Eco-Preservation

Just as eco-liberation counters eco-colonization, eco-preservation counteracts the other homocentric expressions and their destructive consequences. And just like the other Earth-centered expressions discussed in this chapter, eco-preservation is all-inclusive, seeking to preserve the natural and the artifactual. Now, there are various kinds and degrees of preservation: conservation, restoration, recycling, and so on. I turn to brief expositions of some of the most significant forms of eco-preservation.

“Conservation” is employed here as a kind of blanket term for two of the most basic and intensive forms of preservation, fostered, and advanced by the likes of Muir, Pinchot, and other pioneering environmentalists (Hirsch 1971; Heacox 1996; Hall 2014; Westover 2016). The most uncompromising kind is radical conservation: human entry/activity is prohibited or severely restricted to typically large-sized tracts of land or sea, often called “nature/wildlife reserves,” “refuges,” or “sanctuaries” (Duffey 1974; Allin 1990; McLaughlin 1993; Lester and others 2009; Doyle 2017). The non-human is thus preserved for the aim of its continued existence and unfolding, now and into the future, for its own sake. This is the most literal and basic form of preservation, given that it shields the non-human from human interactivity, which often involves the various destructive anthropocentric expressions outlined earlier. But what does ecocentrism bring to this established discourse-practice? It insists that conservation should not just be reserved for natural (typically “pristine”) ecosystems but also for built environments. Today, such an insistence is needed more than ever, given neoliberalism’s obsession to destroy the old and replace it with the often-blandly new, especially when it comes to urban structures and environments (Brenner and Theodore 2002; Weber 2002; Harvey 2006). And so, full-blown conservation is the strongest form of eco-preservation: natural and built environments are literally protected and thus saved from anthropogenic devastation. To be sure, radical conservation is an extreme measure but a necessary one, given human supremacism’s ever-expanding reach and insatiability.

A second form of conservation is less intensive and more “compromising” in the sense that larger tracts of land and sea are protected but some human intervention is allowed, such as restricted logging, mining, and tourism; these places tend to be called “national/state forests/parks” (Sellars 2009; von Hardenberg and others 2017). To be sure, these parks have problematic histories, such as the displacement of native human inhabitants in order to create them (Spence 1999; Gissibl, Hohler and Kupper 2012; Perez 2018; Gilio-Whitaker 2019). Plumwood reminds us that what we Westerners call “wilderness” “is to these [indigenous-human and non-human] others a home” (1993: 183). So the management of such parks must be undertaken with greater sensitivity to native human dwellers. Now, while some damage is inevitably inflicted on these environments due to human intrusion, the damage does not generally threaten their overall integrity, thereby allowing them to perdure and regenerate - but not only for their own sake but also for human use and consumption.

Given the problematic history and “compromising” dimension of these parks, one could reasonably ask whether Earth-centeredness approves or rejects this form of preservation. However, ecocentric letting-be should not to be confused with “hyperseparated understandings of the concept of wilderness” that “demand apartness of nature to the point ofinsisting that there can be no human influence at all on the genuinely natural” (Plumwood 1993: 162). In contrast to a fundamentalistic ecocentrism (which would dogmatically reject human intrusion, endorsing only radical conservation), a nuanced eco-centeredness ratifies this “compromising” conservation, so long as several conditions are met. We first recall how these regions need to be secured and managed sensitively, taking into account existing inhabitants and circumstances. Next, eco-centeredness insists that human use should be restricted to meeting reasonable human needs. So how, for example, could something like tree-logging be allowed? It might be acceptable if, for instance, certain regions can’t access harvested trees for justifiable timber needs. The type and degree of human intervention would need to be strictly monitored to minimize our impact. Furthermore, as is the case with radical conservation, ecocentrism insists that not only natural ecosystems but also built environments be protected in this way: ecocentric conservation is all-inclusive; it does not only apply to natural ecosystems. And so, while Earth-centeredness endorses radical conservation in many cases, it also allows human inhabitation/intervention in some cases. Earth-centered leading does not simplistically privilege full-blown conservation over the more compromising kind - it recognizes that what we require is more of both kinds of conservation.

We also note how eco-preservation not only applies to natural and built settings but also to individual creatures. For example, one form of eco-preservation is the placement of bans/restrictions on threatened species. Probably the most famous example is the ban on whale hunting, which is observed by much of the international community, while rogue nations are pressured into ceasing or scaling-back this odious activity, with varying degrees of success (Christol, Schmidhauser and Totten 1976; Andresen 1993; Epstein 2005; Dorsey 2014). From an ecocentric perspective, a practice like whale hunting does not meet the criterion of addressing reasonable human needs, so it would be prohibited. (Of course, the Inuit example cited earlier alerts us to the possibility that there might be occasional exceptions to the general rule.)

Another form of eco-preservation is restoration. It typically refers to the revitalization of places (Bradshaw 1980; Berger 1985; Allen 2003; Clewell and Aronson 2007; Court 2012; Martin 2017). Ecocentrism straightaway recognizes how conservation (especially the radical kind) is more preferable than restoration, given that what is often lost is typically irrevocable, especially ecologies like old-growth forests (Elliot 1982; Katz 1992). After all, conservation is preventative while restoration is curative. But restoration’s “deficiency” in this regard does not entail its wholesale rejection (Ladkin 2005): it will often be vastly preferable to no eco-intervention whatsoever.

Now, as with the other Earth-centered expressions unpacked in the present chapter, truly ecocentric restoration seeks to revitalize both the natural and the artifactual. Given our acquaintance and endorsement of laudable human attempts to recuperate species and ecologies (e.g., breeding programs seek to repopulate species threatened with extinction; humans often participate in the rewilding of damaged ecosystems), we focus here on the renewal of manufactured products that have naturally deteriorated but are restored to their “former glory.” An excellent and popular example of this activity is car restoration (Stubenrauch 1984; Berger 2001; Simeone and others 2012), whereby humans interrupt their anthropocentric, object-ignoring ways and exhibit care - even love - toward the manufactured object. The rejuvenation of built things also mitigates against the homocentric drive to obsessively replace old products with new ones, facilitated by planned obsolescence (discussed earlier). Once again, Mathews is clear in this regard: “we shall have to maintain them [homes, cars, etc.], since we shall need to continue to use and inhabit them. Inhabitation will also call for adaptation and aesthetic enhancement. But this is compatible with a fundamental attitude of letting be . . . rather than insisting upon further cycles of demolition and ‘redevelopment’” (1999a: 124).

At this juncture, given our foregrounding of a practice like restoration, we emphatically note how ecocentrism certainly does not privilege the new or renewed but rather embraces the new, the renewed, and the old, while also squarely accepting the realities of death and disintegration for the biotic and abiotic, respectively. We recall how letting-be is also a letting-grow-old -we’re reminded here of Mathews’ wonderful article title “Letting the Earth Grow Old” - and, by extension, this ethos also affirms a letting-die and a letting-disintegrate. Earth-centeredness is certainly not a denial of aging, death, and decomposition. Ecocentrism recognizes and affirms how “unfolding” does not merely involve emergence and flourishing (i.e., the new and young) but it also involves decline and dissolution, death, and non-existence; one could say that unfolding also involves “de-folding.” While our homocen-tric aesthetic assesses this second crucial stage of unfolding in negative terms (abandoned objects are typically described according to a lexicon of “ruin,” “decay,” “dilapidation,” etc.), an ecocentric aesthetic values and affirms the natural de-folding of things: ceasing-to-be is just as integral to the process of unfolding as coming-to-be. Ecocentrically speaking, the old is just as alluring as the new.

Now, given that we’re discussing various forms or methods of ecopreservation, we could ask whether recycling belongs to this category. Like some of the other important subjects discussed in this chapter (eco-education, population stabilization, etc.), we shall only summarily treat this topic in order to keep the study manageable. First of all, recycling is a kind of eco-preservation: while the whole original product might not be saved, elements of it - its constituent parts or “materials” - are conserved in the new object. Furthermore, the recycled thing “sacrifices” itself for other non-human entities in that it saves them from being transformed into things for human use and consumption. But certain conditions need to be met in order for properly ecocentric recycling to take place. Entities should be recycled into eco-friendly items that meet reasonable human requirements. I also think the need for recycling would decline when only necessary and durable products are made, whereas today’s recycling industry has an interest in greater recycling because it means bigger profits (Meyer-Abich 1993: 100). Furthermore, recycling should not be construed as a cure-all for all manufactured waste: not all waste can be eliminated. One of the world’s leading philosophers, Slavoj Zizek, makes this point in his inimitable way: “The ideal of ‘recycling’ involves the utopia of a self-enclosed circle in which all waste, all useless remainder, is sublated: nothing gets lost, all trash is re-used. . . . [Ajlready in nature itself, there is no circle of total recycling, there is un-usable waste” (2010a: 35) - though what I would emphasize here is that nature recycles much more than anthropocentric humanity, and it creates much less waste (McDonough and Braungart 2002).

Zizek discloses another risky dimension of the way recycling is presently framed: it displaces much/most of the responsibility for ecological devastation and reparation from the most powerful - and therefore most potentially effective - agents (governments and corporate producers) to individual citizens— consumers; in other words, conventional anthropocentric recycling is part of a set of “environmental” practices where the onus is placed squarely on the individual. Zizek remarks: “We recycle old paper, we buy organic food, we install long-lasting light bulbs - whatever - just so we can be sure that we are doing something” (2010b). While I propose that this push for recycling is positive insofar as it habituates us into becoming more eco-friendly consumer-citizens, it shifts too much accountability to us individuals, with the risk/reality of turning us into eco-neurotic “consumer scapegoats” - as Akenji memorably puts it (2014, 2019).

Furthermore, we must recognize that recycling is only one mechanism for overcoming environmental problems. Herein lies the truth and value of the tripartite eco-mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Recycling is graphically and logically preceded by two even more important practices. The first is reduction - especially in terms of the reduction of production, consumption, and use. Re-usage is also key: with greater re-utilization comes less wastage and recycling; fewer non-human others are required to replace disposed objects. But recycling is nevertheless a crucial form of eco-preservation. Hence, despite his reservations about this process, Meyer-Abich is still able to insist that “There is a requirement that we should recycle” (1993: 105) - especially an ecocentric kind of recycling.

As with the case of restoring manufactured things, one could also object that recycling defies the Earth-centered ethos of letting-be in the sense that disposed objects should just be allowed to dematerialize. To reiterate, once again: letting-be is not simply reducible to absolute non-intervention. Mathews herself allows for a moderate interventionism: “as beings with a constitutive interest in our own self-preservation and the preservation of our nearest and dearest, we are on occasion to intervene in these unfoldings” (1999a: 123). These needs often require practices like restoration and recycling to meet basic-higher needs (shelter, transportation, aesthetic development, etc.). Earth-centeredness not only positively endorses the existence of the artifactual (from fax machines to cars) but also the prolonging of their being - whether by restoration or recycling - in order to meet human and non-human needs. Some products are maintained to unfold for longer than might naturally be the case, especially when there are good reasons for doing so.

 
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