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  • The End of Sustainability: Resilience and the Future of Environmental Governance in the Anthropocene by Melinda Harm Benson and Robin Kundis Craig
  • Margot Hurlbert
The End of Sustainability: Resilience and the Future of Environmental Governance in the Anthropocene. By Melinda Harm Benson and Robin Kundis Craig. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2017. vii + 224 pp. Figures, notes, index. $29.95 cloth.

Melinda Harm Benson and Robin Kundis Craig argue that in the time of the Anthropocene (a time recognizing humans as the most important driver of ecological change), a new narrative is required. The authors propose the folkloric narrative of the trickster—the agent of chaos—where stark dualities of right and wrong, true and false, are rejected, thereby recognizing shades of gray and disrupting normal expectations, even occasionally violating important cultural and sacred boundaries. This narrative reframes how we think about climate change and other environmental challenges, replacing harmful historical narratives of manifest destiny (man's domination of nature), post–World War II tragedy (humans' regulation of harmful practices), and sustainability (humans' knowledge of what can be sustained and how to accomplish it). Combining the [End Page 170] unpredictability of the trickster with the uncertainty represented in resilience theory, the authors reject prior narratives supporting the belief that humans can be in complete control, instead seeing a series of adaptive cycles of change illustrated with systems theory and complexity theory.

These somewhat theoretical concepts are illustrated through two case studies. The Rio Grande watershed in New Mexico illustrates the adaptive cycles of resilience and the potentially transformative change required whereby the system reconceptualizes and creates a fundamentally new system of integrated forest, water, and flood management. Here Indigenous people recognize they can't stop floods, but they can slow them down. The second case study, of ocean changes, illustrates the trickster as chaotic change of sea temperature, fish stocks, sea level, among others, but also sadly the historical post–World War II tragedy narrative. Although a vision of transformative change is lacking in this book, age-old recommendations of thinking about the long-term implications of policy, incorporating the precautionary principle, and increasing conservation are proposed.

Because the authors believe a fluid relation exists where law and society inform and are informed by each other, the addition of the trickster and resilience narrative into society and law-making better informs the process of law-making in the context of climate change. In addition to this, the authors add to the mix principles of communitarianism (of humans together with humans and humans together with nature) as espoused by Aldo Leopold. The authors make a cogent case that these principles are already part of American law and illustrate this with specific case law surrounding the "Taking Clause" of the United States Constitution. This law recognizes that any state's taking of private property for public purposes requires the state to pay compensation. Having established the legal precedent for communitarianism, the trickster, and resilience in American law, the authors promote the creation of legal space for adaptive responses to ecological change and provide specific ideas for legal reform, including to monitor and study everything, to eliminate nonclimate stresses, plan for the long-term coordinating sectors and interests, give meaningful weight to government and public rights and values in private property, and promote principled flexibility in regulatory goals and natural resource management.

This book is an important contribution to legal scholarship in the Anthropocene. Although the book does not have all the answers for regime shifts and transformative change, it offers interesting ideas and suggestions for a new narrative for the Anthropocene and offers case studies and policy recommendations that start the journey.

Margot Hurlbert
Justice Studies and Sociology
University of Regina


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pp. 170-171
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