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Academic & Professional Books  Conservation & Biodiversity  Conservation & Biodiversity: General

Abundant Earth Toward an Ecological Civilization

By: Eileen Crist(Author)
307 pages, no illustrations
Abundant Earth is a radical and furious cross-examination of anthropocentrism, arguing it has a stranglehold on our thinking and is holding us back from quitting environmental destruction.
Abundant Earth
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  • Abundant Earth ISBN: 9780226596808 Paperback Feb 2019 In stock
  • Abundant Earth ISBN: 9780226596778 Hardback no dustjacket Feb 2019 Temporarily out of stock: order now to get this when available
Selected version: £26.99
About this book Contents Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

In Abundant Earth, Eileen Crist not only documents the rising tide of biodiversity loss, but also lays out the drivers of this wholesale destruction and how we can push past them. Looking beyond the familiar litany of causes – a large and growing human population, rising livestock numbers, expanding economies and international trade, and spreading infrastructures and incursions upon wildlands – she asks the key question: if we know human expansionism is to blame for this ecological crisis, why are we not taking the needed steps to halt our expansionism?

Crist argues that to do so would require a two-pronged approach. Scaling down calls upon us to lower the global human population while working within a human-rights framework, to deindustrialize food production, and to localize economies and contract global trade. Pulling back calls upon us to free, restore, reconnect, and rewild vast terrestrial and marine ecosystems. However, the pervasive worldview of human supremacy – the conviction that humans are superior to all other life-forms and entitled to use these life-forms and their habitats – normalizes and promotes humanity's ongoing expansion, undermining our ability to enact these linked strategies and preempt the mounting suffering and dislocation of both humans and nonhumans.

Abundant Earth urges us to confront the reality that humanity will not advance by entrenching its domination over the biosphere. On the contrary, we will stagnate in the identity of nature-colonizer and decline into conflict as we vie for natural resources. Instead, we must chart another course, choosing to live in fellowship within the vibrant ecologies of our wild and domestic cohorts, and enfolding human inhabitation within the rich expanse of a biodiverse, living planet.



Part One The Destruction of Life and the Human Supremacy Complex
1 Unraveling Earth's Biodiversity
2 Human Supremacy and the Roots of the Ecological Crisis
3 The Framework of Resources and Techno-Managerialism

Part Two Discursive Knots
4 Is the Human Impact Natural?
5 The Trouble with Debunking Wilderness
6 Freedom, Entitlement, and the Fate of the Nonhuman World

Part Three Scaling Down and Pulling Back
7 Dystopia at the Doorstep
8 Welcoming Limitations
9 Restoring Abundant Earth
Epilogue: Toward an Ecological Civilization


Customer Reviews (1)

  • Powerful and radical critique
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 11 Nov 2019 Written for Paperback

    Climate change, pollution, habitat fragmentation, species extinction – there is no shortage of daily press coverage of the slow-motion collapse of our planetary ecosystem. So why are we barely acting? In this radical and thought-provoking book, sociologist Eileen Crist eloquently lays out the familiar causes. More importantly, she exposes and calls out the dominant anthropocentric mindset that is keeping us on the runaway train to destruction. There is another way, she contends, but will it find mainstream acceptance?

    Though not fuming with the misanthropic rage of The Selfish Ape, Crist's book is nonetheless a pointed and furious cross-examination of anthropocentrism. Something she rather calls a human supremacy complex driving relentless expansionism. What we are doing to the planet is nothing short of terraforming on a totalitarian scale, she writes. Wildlife is under systemic assault, its freedom obliterated and constricted. What you quaintly call fishing is a regime of plunder. Our actions are best described as colonization, domination, slaughter, destruction, genocide, annihilation, a biological holocaust.

    One of the book's main themes is the power of language in shaping our thoughts and actions. Our very perception of the world – to the exclusion of other modes of thinking. Crist purposefully uses emotive language – not to shock, but to expose how anodyne descriptions normalize our actions. And, she emphatically says, there is nothing normal about deforestation, overfishing, industrial agriculture, or mountaintop removal mining. We commodify nature by speaking of natural resources, ecosystem services, or fish stocks. "Repurposing Earth as humanity's resource colony" thus becomes an acceptable course of action, nay, our god-given right. As quotes from historical sources show, the ideas of "taming nature" and "progress" go back millennia. It also conveniently glosses over the death and destruction involved.

    Ironically, though Crist is lyrical in her descriptions, she does occasionally go overboard on the academic sociology-speak. To write that "the relationship between people and nature is always shaped by ideational-actionable constructs", or that it is "within the horizons of our imaginative-pragmatic capacity that we may become a people who abdicate human empire instead of struggling to ensconce it and clean up its self-endangering corollaries" are verbose and not helpful in transmitting her important message to a wider audience.

    Next to providing an overview of our planetary crisis, the first part of the book criticizes technological fixes and the oxymoron of sustainable development, both of which seek to find solutions within the existing framework of perpetual growth. The second part of the book debunks three commonly heard refrains. One, that our impact and actions are natural, and that we have a long history of such behaviour. This is often propped up with the Pleistocene overkill hypothesis (see my review of End of the Megafauna for a critical evaluation). Two, that the idea of wilderness is defunct because there is no true wilderness left anymore anyway. Three, that our actions are (supposedly) spreading freedom to humans around the globe. In practice this means more stuff to consume, which requires us to destroy yet more of our natural environment.

    Many books are lamenting our current predicament. Complaining is easy (see also my review of The Uninhabitable Earth). Whether they are actually worth reading stands or falls on their proposed solutions. This brings us to the book's third and final part: Crist's call for scaling down and pulling back. Her insights into the worldview-constricting power of language were enough reason for me to give her one thumb up. Here is where the second thumb comes up. She head-on confronts overpopulation, calling it *the* big multiplier when considering the environmental impact of everything we do, and urging readers that we *have to* break the silence around this final taboo. I have summarised my thoughts on this in my review of Should We Control World Population? (My answer, by the way, is "Yes!")

    Scaling down means not just curbing population growth but actively depopulating. If we want to give all humans a fair and healthy standard of living without it costing the planet, a ball-park figure for optimum population size is two billion (see also A Planet of 3 Billion – the exact number will depend on what you plug into your equations). Crist sees the empowerment of women, and the universal availability of contraception and family planning as the only solution. We have good evidence that this works, see also my review of Empty Planet. She adds that past, more radical solutions, such as forced sterilisation or China's draconic one-child policy, are examples of how not to do it.

    The pulling back part is where the book's subtitle comes into play. I do think that much of what she writes here, interspersed with frequent quotes from historical naturalists and radical environmental thinkers, becomes a bit woolly and does not offer a particularly actionable blueprint. Furthermore, Crist seems to draw on indigenous wisdom on how to relate to the world. For me, her talk of reconnecting with nature and honouring our relationship with the earth goes into cringeworthy spiritualism territory, but you may call me prejudiced. At least we both agree it will beat our current modus operandi.

    To wit, to get towards an ecological civilization, Crist suggests, amongst others, to curb overconsumption, have fewer or no children, decentralize our economies, reduce global trade, stop eating meat, farm organically, and pursue massive rewilding efforts. Basically, we need to reset our thinking on what makes a good life and foster decency, virtue, and restraint.

    To be clear, Crist does not advocate retreating to the caves, overthrowing civilization, and rejecting all modern technology. But what can stay and what should go? She remains vague on the particulars, adding that "it is impossible to foresee what such a civilization will look like; that will be a work in progress for future generations to shape". Calling this a cop-out would be too easy, her book makes crystal clear that our current approach – where destruction is a feature, not a bug – is broken. But the devil will be in the implementational details.

    Despite some minor personal gripes, Abundant Earth is a very powerful book. The notion of our language shaping our perception is one of those "what has been seen cannot be unseen" ideas. When you pay attention to it you realise just how habitually we all speak of nature as a mere larder. Will Crist's radical ideas go mainstream? Time will tell. But as an eye-opening book and conversation starter, this one comes highly recommended.
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Eileen Crist is associate professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society at Virginia Tech. She is the author of Images of Animals: Anthropomorphism and Animal Mind and coeditor of a number of books, including Gaia in Turmoil: Climate Change, Biodepletion, and Earth Ethics in an Age of Crisis; Life on the Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation; Keeping the Wild: Against the Domestication of Earth; and Protecting the Wild: Parks and Wilderness, the Foundation for Conservation.

By: Eileen Crist(Author)
307 pages, no illustrations
Abundant Earth is a radical and furious cross-examination of anthropocentrism, arguing it has a stranglehold on our thinking and is holding us back from quitting environmental destruction.
Media reviews

"Abundant Earth is a gem of a book. Eileen Crist clearly shows how essential it is for humans to appreciate that we're just one species among many, to recognize that it's high time that we deeply appreciate and embrace Earth's biodiversity, and to understand that we're not superior or 'better' than other animals. When we come to realize that coexistence has to be the name of the game as we move forward in an increasingly human dominated world – we are the most dominating species – and that each and every individual can make positive differences in the ongoing health of our magnificent planet, there is hope that the future won't be as bleak as many claim it will be. Future generations surely will inherit a different planet. However, different doesn't necessarily mean a worse place to live if we reconnect with nature, rewild ourselves, and come to understand that we're just one of a gang of many diverse beings, all of whom matter."
– Marc Bekoff, author of Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence and Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do

"No one has dealt with the issue of human supremacy and 'the fate of the earth' in the systematic and extensive manner that Crist does in this book. Her work is meticulous, systematic, thorough – and it is deeply provocative."
– Lisi Krall, author of Proving Up: Domesticating Land in US History



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