Breath of Clarity

Comment on Evaluating the Implications of Conceptualizing Humans as Part of “Nature”

Original Post by Kevin Beery:

Cronon’s take of the wilderness is that it is a human construct. The wilderness was originally viewed in a sublime sense as a desolate wasteland in which “one came only against one’s will, and always in fear and trembling”. The wilderness was seen as the boundary between human and nonhuman, natural and supernatural, deeply rooted in religious power. He argues that it is an escape from settlements; however, as more people began exploring and experiencing wilderness, it ironically became that of which civilization sought to escape. Humanity’s view of the wild does not include the human footprint. Thus as civilization begins inhabiting nature, its existence disappears. He argues that nature dies because humanity enters it; thus, killing ourselves would be the only way to save it.

Kareiva and Marvier have a similar take; however, they examine human influence on the environment and its coexistence within ecosystems. They assert that conservation is a reflection of human values, and these values and dynamics in management should be studied within the context of environmental management. The human dimension plays an extremely important part within natural systems and resource management, so it becomes necessary to research and study this relationship.

I agree with both perspectives to a degree. Cronon’s dark hyperbole on how humanity ceasing to exist may be the only way to save nature is a bit extreme; however, I think the key takeaway is how much of an effect we have on nature. This inference aligns with Kareiva and Marvier’s underpinnings of the dynamic relationship between humanity and the environment. Both of these takes align with Dr. McPherson in the sense that there are a deep intertwining and reciprocal relationship between humans and natural systems. I think this type of thinking needs to be actively discussed in environmental management because human actions have consequences, good or bad.

My Comment:

Hi Kevin,

Excellent depiction of Cronon’s argument!

In his paper, Jason Matzke (2017) specifically addressed Cronon’s stance on wilderness amongst others. He highlighted what it means, and does not mean, to say that wilderness is a constructed concept (Matzke 2017). From there, Matzke (2017) embraced a pluralistic approach allowing for mutually inconsistent and incommensurable ideas to co-exist as truth. I also found another article that explored the concept of wilderness and wrestled with the question regarding whether or not other planets and their potential ecosystems should be considered (Johnson 2020). The author’s way of determining so involved outlining the values attributed to wilderness based on the claim that nature is not only of value but a source of values (Johnson 2020). It makes me wonder whether wilderness needs to be physically accessible to humans in order for it to exist and how that fits into Cronon’s notion of wilderness being a place for humans escape to. For the purpose of acting aligned with our values about wilderness, it does not make sense to expand humanity’s existence to other planets. However, our desire to escape overrides our values about wilderness because we continue to interfere with life on other planets. Alternatively, humans can continue to conceptualize space as untouchable wilderness and have a place to mentally escape to. It can serve as a reminder to preserve the once sacred spaces that remain on Earth.


Johnson, Allan. 2020. “Extending the Concept of Wilderness Beyond Planet Earth”. Ethics and the Environment. 25(1): 69-83.

Matzke, Jason. 2017. “Towards a Pluralistic Understanding of the Mediating Concept of Wilderness”. Environment, Space, Place. 9(2): 52-71.

Comment by Kevin Beery:

Interesting take on inter-planetary wilderness. Space is the last frontier and I I think Cronon would agree that it fits the model of his ideas for the traditional wilderness.

Wilderness by definition is the wild and untamed natural and physical world. It sounds like you’re trying to touch on the idea that wilderness is an escape from reality and trying to mesh this into ideas about the mind and potentially the afterlife. I think one could argue that the metaphysical world or the “great unknown” is potentially the grandest form of wilderness, however, I don’t think this fits the arguments and ideas presented by the authors this week. I’m not sure how human interaction interrelates with the nonphysical world. I’m not certain that we could even consider the heavens an ecosystem.

Cool discussion, but I really don’t know the answer. It would seem that this weeks discussions pertain to the physical and immediate universe and does not expand into the metaphysical world.