Paul Wapner


On his book Living through the End of Nature: The Future of American Environmentalism

Cover Interview of March 01, 2011

In a nutshell

Nature is hard to find these days.  Six and half billion people spread across the entire planet draw so many resources from the earth and emit so much waste into the air, water, and soil, that humanity’s signature is now everywhere.  There are no places anymore devoid of human influence.  Moreover, we are finally realizing that nature means different things to different people; one person’s endangered species is another’s dinner.  Thus the protection of nature is not as easy as we used to think.

Living through the End of Nature explores the meaning of American environmentalism “after nature.”  I argue that environmentalists need not lament the end of nature but should welcome it as an opportunity to build a more effective political movement.

One can appreciate this opportunity by recognizing how the end of nature shifts the political fault-lines that have long defined American environmental politics.

Environmentalists and their critics argue not simply about the virtues of protecting given plots of land, protecting sources of water, or addressing climate change.  At a deeper level, they contest how humans should relate to the more-than-human world.  Environmentalists call on us to harmonize our lives with nature.  We should live within the earth’s ecological limits and look to nature for how best to live.  Critics counsel mastering nature—outsmarting it for human betterment.

In this book I show how the end of nature undermines both of these positions, and explain how environmentalists can capitalize on such new conceptual and political terrain.