scientists recently revealed, with much fanfare, that they had discovered
that the universe was green in color, a shimmering blue-green to
be exact. When I read this, I thought that it was too good to be
true; what a great storythe universe is trying to tell us
that all creation is green. Well, sure enough, it was too good to
be true and several weeks after their first announcement, they stated
that a computer error read the data wrong and that the universe
is actually beige, of all colors.
Nevertheless, nature has been trying to tell us something for a
very long time, but we just havent been willing to listen.
Or, perhaps the message is too terrible to contemplate. Therefore
we ignore it in an attempt to insulate ourselves from the shock
of the truth. This is the area that is explored in a recently published
book from MIT Press, The Love of Nature and the End of the World:
The Unspoken Dimensions of Environmental Concern by Shierry Weber
This book is an inspired and beautiful meditation on our present
predicament. It creates awareness via an intelligent examination
of why we generally remain silent in the face of the overwhelming
destruction that is taking place even as we profess love for certain
favorite aspects, animals or places in nature that we hold dear.
In the paradox that is modern life, the love of nature and our unwitting
mass destruction of our natural heritage exist side by side; this
book explores the implications of such a disastrous disconnection.
Drawing on literature, art, psychoanalytical thought, perceptual
ecology, religious writing and poetry, Nicholsen weaves together
the work of many brilliant thinkers. She has fashioned it into an
ecopsychology incantation to awaken us from our stupor.
Its beauty lies in its ability to describe the negative side of
our ecological indifference while at the same time promoting what
the author calls perceptual reciprocitythe interpenetrating
and interrelated web of perceptions and sensations of the natural
When Nicholsen writes about our lack of willingness to openly talk
about the destruction of the environment, she equates it with our
diminished ability to experience awe, which itself is a form of
involuntary speechlessness. It is precisely a sense of awe that
the author believes we should develop in order to understand what
is happening to our environment. The question then becomes: Can
we teach a sense of wonder for the natural world in our schools
in a technologically-transfixed culture?
Technologically, our society is not as powerful as we think it is,
however at the same time we are able to cause global environmental
changes that we fail to recognize. We have come to identify with
machines and technology more readily than the natural world because
machines offer the promise of omnipotence and the denial of death,
when death is an integral part of nature that constantly reminds
us of our frailty and fragileness. This is why we tend to immediately
seek out technological fixes that we deem permanent when faced with
an environmental problem.
The urgency of the question, What should we do? is answered
by Nicholsens abiding faith in our capabilities for repair
and restoration. She believes our collective capacity to think,
speak and write about these issues is a form of action in itself
that becomes empowering by overriding the sense of ecological despair
that at times hampers transformation. However, the author attempts
only to illuminate conditions that would prevent us from moving
forward into the future, rather than suggesting what our next steps
Nicholsen writes, When we talk these days of sustainability
and the seventh generation, we mean the far future. What will be
sustained into that future will be not something preconceived, but
the continued possibility of new birth and unfolding. If extinction
means an end to birth, the possible future means the continuation
And isnt that the best we can hope for the futurethat
there will indeed be a future in which things unfold naturally?
Perhaps if we make some enlightened decisions along the way we can
remain green and avoid becoming part of the great universal beigeness.
Where can I buy It?
The Love of Nature
and the End of the World: The Unspoken Dimensions of Environmental
by Shierry Weber Nicholsen
©2002, The MIT Press
Richard Walthers (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is founder of PRAIRIE fish; a Chicago IL-based consulting firm dedicated
to design and sustainability issues.