreciate Bekoff's specification that this is not a return to what was, but rather making room for other species and a more diverse ecosystem.

One of the topics covered within rewilding is a shift of language and terminology. We currently speak in a dichotomous fashion "humans vs. animals", "civilization vs. nature", etc. However, we are not so distinct - we are part of the natural world. And so therefore even the terms of nature, wild, and wilderness don't make sense as separate entities. We further try to separate ourselves from the fact that we eat other living beings by referring to "it" as opposed to "he/she", "bacon" as opposed to "pig", "what's for dinner" as opposed to "who's for dinner". Editing this manner of speaking can help us in our shift to reconnection and away from objectification.

This book enlightened me on the impact of overpopulation on rewilding and conservation efforts. Overpopulation leads to overconsumption which can lead to the extinction of other species. This sparked my thinking about designing to encourage single child families or designing for couples without children. This could be a whole thesis in itself.

The book is further sprinkled with interesting subtopics including:

- Unwilding and the impact of the schools and buildings we spend our days in

- Biophilic cities and their characteristics (green rooftops, native vegetation, reduced building spatial footprint, lights out campaigns, restrictions on reflective glass, restrictions on noise, nature corridors, etc.)

- Green Economies and how quantifying the cost of environmental and animal impacts can potentially help OR hurt (through further objectification) rewilding efforts

- How to appeal to different groups, particularly liberals vs. conservatives and the modalities that each relate to. For example, liberals may be more persuaded by arguments around harm and care, and fairness and reciprocity, while conservatives tend to place higher value on group loyalty, authority and respect, and purity and sanctity.

Bekoff discusses some barriers to our ability to embrace rewilding, many of which deal with fear and discomfort. He notes that a lot of our biases and mindsets are driven by cultural stereotypes, often caused by inaccurate media portrayal. Our news channels, movies, and TV shows tend to either objectify animals and portray them as unindividualistic, and/or amplify the drama and fear around them. 

Finally Bekoff addresses the importance of personal individual action, which I am particularly interested in. He argues that "... personal rewilding is central to the process. Laws and public policy won't do it." Another great quote in this book is by Angaangaq Lyberth, a former Eskimo leader from Greenland. He says "In the north, we feel every day what you do down here. In the north the ice is melting. What will it take to melt the ice in the human heart?" Not only does this demonstrate the importance of compassion between humans and between humans and other animals, but to me it also indicates the importance of personal proximity and personal action. When we are close with our planet, and the other living creatures on it, we see first hand the impact of our actions. Each and every one of us needs to rewild so we can have this sensibility and intelligence.

Throughout this book there were many, many recommendations for other reading. I plan on adding the following to my reading list:

Humanity on a Tightrope

Spiritual Ecology

Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change

The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age

Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think


Jenna Witzleben