environmentalism and human creativity

(Macon, Georgia) A lot of the environmentalist rhetoric that filters down to a person like me (who’s not terribly attentive to the environment) emphasizes the need to preserve gifts of God or nature: unspoiled places, endangered species, and non-renewable resources. These are important goals, and they imply a set of aesthetic, moral, and/or religious principles that I respect. For example, if something is scarce, complex, and impossible to recreate, then we should try to preserve it, whether it is a forest ecosystem or a human language.

There is also a kind of environmentalism in which concerned people work together to make things: for instance, new parks and forests or restored and restocked rivers and lakes. These are not pure and unsullied gifts of God or nature; they are assets that people have helped to build and shape.

It would be useful, I think, to develop a rhetoric that celebrates these accomplishments, appreciating the constructive role of human beings in creating habitats and ecosystems. I would support that rhetoric as a matter of principle, since I admire human agency. Besides, there is something pessimistic or even tragic about environmentalism conceived as a rearguard effort to save pieces of unsullied nature. After all, non-renewable resources will sooner or later run out, and unspoiled wilderness (if there is any such thing) will inevitably be altered by human behavior. The best we can do to preserve such things is not to touch them, which is a passive stance. If we could learn, on the other hand, to admire human agency in creating environments that have natural elements, then there would be no limit to what good we could do together. This optimism might be the basis of a powerful political movement.

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