Reply To: Tue 17 Nov: Nature, Narrative and Environmental History

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Miguel Núñez # Posted on January 5, 2016 at 14:58

The next reflection answers to the question: How the modern environmentalism understands the concept of “wilderness”, according to W. Cronon? Here, by drawing the main ideas wrote by the author I will do a critic about his propose about rethink the modern concept of “wilderness”. The main omission of that proposal is the perverse effects that massive industrialization has on the conservation big ecosystems of the world such as the Amazonas.
1. The “wilderness” concept is a human construction that depends on the social and historical context where the human being lives.
2. For instance, in the context where the bible was wrote by the evangelists, the “wilderness” refers to an untamed terrain which lacks water, where cultivating and harvesting are hard practices for the human hands and where maintaining human families was the first and only priority.
3. Such ancient concept inspired all the theocratic governments until the coming of the cultural movement of the romanticism, in the late XVIII century, which understood “wilderness” as a place where human being could feel sublime experiences. Usually, those places were pristine and far from human concentrations, where the perception of the firmament, the sea and the mountains lead to metaphysic sensations by its immense qualities. In comparison with the human creations made as image and similitude to its needs, the natural formations counts with immensurable sizes which highlights the smallness of human being.
4. Such understanding about the “wilderness” was the basis for the cultural developments of the Romantic Movement that drew a generation discontented with the modern promises. By highlighting the contact with nature rather than with the human, the romanticism propelled the sublime over the beautiful.
5. That aesthetic distinction, between both categories, was initiated in the modernity with the philosopher Immanuel Kant, whose definitions helps to explain, for instance, how a built house to resist the winter could be beautiful and the whiteness of the snow which falls during three months in order to give light in the darkness could be sublime.
6. According to W. Cronon a great part of the modern environmental conceptions about the “wilderness” maintained a preference for sublime experiences more than by beautiful sensations. For instance, the idea about the conservation of pristine landscapes as refugees is a modern trend inspired mainly in the Romantic Movement and its idea about the sublime but that today is enjoyed only by tourists.
7. As maintaining pristine big sizes of forests and seas has been the principal work for modern environmentalism, W. Cronon thinks that it is time to rethink the concept about “wilderness”. If, in line with sublime and romantic concept mentioned above, the small landscapes founds in cities and urban centers are not considered as nature, a great part of the sources of aesthetic enjoyment for the modern human being could be deleted.
8. A good historical example about such contradiction is the forced displacement, by the European white man, of the ancient American Indians from their own lands with a pretext of conservation of the pristine nature. In that case, the human dwellers of the north American landscapes lost their material and cultural inheritance and after, they were extinct as people.
9. Thus, according to W. Cronon the modern environmentalism based on the sublime concept of “wilderness” must be modified in order to answer to the current circumstances of the urban formations. In my opinion, the other side of such statement is the degradation of natural formations of great valor by the growing and developing of industrial societies.
In my opinion the essay of W. Cronon despite of that highlights problems of environmental justice which may be ignored by a romantic approach of the nature and wilderness, does not propose a real option to affront modern challenges that threats to modern industrial societies. The author believes that only by a personal concern where individuals controls autonomously their uses and consumes on natural resources, could be solved disasters such as industrial waste, polluted rivers, massive degradation of forests and extinction of species. But, how modify personal habits without a change in the offers that the industries make daily? I consider that the approach of W. Cronon is based on a way of life according to the massive consumption, the free capital and the economization of the daily life. These three pillars of the way of life of modern societies must be analyzed in order to lead real changes that improve expectations of victims of environmental injustices.
CRONON, William. The problema with Wilderness or Getting Back to the Wrong Nature. New York: 1995, p. 69-90.