The Earth Only Endures: On Reconnecting with Nature and Our Place in it.
Have we lost our way? What has caused many of the social, environmental and health ills of modern society? In 'The Earth Only Endures' by Jules Pretty, many of modern society's problems have risen from a move towards economic progress and away from our connection to nature. As an increasingly technological, mobile and global society, we are finding less and less time to engage with our natural environment(s), with serious consequences.
Centering on 'themes of connections and estrangements" (p. viii), this book address our changing relationships with our natural world, and all that is in it. The book is divided into five parts, with sixteen interlinking essays. While all are thought-provoking, I have chosen to focus this review specifically on two standout sections. "Green Places" looks at how our world came to be, from inhospitable beginnings to the lush paradise many of us now take for granted through damaging consumption practices. Pretty highlights the deep power that green places have on physical and emotional health and well-being. This restorative power of the natural environment is also the foundation of therapeutic landscape research, where certain physical and psychological environments are recognized as important for treatment and healing, as well as maintenance of health (Williams, 1998). Our current estrangement from nature, however, is making us unhealthy. Throughout the book Pretty argues that this disconnection is creating numerous health problems as we are increasingly sedentary, spending many of our waking hours plugged in to internet, television and social media. In modern society, we know this to be true of many of us. Less people experience, on a regular basis, the simple pleasures of strolling through the woods or listening for spring song birds. As we continue to age, and fall victim to numerous health challenges, the importance of reconnecting to the environment - as expressed by both Pretty and growing therapeutic landscape research - should be increasingly clear.
The entire book invokes the concept of 'sense of place' which is an attachment to a particular place that is rich with meaning for the people using it (Tuan, 1977) - speaking to Pretty's notion of connections. Many people have a special place, whether natural or man-made that is cherished, full of memories and creates a sense of peace when thinking of or visiting it. However, many people are also experiencing what Relph (1976) calls 'placelessness', where people are losing these deep, meaningful connections to place(s), due largely to increasing mobility and place homogenization. This concept is also woven throughout Pretty's book - the effects of placelessness or estrangements on our world, and how to reinvigorate sense of place in order to move towards environmental stewardship.
At times the picture Pretty paints is bleak - can we ever find our way out of this quagmire within which we are situated? Although many examples of our disconnections that Pretty presents are indeed grim, he also offers hope - examples of groups who have maintained their connection to the world around them, or sought to re-establish more natural ways of doing things. In short, people who have reconnected with nature, for the betterment of their lives, communities, and even (the fear of many people in our technologically driven world) the economic bottom line. The landscape is rich with stories, and it is imperative that we (re) learn to read, interpret and tell these stories. How do so many of us then, find our way back to strong connections with the environment?
The final section, "The Future" offers hope amidst the challenges. Drawing on resilience theory, Ecolution (Chapter 15) involves a need to "recognize the tightly coupled nature of ecological and social systems, and to develop new opportunities for creative self-organization for enduring with this world" (p. 211). In these final sections Pretty offers pearls of wisdom that we would be wise to listen to. Ecolution, and Liberation (Chapter 16) will require us to find our way back to a deep and meaningful relationship with the environment, and everything within it. This will require a shift from our current anthropocentric way of thinking to one where we recognize ourselves as part of this world and not separate.
Rich, descriptive prose is interwoven with insights from global scholarly research, and wise words from environmental writers. Although the key message sometimes gets lost in the rich description, this will be a cherished book for many, including academics and policy-makers. This is a deeply engaging book, and readers will be left thinking about the themes of connections and estrangements long after they have turned the final page. "The Earth Only Endures" will occupy an important place in the bookshelf next to some of the most prolific environmental writers of our times, including Leopold, Thoreau, Wilson and Abbey.
Relph, E. (1976). Place and Placelessness. London: Pion.
Tuan, Y.F. (1977). Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Williams, A. (1998). Therapeutic landscapes in holistic medicine. Social Sciences & Medicine, 46(9), 1193-1203.
Reviewed by Jennifer Fresque, PhD Candidate, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2012|
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