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In Praise of Nature.

Television anchorman Tom Brokaw, in his brief foreword to this book, makes two disturbing statements. He implies that all exploitation of nature is "for the avarice of only a few" and that "we have managed to change her [nature], often without much thought, and never for the better."

The avarice of the many has often exploited the environment more ravishingly than the avarice of the few, whoever they might be. If changes to nature are judged by their benefits to humankind, then we have often changed her for the better, as any caveman might tell you were he or she alive today. If nature is the judge, then should we conclude that the disappearance of the dinosaurs or the woolly mammoth was a change for the better? Is drought or a meteor colliding with earth a change for the better?

Come on, Mr. Brokaw and Ms. Mills, humankind has not used all its tools and imagination for the worst.

The premise of this book is good--that the best works about nature might be kept alive in a handy collection of exemplary passages from the works themselves. Both the editor's comments as well as many of the reviews, however, suffer from the kind of simplemindedness and sentimentality embodied in Brokaw's introduction.

The reviews range from superficial or worshipful to insightful. The excerpts are often so short or poorly selected that they make little sense or seem trivial out of context. The praise of nature is limited generally to people who praise the obvious--beautiful scenery, appealing animals, clean water, and fresh air. Many do it eloquently, but just as many are sentimental, angry, or utopian.

We have Paul Ehrlich, who has been incredibly wrong about his population predictions, but not economist Julian Simon, to whom Ehrlich lost $1,000 by betting that the past decade would see dire scarcities of mineral resources. We have Herman Daly, an economist who proposes a no-growth economy, but not Herman Kahn, who praises natural resilience and human ingenuity.

There is only one way to praise nature in this book--the editor's way. Mills, long associated with The Whole Earth Review, believes in biodiversity but not intellectual diversity. As with many books from Island Press, this one is a fine idea, but without the usually good execution.
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Author:Kaufman, Wallace
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1991
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