Writing a New Environmental Era: Moving forward to nature, 1st Edition (e-Book) book cover

Writing a New Environmental Era

Moving forward to nature, 1st Edition

By Ken Hiltner


180 pages

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pub: 2019-10-28
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Writing a New Environmental Era first considers and then rejects back-to-nature thinking and its proponents like Henry David Thoreau, arguing that human beings have never lived at peace with nature. Consequently, we need to stop thinking about going back to what never was and instead work at moving forward to forge a more harmonious relationship with nature in the future. Using the rise of the automobile and climate change denial literature to explore how our current environmental era was written into existence, Ken Hiltner argues that the humanities—and not, as might be expected, the sciences—need to lead us there. 

In one sense, climate change is caused by a rise in atmospheric CO2 and other so-called greenhouse gases. Science can address this cause. However, approached in another way altogether, climate change is caused by a range of troubling human activities that require the release of these gases, such as our obsessions with cars, lavish houses, air travel and endless consumer goods. The natural sciences may be able to tell us how these activities are changing our climate, but not why we are engaging in them. That’s a job for the humanities and social sciences. As this book argues, we need to see anthropogenic (i.e. human-caused) climate change for what it is and address it as such: a human problem brought about by human actions.

A passionate and personal exploration of why the Environmental Humanities matter and why we should be looking forward, not back to nature, this book will be essential reading for all those interested in the future and sustainability of our planet.


“Hiltner agrees that humanities scholars need to use skills we have honed over decades for critical thinking and social responsibility to contribute to “writing forward to nature”, in a way that will mitigate the disaster that’s waiting. Hiltner has provided a model for others to follow. This is an important book, lucidly written, showing clear thinking; it’s a must-read, and should be widely disseminated.”

E. Ann Kaplan, Distinguished Professor, Stony Brook University

"At once visionary and pragmatic, this eye-opening book argues for an "applied humanities": science-informed, tech-savvy, and fully equipped to write the greenest possible future into being. Using his own experiment -- the "Nearly Carbon Neutral" conference -- as a test case, Ken Hiltner shows that climate action is the work of every humanities scholar."

Wai Chee Dimock, Yale University

"In this engaging and tightly argued book, environmental humanities scholar Ken Hiltner shows that the solution to our present environmental crises is not a return to some pristine and harmonious natural world. Thoreau’s famous retreat on Walden Pond, Hiltner reminds us, was only a short journey away from the textile mills of Lowell. If the pastoral idyll was never more than a convenient fiction, today we face an urgent imperative, as Hiltner puts it, to “move forward” to nature. The environmental humanities can play a key role in this movement, Hiltner suggests, inasmuch as they can help us write the future into being. Blending personal memoir, whip-smart literary criticism, and some extremely forward-thinking suggestions about how to green academia, Hiltner’s book models what committed scholarship for our perilous times looks like."

Ashley Dawson, Professor of English, The Graduate Center & College of Staten Island, The City University of New York

"A provocative exploration of how we understand humanity's relationship with nature and a call to write our way not to a romanticized Edenic past, but to a truly sustainable future."

Erik Assadourian, Senior Fellow, Worldwatch Institute

"In an era of accelerating climate breakdown and mass extinction, Hiltner convincingly argues that the environmental movement must take a step back and question its most fundamental assumptions concerning humanity's relationship with nature, culture, and technology."

Peter Kalmus, Climate Scientist, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Table of Contents


Part I: Forward to Nature

Turning from the Past

Turning Toward the Future

Forward to Nature, Away from Nature

Places, Natural and Otherwise

Part II: Writing a New Environmental Era

Writing a New Environmental Era

Confronting Denial

Going Nowhere Fast

Epilogue: About this Book

Appendix: Writing a New Practice, Details, Details


About the Author

Ken Hiltner is Professor in Environmental Humanities at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB). The Director of the Environmental Humanities Initiative, Hiltner has appointments in the English and Environmental Studies Departments.

About the Series

Routledge Environmental Humanities

From microplastics in the sea to hyper-trends such as global climate change, mega-extinction, and widening social disparities and displacement, we live on a planet undergoing tremendous flux and uncertainty. At the center of this transformation is human culture, both contributing to the state of the world and responding to planetary change. The Routledge Environmental Humanities Series seeks to engage with contemporary environmental challenges through the various lenses of the humanities and to explore foundational issues in environmental justice, multicultural environmentalism, ecofeminism, environmental psychology, environmental materialities and textualities, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, environmental communication and information management, multispecies relationships, and related topics. The series is premised on the notion that the arts, humanities, and social sciences, integrated with the natural sciences, are essential to comprehensive environmental studies.

The environmental humanities are a multidimensional discipline encompassing such fields as anthropology, history, literary and media studies, philosophy, psychology, religion, sociology, and women’s and gender studies; however, the Routledge Environmental Humanities is particularly eager to receive book proposals that explicitly cross traditional disciplinary boundaries, bringing the full force of multiple perspectives to illuminate vexing and profound environmental topics. We favor manuscripts aimed at an international readership and written in a lively and accessible style. Our readers include scholars and students from across the span of environmental studies disciplines and thoughtful citizens and policy makers interested in the human dimensions of environmental change.

Please contact the Editor, Rebecca Brennan ([email protected]), to submit proposals.

Praise for A Cultural History of Climate Change (2016):

A Cultural History of Climate Change shows that the humanities are not simply a late-arriving appendage to Earth System science, to help in the work of translation. These essays offer distinctive insights into how and why humans reason and imagine their ‘weather-worlds’ (Ingold, 2010). We learn about the interpenetration of climate and culture and are prompted to think creatively about different ways in which the idea of climate change can be conceptualised and acted upon beyond merely ‘saving the planet’.

Professor Mike Hulme, King's College London, in Green Letters

Series Editors:

Professor Scott Slovic, University of Idaho, USA

Professor Joni Adamson, Arizona State University, USA

Professor YUKI Masami, Kanazawa University, Japan

Previous editors:

Professor Iain McCalman, University of Sydney Research Fellow in History; Director, Sydney University Environment Institute.

Professor Libby Robin, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, Canberra; Guest Professor of Environmental History, Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm Sweden.

Dr Paul Warde, Reader in Environmental History, University of Cambridge, UK

Editorial Board

Christina Alt, St Andrews University, UK, Alison Bashford, University of New South Wales, Australia, Peter Coates, University of Bristol, UK, Thom van Dooren, University of New South Wales, Australia, Georgina Endfield, Liverpool UK, Jodi Frawley, University of Western Australia, Andrea Gaynor, The University of Western Australia, Australia, Christina Gerhardt, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, USA,□Tom Lynch, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, USA, Jennifer Newell, Australian Museum, Sydney, Australia , Simon Pooley, Imperial College London, UK, Sandra Swart, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, Ann Waltner, University of Minnesota, US, Jessica Weir, University of Western Sydney, Australia

International Advisory Board

William Beinart,University of Oxford, UK, Jane Carruthers, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa, Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago, USA, Paul Holm, Trinity College, Dublin, Republic of Ireland, Shen Hou, Renmin University of China, Beijing, Rob Nixon, Princeton University, USA, Pauline Phemister, Institute of Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh, UK, Sverker Sörlin, KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, Helmuth Trischler, Deutsches Museum, Munich and Co-Director, Rachel Carson Centre, LMU Munich University, Germany, Mary Evelyn Tucker, Yale University, USA, Kirsten Wehner, University of London, UK

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
NATURE / General
NATURE / Ecology
SCIENCE / Environmental Science