Sunday, December 02, 2007

"The Silver Lining of Ecological Meltdown": Observer review, Lost and Left Behind

So, Glavin simply travels the world, telling stories. Each chapter begins with a subject such as the Malay tiger, American cougar or taimen, a huge, human-sized fish wriggling in the rivers of Khabarovsk, eastern Russia. Read on and you get hooked. The narrative twists and turns, opening unexpected passages of history, science and anthropology. Before you know it, we are among the Aztecs or listening to Thomas Hardy's views on zoos. We visit the goblin-like aye-aye of Madagascar, engage in anti-McDonald's protests in London or watch Malay tribes lay out food for the macan bumi, the 'village tiger'. Colourful bestiaries constantly leap out of the page and then disappear. . .

Well. A very kind review from Peter Kimpton in the Observer on Sunday (UK).

He's right, at least partly, to say that my "agenda" is to "escape the depressing, desensitising 'language of environmentalism' that characterises headline news." I do indeed counsel against being all dreary and miserable about everything, and I agree wholeheartedly with Kimpton that the "language of environmentalism. . . only increases public guilt, impotence and indifference."

But the reason I argue for the abandonment of environmentalism as a separate category of thought is that what ecologists, taxonomists and evolutionary biologists are now observing in nature is the same phenomenon playing itself out in culture.

In the language of environmentalism, there isn't even a word for that phenomenon. And that's because "environmentalism" tends to presume the reality of certain merely conceptual barriers between nature and culture, between the wild and the tamed, between "modern" peoples and pre-industrial peoples, between the living and the dead, and between the functions of artificial selection and functions of natural selection.

The Lost and Left Behind is published by Saqi. In Canada, it's published by Penguin and its title is Waiting for The Macaws. In the United States, its published by Thomas Dunne / St. Martin's Press under the title The Sixth Extinction.

4 Comments:

Blogger richard said...

So ... are you saying that the depressing language of environmentalism needs to be applied not just to nature but to culture as well? I don't think you are, and I don't think you'd say that. I assume I'm just misinterpreting your suggestive but unconcluded remark about what those working on environmental issues are seeing:

"what ecologists, taxonomists and evolutionary biologists are now observing in nature is the same phenomenon playing itself out in culture."

Care to elaborate a wee bit?

8:54 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

". . .are you saying that the depressing language of environmentalism needs to be applied not just to nature but to culture as well?"

That's funny.

If my point was unconcluded it's because the reviewer deals with it(and the book elaborates on it the length of the book): The mass extinction event occurring in "nature" is also occurring in functions of natural selection - i.e. domesticated food crop varieties - and human cultures and languages.

The boundaries environmentalists tend to draw between nature and culture and the wild and the tamed are permeable and porous and sometimes so irrelevant as to be for all practical purposes non-existent.

The boundaries are a function of environmentalist language, not objective reality.

2:14 AM  
Blogger Markus said...

I think Wade Davis coined it the shrinking of the ethnosphere.

10:19 PM  
Blogger richard said...

Gotcha. I wasn't making the right sense of that line, or I wouldn't have asked.

10:28 PM  

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