Magazine article Tikkun

Eco-Enchantment and the Limits of Conservation

Magazine article Tikkun

Eco-Enchantment and the Limits of Conservation

Article excerpt

[BOOKS] Eco-Enchantment and the Limits of Conservation A REENCHANTED WORLD: THE QUEST FOR A NEW KINSHIP WITH NATURE by James William Gibson, Holt, 2009 CONSERVATION REFUGEES: THE HUNDRED-YEAR CONFLICT BETWEEN GLOBAL CONSERVATION AND NATIVE PEOPLES by Mark Dowie, MIT Press, 2009

Review by Roger S. Gottlieb

"We have to show the enemy we are serious about defending what is sacred.'

-Earth Liberation Front, 1997

"First we were dispossessed in the name of kings and emperors, later in the name of state development, and now in the name of conservation."

-Indigenous Delegate to World Parks Congress, 2003

"REENCHANTMENT," James Gibson tells us, is a "fundamental rejection of the most basic premises of modern thought and society" embodied by those "who long to rediscover and embrace nature's mystery and grandeur." This profound spiritual shift is manifest in people's willingness to sacrifice themselves to protect individual redwood trees by sitting in them for months, or to risk jail to liberate lab animals. It's manifest in people who, in this industrial age, find God in the ocean, or who pray to eagles or wolves.

The various cultural sources of the reenchantment movement range from a new embrace of Native American attitudes toward the land, a generalized rejection of the worship of coiporate profit and scientistic reductionism, and a sense that even traditional religions contain long-neglected teachings that value and celebrate the natural world. Gibson tells the story of our reenchantment through a wide variety of sources- from Disney movies to animal theme parks, from nature writers to forestranger-turned-ethicist Aldo Leopold, from the Gaia Hypothesis to the emotional impact of seeing our planet from space He also offers a generally sympathetic account of some of the more "extreme' wings of the movement, "eco-warriors" willing to turn to anti-property violence in defense of the wild.

The challenge to conventional beliefs and social structures embodied by reenchantment, not surprisingly, provoked a counterattack, and some of Gibson's best writing details clearly and frighteningiy the antienvironmental actions of the Bush administration and its allies. He also describes development within the reenchantment movement. Most important, perhaps, is the idea that "nature" need not be identified with wilderness "somewhere far away," but with the trees, water, and animals right in front of us. It is as crucial to clean Boston Harbor as to preserve tigers in India, and it is as crucial to exchange the overchemicalized American lawn for native plants as to worry about orchids in Bolivia.

Gibson's story has been told before in different ways- for example, by historian of ideas Roderick Nash's description of our expanded sense of the rights of nature or by religious scholar Bron Taylor's recent account of nature as sacred in Dark Green Religion- but it is certainly worth telling again. Gibson's broad learning, personal connection to the material, and lively writing make for valuable reading. And some of his insights- that reenchantment has given rise to a virtually new form of discourse combining scientific knowledge with poetic or spiritual insight, or that as we take it for granted that people will die for country or faith we should not find it strange that they will sacrifice themselves for whales or rainforests- are powerful and important.

Yet, these strengths notwithstanding, Gibson's account is not wholly satisfying. I wondered at its comparative exclusion of both large environmental organizations and the environmental justice movement. The many inspiring stories of individuals motivated by enchantment could have been joined by some of the powerful victories won by environmental groups that protect habitat, restore landscapes, lobby, and educate. Even the environmental justice movement, which might be defined as concerned with people rather than other species, began with a commitment to the "sacredness of Mother Earth" and resistance to the poisoning of the land, as well as concerns about human community. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.