Naturalism in the Anthropocene

Thursday, August 25, 2011

imageWhat happens when a talented science writer brings together a diverse group of ecologists and conservationists chasing a new vision of nature?  If that writer is Emma Marris, the answer is: Rambunctious Garden- a new book to be released this September 1.

Using her great gift for storytelling, Marris tours the reader through the contemporary ecological labyrinth that constitutes "saving nature in a post-wild world", weaving together stories gained from years of reporting in the field with ecologists and conservationists.  [FULL DISCLOSURE] I first met Emma in 2009 at an Ecological Society of America conference, together with other scientists she had invited to chat with over beer.  I waimages there as a result of her having asked me earlier to map and estimate the global extent of novel ecosystems for her wonderful article on this in Nature (Marris 2009).  I was surprised and encouraged to meet such a joyful and inquisitive writer on the environmental conservation beat- which all too often seems a venue for those interested in reporting on the end of the world.   I've since met her a few times at conferences and continue to admire her rambunctiousness - I can say without hesitation that the title of her book applies just as well to her personality, and most importantly, to her writing.

Reader:  prepare to become enthusiastic about the prospects for conserving nature in the Anthropocene.  The book comprises ten chapters on different conservation themes ranging from the trials of conserving wild nature in reserves, to the possibilities of "rewilding" Europe with large herbivores, the opportunities of managing biodiversity in used and working landscapes, and the prospects of designer ecosystems made to please.  In all of this, Marris tells the story through her work in the field with the people who do science and conservation around the world- a story very few have the experience to tell at all, let alone one with the writing skills and the spirit to make these stories come alive.  In the end, she brings together these themes and stories into a new and positive vision of the nature we can create, if only we can get beyond the idea that the best nature is that untouched by human hands.

The educated public and students of every level, from high school through graduate school, along with ecologists and conservationists of all stripes, will enjoy voyaging with Emma and her fellow travelers across this new world of conservation as it is playing out in the field.  In the process, our current and future generations may yet rise to embrace and nurture the new nature we are creating rather than simply playing the tired and wildly unsuccessful old game of trying to stamp it out faster than we can create it.  As one of a growing number of scientists travelling in this same direction, it feels so good to see this new vision translated into great stories and invigorating messages.  With luck, this book and the others sure to follow will help lead the way to a new and more rewarding form of naturalism in the Anthropocene.

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