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Beavers and Media Theory

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 21, 2018

In this short gem of an article for Wired, Virginia Heffernan connects the ecological transformation of the pre-human Americas by beavers to Marshall McLuhan…and then to climate change.

Having gnawed their way across the Bering Land Bridge with their iron-glazed teeth, beavers by the tens of millions straight-up built North America. They worked like rodent Romans, subjugating the deciduous forests with formidable infrastructure: canals, lodges, dams that can last centuries, and deep still-water pools used to float building materials. By clear-cutting trees and blocking streams, the nocturnal, semiaquatic creatures also damaged the environment in some of the same ways humans do. Much later, beavers unexpectedly became the toast of a rarefied academic circle at the University of Toronto, where they inspired, of all things, media theory.