Can We Let Go of Mother Nature?

By Keith Kloor | April 3, 2013 5:24 pm

One of the first and best critiques I read of contemporary environmentalism appeared in a well known progressive magazine. The author took the green movement to task for its romanticization of nature and “its deep suspicion of all things technological.”  He also criticized environmentalism’s demonization of biotechnology and the “crusade” waged against it, which he said was built on “a tangle of misperceptions, flaws, and half-truths.”

This essay was published in the Sept/Oct 1996 issue of Mother Jones magazine. What’s fascinating about the piece is 1) how far ahead of its time it was, and 2) how much of its critique remains just as relevant today.

The author, Walter Truett Anderson, challenged the same green dogma in 1996 that today’s eco-critics, such as Mark Lynas and Emma Marris, have been poking a stick at. It’s amazing to consider how little the green movement has progressed since then. Naturally, greens were as allergic to self-reflection in the mid-1990s as they are today. Read the responses in the letters page from some of the representative voices of environmentalism (at the time).

When Anderson’s piece was published in the mid-199os, he seemed to anticipate the Anthropocene, or least aspects of it that eco-pragmatists have tried to highlight:

The world is changing very quickly, and we desperately need a vision that engages this new world honestly and creatively, with daring and hope and perhaps even a touch of optimism…The world is becoming more densely populated, not less; more urbanized, not less; more technological, not less. Most important of all, human beings are exerting ever more — not less — power in nature, having a greater impact on ecosystems. This is our world, and this is our work.

And this is where we live. Do we still need Mother Nature to help us find our way?

File:The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg

[Image/Wikimedia commons]

  • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

    Wow, that 1996 essay was tremendously prescient. Or, we’ve been in the same exact Groundhog day ever since…. I’m afraid we’re all Bill Murray, quite frankly.

    And I loved the retro-comment thread (aka letters to the editor, called “Backtalk”). As if the internet really changed anything.

  • carolannie

    You keep harping on a subset of environmentalists, as if the others never existed. I think it is a form of romanticization (or more appropriately demonization) of the environmental movement that seems to appeal to the jejune journalist you seem to be.

    What about the Aspen Institute? Paul Hawken?

    The “romantics” you keep criticizing aren’t the only voices out there, nor have they ever been. You purposely ignore the rest, the alternative energy people, the people who come up with designs for buildings that would help green cities, and on and on and on

    So what do you have against environmentalism? Why are you purposely trying to undermine all environmentalist thinkers? What is YOUR agenda, since you obviously have one.

    And yes, I read the essay, which is just as apropos as it never was. Fallacy of composition again and again, as if Wendell Berry was the environmental movement, or the Renaissance Fair represented what most environmentalists want. It was mediocre then, as it is now.

    • JonFrum

      Whistling past the graveyard.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jake.neubauer Jake Neubauer

      Take a look back through the blog and find the many slams on the pro-fossil fuels crowd and the ‘turbine syndrome’ nocebo.

      I don’t see what the problem is with calling a spade a spade – there is a very good argument to be made that the Green movement has romanticized, antiquated ideals about nature. Greens have acted as Luddites on issues such as biotechnology and nuclear power. However, I have never seen this blog let AGW-deniers off the hook for their superstitions, manufactured controversy and science-denial.

      The struggle in our society for science is not just about AGW and sustainability, it is a fundamental struggle against superstition, blind-faith, misrepresentation of science in media – the real effects they have on public health, the environment, world poverty, etc. It is not Right versus Left – or ‘my nonsense is better than yours’ – it should be science and reason versus nonsense of all kinds.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jim.tantillo.5 Jim Tantillo

    Martin Lewis did pretty much the same thing in his 1993 book Green Delusions.

    http://www.amazon.com/Green-Delusions-Environmentalist-Critique-Environmentalism/dp/0822314746

  • Buddy199

    Environmentalism for many greens is their anti-capitalist pseudo-religon. Religious dogmatists and fundamentalists are not known for open minded self reflection.

  • https://delicious.com/robertford Robert Ford

    I think its genetic. There will always be a certain type of person that is attracted to this belief system and way of thought when they’re exposed to it.

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Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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