Learn­ing to Die

Wis­dom in the Age of Cli­mate Cri­sis

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Reviews Climate Change -

Robert Bringhurst, Jan Zwicky Univer­sity of Regina Press (OC­TO­BER) Soft­cover $14.95 (105pp), 978-0-88977-563-3

This short book, com­prised of a lec­ture by Robert Bringhurst and an es­say by Jan Zwicky, ad­dresses the fi­nite lim­i­ta­tions of hu­man­ity in a schol­arly fash­ion. Bringhurst be­gins with an im­pas­sioned dis­cus­sion of the mean­ing of the wild, which “is not a port­fo­lio of re­sources for us or our species to buy and sell or man­age or squan­der as we please. The wild is earth liv­ing its life to the full.”

Hu­man cul­ture, says Bringhurst, has been “in­creas­ingly toxic to the wild,” de­spite the fact that the ex­is­tence of hu­man be­ings on the earth has been rel­a­tively short. As a re­sult, “it’s more im­por­tant than ever be­fore that we learn to think like an ecosys­tem, not like a spoiled brat or a bi­o­log­i­cal sin­gu­lar­ity.” Re­fer­ring to such im­por­tant thinkers as Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi, Bringhurst makes an elo­quent case for pro­tect­ing, pre­serv­ing, and ap­pre­ci­at­ing the earth’s bounty, rather than squan­der­ing its riches.

Zwicky hear­kens back to Socrates to demon­strate the need for hu­mans to fol­low cer­tain virtues, in­clud­ing “aware­ness cou­pled with hu­mil­ity re­gard­ing what one knows,” as well as courage, self-con­trol, and com­pas­sion. Zwicky sug­gests that while gov­ern­ments may be un­able to en­act en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice, per­haps in­di­vid­u­als could do so if they “live sim­ply, with less, and of­fer more to char­ity.”

Still, she rec­og­nizes such ac­tions will “not be enough.” Hu­man­ity may well be des­tined to per­ish in the fu­ture, but Zwicky en­cour­ages us to ac­cept our fate with “the ab­sence of fear and the re­fusal of de­spair.” While con­vey­ing her mes­sage in quite a dif­fer­ent way from Bringhurst, Zwicky does reach the same con­clu­sion. The two con­trast­ing styles co­a­lesce in a coau­thored af­ter­word.

Learn­ing to Die is an in­trigu­ing, in­ter­pre­tive look at hu­man­ity and the earth that is wor­thy of care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion.

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