Listen Up! Temple University Press Podcast, Episode 6: Billy Brown on Exploring Philly Nature

This week in North Philly Notes, we debut the latest episode of the Temple University Press Podcast. Host Sam Cohn interviews author Bernard “Billy” Brown about his book, Exploring Philly Nature: A Guide for All Four Seasons, which provides a handy guide for all ages to Philly’s urban plants, animals, fungi, and—yes—even slime molds.

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About this episode

Bernard “Billy” Brown is a nature writer and urban herper—that’s someone who recreationally seeks out reptiles and amphibians. In this episode, he talks with podcaster Sam Cohn about his new book, Exploring Philly Nature, a guide to experiencing the flora and fauna in Philly.

This compact illustrated volume contains 52 activities from birding, (squirrel) fishing, and basement bug-hunting to joining a frog call survey and visiting a mussel hatchery. Brown encourages kids (as well as their parents) to connect with the natural world close to home. Each entry contains information on where and when to participate, what you will need (even if it is only patience), and tips on clubs and organizations to contact for access.

The city and its environs contain a multitude of species from the lichen that grows on gravestones or trees to nocturnal animals like opossums, bats, and raccoons. Exploring Philly Nature is designed to get readers eager to discover, observe, and learn more about the concrete jungle that is Philadelphia.

On the Future of Animals

This week in North Philly Notes, Wayne Gabardi, author of The Next Social Contract, argues that we need to adopt a more post-humanist and co-evolutionary outlook and relate to animals on more equal terms.

Like many people, I’ve been an animal lover my entire life. Yet it’s one thing to be involved with animals in a conventional sense and another to systematically research and reflect on how we understand other species of life, relate to them, and treat them. The academic field of animal studies and the animal advocacy movement have grown dramatically in the past few decades. This is due to the tragic plight of so many animals around the world today as well as to major advances in animal research and our knowledge of animals.

When I set out to write The Next Social Contract my goals were ambitious:

  • To develop a big picture approach to understanding animals;
  • To expand the scope of animal studies and focus on a broader range of human-animal relationships;
  • To devel
    op an ethical framework and political theory of how we should relate to and treat animals that goes beyond the animal welfare-animal rights debate; and
  • To explore some practical, community-level applications of what I refer to as a posthumanist and coevolutionary ethical-political philosophy.

I believe we have entered a new era in the history of planet Earth and humanity – the Anthropocene, or new human age – where modern civilization is radically altering the biosphere to such an extent that many animals are in big trouble. I identify four major battlegrounds that I believe are defining and will continue to define animal ethics and politics in this century and beyond:

  • Wild animals on the fast track to extinction;
  • Industrialized farm animals and the future of animal agriculture;
  • The crisis of our oceans and ocean life; and
  • The status of contact zone animals increasingly moving into human-occupied habitats.

One trend I discovered in my research is that most people relate to and evaluate animals through an anthropocentric mindset, even strong animal welfare and animal rights The Next Social Contract_smadvocates. The worthiness of animals are measured in human terms in relation to our attributes and capacities. The more human-like animals behave the more we value them. This is a major flaw in my view. We need to adopt a more posthumanist and coevolutionary outlook and relate to animals on more equal terms. Although they are different from us in many ways, they are also the same as us in many ways, and deserving of equal consideration as integral members of our community. We therefore need to negotiate a new social contract in human-animal relations. At the heart of this new compact is a rejection of the outdated belief that humans are categorically different from and superior to all other species of life and that this entitles us to use animals as instrumental means for our ends. We need to think of animals as members of our communities who we need to coexist with, not as fashionable accessories, alien invaders, objects of consumption, or less-than-human impediments to our unending colonial expansion.

As for the future of animals, I unfortunately am as pessimistic as I am hopeful. The modernization and human colonization of the planet will only intensify in the twenty-first century. As I conclude in the book, “the task before us is nothing less than a labor of Sisyphus.”

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