Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Book Review: Becoming Native to this Place by Wes Jackson

Becoming Native to this Place, Wes Jackson (1994)(*****). I read this little book in one day on the beach in Ocean City this past July or August; it’s short (118 pages) but dense, and I felt like I needed to reread it before I could adequately review it. But then I didn’t reread it, and the four or five months between reading and review will only serve to make my review even less adequate, I’m sure. Which is a shame, because I really loved this book a lot. Jackson, the founder of the Land Institute in Salinas, Kansas, argues that “We are unlikely to achieve anything close to sustainability in any area unless we work for the broader goal of becoming native in the modern world, and that means becoming native to our places in a coherent community that is in turn embedded in the ecological realities of its surrounding landscape.” (Prologue, p. 3) Jackson argues that if we are to become truly sustainable – meaning that we create lifestyles in which the outputs of our consumption do not destroy us and the world – we must make community (i.e. human-scale communities, not institutional/bureaucratic-scale communities) our organizing principle, and we must develop a science of sustainability with nature as the measure. He argues that much of the “prosperity” of the last several centuries has been fueled – literally – by an extractive economy based on fossil fuels that allows us to live far from the sources of our energy, but at devastating cost to our world. He calls, along with Wendell Berry (to whom the book is dedicated) for a resettling of the nation, a “homecoming” of sorts, in sustainable communities. This, he protests, is not “mere nostalgia. To resettle the country-side is a practical necessity for everyone, including people who continue to live in cities. To gather dispersed sunlight in the form of chemical energy in a fossil-free world will require a sufficiency of people spread across our broad landscape.” (Prologue, p. 4) His vision for such a new pioneer movement is unsentimental, politically astute, and – to this country girl, at least – very appealing.

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