Influential Writers on Agrarian Values and Environmental Protection

A Brief Literature Survey for Building a “Smart New Agrarian Ethic”

Author: Caleb Hall

Editor’s Note (from J.W. Head) This survey, emerging from a collaboration between Caleb Hall and John Head around 2012, responds to the following set of research questions – questions that should interest any engaged citizen of the 21st century concerned about agrarian values and environmental protection:

  • What are some of the key writers (US and otherwise) on “agrarian values” and similar theme, and what are their most important works and ideas,
  • Ditto for key writers (US and otherwise) on environmental protection, especially regarding soil science,
  • Building from those and other sources, what kind of bullet-point account could we provide for the most important elements of “agrarian advocacy” that would be relevant to what “natural systems agriculture” or “agroecological husbandry” . . . all with the overall aim of laying the groundwork for a description of a “smart new agrarian ethic”. (The idea that it has to be “smart” reflects the reality that pie-in-the-sky dreams for a new way of life are of no good to anybody unless they can be squared with the needs and expectations of modern society.)

The following pages address those questions. Mr. Hall starts with a list of writers heavily influencing our views of agrarian ethics, including Wendell Berry, Henry David Thoreau, Don Worster, Wes Jackson, Ezra Taft Benson, Earl Butz, Frances Moore Lappé, Michael Pollan, and Aldo Leopold. Mr. Hall then offers a list of writers of great influence in environmental protection and restoration, including John Muir, Rachel Carson, David Montgomery, Al Gore, Bill McKibbon, and Edward Abbey.

Naturally, broader literature surveys could be compiled, especially to include a boundless range of influential writers from other countries and other eras. Indeed, Mr. Hall has emphasized in a recent exchange that a more comprehensive treatment of the questions would surely have highlighted the works of more women (such as Terry Tempest Williams) and people of color. Mr. Hall also has commented that some aspects of the abbreviated accounts he provided several years ago do not fully reflect his thinking now – so that, for instance, an updated reference to John Muir would be less deferential to Muir’s relations with Native Americans and his respect for indigenous cultures.

Still, the summaries that follow do provide a good start – a rich reservoir of information about literature falling within the narrow scope of the questions, which revolve around “agrarian” writing and advocacy. This Working Paper can thus provide a template and a strong foundation for exploring a broader palette of writings from various cultures on agroecology.

Agrarian Writers and Thinkers

Wendell Berry (1934-)

Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture (Avon 1977)

  • This book, written shortly after Earl Butz started his “fence row to fence row” mantra after the Soviet grain collapse, was meant to be a warning, not prophecy. He saw the commoditization of agriculture and culture starting with Ezra Taft Benson’s thinking and culminating in Earl Butz. However, this book actually reads as if it could have been written today. The problems of community loss, soil erosion, and poor public health have substantiated in the thirty six years since he wrote this piece.
  • He starts, “the cultural issues that I attempt to deal with have been with us since our history began, and, barring miracle or catastrophe, they will be with us for a long time to come.” p. Vii. He presents our ecological crisis as a crisis of character and agriculture, and our agricultural crisis as a crisis of culture.
  • It was Europe’s colonization of America that “unsettled” it by introducing Western civilization and business culture to the land and its indigenous. “We are all to some extent the products of an exploitive society, and it would be foolish and self-defeating to pretend we do not bear its stamp.” P.7
  • That we have begun to see food as a weapon, or of weapons as food, signals our loss of sanctity of life at the expense of illusory security and wealth for a few. P. 9
  • Wendell Berry was one of the first to point out the fallacies of using more exploitive agriculture to stave world hunger, “we are familiar enough with the nature of American salesmanship to know that it will be done in the name of the starving millions, in the name of liberty, justice, democracy, and brotherhood, and to free the world from communism.” P. 10. To Wendell, corporations are incompatible with a healthy culture and agriculture.
  • To Wendell our energy problems are not “scarcity; it is moral ignorance and weakness of character. We don’t know how to sue energy, or what to use it for. And we cannot restrain ourselves.” P.13
  • Agriculture should not be separated from its spiritual and ecological components. This is done to legitimize separate disciplines of agronomy or agricultural economists, but it wrecks our understanding of agricultural processes. To Berry, focusing on specializing knowledge and disciplines has actually destroyed our culture. “A culture is not a collection of relics or ornaments, but a practical necessity, and its corruption invokes calamity.” P. 43
  • He warns about what will happen to rural communities once less and less people farm, but by the time he wrote it was probably too late. P. 74
  • New advances in food and agricultural technology only bring the “frivolous” and “problematic” to Berry. P. 61
  • “How, rationally, can one hold the small farm in contempt as the living of a farm family and then sentimentalize over it as the ‘country place’ or hobby of an executive? It cannot be done unless it is assumed that an executive is more deserving of a small farm because, as an urban or a professional person, he is superior to a farmer.” P.64
  • “Our system of agriculture, by modeling itself on economics rather than biology, thus removes food from the cycle of its production and puts it into a finite, linear process that in effect destroys it by transforming it into waste. That is, it transforms food into fuel, a form of energy that is usable only once, and in doing so it transforms the body into a consumptive machine.” p.”137

Wendell Berry, The Making of a Marginal Farm in AMERICAN EARTH: ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING SINCE THOREAU 516-530 (Bill McKibben ed., Library of America 2008).

  • “If I had to choose, I would join the nature extremists against the technology extremists, but this choice seems poor, even assuming that it is possible. I would prefer to stay in the middle, not to avoid taking sides, but because I think the middle is side, as well as the real location of the problem.” P. 517
  • We are indivisible from nature, but we are different. Humans are “artifacts of their culture.” We are capable of prudence and justice, but also monstrosity whereas nature is simply that. P.520
  • “…conservation is going to prove increasingly futile and increasingly meaningless if its proscriptions are not answered positively by an economy that rewards and enforces good use. I would call this a loving economy, for it would strive to place a proper value on all the materials of the world, in all their metamorphoses from soil and water, air and light to the finished goods of our towns and households, and I think that the only effective motive for this would be a particularizing love for local things, rising our a local knowledge and local allegiance…Our present economy by contrast, does not account for affection at all, which si to say that it does not account for value. It is simply a description of the career of money as it preys upon both nature and human society.” P. 523
  • “As we undertake this work [of saving agriculture and wilderness], perhaps the greatest immediate danger lies in our dislike of ourselves as a species. This is an understandable dislike – we are justly afraid of ourselves – but we are nevertheless obliged to think and act out of a proper self-interest and a genuine self-respect as human beings.” P. 527

Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry, in AMERICAN EARTH: ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING SINCE THOREAU 504 (Bill McKibben ed., Library of America 2008).

  • Wendell was born in 1934 on a farm in Henry County, Kentucky
  • After receiving his Masters at the University of Kentucky, he won a Wallace Stegner writing fellowship which took him to Stanford where he studied with influential writers Edward Abbey, Larry McMurtry, and Ken Kesey.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

Henry David Thoreau, Journals, in AMERICAN EARTH: ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING SINCE THOREAU 2-8 (Bill McKibben ed., Library of America 2008).

  • “I find it good to remember the eternity behind me as well as the eternity before.” Saturday March 19, 1842. Thoreau was talking about respecting the Native Americans who populated New England before he was there, but it is still remarkable because it reflects a respect for place and temporal understanding that developed in most environmental writers a hundred years after he died.
  • “A man should feed his senses with the best that the land affords.” September 12, 1851
  • “Even the solid globe is permeated by the living law. It is the most living of creatures. No doubt all creatures that live on its surface are but parasites.” December 31, 1851. This quote shows how much Thoreau’s thoughts were in conflict with Puritan ideas that man was meant to take dominion of the earth or that the earth is made better by our actions.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden; or, Life in the Woods, in AMERICAN EARTH: ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING SINCE THOREAU 9-25 (Bill McKibben ed., Library of America 2008).

  • He describes how he made his cabin near Walden. He felt content in his natural setting, as if that is how he should live. To him living in cities, distant from nature, was a true aberration.
  • “There is some of the same fitness in a man’s building his own house that there is in a bird’s building its own nest. Who knows but if men constructed their dwellings with their own hands, and provided food for themselves and families simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would be universally developed, as birds universally sing when they are so engaged? But alas! We do like cowbirds and cuckoos, which lay their eggs in nests which other birds have built, and cheer no traveler with their chattering and unmusical notes.” P. 13
  • “The student who secures his coveted leisure and retirement by systematically shirking any labor necessary to man obtains but an ignoble and unprofitable leisure, defrauding himself of the experience which alone can make leisure fruitful… I mean that they should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end.” P.17
  • “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which was already but too easy to arrive at…” p.18

Henry David Thoreau, Huckleberries, in AMERICAN EARTH: ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING SINCE THOREAU 26-36 (Bill McKibben ed., Library of America 2008).

  • “It is true, we have as good a right to make berries private property, as to make wild grass and trees such – it is not worse than a thousand other practices which custom has sanctioned – but that is the worst of it, for it suggests how bad the rest are, and to what result our civilization and division of labor naturally tend, to make all things venal…For at the same time that we exclude mankind from gathering berries in our field, we exclude them from gathering health and happiness and inspiration, and a hundred other far finer and nobler fruits than berries, which are found here, but which we have no notion of gathering and shall not gather ourselves, nor every carry to market, for there is no market for them, but let them rot on the bushes.” P.28-29
  • “There may be the most beautiful landscapes in the world within a dozen miles of us, for aught we know – for their inhabitants do not value nor perceive them – and so have not made them known to others – but if a grain of gold were picked up there, or a pearl found in fresh-water clam, the whole state would resound with the news.” P. 33. Thoreau has a respect for place as it is. It worth is not simply determined by monetary value, but by aesthetics as well.
  • “Shall we hire a man to lecture on botany, on oaks for instance, our noblest plants – while we permit others to cut down the few best specimens of these trees that are left? It is like teaching children Latin and Greek while we burn the books printed in those languages.” P.35

Bill McKibben, Henry David Thoreau, in AMERICAN EARTH: ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING SINCE THOREAU 1-2 (Bill McKibben ed., Library of America 2008).

  • Lived 1817-1862. He started living in his cabin at Walden Pond in 1845. He stayed there for two years, two months, and two days, but often went into town to see friends and eat meals.
  • He wrote a draft of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers while at Walden, and then spent six years afterward turning the notes and journal entries from his stay in Walden.
  • Both Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. have claimed him as one of their inspirations.

Donald Worster, NATURE’S ECONOMY: THE ROOTS OF ECOLOGY (Anchor Books 1979) (1977).

  • Thoreau’s attitudes towards nature were a contrarian reaction to the New England Puritans that admonished leisured walks through pasture or forests. P. 62
  • (Quoting from Thoreau’s journal): “How rich and lavish must be the system which can afford to let so many moons burn all the day as well as the night, though no man stands in need of their light! There is none of that kind of economy in Nature that husbands its stock, but she supplies inexhaustible means to the most frugal methods.” This quote shows that Thoreau was one of the first to realize that nature is not an efficient or well regulated economy. This was contrary to the popular notions of Linnaeus at the time who saw nature as well defined and apportioned evenly. P. 64-65

Donald Worster (1941-)

Worster once explained that “any dolt can love a mountain; it takes a subtle mind to love a prairie.” If that is the case then Worster may have one of the most subtle minds of any writer presented here.

Donald Worster, A PASSION FOR NATURE: THE LIFE OF JOHN MUIR (Oxford Univ. Press 2008).

  • Won the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Book of the Year
  • Winner of the Ambassador Book Award in Biography and Autobiography of the English-Speaking Union of The United States
  • Named One of the Top 10 Biographies for 2009 by Booklist
  • Winner of the Saltire Homecoming Award
  • Won the Byron Caldwell Book Award of the Hall Center for the Humanities

Donald Worster, DUST BOWL: THE SOUTHERN PLAINS THE 1930S (Oxford Univ. Press 1982) (1979).

  • Won the Bancroft Prize, though Worster is more proud of his so-called “Yahoo” award for this book when a school in Oklahoma organized a book burning because they hated his depiction of rural life during the Dust Bowl as well as his assertion that capitalist agriculture was the cause.
  • Despite the fact that he wrote it in only nine months, this book has been incredibly influential in inspiring the study environmental history in the U.S. as well as other environmental historians like Karl Brooks, now Regional Administrator of EPA Region 7, and Sara Gregg, Assistant Professor, University of Kansas Department of History.

Donald Worster, NATURE’S ECONOMY: THE ROOTS OF ECOLOGY (Anchor Books 1979) (1977).

  • Explores the history of the word “ecology,” and how “nature’s economy” became to be that.

Interview with Donald Worster, Hall Distinguished Professor of American History, in Lawrence, Kan. (Jan. 14, 2013).

  • Considering the current politics in Kansas, Worster does not actually see any hope. Kansas is focused on free markets and government controlled morality (sex). Worster is more hopeful for Germany, Scandinavia, New England states, and California. However, the US is too deep in conflict for change to occur. At the end though Worster asks, “… but if you are not hopeful then what can you do?”
  • Economic problems, not legal, are going to be the real obstruction to agricultural innovation.
  • People in suburbs and cities must begin to care about small farms and rural communities. That means not demanding for cheaper food at all costs.
  • Taking some thoughts from Wes Jackson, Worster sees the only solution in a kind of agriculture that a corporation cannot possibly master. Perennial fields cannot be left alone or applied with chemicals once. They are mimics of natural systems and as such will forever be vulnerable to invasive species. Perennial agriculture will require more people to live out in rural areas, and for them to be caretakers for their own plots. Even if Monsanto could somehow patent a polycultures blend, it could not take care of them without more workers. There is not so much a requirement of capital, but a knowledge of place, and a corporation cannot attain that. Only small decentralized farmers can. The more workers involved in agriculture, the more social and political capital them have against entities like the U.S. Farm Bureau or other corporate interest that disguise themselves with agrarian imagery. Worster is not so sure that this can happen though considering how far the other direction we have gone.
  • Also from Wes Jackson, you can’t just have miles of perennial wheat. Kernza may be an important step, but it is not the complex prairie systems that we desperately need.
  • If response to accusations that “nobody wants to go back to the farm,” maybe only twenty percent at the most want to return the land, but that is still a fifth of our population. Most people who want to return to the land cannot because the way modern society shapes choices.
  • “What difference does an ethic make if your economic system is skewed”?
  • Worster does not want an authoritarian ethic. It needs some resilience and variance. What is the new smart agrarian ethic for land owners? Consumers? Urbanites? Rural?
  • The ethic of today is that food should be as cheap as possible, safe, and supported.
  • What would be different about a new ethic? Borrowing from Leopold, Worster says that a new one would put a responsibility on land owners.
  • Laws that impose factory owners should also create legal repercussions for farmers who ruin the land.

Wes Jackson (1936-)

Wes Jackson, NEW ROOTS FOR AGRICULTURE (Univ. of Neb. Press 1985) (1980).

  • This book criticizes industrial agriculture, but also serves as his was to explain the future of perennial polyculture grains.
  • Wes majored in biology at Wesleyan University in Salina, earned a M.A. in botany from KU, and then a Ph.D. in genetics from North Carolina State. He taught at Wesleyan University from 1967 to 1971 and then Sacramento State. p. viii – ix. It was at North Carolina State where he met Ben W. Smith who turned Jackson to perennial polycultures and the research on them done by Russian geneticist N. I. Vavilov in Soviet Russia. P. 132. Apparently the Russians were successful in 1920 of increasing yield with perennial crossings, but were unable to duplicate results, and they refused to let western plant scientists visit the fields. Id.
  • In 1976, Wes and Dana Jackson lost the working copy, notes, and references for their book Toward an Ecological Ethic. P. x. I suspect this book is the rewrite of their first attempt.
  • With small exceptions, Wes argues that tilling agriculture should not be practiced. P. 2
  • References Wendell Berry’s Unsettling of America. P. 3
  • “The Failure of Success” is the name of second chapter (Notice he used this phrase at the Boulevard Brewery). In it he describes how the switch from “soil to oil” from 1949 to 1969 increased agricultural output fifty percent, and the problems that crop lands face: soil erosion, urban encroachment, and chemicals. P. 15-27
  • Relies on the writings of Barry Commoner. P. 23-24
  • Wes Jackson derides the governmental organizations that demanded higher production and output. He sees them, along with our inability to recognize limits that were recognized by people like John Wesely Powell, to be some of the sources of our agricultural dilemma. P. 43-44, 51-60
  • Wes sees two, but only two, reasons for hope in our Judeo-Christian heritage: 1) that we have the chance to evolve just as Christianity did with Moses to Lincoln freeing slaves, and 2) the idea of eternal life which could act as an incentive for people to be good stewards of the land. p. 67-68
  • “Many of these people are part of a high level “good-ol’-boy” system loaded with “mature judgment.” They share a presumption that they know what is good for the country – and, for that matter, the world – and from that assurance they wield their power to influence policy, usually subtly, sometimes not.” Wes is describing the Committee for Economic Development that pushed economic schemes of lowering price supports to drive small famers off the land during WWII and afterward so as to increase production with larger farms, but I’m sure he would apply this passage for anyone participating wholeheartedly in the industrial food complex. P. 78 -81
  • In order to make the “farm as hearth,” where culture grows, as opposed to a “food factory,” Jackson proposes stopping land speculation so prices will drop to encourage more families to settle in rural areas, but Jackson does not provide any way to prevent corporations from just buying up more land. At least Jackson acknowledges that he has no solution for that possible problem. P. 88-89
  • Chapter eight, “New Roots for Agriculture,” is all about how perennial agriculture would actually work. P. 93-113
  • His ninth chapter, “Outside the Solar Village: One Utopian Farm,” is his vision of future farm communities. P.118 -132 – Both the homes and fields rely primarily on the sun for energy. That means perennial grains photosynthesizing and solar panels for domestic use, but there is a wood stove in each house as a backup. Houses are made partially underground to save energy, with water pumping windmills, and wind generation as well. –In Kansas, each family lives on 160 acres, or four families per square mile (640 acres), but in far western Kansas 320 acres is needed for each family. Each community has about 750 people with 260 farming. –When Wes wrote this part he imagined the US population being three hundred million, but it is that now. He expected twenty million of those people to be farming. –Under a proposed Land Trust System land is not owned by individuals, but it can be devised through generations. –Solar powered mobile pens move chickens and hogs from field to field. This is actually a practice now popularized by Joel Salatin from the movie Food, Inc. (The farmer I buy eggs from outside Lawrence does this with his chickens sans solar power.) –“There was a unifying theme from Massachusetts to Kansas to California. People recognized that in the long run and often in the short run, land determines. Citizens sought to meet the expectations of the land and to look at the natural ecosystems of different regions as the standard against which to judge their agricultural practices.” P. 132

Wes Jackson, BECOMING NATIVE TO THIS PLACE (Univ. of Ky. Press 1994).

  • “To a large extent, this book is a challenge to the universities to stop and think what they are doing with the young men and women they are supposed to be preparing for the future. The universities now offer only one serious major: upward mobility. Little attention is paid to educating the young to return home, or to go some other place, and dig in. There is no such thing as a ‘homecoming’ major.” P. 3
  • As opposed to caring or loving this land, Americans continue to act like conquerors. “And therein lies the tragedy. We are still more the cultural descendants of Columbus and Coronado than we are of the natives we replaced.” P. 15
  • “Ozone depletion is a product of that same knowledge-proud, knowledge-confident worldview.” P. 23
  • He laments the tradition of “Baconian-Cartestian” thought that permeates academic and management thought that all ignorance can be corrected, and that things can be measured isolated unto themselves. To Wes this same thought has infected the science of ecology, and he calls for a new science of ecology that uses nature as a reference, to consult with as with a marriage as opposed to Smart Resource Management. P. 22-25
  • “Well, to treat wilderness as a holy shrine and Kansas or East Saint Louis as terrain of an altogether different sort is a form of schizophrenia. Either all the earth is holy or none is. Either every square food of it deserves our respect or none does.” In this he means that we cannot continue to protect other wildlife areas while we pollute, erode, and poison our farmland. He also critiques Earth First! that may not be as passionate of protecting the heart land areas. P. 67
  • “It is easy to understand why, when we Europeans came to this abundant continent, we quickly adopted the assumptions of spoiled youth. The spirit of this assumption was assisted by the emerging spirit of invention made possible with access to the huge supply of fossil fuels. But that high-energy era, let us hope, will end along with the era of cheap fossil fuels.” P. 107
  • “No species ever returns for extinction no matter how much we might [wish] for that to happen . . . So when we think about the revitalization of small towns and rural communities worldwide, rather than insisting that we go back, I am instead insisting that we be careful as we go forward to avoid several impulses.” P. 112-13. Jackson does not want us to aggrandize or gentrify small places and rural settings into something they are not. It won’t be “EcoDisneyland” or Ecotopia,” but it will be our first step away from the “extractive economy” to take account of our ecologies and community costs.

Wes Jackson, CONSULTING THE GENIUS OF PLACE (Counterpoint Press 2010).

  • This book is more of a historical account of the extractive mindset the U.S. inherited from European colonists, our constant rejection of any ecological warnings other than a philosophical discussion, and the evolution of agriculture throughout the planet.
  • He discusses the “3.45 Billion Year Old Imperative” we have had to use carbon frequently and immensely as a cheap fuel source. Note that he also used this language at the Boulevard Brewery.
  • In order to crack the “old chestnut” (a problem that is hard to crack) that is agriculture, two things need to be done, according to Jackson, that will 1) ensure an adequate harvest and 2) ensure the future continuation of agriculture. 1) Farmers must explore ways to maximize solar energy capture and to protect crops from insects, pathogens, and weeds, and 2) we must minimize soil erosion, stop chemical contamination of soil and water, and reduce the necessity of cheap fossil fuel. P. 146 The ultimate solution to Jackson is still perennial grains.
  • When harvesting a perennial grain polyculture, plant the seed mixtures with an air drill, open the concave on the combine and cut the air at harvest (this will not blow the sunflower seeds out the back), progress slowly through the field, and separate the seeds with a seed cleaner. “The point is the mechanical equipment already in existence, with a little fine-tuning, can do the job. The larger problems are agronomic, not engineering.” P. 170
  • It seems like Jackson’s philosophy has not changed much from New Roots for Agricutlure or Becoming Native to this Place. This book presents some musings on his life and a few people who have begun to live life more environmentally minded. His ending quote, though, could serve you well as a final point of your ethic, “Increasingly, as T. S. Eliot said, we are knowing this place for the first time. We stand at a pivot point. It is redemption time, and we have to redeem ourselves as we redeem agriculture. By starting where our split with nature began, we can build an agriculture more like the ecosystems that shaped us, thereby preserving ecological capital, the stuff of which we are made, and guaranteeing ourselves food for the journey ahead.” P. 249

Wes Jackson, President of the Land Institute, Address at the Boulevard Brewery (Feb. 12, 2013).

  • We must stop “extractive agriculture.” This is actually a redundancy to Jackson, as all agriculture over the past 10,000 years has been short sighted and extractive. To him agriculture is the opposite of natural systems.
  • A new agriculture must think of sociology, politics, and spirituality with its biological data. Anything else is just agronomy.
  • Thirty million acres go out of production a year worldwide because of soil loss.
  • Agriculture demands that nature either be subdued or ignored.
  • “The failure of success,” is high yields as a result of tremendous inputs.
  • “The 3.45 billion year imperative,” is if it is there (i.e. carbon), then we go after it.
  • Productivity based on sunlight
  • We need mixtures to achieve the “natural integreties that are inherent to the system.”
  • We probably won’t go back to hunting locally for food, but instead the future will be based on natural systems of food production.
  • “Our imaginations are limited as long as we have the industrial mind.”
  • “If we don’t get sustainability in agriculture first, it is not going to happen.”
  • The “R” word – restraint, renewable, rationing.

Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994)

Edward Schapsmeier & Frederick Schapsmeier, EZRA TAFT BENSON AND THE POLITICS OF AGRICULTURE: THE EISENHOWER YEARS, 1953 – 1968 (The Interstate Printer & Publishers, Inc. 1975).

  • Unquestioning belief in “more is better” on the part of Ezra and the authors. p. xv
  • Ezra’s great grandfather, and namesake, was also an Apostle in the LDS church. (Use this to talk about Ezra’s spiritual roots and as a counter to his humble beginnings narrative. It also explains how Ezra sees man as having dominion over all creation as that is a notion common in conservative LDS theology. p. 25; See also John Wright, Rocking Mountain Divide (Univ. of Tex. Press 1993) (Detailing Mormon reactions and attitudes towards land use).
  • In 1959 at a conference of Rutgers University students, Ezra said that “a planned and subsidized economy . . . weakens initiative, destroys industry, destroys character, and demoralizes the people.” p. 217-18
  • Ezra relied heavily on research on ways to improve production, but ignored toxic effects of chemicals and soil conservation. It is argued that Benson sincerely did not know or think that chemical residues could be dangerous or even that USDA scientists suppressed information regarding that without Ezra’s consent, but this ignores the existence of the concurrently published Silent Spring. Ezra was willfully blind. p. 228-29

Wesley McCune, EZRA TAFT BENSON: MAN WITH A MISSION (Public Affairs Press 1958).

  • His first press conference as the Secretary of Agriculture actually did not talk much about agriculture. Instead it was a 1200 word diatribe, titled “General Statement on Agricultural Policy,” that contained strong libertarian adages: “It is doubtful if any man can be politically free who depends on the state for sustenance…. A completely planned and subsidized economy weakens initiatives, discourages industry, destroys character, and demoralizes the people…Too many Americans are calling on Washington to do for them what they should be willing to do for themselves…Inefficiency should not be subsidized in agriculture or any other segment of the our economy…In the administration of this Department, the guiding purpose will be to strengthen the individual integrity, freedom, and the very moral fiber of each citizen.” p. 26
  • He brushed aside criticism, often using it to his advantage in political martyrdom. “There are always crackpots and radical elements trying to foment discontent, but I’m sure farmers are sensible people and they are making adjustments,” on the Newark Evening News 10/7/1995. p.2
  • Born 8/4/1899 in a two room farmhouse in Witney, ID into a Mormon family with ten brothers and sisters. Went to school at the agricultural land grant university Utah State, finished at Brigham Young University, and then received a masters in economics from Iowa State. p.5
  • Ezra refused to consult with conservationists or the Soil Conservation Service on policy matters. He broke the SCS from seven into forty eight separate pieces to make it vulnerable to the Extension Service and the Farm Bureau. P.105
  • Ezra fundamentally saw farming problems as problems of production, ignoring climate, market forces, bumper crops and crop failure, and credit. It flies in the face of reality. P.116-17

Earl Butz (1909-2008)

  • Secretary of Agriculture for President Nixon
  • Butz used his “fence row to fence row” mantra, telling farms to either get big or get out, to drive prices down with even more commodity production. Wallinga et al., supra, at 6-8; Pollan, supra.
  • Being that he lived from 1909 to 2008, Earl Butz saw the transformation of the world’s agriculture first hand. He realizes that the way his family used to farm is gone, but shows so sense of longing or nostalgia. He does not lament the family farm operation becoming commercial. He says, “I don’t see much room for improvement,” when referring to people who criticize how much cheap food our food system makes. KING KORN (Balcony Releasing 2007).

Frances Moore Lappeˊ (1944-)

Frances Moore Lappe’ & Joseph Collins, FOOD FIRST (Houghton Mifflin Co. 1977).

  • She rejects traditional media portrayals of world hunger, that the US or developed nations must save the world, but instead takes a nuanced view of Garrett Hardin’s lifeboat ethics. Instead of shaming the US consumer, taking xenophobic stances against international aid, or thinking that do-gooderism promotes dependency, Lappeˊ says that hunger is a symptom of political instability and unequal resource allocation. P.5-7
  • “…food distribution only reflects the more fundamental issue of who controls and who participates in the production.” P.8
  • She uses the example of Africa, Mali, and Mexico being net exporters to disprove the myth of scarcity or that there are too many people. Countries become “basket cases” not because of too many people or handouts, but because the few prevent the majority form accessing resources. P.13-21
  • Population growth is still a problem, but it is not the source of hunger. P. 62
  • Corporate consolidation displaces jobs and people, removing them from food production. P.29-34
  • People have scarce means to access food; countries do not have scarce food supplies. (Example of Soviet Union.) The actual threat of surpluses, driving prices down, and the developed world’s response to hold production to raise prices exacerbates starvation. P.22-26
  • The real issue is who controls the land and what it is used for. P.47
  • Colonial inheritance is the source of hunger. P. 77-85. It exacerbates regional inequalities, and demonstrates that the economic arrangements of today did not so much happen as they were chosen by those who benefited. P.89
  • Excess food either becomes luxury products or it is given to urban middle and upper income groups to benefit industrialists with cheap food for workers to keep wages down. Other excesses are fed to other food, exported, or simply dumped. P.135-37
  • She wants machines that complement human labor, like a rotary cultivator, instead of those that displace, like a tractor. P. 148-49
  • She accuses then-President Nixon and Early Butz of suppressing the Flanigan Report, and supporting the “trade traps” for the benefit of larger famers at the expense of consumers and family farms. P.219-31

Michael Pollan (1955-):

Bill McKibben, Michael Pollan, in AMERICAN EARTH: ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING SINCE THOREAU 948 (Library of America 2008).

  • Michael Pollan is a Berkeley Journalism Professor who has written for the Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harper’s, and The New York Times Magazine among others. His English and journalism background was definitely predominant in his earlier writings. His 1992 book, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education was actually a challenge to the idea that there is something uniquely special about wildness. However, his writing has become more environmental and food centric in that he has become a functional patron saint of the foodie movement.

Michael Pollan, THE BOTANY OF DESIRE (Random House 2001).

  • This book was definitely written as Pollan was beginning to become more of an environmental activist. It is actually a natural history book on the four most abundant plants on the planet: apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. The desires that influence our natural selection and continued propagation of those four plants are, according to Pollan: sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control respectively. “Though we self-importantly regard domestication as something people have done to plants, it is at the same time a strategy by which the plants have exploited us and our desires – even our most idiosyncratic notions of beauty – to advance their own interests.” P. 81
  • In the potato section, he questions agricultural practices in particular genetic engineering. He grows some GM potatoes in his garden, and discusses the implications of control and making a potato salad for a pot luck. Pollan fears that no one will eat the salad because he disclosed the genetic engineering origin. That might reflect the tastes of upper middle class Californians Michael Pollan is more likely to know more, but it still illustrates how people are reluctant to engage in or know the truth of how food is produced. P. 237
  • “Agriculture is, by its very nature, brutally reductive, simplifying nature’s incomprehensible complexity to something humanely manageable; it begins, after all, with the simple act of banishing all but a tiny handful of chosen species.” P. 185
  • Discussing the planting of his NewLeaf potato, “Were I to save even one of these spuds to plant next year…I would be breaking federal law. (I had to wonder, what would be the legal status of any ‘volunteers’ – those plans that, with no prompting from the gardener, sprout each spring from tubers overlooked during the previous harvest?” p. 190
  • “The deliberate introduction into a plant of genes transported not only across species but across whole phyla means that the wall of the plant’s essential identity – its irreducible wildness, you might say – has been breached, not by a virus, as sometimes happens in nature, but by humans wielding powerful new tools…While the other plans coevolved in a kind of conversational give-and-take with people, the NewLeaf potato has really only taken, only listened…Now the once irreducible wildness of the these plants has been…reduced.” P. 197
  • “The global desire [of uniformly tasting French fries] can’t be gratified without the global monoculture, and that global monoculture now depends on technologies like genetic engineering…the monoculture of global taste – is about uniformity and control.” P. 228

Michael Pollin, THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA (Penguin Books 2006).

  • This is the book that put Pollan’s writing on the same shelf as McKibben, Carson, and even Leopold given its inclusion in the American Earth anthology. Since writing this he has appeared in notable movies, King Korn and Food, Inc. The whole book is an exploration of three different meals: the modern meal made mostly out of processed corn, a completely organic meal, a meal based on grass fed beef from the now famous Joel Salatin farm, and a completely foraged meal with wild boar. Throughout the book he discusses the ethics of eating animals, the thrill of hunting, health impacts of modern agriculture, the history of agriculture, the implications of the corporate organic market, sustainable farming, and the cultural practice of sharing meals.
  • “When you can eat just about anything nature has to offer, deciding what you should eat will inevitably stir anxiety, especially when some of the potential foods on offer are liable to sicken or kill you. This is the omnivore’s dilemma, noted long ago by writers like Rousseau and Brillat-Savarin and first given the name thirty years ago by a University of Pennsylvania research psychologist named Paul Rozin.” P. 3
  • “It is very much in the interest of the food industry to exacerbate our anxieties about what to eat, the better then to assuage them with new products. Our bewilderment in the supermarket is no accident; the return of the omnivore’s dilemma has deep roots in the modern food industry, roots that, I found, reach all the way back to fields of corn growing in places like Iowa.” P. 5
  • “The postwar suburbs would never have been built if not for the interstate highway system, as well as the G.I. Bill and federally subsidized mortgages. The urbanization of America’s animal population would never have taken place if not for the advent of cheap, federally subsidized corn…The economic logic of gathering so many animals together to feed them cheap corn in CAFOs is hard to argue with; it has made meat…so cheap and abundant that many of us now eat it three times a day.” P. 67
  • “Industrial agriculture has supplanted a complete reliance on the sun for our calories with something new under the sun: a food chain that draws much of its energy from fossil fuels instead.” P. 7
  • “The great edifice of variety and choice that is an American supermarket turns out to rest on a remarkably narrow biological foundation comprised of a tiny group of plants that is dominated by a single species: Zea mays…Indeed, the supermarket itself – the wallboard and joint compound, the linoleum and fiberglass and adhesives out of which the building itself has been built – is no small measure a manifestation of corn. And us”? p. 19
  • “Part of the appeal of hamburgers and nuggets is that their boneless abstractions allow us to forget we’re eating animals…this is what the industrial eater has become: corn’s koala…Perhaps the reason you eat this food quickly is because it doesn’t bear savoring. The more you concentrate on how it tastes, the less like anything it tastes. I said before that McDonald’s serves a kind of comfort food, but after a few bites I’m more inclined to think they’re selling something more schematic that that – something more like a signifier of comfort food. So you eat more and eat more quickly, hoping somehow to catch up to the original idea of a cheeseburger or French fry as it retreats over the horizon. And so it goes, bite after bite, until you feel not satisfied exactly, but simply, regrettably full.” p. 114-19
  • “And yet the pastoral values and imagery embodied in that word [organic] survive in the minds of many people, as the marketers of organic food well understand: just look at a container of organic milk, with its happy cows and verdant pastures. This is a venerable ideal hollowed out, reduced to a sentimental conceit printed on the side of a milk carton: Supermarket Pastoral.” P. 158
  • “It seemed to me not too much to ask of a meat eater, which I was then and still am, that at least once in his life he take some responsibility for the killing on which his meat-eating depends.” P. 231
  • “When I asked how a place like New York City fit into his [Joel Salatin’s] vision of a local food economy he startled me with his answer: ‘Why do we have to have a New York City? What good is it?’ If there was a dark side to Joel’s vision of the postindustrial food chain, I realized, it was the deep antipathy to cities that has so often shadowed rural populism in this country.” P. 245
  • “Even for people who find the logic of globalization otherwise compelling, the globalization of food often stops them short. That logic treats food as a commodity like any other, and that simply doesn’t square with people’s beliefs or experience. Once the last barrier to free trade comes down, and the last program of government support for farmers ends, our food will come from wherever in the world it can be produced most cheaply…whether its land or labor is cheaper or its environmental laws more lax – we will grow it here.” P. 255
  • “To visit a modern Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) is to enter a world that for all its technological sophistication is still designed on seventeenth-century Cartesian principles: Animals are treated as machines – “production units” – incapable of feeling pain. Since no thinking person can possibly believe this anymore, industrial animal agriculture depends on a suspension of disbelief on the part of the people who operate it and a willingness to avert one’s eyes on the part of everyone else.” P. 317
  • “Here, I decided, was one of the signal virtues of hunting: It puts large questions about who we and animals are, and the nature of our respective deaths, squarely before the hunter.” P. 358
  • “Another thing cooking is, or can be, is a way to honor the things we’re eating, the animals and plants and fungi that have been sacrificed to gratify our needs and desires, as well as the places and the people that produced them.” P. 404
  • “Perhaps the perfect meal is one that’s been fully paid for, that leaves no debt outstanding…a meal that is eaten in full consciousness of what it took to make it is worth preparing every now and again, if only as a way to remind us of the true costs of the things we take for granted.” P. 409-10

Michael Pollan, IN DEFENSE OF FOOD: AN EATER’S MANIFESTO (Penguin Books 2008).

  • This book explores more of the science of nutrition that The Omnivore’s Dilemma overlooked. Any information in this book is purely educational and is already covered in the 10.9c health section so it need not be discussed again.

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948):

Aldo Leopold, A SAND COUNTY ALMANAC (Ballantine Books 1966) (1949).

  • Published posthumously, this book became an inspiration to all of the thinkers in this section (with the exception of Earl Butz and Ezra Taft Benson).
  • The book begins by describing seasonal changes at Leopold’s shack where he lived every weekend for the last thirteen years of his life. The book then focuses on fragile ecological balances, man’s destructive intervention in natural forces, and then makes his plea for a “land ethic.”
  • “Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land.” P. xviii. Wes Jackson probably gets his ideas on the religious origins of land use attitutdes from passages like this.
  • “…our bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy.” P. xix
  • “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.” P. 6
  • “The saw works only across the years, which it must deal with one by one, in sequence. From each year the raker teeth pull little chips of fact, which accumulate in little piles, called sawdust by woodsmen and archives by historians…By its fall the tree attests the unity of the hodge-podge called history.” P. 18. In this passage Leopold is describing his thoughts as he collects firewood, and in doing so connects dendrochronology to everyday understanding. It would be years until the sophisticated system of dating with tree rings would be established, but Leopold already recognized how, by participating in woodcutting, he was connected to history by seeing it imprinted in nature (by the tree rings) and by participating in a primordial rite of directly utilizing nature for warmth. To him chopping the fire wood for warmth creates spiritual growth just as illustrated by his reverse statement on page six, above.
  • More explorations in Leopold’s early appreciation of dendrochronology, “The autobiography of an old board is a kind of literature not yet taught on campuses, but any riverbank farm is a library where he who hammers or saws may read at will.” P. 27 “Thus, he who owns a veteran bur oak owns more than a tree. He owns a historical library, and reserved seat in the theater of evolution. To the discerning eye, his farm is labeled with the badge and symbol of the prairie war.” P. 32
  • “Tell me of what plant-birthday a man takes notice, and I shall tell you a good deal about his vocation, his hobbies, his hay fever, and the general level of his ecological education.” P. 48 By “plant-birthday,” Leopold means when a plant seasonally appears each year. Someone indoctrinated into the industrialized world will only notice plant birthdays when it is something bothersome to her like ragweed or other weedy irritants of suburbia, whereas a specialized botanist could know a lot about particular plants but fail to notice the botanical changes around him. “The outstanding conservator of the prairie flora, ironically enough, knows little and cares less about such frivolities…” p. 51. Only the farmer, to Leopold, knows seasonality and true plant knowledge. “It is apparent that the backward farmer’s eye is nearly twice as well fed as the eye of the university student or businessman.” P. 51
  • “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, but He is no longer the only one to do so. When some remote ancestor of ours invented the shovel, he became a giver: he could plant a tree. And when the axe was invented, he became a taker: he could chop it down. Whoever owns land has thus assumed, whether he knows it or not, the divine functions of creating and destroying plants.” P. 72
  • “The modern dogma is comfort at any cost…It is evident that our plant biases are in part traditional…It is also evident that our plant biases reflect not only vocations but avocations, with a delicate allocation of priority as between industry and indolence…Our biases are indeed a sensitive index of our affections, our tastes, our loyalties, our generosities, and our manner of wasting weekends.” P. 76-77
  • For more of Leopolds disdain for specialized education and the separation of nature it creates, “Books on nature seldom mention wind; they are written behind stoves.” P. 97
  • Despite the fact that many conservationist owe their debt to Leopolds thoughts, Leopold wrote against the conservationism done by Gifford Pinchot at the time. He saw conservation programs as too anthropocentric and harmful because they require building roads into environments so people will see them. “But all conservation of wilderness is self-defeating, for to cherish we must see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish.” P. 108. In passages like that and others Leopold explains that he sees undisputed land ownership to be the better way of maintain nature because people will become more connected to the land. He was by no means a free market capitalist that would be happy with consolidated land use, but advocated multiple, smaller land titles.
  • “For one species to mourn the death of another is a new thing under the sun.” p. 117
  • “Girdling the old oak to squeeze one last crop out of the barnyard has the same finality as burning the furniture to keep warm.” P. 124. Leopold liked land owners, but with the qualifier that they be smart and ecologically minded though he thought owning land makes most people more environmentally conscious anyway.
  • From the famous Thinking like a Mountain essay, “Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf…My own conviction on this score dates from the day I saw a wolf die…In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy…We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.” P. 137-39. This is when Leopold first realized that killing all the predators wrecks the ecological balance of the mountain.
  • “We spoke harshly of the Spaniards who, in their zeal for gold and converts, had needlessly extinguished the native Indians. It did not occur to us that we, too, were the captains of an invasion too sure of its own righteousness.” P. 145. Leopold described a hunting party he joined in Arizona to kill a bear.
  • “Progress cannot abide that farmland and marshland, wild and time, exist in mutual toleration and harmony. So with dredge and dyke, tile and torch, we sucked the cornbelt dry, and now the wheatbelt. Blue lake becomes green bog, green bog becomes caked mud, caked mud becomes a wheatfield.” P. 172
  • “As for diversity, what remains of our native fauna and flora remains only because agriculture has not got around to destroying it. The present ideal of agriculture is clean farming; clean farming means a food chain aimed solely at economic profit and purged of all non-conforming links, a sort of Pax Germanica of the agricultural world. Diversity, on the other hand, means a food chain aimed to harmonize the wild and the tame in the joint interest of stability, productivity, and beauty.” P. 199
  • “What conservation education must build is an ethical underpinning for land economics and a universal curiosity to understand the land mechanism. Conservation may then follow.” P. 202 Otherwise it is just “enlightened self-interest” to Leopold.
  • “The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land… In short, a land ethic changes the role of Home sapiens from conqueror of the land community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.” P. 239 – 40
  • “To sum up: a system of conservation based solely on economic self-interest is hopelessly lopsided. It tends to ignore, and thus eventually to eliminate, many elements in the land community that lack commercial value, but that are (as far as we know) essential to its healthy functioning…An ethical obligation on the part of the private owner is the only visible remedy for these situations.” P. 251
  • “Agricultural science is largely a race between the emergence of new pests and the emergence of new techniques for their control.” P. 254
  • “A land, ethic, then, reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land.” P. 258
  • “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” P. 262
  • “I have purposely presented the land ethic as a product of social evolution because nothing so important as an ethic is ever ‘written.’ Only the most superficial student of history supposes that Moses ‘wrote’ the Decalogue; it evolved in the minds of a thinking community, and Moses wrote a tentative summary of it for a ‘seminar.’ I say tentative because evolution never stops. The evolution of a land ethic is an intellectual as well as emotional process.” P. 263
  • “When we conclude that we must bait the farmer with subsidies to induce him to raise a forest, or with gate receipts to induce him to raise game, we are merely admitting that the pleasures of husbandry-in-the-wild are as yet unknown to the farmer and to ourselves.” P. 293

Wes Jackson, NEW ROOTS FOR AGRICULTURE (Univ. Neb. Press 1985) (1980).

  • Leopold thought that anything as important as an ethic should not be written down, but rather evolve in the mind of the thinking community. P. 73

Susan Flader, THINKING LIKE AT MOUNTAIN (Univ. of Mo. Press 1974).

  • Leopold believed we will never solve a single conservation problem on the large scale unless we attained an ecological attitude towards the environment. P.xvii
  • In 1944 the wolf replaced the deer as the animal that Leopold revered. He began to understand the ecological balance maintained by predators. April first of that year Leopld began to write his “Thinking like a Mountain” essay. P.1-3
  • “Leopold’s intellectual development mirrors the history of ecological and evolutionary thought.” His achievement was combing science and conservation into what became the Land Ethic. P. 5
  • Born in Burlington, IA on 1/11/1887. He recorded his observations of the natural world in a journal beginning at a young age. P. 7-8
  • Graduated from Yale Forest School, the first graduate forestry program in the US, in 1909, and began working for the Forest Service in Arizona. P.9
  • Frequent reader of naturalists Thoreau, Lewis and Clark, James O Pattie, George F. Ruxtan, Francis Parkman, John Burroughs, and Ernest Thompson Seton. P.10
  • By 1919 he became deeply involved in advising local forest officers and citizens to form game protection associations. The focus on “game” instead of “wildlife” reveals the hunting motivation; anthropocentric. P.12
  • Whereas conventional plant ecologists at the time only saw succession as a respone of average environmental factors, when Leopold was in Arizona he reasoned that the vegetation changed because of soil, climate, topography, geological and human history, firers, and livestock grazing all as one system of interactions. Leopold called this environmental equilibrium on a “hair trigger.” P.17
  • In 1928, after accepting an associate director position in Wisconsin in 1924, Leopold started his own surveys, and this is the first time we see the “Land Ethic” being mentioned. P.18-25
  • April 1935, Leopold acquiesced the shack which would become his farm. P.29
  • We see in 1939 from “A Biotic View of Land” that Leopold sees a definite relationship between the complex structure and smooth functioning of the whole; evolution and diversity leading to renewal and stability. P.31
  • Land Ethic appears in 1947-48. P.34

Environmental Protectors and Thinkers

John Muir (1838-1914)

Bill McKibben, John Muir, in AMERICAN EARTH: ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING SINCE THOREAU 84-85 (Bill McKibben ed., Library of America 2008).

  • He founded the Sierra Club, served as its president for twenty two years, and protected Yosemite so that it might become a national park.
  • After being born in Scotland, he brought to Wisconsin at age eleven. His abusive father made him memorize the bible, and so, in retaliation, Muir became a vagabond questioning anthropocentric notions of the universe. This became most notable in his ode to alligators in A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf which became the basis for deep ecologists who followed him.
  • He was personal friend of Theodore Roosevelt, inspiring in Roosevelt the national parks idea, but at the time the sworn enemy of Gifford Pinchot, Roosevelt’s chief forester.

John Muir, A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf, in AMERICAN EARTH: ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING SINCE THOREAU 85-89 (Bill McKibben ed., Library of America 2008).

  • “Honorable representatives of the great saurian of an older creation, may you long enjoy your lilies and rushes, and be blessed now and then with a mouthful of terror-stricken man by way of dainty!” An excerpt of Muir’s sympathetic and biocentric view of alligators. P. 86
  • “The world, we are told, was made especially for man – a presumption not supported by all the facts….God…He is regarded as civilized, law-abiding gentleman in favor either of a republican form of government or of a limited monarchy; believes in the literature and language of England; is a warm supporter of the English constitution and Sunday schools and missionary socieites; and is a purely manufactured article as any puppet of a half-penny theater.” P. 86-87
  • “I stated a page or two back that man claimed the earth was made for him, and I was going to say that venomous beast, thorny plants, and deadly diseases of certain parts of the earth prove that the whole world was not made for him…But, glad to leave these ecclesiastical fires and blunders, I joyfully return to the immortal truth and immortal beauty of Nature.” P. 88-89

John Muir, Hetch Hetchy Valley, in AMERICAN EARTH: ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING SINCE THOREAU 104-112 (Bill McKibben ed., Library of America 2008).

  • “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” P. 109
  • “Nature’s sublime wonderlands…have always been subject to attack by despoiling gain-seekers and mischief-makers of every degree from Satan to Senators, eagerly trying to make everything immediately and selfishly commercial, with schemes disguised in smug-smiling philanthropy, industriously, shampiously crying, ‘Conservation, conservation, panutilization,’ that man and beast may be fed and the dear Nation made great.” P. 109
  • “These temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar. Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well as dam for water-tanks the people’s cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man.” P. 112

Rachel Carson (1907-1964):

Rachel Carson, SILENT SPRING (Houghton Mifflin 2002) (1962).

  • Being a trained marine biologist, Carson’s first three books were solely about oceanic life, but then her focus changed to pesticides in response to their indiscriminate use for twenty years prior to Silent Spring’s publication. This book was the impetus for the modern environmental movement as we know it, and without her many of the subsequent environmental advances would not have been possible. Gaylord Nelson would not have created Earth Day, Richard Nixon would not have created the EPA, DDT would not have been banned in the US, and writers like Bill McKibben and Al Gore would not have received their inspiration to advocate for climate change mitigation. The book received mixed reviews because of its political implications: Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas praised the book while Ezra Taft Benson, writing to President Eisenhower, derided it and concluded that, since Carson was not married, she must have been a Communist. Carson received numerous awards for her book both while she was alive and posthusmously. Unfortunately a battle with cancer took her life two years after Spring’s publication so she did not get see the full ramifications of her writing.
  • Her work was so influential that in 2009 when the LMU Munich and Deutsches Museum created a nonprofit to facilitate international environmental studies; the program, despite the number of European environmentalists and naturalists, was named the Rachel Carson Center.
  • Carson believed that the roles of experts had to be limited by a democratic access to knowledge and debates over new technology. p. xix
  • “They should not be called ‘insecticides,’ but ‘biocides’…How could intelligent beings seek to control a few unwanted species by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of disease and death even to their own kind?” p. 8
  • “It is not my contention that chemical insecticides must never be used. I do contend that we have put poisonous and biologically potent chemicals indiscriminately into the hands of persons largely or wholly ignorant of their potentials for harm.” P. 12
  • “In an age when man has forgotten his origins and is blind even to his most essential needs for survival, water along with other resources has become the victim of his indifference.” P. 39
  • “It is not possible to add pesticides to water anywhere without threatening the purity of water everywhere.” P. 42
  • “The chemical weed killers are a bright new toy. They work in a spectacular way; they give a giddy sense of power over nature to those who wield them, and as for the long-range and less obvious effects – these are brushed aside as the baseless imaginings of pessimists.” P. 68-69
  • “The irony of this all-out chemical assault on roadsides and utility rights-of-way is twofold. It is perpetuating the problem it seeks to correct, for as experience has clearly shown, the blanket application of herbicides does not permanently control roadside ‘brush’ and the spraying has to be repeated year after year. And as a further irony, we persist in doing this despite the fact that a perfectly sound method of selective spraying is known, which can achieve long-term vegetational control and eliminate repeated spraying in most types of vegetation.” P. 74
  • “By acquiescing in an act that can cause such suffering to a living creature, who among us is not diminished as a human being,” discussing blanket spraying that kill small mammals. P. 100
  • “Who has decided – who has the right to decide – for the countless legions of people who were not consulted that the supreme value is a world without insects, even though it be also a sterile world ungraced by the curving wing of a bird in flight?” p. 127
  • “We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road – the one ‘less traveled by’ – offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth.” P. 277
  • “The ‘control of nature’ is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man. The concepts and practices of applied entomology for the most part date from that Stone Age of science. It is our alarming misfortune that so primitive a science has armed itself with the most modern and terrible weapons, and that in turning them against the insects it has also turned them against the earth.” P. 297

David Montgomery:

University of Washington, Earth & Space Sciences, Dave Montgomery, 2013, available at–david.

  • Currently teaching at the University of Washington, Montgomery may be the youngest of our prominent environmental thinkers. He studies topographical change and geomorphological influences on ecological systems and human societies, which has seemingly coalesced into one tome: Dirt. Through Dirt he breaks the specialized disciplinary boundaries that would prevent a historian from looking at science or a scientist from looking at political factors, and synthesizes a story of our 10,000 year interaction with the lithosphere. However, it is odd even not ironic that Montgomery’s Dirt has been translated into five different languages, exemplifying the amount of praise it has received, while Jared Diamond, who argued that humans were dooming the planet with environmental degradation, including soil depletion, three years earlier only to receive a professional rebuke from the professorial community. See QUESTING COLLAPSE: HUMAN RESILIANCE, ECOLOGICAL VULNERABILITY, AND THE AFTERMATH OF EMPIRE (Patricia McAnay & Norman Yoffee eds., Cambridge Univ. Press 2010).

David Montgomery, DIRT: THE EROSION OF CIVILIZATIONS (Univ. of Cal. Press 2007).

  • “In exploring the fundamental role of soil in human history, the key lesson is as simple as it is clear: modern society risks repeating mistakes that hastened the demise of past civilizations…The first of Aristotle’s fundamental elements of earth, air, fire, and water, soil is the root of our existence, essential to life on earth. But we treat it as a cheap industrial commodity. Oil is what most of us think of as strategic material. Yet soil is every bit as important in a longer time frame.” P. 2-3
  • “Various social, cultural, and economic forces affect how members of a society treat the land, and how people live on the land, in turn, affects societies…While environmental degradation alone did not trigger the outright collapse of these civilizations [Greek, Romans, Mayans, Sumers], the history of their dirt set the stage upon which economics, climate-extremes, and war influenced their fate.” P. 5
  • “In a broad sense, the history of many civilizations follows a common story line. Initially, agriculture in fertile valley bottoms allowed populations to grow to the point where they came to rely on farming sloping land. Geologically rapid soil erosion of hillslope soils followed when vegetation clearing and sustained tilling exposed bare soil to rainfall and runoff. During subsequent centuries, nutrient depletion or soil loss from increasingly intensive farming stressed local populations as crop yields declined and new land was unavailable. Eventually, soil degradation translated into inadequate agricultural capacity to support a burgeoning population, predisposing whole civilizations to failure. That a similar script appears to apply to small, isolated island societies and extensive, transregional empires suggests a phenomenon of fundamental importance. Soil erosion that outpaced soil formation limited the longevity of civilizations that failed to safeguard the foundation of their prosperity – their soil.” P. 5-6
  • “Did soil degradation destroy these early civilizations [Egyptian, Mayan]? Not directly. But time and again it left societies increasingly vulnerable to hostile neighbors, internal sociopolitical disruption, and harsh winters or droughts.” P. 49
  • “Historians still debate the reason behind the collapse of the Roman Empire…But Rome did not so much collapse as consume itself. While it would be simplistic to blame the fall of Rome on soil erosion alone, the stress of feeding a growing population from deteriorating lands helped unravel the empire. Moreover, the relation worked both ways. As soil erosion influenced Roman society, political and economic forces in turn shaped how Romans treated their soil.” P. 63
  • “Recently, the problem of environmental refugees fleeing the effects of soil erosion began to rival political emigration as the world’s foremost humanitarian problem. Although usually portrayed as natural disasters, crop failures and famines often owe as much to land abuse as to natural calamities.” P. 144
  • “Yet global warming is predicted to increase the severity of droughts here in North America’s heartland enough to make that of the Dust Bowl era seem relatively mild. Given the projected doubling of humanity in this century, it is far from certain that the world’s population will be able to feed itself.” P. 171
  • “In the short term, though, it can be cheaper for farmers to disregard soil conservation; the cost of reducing soil erosion can be several times the immediate economic benefit of doing so.” P. 175
  • “Arguing whether soil loss will become an acute crisis in 2010 or 2100 misses the point…When the productive capacity of the land fails, those living directly off the land suffer most. While land degradation results from economic, social, and political forces, it is also a primary driver of those forces. Increasingly, land degradation is becoming a principle cause of poverty in the developing world. Realistically, the war on poverty simply cannot be won by methods that further degrade the land.” P. 176
  • “The lessons of the Dust Bowl and the Sahel make a strong case for governments to coordinate, prioritize, and invest in soil conservation. Individuals don’t necessarily have an incentive to protect humanity’s investment in the soil because their short-term interests need not align with society’s long-term interests.” P. 176
  • “Ironically, solving the nitrogen problem did not eliminate world hunger. Instead the human population swelled to the point where there are more hungry people alive today than ever before.” P. 195
  • “Preventing a substantial decline in food production once we exhaust fossil fuels will require racially restricting agriculture to sustain soil fertility, or developing massive new sources of cheap energy if we continue to rely on chemical fertilizers.” P. 233
  • “We simply cannot afford to view agriculture as just another business because the economic benefits of soil conservation can be harvested only after decades of stewardship, and the cost of soil abuse is borne by all.” P. 234-35
  • “Whatever we do, our descendants will be compelled to adhere to something close to a balance – whether they want to or not. In so doing they will face the reality that agricultural reliance on fossil fuesl and fertilizers parallels ancient practices that led to salinization in semiarid regions and soil loss with agricultural expansion from floodplains up into sloping terrain. Technology, whether in the form of new plows or genetically engineered crops, may keep the system growing for a while, but the longer this works the more difficult it becomes to sustain – especially if soil erosion continues to exceed soil production.” P. 237
  • “In considering possible scenarios for our future, the first issue we need to consider is how much cultivatable land is available, and when we will run out of unused land…Second, we need to know how much soil it takes to support a person and how far we can reduce that amount.” P. 238
  • “At the same time, we can’t afford to lose any more farmland…Every farm that gets paved over today means the world will support fewer people down the road…Still, farms should be owned by those who work them – by people who know their land and who have a stake in improving it. Tenant farming is not in society’s best interest. Private ownership is essential; absentee landlords give little thought to safeguarding the future.” P. 244
  • “Capital-intesnive agricultural methods will never provide the third of humanity that lives on less than two dollars a day a way out of hunger and poverty. Labor-intensive agriculture, however, could – if those people had access to fertile land. Fortunately, such methods are also those that could help rebuild the planet’s soil. We should be subsidizing small subsistence farmers in the developing world…” p. 245
  • “…if we are to feed the developing world, we must abandon the intuitive, but naïve, idea that producing cheap food will eliminate hunger. We’ve already made food cheap and there are still plenty of hungry people on the planet…civilization’s survival depends on treating soil as an investment, as a valuable inheritance rather a commodity – as something other than dirt.” P. 246

Al Gore (1948-):

Al Gore, Foreword, in AMERICAN EARTH: ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING SINCE THOREAU xvii-xix (Bill McKibben ed., Library of America 2008).

  • It was his mother reading Silent Spring to him that spurred Al Gore’s interest in environmental matters. His privilege of growing up on farmland in the Cumberland riverbed, and his father’s political history, enabled him to become an avid environmental politician. Unfortunately that has allowed conservative mouthpieces to target him as the representative of all environmentalism, and therefore any mistakes or hypocritical errors he makes somehow reflects upon the environmental community overall, but he has still demonstrated himself to be a valid inheritor of Carson’s words. Also, apparently Bill McKibben’s End of Nature inspired Gore’s interest in climate change.

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (Lawrence Bender Productions 2006).

  • Though he has written successful books, the failed experience with Our Stolen Future notwithstanding, Al Gore is known most for his politics and speaking. His most famous, or infamous depending on who you hear about it from, is his movie An Inconvenient Truth. It was the first documentary to win two Academy Awards, and revealed the issue of climate change as the elephant in every living room in America. The movie is actually pretty dated now, and not all entertaining for someone who already understands climate science and history (as the entire movie is just Al Gore in front of a project screen with a scissor lift), but the amount of push back he received from conservative groups demonstrates the importance of its message. As a recent work, we may not be certain until decades later what future environmental advocate was inspired by Gore’s work, but he has invariably left his mark on the environmental zeitgeist.


  • Gore became a senator for Tennessee in 1984, following in his father’s footsteps, and began to hold hearings on climate change in the Senate soon after McKibben’s End of Nature was published. Gore’s 1992 book Earth in the Balance present himself as an environmental vice presidential candidate that helped garner votes for Bill Clinton in 1992. Gore was denied presidency in 2000, but has been an oral advocate for climate change mitigation ever since his defeat. His Inconvenient Truth movie won an Oscar and won him, along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

Al Gore, Speech at the Kyoto Climate Change Conference, in AMERICAN EARTH: ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING SINCE THOREAU 855-59 (Bill McKibben ed., Library of America 2008).

  • “We have reached a fundamentally new stage in the development of human civilization, in which it is necessary to take responsibility for a recent but profound alteration in the relationship between our species and our planet. Because of our new technological power and our growing numbers, we now must pay careful attention to the consequences of what we are doing to the Earth – especially to the atmosphere.” P. 856
  • “Our first step should be to set realistic and achievable, binding emission limits, which will create new markets for new technologies and new ideas that will, in turn, expand the boundaries of the possible and create new hope. Other steps will then follow. And then, ultimately, we will achieve a safe overall concentration level for greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere….This time, success will require first and foremost that we heal the divisions among us.” P. 857
  • “The imperative here is to do what we promise, rather than to promise what we cannot do. All of us, of course, must reject the advice of those who ask us to believe there really is no problem at all…To those who seek to obfuscate and obstruct, we say: we will not allow you to put narrow special interests above the interests of all humankind.” P. 858

Bill McKibben (1960-):

Bill McKibben, Bill McKibben, AMERICAN EARTH: ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING SINCE THOREAU 718 (Library of America 2008).

  • McKibben finished his End of Nature piece when he was only twenty nine, when he moved back to Adirondack Mountains in 1987. Though he is a gifted writer, creating many books and previously contributing to The New Yorker, he also puts a lot of energy into grassroots organizing and demonstrations against global warming. He is the founder of, and has become recent vocal advocate against the TransCanada XL pipeline even going so far as to have demonstrations that encircle the entire White House.

Bill McKibben, THE END OF NATURE (Random House 2006) (1989).

  • Unlike other environmental writers that try to paint an optimistic picture at the end of presenting a case for doom and gloom, Bill McKibben has no fantasies of stopping climate change. The premise of his book is that the effects of climate change are now irreversible (we can now only mitigate), and that by being able to leave our mark on the world’s climate, leaving no inch of the planet untouched, we have “ended nature” as we once knew it. We have now created a new planet, and by doing so have lost the wilderness of Thoreau forever. McKibben’s more recent book, EAARTH: MAKING A LIFE ON A TOUGH NEW PLANET (Henry Holt & Co. 2010), has the same argument.
  • Despite the fact The End of Nature is only one hundred eighty five pages, it is incredibly dense, exhibiting the breadth of McKibben’s scientific understanding, eloquence, and message. It is because of this that the book has been translated into twenty languages, and McKibben has found a place on the shelf next to Rachel Carson.
  • “What mattered most to me was the inference I drew from that science: that for the first time human beings had become so large that they altered everything around us. That we had ended nature as an independent force, that our appetites and habits and desires could now be read in every cubic meter of air, in every increment of the thermometer…We are no longer able to think of ourselves as a species tossed about by larger forces – now we are those larger forces.” P. xviii
  • “If you should happen to look down and see a Coke can that someone has tossed here in the rushes, it will affect you differently than if you see a pile of deer droppings. And the reason, or at least one reason, is our intuitive understanding that the person who dropped the Coke can didn’t need to, any more than we need to go on raising the temperature of the planet. We are different from the rest of the natural order, for the reason that we possess the possibility of self-restraint, of choosing some other way.” P. xx
  • “In a way, this intuition is completely correct: it’s far too late to stop global warming. All we can do is make it less bad than it will otherwise be. Our crusade, if we ever mount it, will be on behalf of a relatively livable world, not on behalf of the world that we were born into.” P. xxii
  • “We live in the shadow of a number, and that makes it hard for us to see the future. Our comforting sense of the permanence of our natural world, our confidence that it will change gradually and imperceptibly if at all, is, then, the result of a subtly warped perspective…I believe that without recognizing it we have already stepped over the threshold of such a change: that we are at the end of nature…When I say “nature,” I mean a certain set of human ideas about the world and our place in it…More and more frequently, these changes will clash with our perceptions, until, finally, our sense of nature as eternal and separate is washed away, and we will see all too clearly what we have done.” P. 7
  • “Most discussions of the greenhouse gases rush immediately to their future consequences – is the sea going to rise? – without pausing to let the simple fact of what has already happened sink in. The air around us, even where it is clean, and smells like spring, and is filled with birds, is different, significantly changed.” P. 16
  • “To declare, as some editorialists have done, that the warming has not yet appeared and therefore the theory is wrong is like arguing that a woman hasn’t yet given birth and therefore isn’t pregnant.” P. 25
  • “For now, simply recognize the magnitude of what we have done. In the years since the Civil War, and mostly in the years since World War II, we have changed the atmosphere – changed it enough so that the climate will change dramatically. Most of the major events of human history have gradually lost their meaning: wars that seemed at the time all important are now a series of dates that schoolchildren don’t even try to remember; great feats of engineering now crumbles in the desert. Man’s efforts, even at their mightiest, were tiny compared to the size of the planet – the Roman Empire meant nothing to the Arctic or the Amazon. But now, the way of life of one part of the world in one half century is altering every inch and every hour of the globe.” P. 39
  • “The temperature and rainfall are no longer to be entirely the work of some separate, uncivilizable force, but instead in part a product of our habits, our economies, our ways of life…We have not ended rainfall or sunlight…But the meaning of the wind, the sun, the rain – has already changed. Yes the wind still blows – but no longer from some other sphere, some inhuman place.” P. 40-41
  • “A child born now will never know a natural summer, a natural autumn, winter, or spring. Summer is going extinct, replaced by something else that will be called ‘summer.’” P. 50
  • “For it isn’t natural beauty that is ended; in fact, in the same way that the smog breeds spectacular sunsets, there may appear new, unimagined beauties. What will change is the meaning that beauty carries, for when we look at a sunset, we see, or think we see, many things beyond a particular arrangement of orange and purple and rose.” P. 53
  • “The invention of nuclear weapons may actually have marked the beginning of the end of nature: we possessed, finally, the capacity to overmaster nature, to leave an indelible imprint everywhere all at once.” P. 56-57
  • “So what will the end of nature as we have known it mean to our understanding of God and of man?… In a sense we turn out to be God’s equal – or, at least, his rival – able to destroy creation…When changing nature means changing everything, then we have a crisis. We are in charge now, like it or not. As a species we are as gods – our reach global.” P. 66-67
  • “We can no longer imagine that we are part of something larger than ourselves – that is what all this boils down to. We used to be.” P. 71
  • “Summer will come to mean something different – not the carefree season anymore but a time to grit one’s teeth and survive.” P. 108
  • “Your ability to handle a car at sixty does not prove anything about your ability to handle a car at six hundred miles an hour…Similarly, our ability to survive the dust bowl years – our ability to survive the heat in the summer of 1988, though with a lowered water table, depleted grain reserves, and so on- is no proof of our ability to survive what’s coming.” P. 114
  • “In the face of such tidal forces, our traditional answers are like the magic war paint donned by American Indians, which their medicine men assured them would ward off bullets. At best – and at worst – they provide a false sense of security. Take, for instance, the widespread idea that the ‘free market’ will accomplish any necessary goal…But the obvious alternative – international government action – will be almost as difficult.” P. 123
  • “It’s not certain that genetic engineering and macromanagement of the world’s resources will provide a new cornucopia, but it certainly seems probable. We are a talented species. Why, then, does it sound so awful? Because, of course, it represents the end of nature.” P. 141
  • “Those troubles [climate change], though, just might give us the chance to change the way we think. What if they gave us a practical – as opposed to a moral or an aesthetic – reason to climb out of our rut and find a new one that leads in some different direction?…If a new idea – a humble idea, in contrast to the conventional defiant attitude – is going to rise out of the wreckage we have made of the world, this is the gut feeling, the impulse, it will come from.” P. 147
  • “…instead of material and economic growth, ‘elegantly simple’ materials needs; instead of consumerism, ‘doing with enough’…The difficultly is almost certainly more psychological than intellectual – less that we can’t figure out major alternatives in our way of life than that we simply don’t want to.” P. 163
  • “When one method of domination seems to be ending – the reliance on fossil fuels, say – we cast about for another, like genetic tinkering, much as Americans replaced slavery with Jim Crow segregation.” P. 174
  • “…one of the possible meanings of the end of nature is that God is dead. But another, if there was or any such thing as God, is that he has granted us free will and now looks on, with great concern and love, to see how we exercise it: we see if we take the chance offered by this crisis to bow down and humble ourselves, or if we compound original sin with terminal sin.” P. 183-84

Bill McKibben, ENOUGH: STAYING HUMAN IN AN ENGINEERED AGE (Henry Holt & Co. 2003).

  • Whereas The End of Nature told us that nature as we once knew it has died, Enough warns us to not lose our humanity to genetic engineering and nanotechnology. Throughout the book he talks about specific dangers of being able to decide the genes of children (The rich will have even more advantageous over those who cannot pay for that technology) and the frivolities of seats that conform to body shape via nanotechnology. However, the book can basically be summed as an appeal against technological optimism, and an argument that we must be able to say “enough.” Technological marvels of today do not increase our standard of living so much as give us new wasteful toys. (My example would be that the life before the iPad was not worse than life after, and any increase in technological know is an exercise in frivolous ostentation. Does it really matter if you can get Facebook on your phone, while on the toilet, in two or the faster one second?) Many of the dangers McKibben warns about in this book have not happened when he envisioned them, and many of his philosophical points are the same as in End of Nature, so no quotes need not be included. However, the message that we need to draw a line is still pertinent to the smart new agrarian ethic.

Edward Abbey (1927-1989):

Edward Abbey, DESERT SOLITAIRE: A SEASON IN THE WILDERNESS (Ballentine Books 1971) (1968).

  • Unlike most environmentalists, who usually end up favoring strong centralized governments that protect the environment and perform other social functions, Edward Abbey writes from a libertarian perspective. However, he is not a fan of free markets, but rather free people and free wilderness. He avoids labels, preferring to be a called “ranger” if a label is needed as opposed to “liberal,” “hippie,” or “ecologist.” Also unlike the other authors presented, Edward Abbey often incorporates dry wit and sarcastic humor into his prose making him a complete joy to read.
  • Desert Solitaire is a collection of essays and musings during the two summers Abbey worked at what would become Arches National Park. In the book he decries industrial tourism, overpopulating the West, and constructing roads in wildlife areas so as to make easier access for people who should be walking, according to Abbey. From being in Arches last spring I can personally attest that the road he feared was built, you can now tour a lot of the park while sitting in the luxury of an air conditioned vehicle, and even toilets have been set up throughout the park. The publication of this book propelled him into the life of a wildlife activist and accomplished author.
  • “Do not jump into your automobile next June and rush out to the Canyon country hoping to see some of that which I have attempted to evoke in these pages. In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees…In the second place most of what I write about in this book is already gone or going under fast. This is not a travel guide but an elegy. You’re holding tombstone in your hands. A bloody rock. Don’t drop it on your foot – throw it at something big and glassy.” P. xii
  • “I prefer not to kill animals. I’m a humanist; I’d rather kill a man than a snake.” P. 20
  • “The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life-forms. Love flowers best in openness and freedom.” P. 31
  • “We need more predators. The sheepmen complain, it is true, that the coyotes eat some of their lambs. This is true but do they eat enough? I mean, enough lambs to keep the coyotes sleek, healthy, and well fed. That is my concern. As for the sacrifice of an occasional lamb, that seems to me a small price to pay for the support of the coyote population. The lambs, accustomed by tradition to their role, do not complain; and the sheepmen, who run their hooved locusts on the public lands and are heavily subsidized, most of them as hog-rich as they are pigheaded, can easily afford these trifling losses.” P. 38
  • “Look, the party chief explained, you need this road. He was a pleasant-mannered, soft-spoken civil engineer with an unquestioning dedication to his work. A very dangerous man. Who needs it? I said…I knew that I was dealing with a madman.” P. 54 Abbey writes this describing two engineers who staked out where the road would go through Arches. After the engineers left, Abbey pulled up the survey stakes.
  • “This being the case, why is the Park Service generally so anxious to accommodate that other crowd, the indolent millions born on wheels and suckled on gasoline, who expect and demand paved highways to lead them in comfort, ease, and safety into every nook and corner of the national parks”? p. 60-61
  • “Industrial Tourism is a threat to the national parks. But the chief victims of the system are the motorized tourists. They are being robbed and robbing themselves. So long as they are unwilling to crawl out of their cars they will not discover the treasures of the national parks and will never escape the stress and turmoil of the urban-suburban complexes which they had hoped, presumably, to leave behind for a while…The automobile, which began as a transportation convenience, has become a bloody tyrant…” p. 64
  • “…the only better than solitude, is society. By society I do not mean the roar of city streets or the cultured and cultural talk of the schoolmen (reach for your revolver!) or human life in general. I mean the society of a friend or a good, friendly woman.” P. 121
  • “Social justice in this country means social surgery – carving some of the fat off the wide bottom of the American middle class.” P. 136
  • “While the actual working cowboy disappears, along with genuine nonworking Indian, the make-believe cowboys flourish and multiply like flies on a pecan pie…cowboyism as a cult grows in direct ratio to the disappearance of cattle herding as an occupation.” P.138-39
  • “’This would be good country,” a tourist says to me, ‘if only you had some water.’ He’s from Cleveland, Ohio. ‘If we had water here,’ I reply, ‘this country would not be what it is…’ ‘If you had more water more people could live here.’ ‘Yes sir. And where then would people go when they wanted to see something besides people?’” P. 141
  • “But the love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need – if only we had the eyes to see. Original sin, the true original sin, is the blind destruction for the sake of greed of this natural paradise which lies all around us – if only we were worthy of it.” P. 208
  • “…wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” P. 211

Edward Abbey, THE JOURNEY HOME (Dutton 1977).

  • Another work of nonfiction by Abbey, this one is another collection of essays, this time recounting his season at Glacier National Park, the time he lived in Hoboken, and the hitchhiking he did across the nation when he was seventeen that inspired his love for the American West.
  • “For I am not a naturalist…If a label is required say that I am one who loves unfenced country. The open range. Call me a ranger.” P. xiii
  • “Not that technology and industrialism are evil in themselves. The problem is to get them down to human scale, to keep them under human control, to prevent them from ever again becoming the self-perpetuating, ever-expanding monsters we have allowed them to become.” P. 46
  • “’But our governor he says we need more people so we can attract more industry. He says we need more industry so we can attract more people to generate more jobs so industry can grow and help make Utah Number One.’ ‘Number One what?’” p. 110. This is a comical, fictional exchange between Abbey and an angel where Abbey has transplanted all the notions and mindsets of modern industrialism into himself for the purposes of proving the point of what Abbey sees as God’s plan for the state of Utah.
  • “Littering the public highway? Of course I litter the public highway. Every chance I get. After all, it’s not the beer cans that are ugly; it’s the highway that is ugly. Beer cans are beautiful, and someday, when recycling becomes a serious enterprise, the government can put one million kids to work each summer pickup up the cans I and others have thoughtfully stored along the roadways.” P. 158-89
  • “The high plains grass is the next best thing to grain – and grain is too precious to feed to cattle anymore…When you come right down to it, it’s a choice between food and more electricity. Which would you rather have? How much protein in a kilowatt?” p. 175
  • “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” P. 183
  • “Like my old man always says, capitalism sounds good in theory but it just doesn’t work; look around you and see what it has done to our country. And what it is going to do to our country – if we let it. Not that socialism is any better. Socialism is worse. Then what is the answer? Some mixture of the two? Something in between? Of something entirely different.” P. 187 Abbey eventually concludes we need something entirely different.
  • “The citizens of our American cities enjoy a high relative degree of political, intellectual, and economic liberty; bit if the entire nation is urbanized, industrialized, mechanized, and administered, then our liberties continue only at the sufferance of the technological megamachine that functions both as servant and master, and our freedoms depend on the pleasure of the privileged few who sit at the control consoles of that machine.” P. 229

Edward Abbey, THE MONKEY WRENCH GANG (Perennial Classics 2000) (1975).

  • This is the book that inspired the sabotage and monkey wrenching tactics of the Earth First! movement and people like Julia “Butterfly” Hill, who lived in an a redwood for two years to keep it from being chopped down. The Monkey Wrench Gang follows the exploits of four people who team up to fight the industrial tourism complex. They burn billboards, pour Karo syrup in gas engines, wreck bulldozers, and blow up bridges. The ending is particularly hilarious, with them rolling a giant black sheet down the side of the Boulder Damn to make it look like a giant crack. Although the characters are unique, they are often times mouth pieces for Abbey to espouse his philosophy so quotes from this book are also helpful.
  • “The real trouble with the goddamned Indians, reflected Hayduke, is that they are no better than the rest of us. The real trouble is that the Indians are just as stupid and greedy and cowardly and dull as us white folks.” P. 26
  • “’Always pull up survey stakes,’ he [Hayduke] said. ‘Anywhere you find them. Always. That’s the first goddamned general order in the monkey wrenching business. Always pull up survey stakes.’” P. 85
  • “But I’ve seen them. All trying to look different in the same way. The androgynous anthropoids…Wearing a headband doesn’t make you an Indian. Looking like a weed doesn’t make you organic.” P. 144

Edward Abbey, HAYDUKE LIVES! (Little, Brown & Co. 1990).

  • This is the sequel to The Monkey Wrench Gang. Unfortunately, it was published posthumously so many of the plot holes and unanswered questions will never be resolved. It continues the same rallying cry of Monkey Wrench though, to pull up survey stakes, smash some machines, and keep wilderness wild.

Elements of “Agrarian Advocacy,” Agri-Ecological Husbandry, and the “Smart New Agrarian Ethic.” The Upshot

  • Hard work is to be revered and see as promoting the character necessary to maintain a new agriculture. – Thoreau
  • The “pretty toys,” GM food and agricultural chemicals are incompatible with an innovative agriculture. – Thoreau
  • Land must be appreciated not just for what it is worth or what it can produce, but for its aesthetic, spiritual, and ecological value. – Thoreau
  • We need to be humble and have areas we use for nothing. We must also be humble in energy and resource use. This means we need to know when and how to use energy. We would reap destruction even with unlimited solar power, or other green energy, otherwise. – Wendell Berry
  • Agribusiness should not be a geopolitical tool. – Wendell Berry
  • There will not be a technological solution. It will be political, ecological, and spiritual. – Wendell Berry
  • We must be ready to forgoe the frivolities of “strawberries in January” and other conveniences which exacerbate our agricultural problems. – Wendell Berry
  • A new ethic would call for a “loving economy.” – Wendell Berry
  • As we approach the solutions to agriculture we must be careful not to disparage our species to much for we need self-respect if we are to respect the land. – Wendell Berry
  • Urban and Suburban residents acting, and purchasing, with rural communities in mind. – Donald Worster
  • Be willing to pay more for food to help rural communities. – Donald Worster (It’s not what it costs, it is what it’s worth.)
  • Programs should encourage rural living, but not just jobs. Those who wish to return the land should be able to do yet still retain careers, hobbies, recreation, and other things that satisfy the human condition with a respect to place. – Donald Worster
  • We must no longer pursue the “failure of success” and recognize the foolishness of the “3.45 billion year imperative.” – Wes Jackson
  • Bring ecology to agriculture by relying on perennial grains grown in polycultures. – Wes Jackson
  • Base our productivity and energy on sunlight. That means plants as well as solar energy. – Wes Jackson
  • We must follow the R words: restraint, renewables, and rationing. – Wes Jackson
  • “Think like a Mountain,” meaning that people must objectively think about what is best for food production, and the land before what is best for oneself or even just the human species. – Aldo Leopold
  • Before any development or action taken, one should act how this effects the land community of waters, land, plans, and animals. An adoption of the ‘land ethic’ thus becomes a spiritual version of an environmental impact statement. – Aldo Leopold
  • Even this ethic should not be taken as it is, written down, but rather evolve in the mind of the thinking community. So do not stop thinking! – Aldo Leopold
  • Land ownership should become more diversified, or if that is not possible, more and more people need to be involved in food production. This means that the actual farm work, not the salt-of-the-earth imagery used to sell cheap food and trucks, needs to be glorified if not more respected. i.e. Someone should reasonably expect to have a good education and manage land and food. - Lappeˊ
  • Luxury crop production (i.e. vanilla, coffee, chocolate, etc.) that displaces land from subsistence farming leading to starvation, should be discouraged. - Lappeˊ
  • A shift towards machines that complement human labor, like rotary cultivators, instead of those that displace, like tractors. - Lappeˊ
  • All must take active roles in procuring and making food. This also includes expanding one’s nutrition education so as to combat our “national eating disorder.”– Michael Pollan
  • We must support farmers so that they are properly incentivized and able to preserve their soil. This may mean increasing the price of food so that it reflects its ecological costs. – David Montgomery
  • To avoid following in the footsteps of failed societies, we must recognize that the soil is one of, if not the, principle stock. Losing soil should be equated with losing future lives for indeed that is what it means. – David Montgomery
  • This must be an ethic towards land. Hydroponics, on a wide scale, will only exacerbate our dependence on cheap fossil fuels. – David Montgomery p. 240
  • A new ethic must be “humble” in what it achieves and hopes people will become. That means our impacts will have to lessen and egos diminished. No longer can we have a defiant attitude that we can be free to do as we wish so long as our fists do not hit another’s nose. Greenhouse gases and food choices, the modern fists, hit square on the noses of the planet and all of its inhabitants. – Bill McKibben
  • Agriculture’s age of affluence has ended. We are now in an age of limits. Whether we like it or not, for the sake of posterity we must become humble in our consumption and use. There is not technological breakthrough or marvel that will get us out of our mess. We as a culture must adapt. – Bill McKibben
  • A new ethic will tell us to say “enough.” – Bill McKibben (This is also something I have heard Worster talk about.)
  • A new agrarian ethic will need to account for international interests, but at the same acknowledge there is a problem and not allow that to allow status quo growth in developing nations. It is not so much that it is unfair for other countries to not become developed like the US did, but that the planet cannot afford it. If food security is to be truly attained, we will need a global paradigm shift in how food is produced and how corporations act. – Al Gore
  • A new smart agrarian ethic must avoid anthropocentric hubris and pride. Extractive agriculture need not end just for our sake, but for the grains’, domesticates’, and planet’s sake as well. – John Muir
  • Agriculture must progress so as to consider and protect remaining wild areas. In the Midwest that means leaving native grass lands as the already farmed land becomes perennially focused. – Edward Abbey
  • Machines can be used, but not outside human scale. This helps keep wealth from being concentrated, and returns people to the land. Walking even. – Edward Abbey
  • Even a new way to produce food, based on a smart new agrarian ethic, must be allowed to grow into perpetuity. To avoid the philosophy of cancer, growth should only be sought to better humanity and the environment. – Edward Abbey