June 2010

The best of both worlds

By Charles Wohlforth
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Will present and future generations help protect our planet from neglect and abuse, or will the social and political mechanisms of the market economy win out? In The Fate of Nature, award-winning writer Charles Wohlforth (The Whale and the Supercomputer) argues that humans are inexorably linked to nature and “if we’re to imprint good will on the world, those wishes have to vie in the same arena as our selfishness.”

Wohlforth—a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News—examines the many challenges in preserving “wild nature,” the slippery cause and effect of the many issues and conflicts in environmentalism and conservation, focusing on the ocean, mountains, harbors and ancient communities of his native Alaska. Among many other angles, he looks at the history of conservation, property rights vs. community rights, how change happens and, most notably, how communities both thrived and failed in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. “Simply changing the menu of wants is not enough,” Wohlforth writes. “[It] depends on changing the social economic and political system that values wants. We are built to be cooperators and altruists, too—givers, not only wanters. We are capable of joining in communities that elevate our love instead of our drives.”

Intellectual, philosophical and packed with feeling, Wohlforth’s hopeful arguments for preserving our natural world are also practical and ring true as a bell, a gentle pause in the noise that often takes the place of civilized debate on the topic. “Stronger than our greed and materialism,” he writes, “most of us feel a connection to other people, to animals and wild places, and when we’re faced with a choice between those sources of meaning and our own material gain, we tend to prefer fairness and the bonds of the heart over getting ahead.” Readers will surely hope he is right.

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The Fate of Nature

The Fate of Nature

By Charles Wohlforth
Thomas Dunne
ISBN 9780312377373

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