Top critical review
A good perspective on nature and humans and how they interact.
Reviewed in the United States on October 15, 2015
After Nature by Duke law professor Jedediah Purdy is a highly scholarly, intellectual account of the impact and behavior of humans on the natural world. Professor Purdy states that we are now in the “Anthropocene” (age of humans) epoch because nature no longer exists apart from humanity. Humans shape nature now more than ever thus they have to take responsibility for the environment. The book is an intellectual history of how Americans have shaped their landscape and ideas and practices around the world. Professor Purdy refers to it as “a political history of American ideas involving environmental imagination.” He states that there are four versions of this imagination:
1. Providential vision—nature has a purpose—to serve humanity.
2. Romantic vision—aesthetic and spiritual.
3. Utilitarian vision—nature is a storehouse of resources.
4. Ecological vision—the world is formed of complex and interconnected systems.
All four of these visions co-exist now and much of the book is devoted to a consideration of them. Professor Purdy also sees a three-fold crisis involving ecology, economics and politics. He says that markets produce increasing inequality and are blind to negative consequences, thus the only way to build a sustainable living space is through politics. He goes on to describe the contributions of various people to this issue, including John Locke, Alexis de Tocqueville, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir and many others. Now, he says there is a new appreciation of agriculture as organic and free-range means of growing food challenge industrial farming.
The final part of the book is devoted to the topic of climate change. The basic idea, he says, is that we have a standard of success that we strive to meet, for example to keep greenhouse gasses below 350 parts per million of carbon. But these standards are unrealistic and we must find a new approach. He proposes that democracy must be at the center of the Anthropocene epoch. Democracies need to practice self-restraint as we cannot depend on technology alone to solve this crisis. In the end people will change when they find two things: something to fear and something to love.
I would like to rate this book at 3.5 stars but have to choose. There are some very good ideas and useful information here and it is well researched and written as benefits a university professor, but the book is too academic and the idea that democracy is the best system for solving critical problems such as global warming is simply not right. Democracies often pander to the lowest common denominator and elect people who advocate simple solutions. An authoritarian leader with a real commitment to solving these problems could be more effective. Finally lay readers may get bored with the formal, largely academic writing style.