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Friday, September 16, 2011
Economist: Hawaii Wilderness Cult pursues Impossible Return to Pre-Human Existence
By Selected News Articles @ 2:44 AM :: 9456 Views :: Energy, Environment, National News, Ethics, World News, Family

Book Review: Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World by Emma Marris. Bloomsbury; 224 pages; $25. Buy from Amazon.com

The Economist, September 17th 2011 (Excerpt)

In “Rambunctious Garden” Emma Marris outlines why the concept of wilderness is flawed.

The journey begins in Hawaii, where biologists are toiling to remove species that have been introduced to the islands over the centuries since James Cook’s party landed there in 1778. Invaders such as purple-flowered Asian melastome and strawberry guava threaten to overrun delicate Hawaiian natives such as thornless roses and delicate tree ferns. Yet even if all the invaders were removed, it would only return the islands to the state into which the Polynesians, who inhabited them for at least 1,000 years before Cook’s arrival, had shaped them.

Even theoretically, returning Hawaii to a prehuman existence would be impossible. Ecosystems change over time, with or without the involvement of mankind, so no one can tell what Hawaii “should” look like. And mankind’s influence on his environment is now such that he has changed the composition of the atmosphere over the past few centuries, so the effects of humanity can never be completely removed.

Ms Marris traces the emergence of a “wilderness cult” that she believes affects efforts to restore habitats to a previous form. She argues that early American environmentalists, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, have been misread as its champions. Although Emerson described “essences unchanged by man; space, the air, the river, the leaf”, he also wrote of the “perfect exhilaration” of “crossing a bare common, in snow puddles at twilight, under a clouded sky”. And when Thoreau became determined to get away from it all in 1845, he retired to Walden Pond, a mere mile-and-a-half away from the nearest village. Preserving nature, Ms Marris writes, is a relatively recent preoccupation.

Perhaps, but it has a longer history than the author fully acknowledges. A struggle between those who would remove man from a landscape and those who think we should actively manage the environment has existed since at least the 1930s.

read … The constant gardener: The future of wilderness

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