Featured Blog: The Natural Patriot

Emmett is a Professor of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science. A marine ecologist by training, a lover of nature, and a committed environmentalist, he took on the name “Natural Patriot” because it better reflects what he (and many others) are about than the politically charged term “environmentalist.”

The Natural Patriot blog is dedicated to cultivating and putting to work a new and universal ideal of patriotism appropriate to the new millennium, one based firmly in reason and a deeply held moral of stewardship for our endangered homeland. This gives you a hint that Emmett thinks nature and conservation and politics are intimately linked. His blog introduction goes on to say that “What sets the Natural Patriot apart from the generic Patriot is a broader vision of the homeland, which includes not only the arbitrary nation of birth or the chosen nation of adoption but the entirety of this small, lonely planet and its interdependent web of life — unique in the known universe – on which rest squarely our own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.”

Reading a few of his posts should give you a good introduction to Emmett’s thinking and his passion on this subject.

Emmett, why do you blog?

I suppose I’m basically an exhibitionist. As a professor I’m also by definition a professional pedant, so I’ve developed a habit of talking at length and authoritatively about a wide variety of subjects, including those that I know very little about. But then, people like Glenn Beck have made whole careers of pontificating about subjects they know nothing about — and he’s caused a lot more damage than I have.

When I started I had delusions of grandeur about finding a sensible middle ground where conservatives and liberals could stop shouting past one another and work together toward creating and maintaining a sustainable society which is so obviously in everyone’s best interest. It hasn’t exactly worked out that way but I remain hopeful.

What do you like most and least about blogging?

What I like most is the hope, which might well be a fantasy, that something I say might influence or inspire someone to do something positive and significant for the world. I know it sounds corny. I also really like hearing from people who’ve enjoyed reading a post. I get that sort of feedback just often enough to prevent me from quitting. For a while there, the Reuters news website was linking to my blog posts every now and then – that was a major thrill.

One thing I dislike about the blogosphere is that it tends to be a echo chamber – you’re generally (certainly not always as I occasionally find out from comments) preaching to the choir. Conservatives read right-wing blogs, liberals read leftist blogs, and rarely the twain shall meet. But of course that’s increasingly true of media generally, and democracy is suffering form it.

Perhaps this is an appropriate point to make a confession: blogging doesn’t come naturally to me, which is one of several reasons (another being a very demanding day job) why weeks (OK, months sometimes) go by in complete silence, virtually speaking, nano-tumbleweeds drifting through the ethernet cable, or whatever it is that transports these signals in wireless mode. In reality I’m an old-fashioned essayist. If the truth be told, I prefer to read books made out of paper and talk with humans. Partly this is because I’m old enough to have grown up in a different world, one completely unfamiliar to many modern bloggers, where people wrote letters and waited days or weeks for them to arrive, and sat and talked in the evening without twitter or skype or cell phones or iPods or the internet. Nevertheless, here I am. Somehow.

Has blogging changed how you think about nature? or how you write?

I’m not sure that blogging has changed the way I think about nature, except in the same way that carrying a camera does – it burdens you with the consciousness that you could be snapping a picture (or composing a blog post) of this idyllic scene, such that you’re thinking of the experience in the third person rather than simply living zen-like in the moment and enjoying it. Sorry if that sounds negative.

Blogging has given me a lot more practice writing colloquially, more or less in the same idiom as speech. It also has the advantage (in principle at least) of quick feedback. This is quite a change of pace for a scientist, since we are accustomed to, and to a certain extent are even trained to, write in a precise but passionless form of stilted jargon that instantaneously puts readers to sleep. So learning to write in a more engaging way is a good thing.

How do you promote your blog and attract readers?

I’m more or less completely hopeless in that category. I do have a Facebook page, which I check maybe 3 or 4 times a year. Did I mention my day job . . .?

Is there a story behind the name of your blog?

I’m tempted to steal the answer that John Lennon gave with exquisite deadpan when asked by a reporter about the origin of the name “The Beatles”, that it came to me on a flaming pie.

Actually, the name Natural Patriot has a double meaning, which I sincerely hope will go viral and be adopted by the righteous green masses of the world as we sally forth to crush the forces of darkness advancing (in their haze of coal dust) against us. Heck, I don’t care if you even acknowledge me – go forth and multiply!

First, the name is intended to connote that love of and passionate dedication to preserving nature is a fundamentally righteous cause, indeed more so than the traditional concept of patriotism for one’s country. Really, what could be a more fundamental object of patriotism than Planet Earth?

Second, to be blunt, I got really sick and tired of the perversion of the noble idea of patriotism by conservatives during the Bush years, when it was used (and of course still is) essentially as a bludgeon against anybody that disagreed with the Dick Cheney/Bill O’Reilly view of the world. I wanted to rescue the hostage and return it to its rightful meaning.

Whoops, there I go getting sidetracked into politics again . . .

Do you feel you’re part of a community with other nature bloggers?

Not much, to be honest. I don’t have the time or energy to keep up with the firehose of content out there. I have, however, made several acquaintances online and developed some nice relationships.

Any words of wisdom for new nature bloggers?

Nature blogging is inherently paradoxical. Just keep in mind that it’s ultimately about the real world rather than the virtual one.

Anything else you’d like me to ask you, or that you’d like to volunteer without being asked?

The single most important thing: Nature as we have known it since the beginning of time is in serious danger. I recognize the problem of spreading anxiety and I don’t want to freak people out, but the fact remains. I want to urge everyone who cares about nature to dedicate yourself to real, substantive work toward a sustainable earth system where humans and some fraction of the nature we all love can live harmoniously for the long haul. This will not be easy but it’s the most important and ultimately most satisfying thing you can do. And your grandchildren will thank you for it one day.

Thanks so much for inviting me to this interview. It really is gratifying to know that people read the Natural Patriot. I can go another few weeks without quitting now. And do keep up the good work at NBN!