Vasyl Schevchuk, Yuriy Satalkin, Georgiy Bilyavsky, Vasyl Navrotsky, and Oleksandr Mazurkevich. Preserving the Dnipro River: Harmony, History and Rehabilitation. Oakville, Ont.: Mosaic Press and the International Development Research Centre, 2005. 1 16 pp. Maps. Photographs. Bibliography. Index. $25, paper.
In this compact yet ambitious volume, the authors - who include a former Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources of Ukraine (Schevchuk) - propose a multi-vectored, interdisciplinary approach to understanding and addressing the ecological devastation of sites such as the Dnipro River, an important waterway that courses through Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. In this very readable text, the authors variously view the Dnipro and its problems through the lenses of philosophy, ethnohistory, archaeology, ecology, spirituality, and ethics. Such an approach makes the book especially suitable for readers interested in theoretical, philosophical, and spiritual bases of humans' interactions with the environment.
Schevchuk et al. take as their starting point a critique of the much-touted (and, they argue, failed) strategy of sustainable development. Sustainable development, they assert, ignores the "indispensable harmony between the development of humankind and environment" (p. 2), a harmony the authors privilege as crucial for environmental recovery. Drawing on the works of ancient Greek philosophers, several Russian and Ukrainian intellectuals - Moiseyev, Vernadsky, Gumilyov, Kysel'ov and Kanak, Danilov-Danilyan and Losev, Marchuk, and Rerikh - and even Albert Gore, Jr., the authors develop a theory of "noospherogenesis." Noospherogenesis is defined as "harmonious development," or "harmony between nature's strategy and humankind's strategy" via "the unity of ecological and spiritual regeneration" (p. 7). Arguments for noospherogenesis and "environmental enlightenment" are bolstered by outlining the history of the "Great Slavic Dnipro River" (in Chapter 3, "Thousands of Years of Podniprovya") and the ecological insults to which the river has been subjected (Chapter 2, "Sombre Thoughts on a Journey Down the Dnipro"), as well as exploring various philosophical approaches to the "harmony of human vital forces" (Chapter 3).
In their privileging of spirituality as the basis of a "new system of values" vis-à-vis the environment (p. 87), the authors' stance is explicitly anti-communist, anti-capitalist, antimaterialist, and anti-technology. Their approach, which is based on a rather idealistic vision of the Slavic (and especially Ukrainian) past, is highly philosophical and quite abstract. We must question the viability of environmental programs based on ideals such as ecospirituality, especially in post-socialist, previously atheistic (officially, at least) states such as Ukraine. Unfortunately, the practical applications of the authors' theoretical contributions are not adequately discussed. For example, Schevchuk and colleagues do not propose strategies for generating this new eco-spiritual consciousness of noospherogenesis through means such as elementary school curricula, media campaigns, community organizations, and so on. …