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How Humans Deal With A Changing Natural Environment

MacArthur “genius” Ruth DeFries looks at humanity’s long, deep integration with nature – and what comes next. She’s hopeful.

In this Fall 2013 photo provided by the University of Idaho, students in the University of Idaho’s first Semester in the Wild program take a class in the Frank Church-River Of No Return Wilderness, Idaho. (AP)

In this Fall 2013 photo provided by the University of Idaho, students in the University of Idaho’s first Semester in the Wild program take a class in the Frank Church-River Of No Return Wilderness, Idaho. (AP)

Today is the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act of 1964.  The act drew protective lines around millions of acres and their wildlife.  To mark the anniversary, humans and nature from two angles today.  One, that my guest Ruth DeFries calls the Big Rachet – the human pattern of pushing nature to its limits, paying a price, then recovering – even more dominant – with human ingenuity.  Will we do that this time?  Then nature writer Jordan Fisher Smith joins us to look at the health of our wilderness itself.  This hour On Point:  nature and the wild in a time of planetary climate change.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guest

Ruth DeFries, environmental geographer and professor of sustainable development in the department of ecology, evolution and environmental biology at Columbia University. Author of the new book “The Big Ratchet: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis.” Also co-author, with Cheryl Simon Silver, of “One Earth, One Future.” (@ruthdefries)

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times: New West Renaissance — “The big story of the West today is how the urban and the wild have produced a unique lifestyle — a new-century ecosystem. Each depends on the other. And the lands, though badly scarred during the last century, are being restored, showing the power of people to mend places they love.”

Seattle Times: Drought forces big changes among California growers — “Growers have adapted to the record-low rainfall by installing high-technology irrigation systems, watering with treated municipal wastewater and even recycling waste from the processing of pomegranates to feed dairy cows. Some are taking land out of production altogether, bulldozing withered orange trees and leaving hundreds of thousands of acres unplanted.”

History News Network: Humanity’s Ecological History in the Grocery Aisle – “In just two hundred thousand years, a blink compared to the 4.5 billion year history of our planet, we have become the only species whose members live mostly in cities and subsist from food produced by a minority. How humans became a world-dominating species that produces enough surplus food to support so many people in cities raises questions that cannot be answered by archaeologists, anthropologists or ecologists alone.”

Read An Excerpt From “The Big Ratchet” By Ruth DeFries

The Wilderness Act At Fifty

Jordan Fisher Smith, nature writer. Author of “Nature Noir.” (@JordanFSmith)

Orion Magazine: The Wilderness Paradox — “The bigger a preserved place is, the greater its volume in relation to its perimeter. Therefore, less of it is impacted by edge effects—hunters on all-terrain vehicles, feral housecats from rural suburbs preying on birds, grizzly bears and wolves getting shot for stepping outside the lines, and the necessity of putting out fires when they run from wilderness toward inhabited areas. Also, wild nature has certain critical minima.”

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