The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature is an article by William Cronon that I had to read for my Environmental Ethics class last semester. The article doesn't have much to say in the way of environmental policy, but I thought it was somewhat relevant to Judith's presentation last week in class. Cronon starts the article with what wilderness has become to many Americans:
"For many Americans wilderness stands as the last remaining place where civilization, that all too human disease, has not fully infected the earth. It is an island in the polluted sea of urban-industrial modernity, the one place we can turn for escape from our own too-muchness. Seen in this way, wilderness presents itself as the best antidote to our human selves, a refuge we must somehow recover if we hope to save the planet. As Henry David Thoreau once famously declared, “In Wildness is the preservation of the World.'"
I think this block quote hits the nail on the head when thinking about wilderness because so many Americans, including myself, view wilderness as this pristine, peaceful, haven from the fast paced reality of everyday life. With this conception of wilderness policies that follow are ones that protect wilderness, preserving its value to humans and animals, and are ones that don't allow the intrusion of industrial factors. Cronon, however, believes that our conception of wilderness is a reflection of our cultures and that we pretend that wilderness is real when it's actually a social construction. Maintaining this conception of wilderness is troublesome according to Cronon because it hides past injustices such as our displacement of Native Americans when we designated their home lands as "wilderness." Native Americans had been making their living off the land for centuries before Europeans arrived and our conception of wilderness drove these natives away for our own enjoyment of the land as pristine and peaceful. Cronon also argues that wilderness has become a "play ground for the rich" because many wilderness areas can be difficult to get to for those with limited incomes and then once in wilderness equipment also becomes an expensive endeavor therefore we are alienating poor people from experiencing nature.
To combat our misconceptions of wilderness, Cronon believes we must look to sustainable ways of using wilderness without the exclusion of native peoples, poor or rich peoples, and look to ways in which we do not harm nature for our own growth. I think Cronon makes some interesting points in his article. I only highlighted a few that I thought were the strongest and ones that could be useful when thinking about public policy. Using Cronon's arguments about wilderness I feel it is important to make sure policies do not make wilderness exclusatory and must also think sustainably about our uses of wilderness. If anyone is interested in reading the full article I have posted a link to it at the bottom of my entry: