326 pages, no illustrations
Nature no longer exists apart from humanity. Henceforth, the world we will inhabit is the one we have made. Geologists have called this new planetary epoch the Anthropocene, the Age of Humans. The geological strata we are now creating record industrial emissions, industrial-scale crop pollens, and the disappearance of species driven to extinction. Climate change is planetary engineering without design. These facts of the Anthropocene are scientific, but its shape and meaning are questions for politics – a politics that does not yet exist. After Nature develops a politics for this post-natural world.
Jedediah Purdy begins with a history of how Americans have shaped their landscapes. He explores the competing traditions that still infuse environmental law and culture – a frontier vision of settlement and development, a wilderness-seeking Romanticism, a utilitarian attitude that tries to manage nature for human benefit, and a twentieth-century ecological view. These traditions are ways of seeing the world and humans' place in it. They are also modes of lawmaking that inscribe ideal visions on the earth itself. Each has shaped landscapes that make its vision of nature real, from wilderness to farmland to suburbs – opening some new ways of living on the earth while foreclosing others.
The Anthropocene demands that we draw on all these legacies and go beyond them. With human and environmental fates now inseparable, environmental politics will become either more deeply democratic or more unequal and inhumane. Where nothing is pure, we must create ways to rally devotion to a damaged and ever-changing world.
"After Nature takes the reader on a smart and eloquent tour of the history of conservation movements, the rise of the study of ecology (and its flourishing in the wake of the Vietnam War) and the gradual expansion of environmental law, but Purdy is at his most insightful and persuasive when writing about the first of his 'major realms,' economy – and the subtle ways money has been shaping nature for centuries to suit its own needs [...] In the previous year, there've been many studies of the deeper meaning of the Anthropocene and the future of humanity, studies ranging from the impenetrable to the inconsolable. After Nature is by a wide margin the best of these books; in its passion, intelligence, and persistent thread of hope, it may very well be the Silent Spring of the 21st century."
– Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly
"After Nature argues that we will deserve the future only because it will be the one we made. We will live, or die, by our mistakes."
– Christine Smallwood, Harper's
"A profound vision of post-humanistic ethics."
– Kirkus Reviews
"It's good to have as powerful a mind as Professor Purdy's taking on these questions so central to our modern life. Every page has insights that will help people struggling to understand how we got here and where we're headed."
– Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature
1. An Unequal Terrain
2. God's Avid Gardeners
3. Nature as Teacher
4. Natural Utopias
5. A Conservationist Empire
6. A Wilderness Passage into Ecology
7. Environmental Law in the Anthropocene
8. What Kind of Democracy?
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Jedediah Purdy is Robinson O. Everett Professor of Law at Duke University School of Law.