The world and the wild and much, much more


Rob Whittaker & Richard Field.

The world and the wild and much, much more Rothenberg, D. & Ulvaeus, M. (eds ) ( 2001 ) The world and the wild . University of Arizona Press , Tucson, AZ . xxiii + 231  pp, figs, index. Paperback: Price US$19.95 . ISBN 0-8165-2063-1 .

In August 2001 I began reading The world and the wild. On 11 September terrorism changed the course of history. On 29 September, returning to Dulles Airport (home of the flight that breached the Pentagon) and finishing The world and the wild, I read, ‘The dream of many now is to go abroad, run after money. Get rich fast! Become somebody fast! But look what is happening all over the country. The educated can’t find jobs. They loiter around in towns and cities, frustrated, undisciplined. They become lawbreakers and create a safety problem everywhere … Today's situation is like a time bomb.’ (p. 217). These prophetic words were penned by one Damien Arabagali, a Huli leader of Papua New Guinea.

The world and the wild originated as a collection of essays from the 6th World Wilderness Congress. Sixteen chapters, some remarkable, none worthless, constitute an outstanding display of authoring and editing. The goal is ‘to reinvigorate the effort to understand, reveal, and save wilderness beyond the usual futile polarities’ (p. xx). The conceptual and artistic breadth of the effort has something to offer all concerned with wilderness, but the chapters by Philip Cafaro and Monish Verma, Pramod Parajuli, Sahotra Sarkar, William Bevis, Antonio Carlos Diegues and Damien Arabagali were particularly interesting to me. Collectively, these authors provide a globally and historically informed taxonomy of wilderness concepts, summarize the field of social ecology with its Indian origins, explore the relevance of the western concept of wilderness to other nations, indict corporate libertarianism as a force of environmental and cultural destruction, and identify economic growth as an anachronistic goal in a world full of human economy.

I found the carefully deduced yet bold effort of Cafaro & Verma (Chapter 4) particularly refreshing. For starters, they go beyond the ubiquitous but hollow identification of ‘human activities’ as the major challenge to biodiversity. The challenge, much more precisely, is ‘human economic activities’ (p. 57, emphasis added). What do they advocate? ‘… development for the poor and decreased consumption among the rich worldwide’ (p. 58). As for ‘the wasteful and extravagant lifestyles of average Americans and the United States government's successful attempt to undermine efforts to combat global warming’, American dialogue on sustainability ‘usually focuses on sustaining resources to facilitate more “development” to satisfy ever-increasing “needs” ’ (p. 61). It behoves Americans to consider this observation in the introspective aftermath of 11 September.

A unique and enjoyable chapter is Ian Player's ‘Zulu History’ (Chapter 8), a fascinating account of Player's trek with Magqubu, a Zulu in legendary tune with the earth. Player's description of Magqubu brought back fond memories of an expressive Apache game ranger I worked with in Arizona, and other readers may have their own Magqubu to recall. This Magqubu was special indeed and he had a profound effect on Player's being. Adding to the breadth of style in The world and the wild, Player helps us to hear and feel ‘a drumbeat of the earth that permeated my entire psychic being. This was for me a religious experience’ (p. 105).

Player's chapter is quite a stylistic shift on the heels of John Terborgh's cut-and-dried account of conservation in the tropics (Chapter 6). Terborgh casts a well-deserved pall of cynicism over ‘the wispy notion of sustainable development’ (p. 83). His perspective provides a more generalized version of David Western's preceding, Kenyan-based observations (Chapter 5), although the two disagree somewhat on solutions (Chapter 7).

Edward Whitesell (Chapter 14) summarizes things well: ‘To make a long-term impact on the survival of wild landscapes, it will be necessary to promote social, political, and economic changes that will lead to that end’ (p. 196). Unfortunately, one of the key forces for positive change is glaring in its absence. As I described in Shoveling fuel for a runaway train (Czech, 2000), the practitioners of ecological economics have probably identified the requisite ‘social, political, and economic changes’ better than anyone. Herman Daly's work on the steady state economy (e.g. Daly, 1993) is particularly relevant. Yet the ecological economics movement is never mentioned in The world and the wild; this is a serious oversight in my opinion.

Of dubious merit is the chapter ‘Volcano Dreams’ by Tom Vanderbilt (Chapter 11). His garrulous observations on Mexican history, culture, and volcanism seem largely irrelevant. One can almost hear the voice of Richard Rodriguez from the American programme Jim Lehrer Newshour. If you appreciate the rhapsodic rambling of Richard Rodriquez, though, perhaps you will like ‘Volcano Dreams’.

Overall, I highly recommend The world and the wild. It will serve as an excellent text for courses in international conservation, environmental ethics, and any others with significant wilderness components. Were it possible, I’d make it required reading for international conservation organizations and, especially, international development agencies.

Some big-name authors grace the table of contents, yet it seems appropriate to conclude, as the book does, with Damien Arabagali, the Huli visionary (Chapter 16). If one had time for just one chapter, Arabagali's would be my recommendation. Arabagali has reached a verdict on the corporate violators of ecological integrity, and he didn’t reach it carelessly. ‘Oh yes’, he acknowledged, ‘it's true, hospitals are being built, and jobs are created. These are positive elements for sure. But if you take a closer look, then you see cheap labour and exploitation. The price we pay for a damaged environment is too high. We sacrifice our nature for quick money.’ Arabagali is no quitter. He thinks we still have a chance, and the preconceived spirits of our grandchildren must hope we heed: ‘The world should come together for the just cause. We must fight for the survival of our human society. We must fight together.’ (p. 220).