WWW.TEXASOBSERVER.ORG/BLOG Our special blend of insight, analysis, and wit is now available in daily doses. Observer editors, staffers, and bloggers are posting regular reports online about Texas politics, news, and culture. growing constituencies. Blind spots and historical prejudices notwithstanding, environmentalists have achieved an impressive legacy of conservation victories, including the system of national parks, wildlife refuges, and national forests; the Endangered Species Act; and the landmark clean air and water protections that we enjoy to this day \(despite the unremitting efforts of the current administration to roll them American Earth includes the text of one of the country’s most celebrated pieces of environmental legislation, the Wilderness Act of 1964. “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain,” the act reads. Introducing the Wilderness Act, McKibben states, “Congress has never before or since been as poetic, as philosophical, or as selfless and farseeing:’ It has never before been so cynicalor realisticeither. As much confession and cry for help as legislation, the Wilderness Act says, in effect, that we cannot be trusted to coexist with nature without ruining it. N of all is doom and gloom in American Earth. Edward Abbey’s broadside against industrial tourism in the national parks is pure caustic joy; Bob Marshall’s account of his search in the 1930s for the source of Alaska’s Clear River crackles with excitement; Rick Bass’ description of the resettlement of wolves in the lower 48 is nothing short of spine-tingling: “They’re filtering south, even as you’re reading thismoving through the trees, mostly, and eating a deer about every third day; they’re coming down out of Canada . . . ” In the hands of an able writer, beauty can crop up in the oddest places. “In junkyard as in wilderness there is danger: shards of glass, leaning jacks, weak chains; or rattlesnakes, avalanches, polar bears. In one as in the other you expect the creativity of the random, how the twisted metal protrudes like limbs, the cars dumped at acute, right, and obtuse angles, how the driveways are creeks and rivers:’ writes Janisse Ray, evoking the ecology of her “cracker childhood” in Georgia. American Earth also contains pop culture curiosities such as a piece by P.T. Barnum decrying unsightly billboards, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Gary Snyder’s “Smokey the Bear Sutra.” Also included are song lyrics by Woody Guthrie, Joni Mitchell, and Marvin Gaye; speeches by LBJ \(on signing the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, a thinly veiled love letter to Lady Bird and Teddy Roosevelt; and Al Gore. There is a smattering of visuals, including photos by Ansel Adams and R. Crumb’s nifty cartoon, “A Short History of America.” But the heart of the work lies in the lyrical prose of Thoreau, Leopold, Berry, and a number of lesser known luminaries who draw from the Earth a wholesome wisdom that appeals to the best angels of human nature and offersdare I say it?seeds of hope. Threats to the planet’s ecological integrity are perhaps graver than ever. But the environmental movement is more mature. Author and entrepreneur Paul Hawken likens the rise of a robust, international movement to an immune response, “social antibodies attaching themselves to pathologies of power.” Environmentalism, he says, is nothing short of the planet’s attempt to defend itself. “Five hundred years of ecological mayhem and social tyranny is a relatively short time for humanity to have learned to understand its self-created pattern of systematic pillage,” Hawken writes in 2007’s Blessed Unrest. “What has changed recently, and has offered evidence that hope may be a rational act despite the onslaught of countervailing data, is the use of connectivity. Individuals are associating, hooking up, and identifying with one another. From that meeting and experience they are forming units, inventing again and again pieces of a larger organism, enjoining associations and volunteers and committees and groups, and assembling these into a mosaic of activity as if they were solving a jigsaw puzzle without ever having seen the picture on its box. The insanity of human destructiveness may be matched by an older grace and intelligence that is fastening us together in ways we have never before seen or imagined.” John Suval is a writer in Mt. Rainier, Maryland, and co-founder of Waxwing SEPTEMBER 19, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29
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