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Posts Tagged ‘nature’

Eco-Puritanism

For years, political divisions over the environment have had the seemingly odd feature that Americans farthest from the open country have tended to be most supportive of protecting the environment, while those nearest to it—farmers and other rural residents—have been most resistant. This split has been muddled in recent years as nature lovers have retired to the countryside, country folk have realized the business advantages of environmental tourism, and political polarization has increasingly subsumed specific issues. Still, when contentious topics such as the Keystone Pipeline or expanding national parks come up, the nature purists tend to be upscale urbanites. The General Social Survey asked how willing respondents would be to “accept cuts in your standard of living in order to protect the environment”; highly educated, white liberals in metropolitan areas were the most willing.

The urban left’s eco-puritanism takes many forms. Well-educated, secular Americans in particular pay extra for organic products, explore “natural” alternatives to Western medicine, and join environmentalist campaigns as donors and participants.

Whatever the virtues of each practice, running through all of them is the exaltation of nature. This cult of the natural has deep roots in America.  — Read more on the Boston Review website.

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Squirrely History

See that cute critter on the right here; it’s an eastern gray squirrel in what seems to be its natural habitat – near a tree, on a garbage can, in a town.

The squirrel, so ubiquitous in eastern cities, seems to have been around forever. In fact, Etienne Benson tells us in the December issue of the Journal of American History, the city squirrel is a relatively modern product of nineteenth-century environmentalists’ desires to bring nature, in the form of the country squirrel, to city people – so much a desire that they had to do it twice in thirty years.

Today’s environmentalists see the squirrel’s move to the bright lights as a big mistake. We can see it as another case of Americans’ repeated reshaping of the natural environment — here not for the usual economic reasons, but for moral uplift.

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A Natural Romance

I recently noticed a newspaper ad for Amtrak: Designed in American Craftsmen style to evoke, say, 1910, a poster displays the silhouette of a woman, hair in a bun, sipping a hot beverage. Through a train window behind her we can see a landscape of high mountains and tall evergreens.  The title of the ad reads, in caps, “more human / more nature.”  (A video version is here.)

Trains, the ad tells us, are our vehicles for returning to a slower time, a more natural time, a more human time.

Irony alert! The train was, to humanists and other sensitive souls of the 19th century, the central symbol of modernity – the main destroyer of life at a natural, harmonious, human scale. The unintentional joke in the ad plays off the running tension between new technologies, old technologies, and our notions of the “natural.” Knowingly or not, the ad’s creators point out how the modern world defined the “natural” one.

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