Being (almost) eaten alive can make you a diehard environmentalist

Becca Cudmore writes: In his Oscar acceptance speech, Leonardo DiCaprio said, “Making The Revenant was about man’s relationship to the natural world.” Perhaps the film’s most gripping illustration of this was when a grizzly bear nearly mauls DiCaprio’s character, an American fur trapper, to death. To be eaten by a predator, after all, may be the most apt display of man’s vulnerable state in nature. Onstage, DiCaprio evoked that vulnerable state, and made a forceful plea for global climate change action.

It turns out this isn’t the first time a near-fatal mauling has emboldened an environmentalist’s perspective. In 1985, the late philosopher Val Plumwood was nearly eaten by a saltwater crocodile. The harrowing experience inspired her to begin writing The Eye of the Crocodile, a series of essays posthumously published in 2012. In its first and most riveting piece, “Being Prey,” she explains how her critique of anthropocentrism — the idea that humans stand apart from nature — became palpable.

Plumwood was paddling through Australia’s Kakadu National Park in a 14-foot canoe in search of an Aboriginal rock art site. The hours passed, rain mounted, and she had found herself deep in a channel surrounded by steep mud banks and snags. When a sandy bar caused her to stop completely, she stepped out of the canoe and recalled how park owners had warned her of crocodiles hunting at the water’s edge. She paddled back into the main current and, rounding a bend, “saw in midstream what looked like a floating stick.” As the current moved Plumwood farther forward, “the stick developed eyes.” As the animal struck the canoe, she instinctively leapt onto the bank, into the lower branches of a paperbark tree. “But before my foot even tripped the first branch, I had a blurred, incredulous vision of great toothed jaws bursting from the water,” she writes. [Continue reading…]

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