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Spirituality & Practice (April 2009)
By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
A Conservationist Manifesto
Scott Russell Sanders
Indiana University Press 04/09 Paperback $19.95
Scott Russell Sanders is one of our favorite writers. He writes beautiful
prose and never fails to stir our souls and imaginations. He is the
Distinguished Professor of English at Indiana University Bloomington
and the author of 20 books of fiction and nonfiction, including Hunting
for Hope and A Private History of Awe.
In this awesome new book (to use a term popular with youth today but
also one of deep import), Sanders outlines the practical, ecological,
and ethical grounds for a conservation ethic. We have ruined the planet,
and there are signs everywhere of its distress: the global climate changes,
the destruction of forests, the extinction of species, the looming shortages
of water, and the spread of famine and disease. Sanders suggests that
we change our habits and behavior by moving from the "culture of
consumption, extravagance, and waste that dominates America today"
to a culture based on conservation.
He looks to the philosophy of Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Henry David Thoreau,
Rachel Carson, and others for inspiration. He remembers the frugal habits
of the Depression and wartime rationing. And he salutes the simple lifestyles
of the early Native Americans and the Quakers. He sees this renewal
of conservation not merely as a personal virtue but as a public one
— "an expression of our regard for our neighbors, for this
marvelous planet, and for future generations."
The conservation ethic lives in the efforts of people Sanders calls
"ark builders" who are doing what they can to save the planet
— organic farmers, solar designers, tree huggers, backyard gardeners,
food co-ops, and those creating land trusts. The glorification of private
wealth has led to the suffering of many people today who are unemployed
and others who are worried about their future. Sanders prefers the term
"common wealth" which comes when individuals band together
in partnerships with others and in mutual support of the natural world.
One way of doing the latter is to ground language once again in the
Earth. For example, he probes the word resource and comes up with: "A
re-source is something that rises anew, like grass in a meadow or water
in a spring." We also need to pay attention to the narratives which
rule our lives; he wants us to get rid of the Warehouse Story and substitute
the Wilderness Story.
Sanders has written elsewhere about the dynamics and spirituality of
deeply appreciating the place where we live. In a section of the book
called "Caring for Home Ground," he calls for a renewed devotion
to local places and muses on the vitality of his hometown, Bloomington,
Indiana. In the name of sanity, Sanders wants each of us to launch our
own experiments in simplicity: "Living in such a way, we will promote
ecological health by reducing the demands we make on the planet."