Chat with us, powered by LiveChat Read ‘Island Civilization: A Vision for Human Occupancy of Earth in the Fourth Millennium’ by Rodrick Frazier Nash.? I have attached a pdf of this article to this post. | EssayAbode

Read ‘Island Civilization: A Vision for Human Occupancy of Earth in the Fourth Millennium’ by Rodrick Frazier Nash.? I have attached a pdf of this article to this post.

 

Read "Island Civilization: A Vision for Human Occupancy of Earth in the Fourth Millennium" by Rodrick Frazier Nash.  I have attached a pdf of this article to this post.

And

Locate one peer-reviewed journal article related to eco-psychology and/or climate change and submit it as a pdf file via email.  Here is a brief video detailing what peer-review means.

http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/tutorials/pr/

RODERICK FRAZIER NASH

island civilization: a vision for human occupancy of

EARTH IN THE FOURTH MILLENNIUM

“What we call wildness is a civilization other than our own.” —Henry David Thoreau

“Darwin’s dice have rolled badly for Earth.” —Edward O. Wilson

“We are the most dangerous species of life on the planet, and every other species, even the earth itself, has cause to fear our power to exterminate. But we are also the only species which, when it chooses to do so, will go to great effort to save what it might destroy.”

—Wallace Stegner

“The beauty of Island Civilization is that it permits humans to fulfill their evolutionary potential without compromising or eliminating the opportunity of other species doing the same.”

—Roderick Nash

THE NEW THIRD MILLENNIUM we are just entering affords an excellent opportunity to think big about the history and future of wilderness and civiliza- tion on planet Earth. Of course a millennium is an entirely synthetic (as opposed to astronomical) concept. Measuring time in thousand-year units

Roderick Frazier Nash, “Island Civilization: A Vision for Human Occupancy of Earth in the Fourth Millennium,” Environmental History 15 (July 2010): 371–380. doi:10.1093/envhis/emq051 Advance Access publication on July 13, 2010

© 2010 The Author. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: [email protected]

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only began in 1582 when Christian officials arbitrarily fixed a date for the birth of Christ. So there was nothing special about December 31, 999; it wasn’t even recognized as the end of the First Millennium. But we made a big deal about the end of the second one a thousand years later on December 31, 1999. Here was an opportunity to transcend our species’ characteristic myopia. Rarely do humans make plans more than a couple of years in advance. And we don’t do history very well either. Similarly, we don’t often think in the wider angles that encompass our species as a whole, but now is an excellent time to begin. One way to look at the opportunity and the responsibility we have with regard to the environment is in terms of legacy. As a historian I am concerned about how the future will regard what happened to the planet on our watch. What will my great grandchil- dren (and theirs) think when they learn the truth about passenger pigeons, salmon, whales, and coral reefs?

My mission in this essay is to review the history of human-nature relations and to extend the discussion into a quite distant future. I want to stretch our minds a bit. What could the human tenure on Earth be like a thousand years from now—at the start of the Fourth Millennium? My proposal involves some really major changes. I expect it to be controversial. At first glance you may think Island Civilization is crazy and impossible, but don’t stop with criticism. The whole purpose of this essay is to advance for discussion a strategy for occu- pation of this planet that will work in the very long run and for the whole eco- system. This is simply the greatest challenge facing our species, and, in a sense, facing evolution on Earth. If you disagree with some or all of my vision of an Island Civilization, create your own vision. Particularly, if you think staying the present course is the way to go, put forward your evidence and reasoning. The essential thing is that we occasionally lift our eyes from everyday details and five-year plans to the far horizons of planetary possibility. Having such a goal is a vital first step to solving problems. Without it we lack direction and the means to evaluate options as they come into focus.

As a starting point, let’s consider wilderness. It’s a state of mind, a percep- tion, rather than a geographical reality, and prior to the advent of herding and agriculture about ten thousand years before the present, it didn’t exist. But after we began to draw mental lines between ourselves and nature, and to place walls and fences on the land, the idea of controlled versus uncontrolled environments acquired meaning. The root of the word “wilderness” in Old English was something that had its own will. The adjective that came to be used was “wild.” For example, wildfire, wild (undammed) rivers, and wildcats that you can’t herd. The other important part of the word, “ness,” indicates a condition or place. So “wilderness” literally means self-willed land, a place where wild (undomesticated) animals roam and where natural processes proceed unencumbered by human interference.

After humans created farms, and literally bet their survival on them instead of on hunting and gathering, uncontrolled nature became the enemy of the new civilization. Pastoral societies, like those that produced the Old and New

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Testaments, became obsessed with making the crooked straight and the rough places plain. For thousands of years the success of civilization seemed to mandate the destruction of wild places, wild animals, and wild peoples. The game plan was to break their “wills.” In the Bible “wilderness” was the land God cursed. Its antipode was called “paradise.” Adam and Eve lost it when they angered God and found themselves banished into the wild. The first European colonists of the New World carried in their intellectual baggage a full load of bias against wilderness. The last thing settlers of the eastern sea- board had in mind was protecting wild nature or establishing national parks! Indians were savages who needed to be “civilized” or eliminated. After a rocky start, these pioneers became very good at breaking the “will” of uncon- trolled land and peoples. Axes, rifles, and barbed wire—and more recently rail- roads, dams, and freeways—were the celebrated tools of an environmental transformation that left the wilderness in scattered remnants.

Lost in the celebration of westward expansion, however, was the possible irony in the process. When does success in too great a dose produce failure? We always thought of growth as synonymous with progress, but maybe bigger is not better if it creates a civilization that is unsustainable. Maybe what really needs to be conquered is not wilderness but rather our capitalist-driven culture with its cancer-like tendency to self-destruct.

Americans began to explore these revolutionary ideas as the Second Millennium drew to a close in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As early as 1851 Henry David Thoreau suggested that wildness held the key to the preservation of the world. George Perkins Marsh, a well-traveled diplomat who spoke twenty-one languages, understood in 1864 in his remarkable book Man and Nature that with their improved technology, untempered by ethics, humans had become a new and destructive force of nature. He suspected that what humans assumed to be victory against the forest primeval could result in floods, droughts, and desertification that would defeat their dreams of pro- gress and prosperity. Beginning in the 1870s, John Muir reversed thousands of years of Judeo-Christian attitude by publicizing mountain forests as temples and cathedrals. What shocked Americans of this generation the most was the pronouncement in 1890 by the United States Census that there was no more frontier. With the Indians crushed, the buffalo almost gone, and big, industrial cities losing their luster, it was possible to think that the cherished civilizing process could go too far. The appearance in the early twentieth century of best-selling books with a primitivistic slant, such as Jack London’s The Call of the Wild (1903) and Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan (1913), indicated that the relative valuations of wilderness and civilization were changing.

As the twentieth century began, a scarcity theory of value began to reshape the relative importance of wilderness and civilization in the United States. It explains the national angst over the ending of the frontier. The notion of wilderness was passing over a tipping point from liability to asset. Of course the pioneers did not go camping for fun! Wilderness appreciation, and later

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preservation, began in the cities where wild country was perceived as a relative novelty and substantially less threatening.

The rationale of the early movement for wilderness was almost entirely anthropocentric. Scenery, recreation, and the economics of a new nature-based tourism underlay the growing popularity of wild places. More sophisticated, but no less utilitarian, were ideas of wilderness as a church, a museum of national history, a stimulant to a unique art and literature and a psychological aid. These were good arguments for their time and they underlay the establishment of the first national parks and wilderness. The Wilderness Act of 1964 was revolution- ary but, make no mistake, its point was the benefit of people.

A new, biocentric rationale for wilderness emerged in the last fifty years of the Second Millennium. At its core was the idea that wilderness had intrinsic value, that its protection was not about us at all! Rather, it was a place where our species took a badly needed “time out” from our ten-thousand-year-old obsession with the control and modification of the planet. In honoring wilder- ness we manifested a capacity for restraint. Preserved wilderness was a gesture of planetary modesty, a way to share the spaceship on which all life travels together.

The roots of this valuation of wilderness run back in the United States to Henry David Thoreau’s belief that “wildness is a civilization other than our own.” John Muir wrote about “the rights of all the rest of creation” that civilized humans had consistently ignored. The case for the rights of certain animals had been vigorously made in England and the United States in the nineteenth century, and in 1915 Albert Schweitzer extended the ideal to “reverence for life.” The implication here and in Cornell University botanist Liberty Hyde Bailey’s book The Holy Earth, also 1915, was not just the need for humans to be good managers or “stewards” of nature, but to respect it as an ethical equal because it had been created by God. As Bailey put it, humans should “put our dominion into the realm of morals. It is now in the realm of trade.” This theological holism, which has a long history in Western thought and even longer in Asian cultures, received major support from the new science of ecology. The phrase “food chains” first appeared in 1927 and “ecosystem” in 1935. Focusing on interdependencies, ecologists gave scientific reason to believe that nature was a community to which mankind belonged, not a com- modity it possessed.

In essays written in the 1920s and 1930s, and particularly in his book A Sand County Almanac (1949), wildlife ecologist Aldo Leopold became the major American articulator of what he called “the land ethic.” It is significant that wilderness preservation was one of Leopold’s highest priorities. It constituted, Leopold argued, “an act of national contrition” on the part of a species notor- ious for “biotic arrogance.” In the 1960s, the emergence of Leopold’s book as a best-seller, along with the popularity of ecologist Rachel Carson, particularly her Silent Spring (1962), evidenced a changing American attitude toward nature. “Conservation,” around as a term since 1907, had been strictly utilitarian in its

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emphasis on national strength and prosperity. “Preservation,” which John Muir favored, implied human benefit from uncontrolled and unutilized environ- ments. A new 1960s word, “environmentalism,” took a broader view of utility and gave rise to the term “pollution” (which affects many species), and added momentum to the idea of the rights of nature. Theologians and philosophers joined environmentalists in arguing that the nation’s natural rights tradition, which had extended the moral community in the past to include black people, natives, and women, should now turn to the task of liberating another oppressed minority: nature. The phrase “deep ecology” appeared in 1973 to describe a belief in the right of every life form to function normally in a shared ecosystem. Some philosophers extended their application of natural rights to land forms like rivers and mountains and to ecosystems.

This line of ethical thinking suggested that just as John Locke’s “social con- tract” mandated restrictions on individual freedom in the interest of creating a sustainable society, so an “ecological contract” might restrain the human species in its relations to the ecosystem. The passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972) and that of the Endangered Species Act (1973) were remarkable in that they endowed nonhuman species with rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (in appropriate terms of course). Significantly, many of the species protected were not considered cute or useful to humans in any way; their value was intrinsic and their membership in the biotic community indisputable.

The appearance of biocentrism and environmental ethics was encouraging, but an avalanche of evidence suggested that civilization continued to wreak havoc with natural rhythms and balances as the Third Millennium began. Awareness of the problems has penetrated deeply into contemporary thought and discussion. Accelerated human-caused decline in biodiversity amounts in the opinion of many biologists to a Sixth Great Extinction. More humans than existed since the start of the species occupied the planet in 1950 and popu- lation surged upward at the rate of a billion every fifteen years. Sprawling into open space at the rate in the United States alone of six thousand acres each day, people dominated most of the preferred locales in the temperate latitudes. Climate change now seems to be at least partially human-induced. Fresh water, soil, forest, and food issues make headlines daily. Lurking just over the horizon are concerns over massive epidemics and the dark, cold specter of a nuclear war that would take down most life on the planet. Civilization, in a word, appears vulnerable. Making the point explicit, Jared Diamond’s book Collapse (2005) underscores the lack of sustainability in many human cultures over the past ten thousand years, and suggests strongly that we are not exempt. There will be a resolution of environmental problems, he argues, if not by intel- ligent choice then by ecological disaster and social disintegration. My proposal for Island Civilization, below, responds to the concerns Diamond raises.

As for wilderness, where most of the thirty-odd million species sharing Earth reside, it’s now an endangered geographical species. Only about two

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percent of the contiguous forty-eight states is legally wild, and the same amount is paved! Much of the American landscape has been modified to some degree. And the United States is a leader in national parks and wilderness preservation and is only a little more than a century beyond its frontier era. In other, older regions—France and Japan come to mind—environmental control is near total. At least in the temperate latitudes we are dealing with remnants of a once-wild world, and we face irreversible decisions about their future on a planet that suddenly seems small and vulnerable. In a century wilderness could disappear or become so fragmented as to be ecologically meaningless. Some now view this not just as a violation of the rights of humans to enjoy wild nature but of the rights of other species and self-willed environments themselves.

Looking toward the Fourth Millennium, a thousand years from now, there seem to be several ways that the natural world we evolved in could end. The wasteland scenario anticipates a trashed, poisoned, and used-up planet that can support only a pathetic remnant of its once-miraculous biodiversity and civilization. Humans have proved to be terrible neighbors to most of the rest of life on the planet. We did not share well. Growth was confused with progress. Centuries of deficit environmental financing of too large and sprawling a civi- lization have brought the ecosystem, ourselves included of course, to its knees. Maybe, in the height of ingratitude and irresponsibility, we have abandoned and discarded this planet. A vanguard of humans, no wiser for their history, treks through the stars seeking new frontiers to plunder. Perhaps wilderness con- ditions eventually return to what Alan Weisman calls a world without humans, but the setback to evolution would be profound and slow in healing.

The second possible future is the garden scenario. Imagine by the Fourth Millennium human control of nature is total, but this time it’s beneficent. Our species has occupied and modified every square mile and every planetary process from the oceans to weather to the creation and evolution of life. It is finally, as some feared, all about us. We’re no longer part of nature; we’ve stepped off, or more exactly, over the biotic team. Scores or even hundreds of billions of people occupy this planetary garden. Dammed rivers flow clean and cold (but without much diversity of life) and waving fields of grain stretch to the horizon. The only big animals around are those we eat. Maybe such a world could be made sustainable for a few species, but the wilderness, and the diversity of life that depends on it, is long gone. So may be environ- mental health, long thought linked to the normal and natural functioning of ecosystems. The gardeners of Eden may not be quite as sapient apes as they imagined and become victims of homogenization, biotic impoverishment, and their own excessive appetites.

There is a third scenario that has captured the imagination of some thought- ful environmental philosophers. It might be called the future primitive. It involves writing off technological civilization as a ten-thousand-year bad exper- iment. Either by choice or necessity small numbers of humans resume the kind

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of hunter and gatherer existence that indeed worked quite well for our species for millions of years. But the downside is that the extraordinary achievements and breathtaking potential of civilization are lost. A better goal, I feel, is that of Henry David Thoreau who wished “to secure all the advantages” of civilization “without suffering any of the disadvantages.” Don’t humans have as much right to fulfill their evolutionary potential as other species? The vital proviso is that in so doing we don’t compromise or eliminate the opportunity of other members of the biotic community to fulfill theirs. This means not discarding technology but using it responsibly.

The fourth scenario for the Fourth Millennium I call Island Civilization. It’s a vision, a dream if you prefer Martin Luther King’s rhetoric, and it means clus- tering on a planetary scale. Boundaries are drawn around the human presence, not around wilderness. Advanced technology permits humans to reduce their environmental impact. For the first time in human history, better tools mean peace rather than war with nature. Of course Island Civilization means the end of the idea of integrating our civilization into nature. The divorce that began with herding and agriculture is final! Since we proved clever enough to create our environment, rather than adapt to what nature provided, we’ve taken that option to the logical extreme. We have an impact on only a tiny part of the planet. The rest is self-willed. The matrix is wild, not civilized.

Of course a change like this one involves compromises with human freedom. On a finite planet, shared with millions of other species, only limited numbers of humans can enjoy unlimited opportunities. The first step toward Island Civilization is to check population growth and turn it back to a total of about 1.5 billion or a quarter of the present level. Of course this can be done! Here’s one problem for which we know the cause and the solution. It’s the motivation that is thus far lacking. A new, expanded earth ethic and plain fear about the crash of a bloated species might change things around. The essential first step is to put nature above people: “Earth First!” was the name Dave Foreman, Mike Roselle, and their colleagues gave to their program in 1980. As it is, humans increase and multiply at the rate of ten thousand per hour, a rate that wipes out any gains friends of wildlife and wilderness try to make today.

The other need for restraint is in the realm of living space. We’ve historically demanded too much of a planet we supposedly share with other species. We’ve pushed the wild things into the least desirable corners of the environment. It’s time our species took some of the “marginal” lands that we can modify with our intelligence. The fact is that we’ve been horrible roommates in the earth house- hold. What species would support an endangered species act for humans? One version of Island Civilization might mandate that the 1.5 billion people live in five hundred concentrated habitats scattered widely over Earth. Food pro- duction, energy generation, waste treatment and cultural activities take place in 100-mile closed-circle units supporting three million humans. “Cities” cannot begin to describe the new living arrangements that the architects and

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engineers of the Fourth Millennium could create. They might be on the poles, around mountains, in the air, underground and undersea. Rivers might run through some of them. Others might float in water or in the air. There would be cultural exchange, of course, but no need for global trade in food, energy or materials among the islands. Economies would be relocalized; the concept of “hundred mile meals” would be a reality. We would get back to an arrange- ment that worked well on a small scale for Greek city-states, medieval monas- teries, and pueblos of the Southwest. Sure, wild nature will be heavily impacted on the islands we occupy, but isn’t that fairer and better than a planetwide sacri- fice to a single species? The concept of an island means that human impact is completely contained. The kind of sprawl from which the planet suffers today would be gone. And, I am hoping, no more war. At least border tensions and ter- ritorial expansion would not be factors!

Exciting as the possibilities are for this new way for humans to live, it is what’s outside the islands (or more clearly what is not outside them!) that is especially compelling. The human presence has imploded. Fences are down. Dams are gone. Roads, railroads, pipelines, telephone lines, ocean-going ships indeed all terrestrial forms of transportation could be unnecessary in a millen- nium. I’m counting on amazing new technology to make all this possible. Nuclear fusion may be just the tip of the new technological iceberg. Utopian science fiction? Well, consider what was said about television and computers a century ago. And the pace of technological change is accelerating dramati- cally. Of course I can’t prove marvels such as transportation by teleportation will exist in a thousand years, but by the same token you can’t prove they won’t. Turn our best minds loose on the technological challenges of Island Civilization (rather than repairing the old, dead-end paths) and miracles will happen. It is not necessary to go back to the Pleistocene to live with a low eco- logical impact. Technology is essentially neutral; it’s what we do with it that is the problem. So why not expand our ethics, end mind pollution and take the high tech road to minimal impact? The result could be the conservation biology dream. The frontier reappears, and this time it is permanent. Rivers are full of salmon and the deer and antelope play on the plains. The big preda- tors are back too and, without human interference, perhaps evolving into some of the Pleistocene megafauna we never got to know. As we were before herding and agriculture, say 10,000 BC, humans in the year 3010 are once again good neighbors in the ecological community. Homo sapiens is healthy and enjoying its version of liberty and the pursuit of happiness and so are all the other com- ponents of the natural world.

But what, the question frequently arises, are your options if you don’t want to live on densely populated islands in a matrix of wilderness? The short response is that if you wanted to live a technological lifestyle in the Fourth Millennium you wouldn’t have a choice. According to the terms of a new, eco- logical contract, we’d surrender some freedoms—like herding cows on the open range or living in a sprawling ski resort. (If you wanted to ski you’d

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chose to live on the island built into, say, part of the Alps.) But you could leave the islands to enjoy minimum-impact vacations in high-quality wilderness. You could even live out there for a while or forever. The condition is that you’d have to live there as part of the wilderness. That means a resumption of the old pre- pastoral ways. No herds or settling down, no towns and walls, not even cottages in the woods. Those who opted off the island would take only what they needed from nature; profits and growth would not figure into the equation. We would have finally learned what the 1964 Wilderness Act meant about people being “visitors” who do not remain in someone else’s home. Perhaps humans of the distant future could choose on a seasonal basis between ways of life centered on computers or campfires. And young people of that society might be encour- aged to take a two-year mission into the wild. Completely out of contact with the civilized islands, they would learn the old hunting/gathering ways and the old land ethics. Here is where some humans might go back to the Pleistocene and live in the “future primitive” way I described a bit earlier. But is it possible people could support themselves out there for that long, living off the land? The answer is of course they could, considering that the healthy land and sea on which our ancestors built a very sustainable culture for hundreds of thou- sands of years were back again.

Island Civilization is a response to the history of Homo sapiens on Earth. For some 5 million years the planet was self-willed. Humans were just another hunter and gatherer species and population remained small and stable. It was a successful lifestyle that weathered just as severe climate changes as the one that scares us now. About ten thousand years before the present, our species began to experiment with controlling nature and reshaping our habitat. More precisely, humans stopped adapting to their environment and began to create it. Parts of this experiment resulted in impressive pinnacles of evolutionary achievement. But over time irony kicked in. Human success, especially the idea that bigger was better, carried the seeds of its own destruc- tion as well as that of many other life forms. From the standpoint of the rest of life, the growth of our civilization amounts to a cancer in the ecosystem. We no longer belong to the ecological team; we&#x20

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