Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wilderness: Man, Myths, and Legends

This semester I'm intermittently reading a book called Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, edited by William Cronon, a pretty famous name in the environmental world. Yesterday I read one of his articles published in the book called, The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Real Nature, and I can't stop thinking about Cronon's argument. 

Essentially, Cronon says that our view of wilderness as the pristine, untouched natural world that is separate from humanity, is not only a human construction (i.e. myth) but it is also hindering our efforts at environmental responsibility. He goes on to argue that anything that allows humans to separate themselves from nature has many negative consequences. First, it propagates the view that some parts of nature are more privileged or more desirable than others and that, therefore, they should be saved at all costs, even human lives. Second, it reinforces disregard for environmental responsibility because we only feel obligated to preserve nature designated as wilderness, but not the natural environments we inhabit in our daily lives. 

This sharp self criticism of the American reverence for wilderness hits me as a sharp blow because I feel that despite my best intentions I am also guilty of regarding wilderness in this way. As an "other." This article has bolstered my desire to be involved with the environmental movement but it has also changed by attitude and approach. The concept of a nature devoid of humans is unattainable and unrealistic. Instead, focusing our strength and dedication on promoting sustainable, environmentally responsible (a.k.a "friendly) life habits will go much farther than promoting the preservation of the idyllic, pristine wilderness that can only exist as separate from ourselves. 

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