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Living Through the End of Nature

Living Through the End of Nature: The Future of American Environmentalism

Paul Wapner
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Living Through the End of Nature
    Book Description:

    Environmentalists have always worked to protect the wildness of nature but now must find a new direction. We have so tamed, colonized, and contaminated the natural world that safeguarding it from humans is no longer an option. Humanity's imprint is now everywhere and all efforts to "preserve" nature require extensive human intervention. At the same time, we are repeatedly told that there is no such thing as nature itself -- only our own conceptions of it. One person's endangered species is another's dinner or source of income. In Living Through the End of Nature, Paul Wapner probes the meaning of environmentalism in a postnature age. Wapner argues that we can neither go back to a preindustrial Elysium nor forward to a technological utopia. He proposes a third way that takes seriously the breached boundary between humans and nature and charts a co-evolutionary path in which environmentalists exploit the tension between naturalism and mastery to build a more sustainable, ecologically vibrant, and socially just world. Beautifully written and thoughtfully argued, Living Through the End of Nature provides a powerful vision for environmentalism's future

    eISBN: 978-0-262-26600-0
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Note on Photographs and Sources
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-33)

    A number of years ago I was talking to a friend about a philosophical problem. I emphasized how the issue had perplexed thinkers throughout the ages, and how the accumulation of thought over the centuries had only rendered the problem that much thornier. I urged her to appreciate the depth of the dilemma and take up the challenge of resolving it. Not ignoring my sense of purpose, she nevertheless turned to me at one point and said, “Paul, this is where you and I part company. At this stage in the discussion you look at the unresolvable nature of the...

  6. 2 American Environmentalism and Boundaries
    (pp. 35-51)

    Environmentalism is among the most noble and generous of social movements. It cares about the biological foundations of life, works to protect both present and future generations from ecological harm and environmental injustice, and extends its sense of care to the nonhuman world. Translating this sensibility into a political campaign has not been easy. Politics eschews complexity. In the heat of competing interests, actors and movements must find ways of simplifying their message—a requirement that calls on them to conceptualize their concerns in broad strokes and package their public outreach in digestible ways. Like other social movements, environmentalism does...

  7. 3 The Dream of Naturalism
    (pp. 53-77)

    When modern American environmentalism was emerging in the 1960s, many young people from the cities started moving out to the countryside. Disillusioned by the glitz of urban life, they built farms, grew their own food, and attempted to reconvene with nature. The back-to-the-land movement, as it became known, sought a way of cutting through the affectations of the times, digging below the surface of social cues, and discovering a deeper sense of self and life. In nature, the back-to-the-landers found what they thought was a route to more authentic living. Nature, in all its seeming purity and nakedness, appeared as...

  8. 4 The Dream of Mastery
    (pp. 79-105)

    In the 1960s, when the back-to-the-landers were reinhabiting farms and trying to align themselves with the rhythms of nature, millions more were giving up rural life for the excitement, economic promise, and cultural attraction of the city. To them, rural life meant a dismal existence in which one was tied to the land and subject to nature’s imperatives in an immediate sense. Rural livelihoods depended on winning resources from the earth; one’s days were measured by the amount of effort one exerted wrestling with the land. The new urbanites wanted none of this. Cities supplied a different kind of life....

  9. 5 The Great Vanishing: Into the Postnature World
    (pp. 107-131)

    One of the oldest dreams of politics is to rise above it. Politics is about power. It involves determining, as political scientist Harold Lasswell puts it, “who gets what, when, where and how” within a given community, and this is often an ugly business.¹ It is marked by competition, persuasion, and conflict as various groups fight to advance their interests and values. What an amazing thing it would be if we could ascend out of the bickering and horse-trading of politics, and order our collective lives according to principles that everyone would recognize and dicta that could be easily translated...

  10. 6 The Nature of Wilderness
    (pp. 133-167)

    Wilderness has long been dear to American environmentalism, and its preservation remains one of the oldest aims of the movement. Since the nineteenth century, when philosophers Emerson and Thoreau and wildlife enthusiast Muir lamented the disappearance of wilderness under the foot of industrialization, to the movement’s more modern expression in the twentieth century with the emergence of organizations such as the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, Wilderness Society, and Wildlands Project, the American environmental movement has been committed to protecting wildlife and wildlands from excessive human encroachment. The tradition continues today. Each year, environmentalists in the United States (and around...

  11. 7 The Nature of Climate Change
    (pp. 169-199)

    Climate change is the most profound environmental challenge humanity has ever encountered. It threatens not simply to harm parts of the earth or given groups of people but to undermine the very infrastructure that supports life on earth. Already, temperatures are rising due to the buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and there is evidence that this is leading to sea level rise, greater storm intensity, polar ice cap melt, and biological diversity loss.

    Climate change is so profound that many associate it with the empirical and conceptual ends of nature. When McKibben declared the end of nature...

  12. 8 Being an Environmentalist: Decisive Uncertainty and the Future of American Environmentalism
    (pp. 201-220)

    For decades, American environmentalists have seen the natural world under attack and taken up the charge of defending it from the exploits of humanity. Efforts to combat climate change, ozone depletion, loss of biological diversity, fresh water scarcity, and the like all reflect this sensibility. They express a commitment not to sit by and let humanity undermine the life-support system of the planet or otherwise degrade the natural world but rather to stand with nature and defend it from ecologically damaging assaults.

    As this book has documented, American environmentalism’s long-standing attraction to nature is coming undone. Nature is no longer...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 221-236)
  14. References
    (pp. 237-248)
  15. Index
    (pp. 249-252)