A Radical Response to a Synthetic World
Kent Redford and W. M. Adams
Yale University Press
Can we continue to draw a bright line between what is natural and what is artificial?
That distinction was once the benchmark for deciding how to manage nature. Nature was preserved, or restored to its rightful state. But when nature has been utterly transformed by human technology, changing not only ecosystems and species, but also genes, human bodies and socioeconomic systems, the idea of nature at odds with human artificiality no longer works.
In the face of the power and diversity of the anthropogenic shaping of life in all its forms, we need to recognize the presence of a “second nature,” embodied by things that are neither fully natural nor fully artificial. Ecosystems that are changing because of climate change, non-native species that have fully established themselves, and novel forms of life that are the products of synthetic biology are all manifestations of this second nature.
Managing in this world means employing new tools and new rules. The same technologies that have led to the transformation of nature can be harnessed and used to manage it. We need to face the urgent challenge of maintaining the diversity of life on an increasingly synthetic planet, and in Second Nature: A Radical Response to a Synthetic World, Kent Redford and Bill Adams consider how that kind of care for the earth will work, and what has to change to make it possible.
There are obvious and pressing questions about these methods and their risks. Conservation engineering may erode nature’s agency and destroy the values for which nature is being managed. Or there may be places and times where it is appropriate and others where it must not be deployed. How much artificiality can we accept in the name of protecting nature, and how do we make choices for the future? Do we follow Wendell Berry or Stuart Brand? Do we act with humility or as gods?
Second Nature offers a novel vision for conservation, one that argues for deploying the artificial to save what we care about in the natural, and considers what must happen for us to make good decisions on the choices already facing us, as well as those to come.