After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropoceneby Jedediah Purdy
Nature no longer exists apart from humanity. Henceforth, the world we will inhabit is the one we have made. Geologists have called this new planetary epoch the Anthropocene, the Age of Humans. The geological strata we are now creating record industrial emissions, industrial-scale crop pollens, and the disappearance of species driven to extinction. Climate change is
Nature no longer exists apart from humanity. Henceforth, the world we will inhabit is the one we have made. Geologists have called this new planetary epoch the Anthropocene, the Age of Humans. The geological strata we are now creating record industrial emissions, industrial-scale crop pollens, and the disappearance of species driven to extinction. Climate change is planetary engineering without design. These facts of the Anthropocene are scientific, but its shape and meaning are questions for politicsa politics that does not yet exist. After Nature develops a politics for this post-natural world.
Jedediah Purdy begins with a history of how Americans have shaped their landscapes. He explores the competing traditions that still infuse environmental law and culturea frontier vision of settlement and development, a wilderness-seeking Romanticism, a utilitarian attitude that tries to manage nature for human benefit, and a twentieth-century ecological view. These traditions are ways of seeing the world and humans’ place in it. They are also modes of lawmaking that inscribe ideal visions on the earth itself. Each has shaped landscapes that make its vision of nature real, from wilderness to farmland to suburbsopening some new ways of living on the earth while foreclosing others.
The Anthropocene demands that we draw on all these legacies and go beyond them. With human and environmental fates now inseparable, environmental politics will become either more deeply democratic or more unequal and inhumane. Where nothing is pure, we must create ways to rally devotion to a damaged and ever-changing world.
Purdy (Law/Duke Univ.; A Tolerable Anarchy: Rebels, Reactionaries, and the Making of American Freedom, 2009, etc.) examines the growing awareness of the relationship between humans and other species, which could create "a Copernican revolution in ethical imagination." Adopting a historical perspective, the author suggests that such evils of the past as "imperialism, racism, and gender hierarchy all came from the same arrogance as human subjection of the living world." But Purdy also recognizes that environmentalists have been guilty of misanthropy "braided together with bigotry, narrowness, obtuse privilege and nostalgia." The author offers a balanced exploration of how "post-humanism" can inspire an enlarged perspective on how we can take responsibility for the nonhuman world. Unlike geologically and ecologically based terminology that is based on the fossil record—e.g., the dating of the start of the Holocene epoch back 11,700 years ago—the term Anthropocene signifies a cultural phenomenon that Purdy calls a way "of owning up to the responsibility for shaping the world." The author traces the evolution of current ideas on environmentalism back to the first European settlers in America, who thought it was God's purpose for mankind to tame nature. This was succeeded by a romantic view of wilderness, exemplified by Ralph Waldo Emerson. A third phase, led by Theodore Roosevelt, responded to the ravages of industrial development, including the destruction of forests by timber interests and the extraction of raw materials by mining companies. Purdy identifies the last 50 years as a fourth phase, "the neoliberal Anthropocene," which is "distinguished by a legal device that launders inequality almost as neatly as the global atmosphere: free contract within a global market." The author employs numerous historical examples to strengthen his contention that climate change and the protection of other species cannot be dealt with via political polemics. We require a more pragmatic approach to living peacefully with nature and each other. A profound vision of post-humanistic ethics.
- Publication date:
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)
Meet the Author
Jedediah Purdy is Robinson O. Everett Professor of Law at Duke University School of Law.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews