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My Green Manifesto: Down the Charles River in Pursuit of a New Environmentalism
Milkweed Editions, 2011
224 pp., $15.00
Kendra Langdon Juskus
When I was ten years old, my family lived near a reservoir, and a portion of our backyard belonged to a water company. When a neighbor cut down trees on company property to enhance his water view, the company cleared even more trees to build a road by which to patrol and prevent further clearing. The company gave no notice of its intentions, so we were shocked when, one July afternoon, a bulldozer crashed through the woods and stopped just short of our garden. My mother convinced the bulldozing crew to avoid our fruits and vegetables, but it had already scarred my sacred landscape, the world I knew best.
Your backyard is your world when you're ten. David Gessner, in My Green Manifesto, suggests that perhaps that should never change. Perhaps the natural "limited wilds" we know best, no matter how small or imperfect, are the healthiest points of departure for a "new environmentalism."
According to Gessner, the current environmentalism is too alarmist and discouraging in tone, too apocalyptic in scale, and too extreme in ambition. Gessner builds this critique and his manifesto for an alternative around the narrative of a canoe trip down Massachusetts' Charles River with his friend Dan Driscoll, an environmental planner in Boston.
Driscoll, an energetic, middle-aged hippie, has accomplished impressive habitat restoration along the Charles. That he has done so in a spirit of love and fun, and with the goal of restoring a modest wilderness, makes him the hero of Gessner's environmentalism: "Maybe what is needed isn't a raging prophet of doom, a stern-faced administrator, or an action hero, but a slightly goofy, stubborn, joyful, ex-Frisbee playing stoner of modest proportions—a stubborn guy who fell in love with a place and then fought like hell for it."
Gessner's critique of the larger environmental movement is worth reading, especially if you aren't familiar with the prevailing trends of secular environmentalism. Those conversations affect the daily contexts and choices ...