It is Earth Day's 40th anniversary - a chance for some to reflect on the future of the environmental movement, for others to sneer at what they see as the illusory danger posed by global warming and other environmental 'alarmists.' Others think that every day should be earth day.
To the glut of commentary, we'll just add a few reflections from two brand new books on the future of our relation to the natural world. Thomas Princen, in his new book Treading Softly: Paths to Ecological Order, says that the problem isn't just what we do on Earth Day, or whether we drive a hybrid car, or whether we recycle enthusiastically. If we really want to save the earth, and ourselves, from the coming calamity, we need nothing less than a full reorientation of how we ought to live, both ecologically and economically. We need to imagine a new relationship with nature and society:
So this book is about imagining—about getting grounded ecologically and ethically. And because getting grounded is demanding, this book is also about hard work. Repairing the current edifice is, by comparison, easy, if ultimately futile. Laying groundwork is the task ahead; all signs—scientific, intuitive, experiential—point there.
Of course, one reason we prize nature is for the sense that it represents something distinct from, other than, the man-made world. That wild, untamed-ness of nature is, for all intents in purposes, gone, so extensive has human intervention in nature become. That point was first put forward by Bill McKibben in his widely noted book The End of Nature.
Paul Wapner, of American University, has taken this idea one step further. In his book Living Through the End of Nature: The Future of American Environmentalism, he introduces to what he calls the postnature era, one that accepts that a certain amount of human intervention in nature is unavoidable and that preserving nature as an unsullied realm is no longer possible. Yet instead of feeling despondent, Wapner thinks it presents fresh opportunities for the environmental movement:
Happy Earth Day to all.