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A Conservationist Manifesto

Scott Russell Sanders

Publication Year: 2009

As an antidote to the destructive culture of consumption dominating American life today, Scott Russell Sanders calls for a culture of conservation that allows us to savor and preserve the world, instead of devouring it. How might we shift to a more durable and responsible way of life? What changes in values and behavior will be required? Ranging geographically from southern Indiana to the Boundary Waters Wilderness and culturally from the Bible to billboards, Sanders extends the visions of Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and Rachel Carson to our own day. A Conservationist Manifesto shows the crucial relevance of a conservation ethic at a time of mounting concern about global climate change, depletion of natural resources, extinction of species, and the economic inequities between rich and poor nations. The important message of this powerful book is that conservation is not simply a personal virtue but a public one.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Cover/Dedication

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pp. i-ix

Contents

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pp. x-

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Preface

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pp. xi-xii

Trapped recently in an airport lounge where there was no escape from television, I saw an advertisement that showed a husband and wife in an electronics store rushing from one gadget to another, their eyes agog with desire, their mouths curled into rapturous grins, while a chorus of voices chanted, “I want it all, and I want it now!”...

Part 1. Caring for Earth

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pp. 1-2

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Building Arks

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pp. 3-22

In muggy July, police showed up at dawn with bullhorns, bulldozers, chainsaws, and guns to force a band of protesters out of a fifty-acre wood in my hometown of Bloomington, Indiana. The sheriff and his deputies and the state police were upholding a ruling by the county council, which gave an Indianapolis developer the right to turn these woods into an apartment complex. The protesters were upholding the right...

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Common Wealth

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pp. 23-42

What is being sold to us as the “American way of life” is mostly a cheat and a lie. It is an infantile dream of endless consumption, endless novelty, and endless play. It is bad for us and bad for the earth. We need a dream worthy of grown-ups, one that values simplicity over novelty, conservation over consumption, harmony over competition, community over ego. We need a story that celebrates the true source of our wellbeing, not in the private...

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A Few Earthy Words

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pp. 43-58

In a speech delivered in 1952, Rachel Carson warned: “Mankind has gone very far into an artificial world of his own creation. He has sought to insulate himself, in his cities of steel and concrete, from the realities of earth and water and the growing seed. Intoxicated with a sense of his own power, he seems to be going farther and farther into more experiments for the destruction of himself and his world.” Carson voiced these worries before the triumph of television or shopping malls, before the advent of air-conditioning, personal computers, video games, the internet, cell phones, cloning...

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Two Stones

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pp. 59-68

A man turning 60 may lose perspective on time, seeing all change as loss, counting his aches as if they were worry beads, anticipating the chill wind of his last hour instead of breathing in the present moment. And so, to regain his grip on time, to console himself for loss, and to remind himself of the great story in which he is taking part, he may consult with rocks. This man is all the more likely to do so if he has been collecting pebbles and cobbles and shards since he was a boy delving in the glacial gravels of Ohio, and if, from his wide-ranging travels, he has filled...

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The Warehouse and the Wilderness

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pp. 69-88

Engineers have determined, by patient calculation, that hummingbirds cannot carry enough fat to fly across the Gulf of Mexico on migration, and that bumblebees cannot fly at all. Fortunately, neither the bees nor the birds pay any attention to the engineers, and go on blithely flying. Every spring and fall, for instance, the ruby-throated hummingbird, although weighing less than an ounce, zooms over the Gulf between Florida and Central America, a distance of five hundred miles, at speeds up to fifty miles per hour. The bumblebee cruises from blossom to blossom,...

Part 2. Caring for Home Ground

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pp. 89-90

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The Geography of Somewhere

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pp. 91-106

Why do so many American towns and cities feel like jumbles rather than communities, without pattern or purpose? What it means to lack a sense of place was memorably expressed by Gertrude Stein. On a return trip to the United States after years of living in Europe, Stein visited Oakland, California, where she had grown up. She could find no trace of her childhood home, no durable landmarks at all, leading her to remark that she could not imagine settling down and writing in Oakland, for “there is no there there.” Whether Stein’s judgment was fair in the 1930s, when she voiced it, or whether it is fair now, I can’t say, since I have never set foot in Oakland. But her judgment strikes me as all too true...

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Hometown

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pp. 107-116

Until I was in my late twenties, I didn’t know how to answer the question that strangers often ask one another in this land of nomads: Where are you from? I could say that I was born in Memphis, Tennessee, but my family moved away from there before I started school. I could say that I spent my school years in the country outside of Ravenna, Ohio, but my family left there before I started college. I could say that I went to college in Providence, Rhode Island, and to graduate school in Cambridge, England, but every time I completed a degree I moved on. So I really wasn’t from Memphis, despite the accident of birth, nor was I from Ravenna...

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On Loan from the Sundance Sea

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pp. 117-126

Why, you may ask, does a weathervane in the shape of a fish swim atop the dome of the county courthouse in Bloomington, Indiana, six hundred miles from the sea? The explanations that circulate hereabouts range from sober to silly. My own theory tends, I suppose, toward the crackpot end of the spectrum, but I will share it with you anyway, because it belongs to my private mythology of this place. A fish, some argue, simply has the right contour for a weathervane, long and flat to catch the wind. Some speculate that a few of the families who settled the town in 1818 may have migrated to the hills...

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Big Trees, Still Water, Tall Grass

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pp. 127-142

Why, you may ask, does a weathervane in the shape of a fish swim atop the dome of the county courthouse in Bloomington, Indiana, six hundred miles from the sea? The explanations that circulate hereabouts range from sober to silly. My own theory tends, I suppose, toward the crackpot end of the spectrum, but I will share it with you anyway, because it belongs to my private mythology of this place. A fish, some argue, simply has the right contour for a weathervane, long and flat to catch the wind. Some speculate that a few of the families who settled the town in 1818 may have migrated to the hills...

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Limberlost

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pp. 143-154

With a startled scrawk and a fluster of wings, a great blue heron lurches into the air and goes flapping away, legs trailing behind like the tail of a kite. The bird’s hasty exit roils the muddy broth of a pond where it was feeding. Ignoring the commotion, a pair of coots and a clutch of mallards cruise on among the cattails and rushes. A part of me older than my own body wakes and stirs. The man who has led me to the lip of this pond grins broadly, for Ken Brunswick delights in the company of birds and gathered water. For more than a century, this glacial pothole and the surrounding lowlands were drained by a network of ditches and buried pipes known...

Part 3. Caring for Generations to Come

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pp. 155-156

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Wilderness as a Sabbath for the Land

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pp. 157-167

If you honor the Sabbath in any way, or if you respect the beliefs of those who do, or if you merely suspect there may be some wisdom bound up in this ancient practice, then you should protect wilderness. For wilderness represents in space what the Sabbath represents in time—a limit to our dominion, a refuge from the quest for power and wealth, an acknowledgment that Earth does not belong to us. In scriptures that have inspired Christians, Muslims, and Jews, we are told to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy by making it a day of rest for ourselves, our servants, our animals, and the...

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Simplicity and Sanity

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pp. 169-192

The first time I assigned Walden in an undergraduate class, I opened our discussion of the book by asking the students for their initial reactions. A man wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt quickly raised his hand to say he was surprised that a writer as famous as Thoreau would use so many clichés. When I asked for an example, the student answered, “Like, if you don’t march along with everybody else, it’s because you’re stepping to the beat of a different drummer. My mom’s got that one on a magnet on her refrigerator.” I agreed that the different drummer must be weary by now, having been called on so many times, but I pointed out that when...

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Stillness

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pp. 193-208

Through an aisle of waving woodland sunflowers and purple ironweed, I approach a cedar hut where I plan to sit quietly for a few hours, gathering the scattered pieces of myself. Resting at the foot of a hill between a meadow and a forest, surrounded by a deck and railing, the tiny cabin seems to float on the earth like a gabled houseboat the color of cinnamon. Grasshoppers lurch aside with a clatter as I move along the path, but hummingbirds and butterflies continue blithely feeding on late-summer flowers. On this last Sunday in August, here in southern Indiana the tall grasses have bent down under the weight of their seeds, the...

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A Conservationist Manifesto

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pp. 209-220

1. The work of conservation is inspired by wonder, gratitude, reason, and love. We need all of these emotions and faculties to do the work well. 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. 2. In our time, the work of conservation is also inspired by a sense of loss. We feel keenly the spreading of deserts, clear-cutting of forests, extinction of species, poisoning of air and water and soil, disruption of climate, and the consequent suffering...

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For the Children

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pp. 221-228

You are still curled in the future, like seeds biding your time. Even though you are not yet born, I think of you often. I feel the promise of your coming the way I feel the surge of spring before it rises out of the frozen ground. What marvels await you on this wild earth! When you do rise into the light of this world, you’ll be glad of your fresh eyes and ears, your nose and tongue, your sensitive fingers, for they will bring you news of...

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Words of Thanks

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pp. 229-230

The ideas expressed in these pages arise out of a long tradition of thought about the human place in nature, and about how we should live. My debts as a reader of this tradition are suggested, however briefly, in the notes and in the following section entitled “Further Reading.” My debts to friends for their conversation and inspiration are equally great and numerous. I have named a few of them in the dedications to individual essays. In addition, I continue...

Notes

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pp. 231-236

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Further Reading

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pp. 237-242

Here are a few essential books that help us understand how we fit into the blooming, buzzing, burgeoning web of life, and how to care for the earth. In an effort to keep the list short enough to be useful, I have limited myself to twenty titles, all by American authors, all prose nonfiction. These self-imposed restrictions have forced me to exclude many books that I treasure. The list is arranged ...


E-ISBN-13: 9780253002853
E-ISBN-10: 0253002850
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253353139

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2009

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