I first picked this book up A Conservationist Manifesto by Scott Russell Sanders in college. It was mandatory reading, but I have to say a huge thanks to the Recreation and Tourism Management program at San Diego State University for including this selection in our curriculum.
As I moved through college, my desire to spend more time in nature was only heightened. This book includes many of the thoughts I was trying to make sense of at the time and expands on how we might improve our relationship with nature and, indeed, the Earth.
What I’d like to do in the course of this review is to identify several of the major themes I took away from Sanders’ writing and relate how I feel about them now, more than five years later.
I’ll also include quotes directly from the book that relate to the themes I select so that the reader doesn’t have to bear solely with my droning writing style but may also get a sense of what you’ll find if you decide to get a copy of Sanders’ work!
Theme 1: Modern Society Cuts Us Off From One Another
Cars, houses, cell phones, you name it. A community can be hard to find these days. It’s a primary reason why I love where I grew up because I know people, I am connected to the place, and there are many things to be involved in.
It’s a town of just 16,000 permanent residents and, yet, it can still be isolating. There are often times when it feels like we are all going about our individual “thing” and there’s no sense of collective engagement.
Sanders expresses his own frustration with the following quote:
“The whole structure of modern life — solitary viewing of screens, isolation in cars or cubicles, advertising’s emphasis on personal gratification — cuts us off from communal experiences and public concerns.”
We often don’t have a problem until a horrific tragedy strikes. Public concerns don’t become OUR concerns until they directly affect US. But how do we shift our values so that what matters to the community as a whole DOES matter to us individually?
I think it’s important for us to recognize that nothing occurs in a bubble. Science isolates niche concepts, eliminates variables, and pinpoints solutions for individual symptoms. Don’t get me wrong; we have learned much through our scientific methods, but we are just starting to realize that we must consider the Earth as a whole, and ourselves as humans as just one part of that whole.
The sustainability of our species and possibly of the Earth itself relies upon our acceptance of our place within the whole. And it relies upon solutions that benefit the health of the entire global community, rather than one segment or another.
Theme 2: The Value of Nature is Difficult to Quantify
We try to do this all the time. In measuring our ‘environmental impact’ on an area, we want to apply hard mathematics to derive an equation by which it makes sense for us to continue our development. If we knock down an acre of trees here, we can simply plant another acre somewhere else, right?
Well, it doesn’t always work this way. And we are still very immature in our understanding of the true value of nature.
Sanders explains his view in this quote:
“Measured in board-feet, many an oak, maple, walnut, or hickory in these woods is worth as much as a new car. Measured by their historical significance, by their contribution to air and soil and wildlife, by their dignity and beauty, by their sheer scale of being, these trees are priceless.”
But progress must go on. Or so they say. We have mandated Environmental Impact Reports and mitigation strategies to offset our perceived negative effects on forests, lakes, streams, and rivers. This is a positive step.
But just how much we’re losing as we continue to build and develop is hard to quantify. For me, nature has an inherent value that equates to much more than board-feet of lumber or gallons of natural gas.
The diversity of life on our Earth is something that we should value more highly. The diversity of humans on this planet is something that should be more openly celebrated. Because, for me, the diversity of life on this planet is potentially one of the most reasons why this Earth can sustain life in the first place.
Theme 3: Continued Growth is Impossible
We have, in many ways, created an economic system in this country that relies upon continued, never-ending growth. Our economy is only considered healthy if it is a growing economy. But to have growth, always, forever, and without end, is impossible, is it not? In observing the cyclical nature of humanity’s development, why have we modeled so much of our lives around unending growth?
Sanders points out the difference between many man-made structures and the natural order in this quote:
“The model that nature provides is not one of perpetual growth, as in a capitalist economy, but of perpetual regrowth.”
Nature does not grow and grow and continue to grow without ceasing. Growth is followed by death, which is followed by decay, which is followed by rebirth, which is followed by what Sanders terms “regrowth.” In my eyes, then, a system that predicates its success on perpetual, unrelenting growth is an inherently unsustainable system.
Sustainability is the darling buzz word of 21st Century developers. But true sustainability accounts for this need for death, decay, and rebirth. In many cases, our systems will be rebuilt stronger than they were before. But we must be willing to let go of the notion that our first attempt will always be our best attempt.
Theme 4: Our Future Is Determined by Our Value System
This may not be a novel concept, but it’s one that rings true for me. What we place value on today is what we will manifest in our world tomorrow. If we place value on high technology, cell phones, video games, the development of long-range cruise missiles, improving life for only those that we feel are rightful citizens of this country, then this is precisely what we will manifest in our futures.
If we place greater value on personal relationships, health and wellness of both mind and body, and our interconnectedness with the natural world, we will manifest healthier people, healthier relationships, and a healthier connection with nature.
Sanders implores more of us to dive into conservation work, but not out of fear of losing this Earth’s wild places. He identifies the most important motivation one can have for environmental conservation in this quote:
“But the first impulse is love — love for wild and settled places, for animals and plants, for people living now and those yet to come, for the creations of human hands and minds.”
So Why Does A Conservationist Manifesto Matter?
A Conservationist Manifesto by Scott Russell Sanders matters because we continue to move away from a healthy relationship with nature every day in this country. This book matters because our lives depend on a healthy natural world.
This book matters because we need to come to a greater appreciation for nature now before it is too late. This book matters because we can’t afford to follow in the infamous footsteps of the Once-ler from Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.
So in bringing my thoughts to a close today, I’ll leave you with one question:
Will you speak for the trees?
What Do You Think About A Conservationist Manifesto?!
If you liked what you read, didn’t like what you read, or have questions about what you read, I’d love to hear from you! Also, if you’ve read this selection already, I’d love to know your thoughts, feelings, and what you took away from it.
Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the ideas presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond in a timely fashion.
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