Take Back Rewilding

In late 2022, I became very active with The Rewilding Institute (TRI) and wrote some articles. Although the series ended up stagnating (mea culpa), I had been working with the editors of Rewilding Earth to serialize some of my writings on the ambiguity of ‘rewilding’ and its ecological and ethical correlates. These were published under the heading Take Back Rewilding, the title suggested by our executive director John Davis as an allusion to founder Dave Foreman’s Take Back Conservation. The main target was rewilding-so-called in Europe, and the main thesis of the first part of the series was that the word ‘rewilding’ should be considered transatlantically ambiguous (like ‘football’, ‘pants’ or ‘warbler’). Here are the ones that were posted:

Prologue (10 January 2023): how I came to rewilding via Dave Foreman’s work and my own dabbling in ecological ethics; presaging the critique of the common Danish/European use of ‘rewilding’ to refer to naturalistic grazing.

• ‘Rewilding’ Ambiguity (17 January 2023): recapitulating well-worn observations about “rewilding” in Europe vs US but adding the heretical claim that the difference should be considered semantic; revisiting/defending Mark Fisher’s account of drift in the meaning of ‘rewilding’ in Europe; conceptual prototypes.

Impressions of an American in Denmark (1 February 2023): personal account of my observations in the Danish context that originally led me to the “ambiguity thesis” presented previously; more examples to bolster said ambiguity thesis.

Counterparts in Name Only (6 March 2023): Rewilding/”Refarming” Europe; concluded thoughts on the semantic argument.

Also see (or, well, hear) my interview with Jack Humphrey on Rewilding Earth Podcast episode 101 for background.

Other Critiques of European Rewilding & Conservation

Some of the rest of the “Take Back” series would be drawn from these. I’m still happy with the “double bind” argument in “American Rewilders…” and might revisit it someday, as well as the important point in “A Follow-Up…” that rewilding should not be conceived as an instrumental strategy for meeting human-dictated conservation goals.

In Memory of Anholt as I Never Knew Her (31 July 2022): not a critique of European rewilding per se, but a critique of a case study in the European speciality of conserving degraded landscapes; develops my first pass at an ecological ethic based on respect for landscape autonomy.

On Rewilding (Whatever That Is): Thoughts of a Faux-Expat (5 October 2022): a long piece containing the argument for transatlantic semantic ambiguity, plus background on my interest in the North American rewilding movement, and initial reflections on ethical and ecological concerns with “rewilding” (naturalistic grazing) in Europe.

A Follow-Up Regarding So-Called “Agricultural Rewilding” (20 October 2022): a detailed critique of one particular book chapter (Thomas et al, “Domesticating rewilding…”) but also contains some generalisable points about (e.g.) the need to consider the restoration of self-willed land as an intrinsically desired goal.

American Rewilders Should Worry about Europe (Take Two) (16 November 2022): written after being added to the Board of TRI, a more direct and fine-tuned call on North American rewilders to acknowledge the situation in Europe, plus a deeper dive into an apparent moral dilemma for European rewilding and its equivocation between agrarian and Pleistocene baselines.

Rewilding Rhetoric

As one might expect from a philosopher of language, I’m a stickler about the framing of our rhetoric. Two of my most recent self-published pieces address the question of why conservationists who believe that nature is intrinsically valuable should speak in these terms:

Why Intrinsic Value? A Defence of Being Honest (29 January 2023): making the should-be obvious point that if we believe wild nature is intrinsically valuable, we shouldn’t try to give an instrumental justification for saying as much.

Rewilding Day, Climate Change, and Why We Rewild (10 March 2023): criticism of the anthropocentrism and resourcism embedded in the idea of “animating the carbon cycle” currently popular in rewilding circles; why rewilding should not be framed as a climate solution.

Moral Foundations of Rewilding

In my positive account of a moral framework for rewilding and wilderness conservation, I begin with the axiom (a la Michael Soulé) that “evolution is good” and ask how we are really to understand and implement this. I emphasize the importance of understanding evolution’s goodness as intrinsic, as well as the importance of recognizing intrinsic value specifically in autonomous evolutionary processes (i.e. the unfolding of evolution as it occurs unhindered and unassisted by the intentional actions of humanity). See my long post Evolution is Good; Autonomous Evolution is Better (23 April 2023) but, more importantly, see the tab on Ecological Ethics for further development of this position, which is now my main focus and a joint project with Mark Fisher.