Harper’s on Environmentalism, etc.

More from the November Harper’s.

Fascinating article by James K. Boyce, Rethinking Extinction, subtitled “Toward a less gloomy environmentalism”.

This is best-read in the context of understanding the impact of humanity on the planet, not just in recent decades, but over the past 10 or 20 thousand years [as described in Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, my review here, a book this author cites]. Boyce’s take seems to be accepting the inevitable and doing what we can to ameliorate the situation.

A recurrent theme in the narratives of American environmentalism is that people are bad. Humans, in this telling, are sinners, a cancerous growth on the face of the planet. The traditional goal of the environmental movement has been to restore a baseline, a state of nature that existed before human defilement. But however well these people-versus-nature narratives served environmentalism over the past century, the time has come to dismantle them and erect a new intellectual scaffolding.

And his conclusion, bottom-line:

The quest to preserve or restore a baseline state of nature, always a mirage, is slowly being abandoned; ecologists have begun to think in terms of maintaining valuable processes rather than trying to freeze the biological landscape.

Humans are part of the web of life, and we can and sometimes do have positive impacts on the rest of nature. The old people-are-bad, nature-is-good formula, which was so central to the environmentalism that was born when Martha died, is too glib, and too often counterproductive. For when the choice before us is framed as humans versus nature, it turns out that most people, with however much regret, will choose humans.


From the Harper’s Index, example of self-enhancement bias:

Portion of U.S. college freshmen who rate themselves above average in academic aptitude : 7/10

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