Gretel van Wieren: Restored to Earth: Christianity, Environmental Ethics, and Ecological Restoration

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  • BOOK REVIEW

    Gretel van Wieren: Restored to Earth: Christianity,Environmental Ethics, and Ecological Restoration

    Georgetown University Press, Washington, 2013, 208 + pp

    Anna Peterson

    Accepted: 24 January 2014 / Published online: 7 February 2014

    Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

    This book explores the moral, social, and spiritual dimensions of ecological

    restoration. Gretel Van Wieren, a religion scholar, builds on the work of both critics

    and advocates of restoration to develop a balanced and well-informed approach to a

    controversial topic in environmental ethics. Ultimately she finds much value in

    restoration, as much for its ability to help build human community as for its

    contributions to ecological well-being. Restoration, she summarizes, is the attempt

    to heal and make the human relationship to nature whole (2).

    While she holds a generally positive view of restoration, Van Wieren consistently

    faces the ambivalence inherent in human efforts to recreate wild habitats.

    Restorationists are faced, as she explains, with the simultaneous realities that

    they are in some sense making up nature as they go and that natural processes arein some sense other than and beyond the human mind (20). By keeping both these

    dimensions in mind, Van Wieren presents a balanced account that is positive

    without romanticizing restorations ecological or social roles.

    The often heated debates about ecological restoration, at least within environ-

    mental ethics, have focused on the question of natures intrinsic value, and

    particularly what is and what counts as nature. Some restorationists, particularly

    William Jordan, suggest that human perceptions or practices are what make nature

    valuable. On the other hand, Holmes Rolston insists that natures value comes from

    evolutionary and ecological processes beyond humans. He allows that while

    restored landscapes can be valuable, they are not as valuableless ecologically rich

    or diverse, less historically significantas nonmodified wild landscapes.

    While Rolston does not oppose restoration in all cases, other environmental

    philosophers, notably Eric Katz and Robert Elliot, have argued strongly against

    restoration. Elliot calls restoration faking nature, while Katz sees it as a big lie.

    Both see it as part of human domination of nature, which they understand as

    A. Peterson (&)University of Florida, POB 117410, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA

    e-mail: annap@ufl.edu

    123

    J Agric Environ Ethics (2014) 27:347348

    DOI 10.1007/s10806-014-9495-x

  • necessarily independent of human creation and intervention. Elliot worries, in

    addition, that restoration can become a justification for the destruction of nature (58).

    On the other side of the debate, a number of practitioners and scholars insist that

    restoration exemplifies a positive human intervention in nature, an effort to redress

    past wrongs and create both healthier ecosystems and a more constructive human

    relationship to nature. William Jordan, Eric Higgs, and Andrew Light have all made

    arguments in this vein. Van Wieren ultimately sides with these more positive

    evaluations of restoration, believing that people may become restored to earth in

    and through the process of restoring earth and, even more broadly, that restoration

    can provide a model for understanding human relationships to nonhuman nature and

    generating better environmental ethics (185).

    This is a thoughtful and balanced book, with great value to scholars from a variety

    of fields. Its one jarring note, at least in my reading, is the short discussion of hunting,

    which occurs in a larger section on the spiritual aspects of restoration. Van Wieren

    quotes several authors who argue that hunting is not violence but rather a form of

    human kinship with nature. She cites David Petersens claim that after he kills a

    gorgeous wild elk, his empathy is gut-churning (90). Sport hunting is not

    generally considered part of ecological restoration, although therapeutic hunting

    (especially of nonnative species) is often necessary in large-scale restoration

    projects.

    It is true that destruction is often part of ecological restoration, especially the

    removal of non-native plant and animal species. It is also true, as Van Wieren

    argues, that negative feelings in relation to the natural world can be intertwinedwith and lead to more positive ones (90). This is an important point, emphasized

    strongly by William Jordan as well. However, sport hunting is not ecological

    restoration, and the implicit link that Van Wieren implies is troubling. The

    quotations from Petersen, in particular, reflect the kind of self-justifying power over

    nature that make Katz and Elliot wary of ecological restoration. The foray into

    hunting spirituality undermines the books larger thesis that despite ambiguities,

    restoration ultimately creates positive feelingsrespect, love, admirationtoward

    nature.

    These positive feelings acknowledge both human connections to nature and our

    ultimate separation from it. This separation comes from the fact that wild nature has

    an existence that is independent of human creativity, intervention, and valuingor,

    as Van Wieren puts it: Natures true or really real value resides in its inherent

    capacities for self-renewal and regeneration, or its prolifically wild generative

    character, perhaps even beyond human knowledge (161).

    The great strength of Van Wierens book is that she recognizes both the

    connection and the independence, balancing constructionist and essentialist

    views of nature (which she combines in a strategic essentialism). This makes

    Restored to Earth an excellent introduction to the debates about restoration within

    environmental ethics. For people familiar with debates about restoration, the books

    most important contribution is to emphasize the religious and spiritual dimensions

    of restoration and, in particular, the ways restoration is a collective activity that

    creates and strengthens human communities at the same time it can contribute to

    ecological health.

    348 A. Peterson

    123

    Gretel van Wieren: Restored to Earth: Christianity, Environmental Ethics, and Ecological RestorationGeorgetown University Press, Washington, 2013, 208 + pp

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