A Good That TranscendsHow US Culture Undermines Environmental Reform

A Good That TranscendsHow US Culture Undermines Environmental Reform

Eric T. Freyfogle

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780226326085

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

Long-simmering environmental problems originate in human actions that alter nature in ways deemed abusive or degrading. The root causes of environmental ills are thus the forces and factors that prompt people to act as they do: to misuse nature, to remain insensitive to underlying causes and resulting harms, and to resist calls for reform. Many root causes lie within modern culture, particularly in prevailing ways of seeing and valuing nature and understanding human-nature links. Beginning from various places this book probes these root causes, seeking not just the origins of land abuse but the cultural reasons why reform efforts have largely stalled and are so deeply resisted. It draws together the core wisdom of three leading environmental voices—Aldo Leopold, Wendell Berry, and David Orr—and of Pope Francis from his encyclical, Laudate Si’. It seeks fresh cultural insights from a deeper probing of the tragedy of the commons, the controversy over wilderness as place and idea, and the institution of private property rights in nature. By steps the book links environmental ills and current impasses to key elements of modern culture, many embedded in contemporary liberal individualism, and to central social institutions (particularly the capitalist market and private property) that embody and strengthen these elements. The book issues a strong call for more communitarian understandings and values, in ecological and social realms, and for a unified conservation effort chiefly aimed not at scientific education or policy reform but at long-term cultural change.