Nature Noted

Notes on a changing Nature

Location: Bellville, Texas, United States

I never would have predicted this one

Friday, November 18, 2005


I have once again been remiss in my blogging. Partially to blame is the November ratings book (going pretty well, thank you for asking) and a general lack of things grabbing my attention. But I have also been engrossed in "1491" by Charles C. Mann. It is a fascinating look at the latest scholarship on what the Americas looked like in the time before Columbus arrived. I highly recommend it. The gist is that we're realizing that the picture of what North and South America looked liked before Columbus that we learned in high school is completely wrong. These were not mostly empty continents asserts Mann, they were actually more populous than Europe and Asia. It was only the introduction of "Western Germs" that rapidly made them empty. Mann writes a paragraph that struck me, and I think should cause everyone interested in the envrionment to think about, too.
In talking about the disputes over painting the historical picture, Mann writes...
"Disputes also arise because the new theories have implications for today's ecological battles. Much of the environmental movement is animated, consciously or not, by what geographer William Denevan calls "the pristine myth" - the belief that the Americas in 1491 were an almost untouched, even Edenic land, "untrammeled by man," in the words of the Wilderness Act of 1964, a U.S. law that is one of the founding documents of the global environmental movement. To green activists, as the University of Wisconsin historian William Cronon has written, restoring this long-ago, putatively natural state is a task that society is morally bound to undertake. Yet if the new view is correct and the work of humakind was pervasive, where does that leave efforts to restore nature?"
Where indeed?
I thought about this when Jon Christensen linked to an article in Orion magazine about the push by some of the big environmental organizations to force native people off threatened land. The sense that land untouched by man is pure and natural becomes more historically untrue the more we learn. People are part of the landscape. We are part of the ecosystem. The trick is preserving the balance between our needs and lives and the needs and life of the world around us. The edenic myth is just that, a myth. The job of environmentalists is to keep people alive and well in the healthy environment.


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