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A Conservationist Manifesto

SRS in Alaska July 2013

reviews of Conservationist

A Conservationist Manifesto cover


A Conservationist Manifesto was published in April 2009, on Earth Day, by Indiana University Press. The book addresses what I take to be the greatest challenge facing our society, which is to shift from a culture based on consumption to a culture based on caretaking. What would a truly sustainable economy look like? What responsibilities do we bear for the well-being of future generations? What responsibilities do we bear toward Earth’s millions of other species? In a time of ecological calamity and widespread human suffering, how should we imagine a good life? A Conservationist Manifesto seeks answers to these pressing questions, and more, in writing that’s impelled by a sense of place and a sense of hope.

The book envisions a path toward a materially simpler and spiritually richer way of life. At present, merchants and mass media, politicians and pundits, agree in defining us as consumers, as if the purpose of life were to devour the world rather than to savor and preserve it. However appealing consumerism may be to our egos, and however profitable it may be for business, it is ruinous for our planet, our communities, and our souls. What I propose instead is that we imagine ourselves as conservers, as stewards of the earth's bounty and beauty.

We need to embrace a conservation ethic if we are to address such threats as the disruption of global climate, the tattering of the ozone layer, the clear-cutting of forests, the poisoning of lakes by acid rain, the collapse of ocean fisheries, the extinction of species, the looming shortages of oil and fresh water, and the spread of famine and epidemic disease.

How might we shift to a more durable and compassionate way of life? What models do we have for a culture of conservation? What changes in values and behavior would be required to bring it about? Where can we see it emerging in practice?

Ranging geographically from my home ground in southern Indiana to the Mount St. Helens volcano and Alaska's Glacier Bay and Minnesota's Boundary Waters Wilderness, and ranging culturally from the Bible to billboards, it maps the practical and ecological grounds for a conservation ethic. The roots of conservation go deep in America, back through such visionaries as Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, John Muir, and Henry David Thoreau; back through the frugal habits of the Depression and wartime rationing, through agrarian thrift and frontier ingenuity and the prudent advice of Poor Richard's Almanack; back through Quakers and Puritans, with their emphasis on simplicity; and even farther back to the indigenous people who inhabited this continent before it was called America. Drawing on this heritage, I seek to show that the practice of conservation is our wisest and surest way of caring for our neighbors, for this marvelous planet, and for future generations.

To shop for A Conservationist Manifesto and other books of mine through an independent bookstore near you, click here.

To shop for A Conservationist Manifesto through Amazon, click here.

You can view here a reading I gave from A Conservationist Manifesto, along with my discussion of the book and responses to audience questions. carried a thoughtful review of A Conservationist Manifesto by editor Simmons Buntin, who moves outward from a discussion of the book to consider the challenges facing any effort to address serious environmental and social justice issues in the U.S. You'll find the review here.

An interview focusing on the book appears on, a website devoted to understanding our current predicament and envisioning the path toward a humane and durable way of life.

You will find additional reviews of A Conservationist Manifesto here.




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