Ghost species and shadow places

Seabirds and plastic pollution on Lord Howe Island

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  • Published 20190203
  • ISBN: 9781925773408
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook
Runner up for the Bragg/UNSW Press Prize for Science Writing
Shortlisted for the Eureka Prize for Science Communication

I WANT TO walk the shadow places. These are sites of extraction and production: think coal-seam gas fields and their attendant communities, think eroded landscapes and marine dead-zones, think sweatshops – all the places from which we extract resources, or to which we outsource disorder, risk and pollution. They provide for our material comfort, yet in the words of philosopher Val Plumwood, they are places ‘we don’t know about, don’t want to know about, and in a commodity regime don’t ever need to know about.’[i] Is it possible to expand our responsibilities beyond care for home and the places we love, to the degraded, broken and overlooked?

The sparse plains of my own childhood in western New South Wales were marked by conflict, chain-clearing, water theft and suicide: all out of sight, out of mind for most of us. Perhaps that’s why I seek shadow places, walk scalded ground, touch dead trees, smell contaminated water, and discover how people cope, adapt and live with the slow violence of grinding ecological damage. My hope is to render vicarious experiences of the shadow places of the Anthropocene, and in this way, shed light on them.

When Val Plumwood conceived of ‘shadow places’, I’m not sure that Lord Howe Island was the kind of place she had in mind. It is a World Heritage site, an iconic paradise moored in the Tasman Sea, far from the destruction wrought by human industry. But I’ve come to follow researchers who are working in an ecological community under siege, who witness death and suffering each day. I’m exploring the plight of one species of bird, the ways in which million-year-old patterns of migration, courting, breeding and chick-rearing are being disrupted by human actions – a process environmental philosopher Thom van Dooren labels ‘wasted generations’.[ii]

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