The Wild and the Wicked
On Nature and Human Nature
A brief foray into a moral thicket, exploring why we should protect nature despite tsunamis, malaria, bird flu, cancer, killer asteroids, and tofu.
Most of us think that in order to be environmentalists, we have to love nature. Essentially, we should be tree huggers—embracing majestic redwoods, mighty oaks, graceful birches, etc. We ought to eat granola, drive hybrids, cook tofu, and write our appointments in Sierra Club calendars. Nature's splendor, in other words, justifies our protection of it. But, asks Benjamin Hale in this provocative book, what about tsunamis, earthquakes, cancer, bird flu, killer asteroids? They are nature, too.
For years, environmentalists have insisted that nature is fundamentally good. In The Wild and the Wicked, Benjamin Hale adopts the opposite position—that much of the time nature can be bad—in order to show that even if nature is cruel, we still need to be environmentally conscientious. Hale argues that environmentalists needn't feel compelled to defend the value of nature, or even to adopt the attitudes of tree-hugging nature lovers. We can acknowledge nature's indifference and periodic hostility. Deftly weaving anecdote and philosophy, he shows that we don't need to love nature to be green. What really ought to be driving our environmentalism is our humanity, not nature's value.
Hale argues that our unique burden as human beings is that we can act for reasons, good or bad. He claims that we should be environmentalists because environmentalism is right, because we humans have the capacity to be better than nature. As humans, we fail to live up to our moral potential if we act as brutally as nature. Hale argues that despite nature's indifference to the plight of humanity, humanity cannot be indifferent to the plight of nature.
A fun, funny, and accessible trip through Benjamin Hale's philosophical argument for being green—even though Nature itself is amoral. The duty-based position he favors is sketched out through a series of fascinating and inventive cases—both real and fictional. You may never buy eggs the same way again.
Emma Marris, author of Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World
So you drive a hybrid and eat local food? If you think you know your climate change ethics, this book will make you think again.
Mark Lynas, Visiting Fellow, Cornell Alliance for Science; author of The God Species: Saving the Planet in the Age of Humans
In this engrossing, smart, personal, and at turns wickedly funny book, Ben Hale has given us a vision of an environmentalism of the head, rather than the heart, eschewing the sappy sentimentality that is all too pervasive in environmental scholarship. Hale takes the next big step—likely several steps—away from the naive caricature of 'anthropocentrism' in environmental ethics, toward an account that has us embrace our unique qualities of being human. The challenge before us is striking: justify your reasons, act for good reason, and together we may create a lasting green citizenship.
Andrew Light, University Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy, George Mason University; former Senior Climate Change Adviser, US Department of State