Monday, July 5, 2010

Charles Wohlforth's "The Fate of Nature"

Charles Wohlforth is a life-long Alaska resident and prize-winning author of numerous books about Alaska. His work includes writing about science and the environment, politics and history, travel, and as-told-to biography.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Fate of Nature: Rediscovering Our Ability to Rescue the Earth, and reported the following:
Is page 99 of my book, The Fate of Nature, representative of the quality (or content) of the book as a whole? Yes, because my book ranges so wide in its attempt to take on an enormous topic that any page would probably fit the bill.

The Fate of Nature asks if our species is equipped to save the environment--do we have it in us to cooperate as we would need to, or are we essentially selfish beings who can only compete in this finite Earth commons until there's nothing left but the things we ourselves make, buy and sell?

I use the story of my home, coastal Alaska, and I find that culture is the key. Human beings are capable of extraordinary good and bad behavior. Many cultures at many points in our hisotry have shared and cared for the ecosystems in which they live.

In Prince William Sound, the Chugach people owned the ocean in common and felt a link to the place and the animals that gave them meaning and purpose. Russians, originally informed by the free maket philosophy of Catherine the Great, invaded in the 18th and 19th centuries and stripped the waters of its fur bearing animals. Their treatment of the indigenous people has rightly been called genocidal.

The Russians fur traders are long gone, but the Chugach people still suffer from their brutality. On page 99, I write, "Strands of Russian ways and traditional indigenous ways were wrapped with another strand, the strand of the grief itself, the kind that comes too fast to work through, that runs too deep, because not only have the teachers died, but the universe they inhabited and taught is dying as well."

For some of those who love wild places and the animals there, there's a similar sense of grief as we watch the losses mount. But there's also hope in those feelings. Our connection and caring mean we're not entirely selfish. We do have a chance.
Read excerpts from The Fate of Nature, and learn more about the book and author at the official The Fate of Nature website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue