In this insightful and well-structured book, Wapner points clearly to the dilemmas and difficulties in modern environmentalism. To survive and succeed, it has had to draw boundaries between good and evil, right and wrong, and humans and nature. Yet it is these very borders that have led to polarised dreams of naturalism and mastery. The truth is that there is no such thing as a single environmentalist movement -- it is highly variegated. It will have to find a way into, as Wapner puts it, a 'postnature age'.
Living Through the End of Nature: The Future of American Environmentalismby Paul Wapner
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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
Wapner is right: environmentalists have to adjust to a world without pristine nature. And once they do, they are bound to invent environmental techniques that go beyond creating protected areas. In future, the wilderness may be less wild,
but our cities, suburbs, farms and industrial sites will be wilder.
Wapner's book is the most sophisticated analysis of the theoretical issues underlying contemporary environmentalism yet written. In easily accessible language, Wapner unveils some of the contradictions facing environmentalism. For example, he shows that while environmentalism 'wants to preserve, conserve, and sustain the more-than-human realm, which involves minimizing our presence, reducing our footprint, and otherwise restraining our interventions,' it is also 'realizing that this cannot be done without extreme intrusion using some of the most sophisticated technologies and managerial types of control'...[His] 'middle path'
involves a set of principles to inform environmentalist policies and a spiritual consciousness that requires mindfulness, heartfulness, a respect for the wildness both within nature and within ourselves, and a willingness to accept our state of not fully knowing how to maintain our awareness of the deep mysteries that abide both inside and outside ourselves -- mysteries 'whose wildness is crucial to maintaining our own sense of well-being along with that of the world.'
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What People are saying about this
Design is the first signal of human intention. Given the state of the world today, it is clear: nature doesn't have a design problem, people do. As the
'dominant' species our design question now encompasses the entire world and takes us to the essential places of human intention and natural experience and their interdependence. Paul Wapner, with this book, takes us on a richly informed exploration of these essential places so that we may divine a path forward worthy of our promise as a species. For me, as a designer, the fundamental design question remains: 'How do we love all the children of all species for all time?'
Wapner is one of the world's leading scholars of environmental politics and his latest book, Living Through the End of Nature, is a sophisticated exploration of the future of the environmental movement. If you dream of a better tomorrow, Wapner's book will lead the way.
Anyone who grapples with the slippery semantics of 'nature' is practicing a form of intellectual bravery few of us seem willing to endure. And for good reason. As we discover in Paul Wapner's deep and poignant treatment of the subject,
there is no easy resting place between an environmentalist's love of nature and his mastery of it.
These are important ideas about what nature means, and what it doesn't mean -- it's a strong voice in an intellectual argument that needs to continue,
because it bears very heavily on the practical choices we now face.
Meet the Author
Paul Wapner is Associate Professor and Director of the Global
Environmental Politics Program in the School of International Service at American
University. He is the author of Environmental Activism and World Civic Politics,
winner of the 1997 Harold and Margaret Sprout Award for the best book on international environmental affairs.
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