Meet Haydn Washington, Routledge's latest Featured Author and creator of the recently published book, A Sense of Wonder Towards Nature: Healing the Planet through Belonging. Read our interview to learn more!
Haydn Washington is an environmental scientist and writer of over 40 years’ experience. He is currently an Adjunct Lecturer at the PANGEA Research Institute, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Australia. He is the author of six books on environmental issues, including Human Dependence on Nature (2013), and Demystifying Sustainability (2015).
Environmental scientist and writer Haydn Washington argues that we will not solve the environmental crisis unless we change our worldview and ethics, and to do so we must rejuvenate our sense of wonder at nature.
This book focuses on humanity’s relation with nature, and the sense of wonder and belonging common to indigenous cultures and children everywhere. Drawing on events in the author’s own four decades working to protect wild places, and the current literature on wonder, it examines what a sense of wonder is, what it has been called in different cultures, and our high points of wonder at nature. It also looks at the ‘Great Divide’ in worldview between anthropocentrism and ecocentrism, and considers the problem of anthropocentric theory in academia, arguing that the focus should instead be on harmony with nature. The book concludes with an examination of why wonder has become buried in Western society and considers ways in which it can be revived, including rituals and education. It also considers how wonder helps humanity to become ‘whole’. The final chapter presents the road back to wonder and how wonder towards nature can be restored in Western society.
This book will be of great interest to environmental scientists, conservation biologists, environmental philosophers and ecological ethicists, as well as environmentalists, educators, eco-psychologists, and students looking at sustainability, deep ecology, and environmental philosophy and ethics.
"A Sense of Wonder Towards Nature is exactly what’s largely absent among those discussing the most important issue for humanity – how to sustain the ecosystems that support civilization. This book is a brave, readable, necessary, and powerful attempt to include it." — Paul R. Ehrlich, co-author of Jaws: The Story of a Hidden Epidemic
"Awe and respect for our surroundings invokes a sense of reverence and responsibility to protect nature’s abundance and generosity. Haydn Washington’s book is a much needed reminder of our utter embeddedness in and dependence on nature for our survival and well-being." — David Suzuki, author, scientist, broadcaster
"Start wondering about wonder, the amazing human capacity to wonder, with the focus on the natural world, often wild. Washington analyzes with remarkable penetration our global senses of residing on the local landscapes about which we care - with both love and fear. His ultimate vision urges belonging and reverence for our wonderland planet - a wonder of wonders on Earth." — Holmes Rolston III, environmental philosopher, Colorado State University, USA
"Haydn Washington cuts through the waffle and dogma of academia to focus on something critical – humanity’s sense of wonder towards nature. He rightly argues wonder is something transformative that can cut through society’s deep anthropocentrism. I recommend this book to all who feel a mystery to life, to all who love the land." — John Seed, deep ecologist, lead author of Thinking Like a Mountain
"In many ways, this is a Wonderful book. Not only does it skillfully combine prose and poetry, in describing the beauty of nature, but it also uniquely captures the sense of wonder itself. A truly inspirational book for audiences ranging from nature lovers to scholars and students of all disciplines." — Helen Kopnina, author of Sustainability: Key Issues
"The book’s focus is on the stance of wonder and its importance for a healthy relationship between human beings and the natural world. It blends personal narrative, environmental insights from iconic thinkers, indigenous worldviews, nature poetry, philosophical analysis, and critique. It aims both to expand knowledge surrounding its subject-matter and to spur change." — Eileen Crist, author of Keeping the Wild
"Haydn Washington’s book makes the deeply practical implications of wonder especially clear. I fervently wish it well. May it go forth and re-awaken us to the natural world!" — Patrick Curry, author of Ecological Ethics
"Haydn Washington’s work is a fantastic help on our way to abandon the separation between everything "human" and nonhuman "nature". Washington explores the outline of a new science of shared subjectivity, which is radically embracing our human feeling of being part of a world deeply alive and in urgent need of reciprocity." — Andreas Weber, author of The Biology of Wonder
First and foremost, I would like readers to remember the sense of wonder towards nature they felt as children, and which they can rediscover today. I also want them to realize just how important this feeling of wonder is in terms of changing the world to reach a truly sustainable future.
Listening. Listening to the land, and learning from it. I have spent much of my life walking in the wilds of the Greater Blue Mountains in the state of New South Wales in Australia, especially the half million hectare Wollemi NP. I now live on the edge of this park. Having worked as an environmental scientist arguing for the practical solutions needed to solve the environmental crisis, I realised that worldview and ethics were central to being able to put them into effect. I do not believe we will reach a sustainable future without changing our worldview to ecocentrism, and the sense of wonder towards nature is a powerful tool to do this. Hence why we need to rejuvenate this!
We will not solve our environmental crisis by ‘facts’ alone, we need to bring ecological ethics into our debate. And the best way of doing that is to rejuvenate the sense of wonder towards nature that most children feel, but has been buried in many adults. There is a current renaissance in regard to ecocentrism and ecological ethics and the importance of a sense of wonder and a sense of place in terms of overcoming ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’. While anthropocentrism still remains dominant in academia, more and more scholars are now questioning this, and this book is part of that movement. The research relevant to the book is in scholars speaking out more against anthropocentrism and in support of ecocentrism, ecological ethics and ecojustice.
The research relevant to the book is in scholars speaking out more against anthropocentrism and in support of ecocentrism, ecological ethics and ecojustice. It is strongly in support of ecocentrism and ecological ethics, and expands the discussion substantially in regard to keeping and rejuvenating our sense of wonder towards nature.
This book is written for the educated layperson as well as academic scholars. Its language uses poetry and the writing also expresses passion about the living world to make the topic accessible to all. However, it is also academically rigorous, looking at what has been said in academia about anthropocentrism and ecocentrism and our sense of wonder and enchantment with the natural world.
I am not sure it has ‘competitors’ as such, though there are books that are related. Richard Louv’s ‘Last Child in the Woods’ discusses humanity’s relationship with nature. David Abram’s ‘Becoming Animal’ also touches on humanity’s sense of wonder, but does not pursue it to the detail this book does. David Tacey’s ‘Re-enchantment’ deals with some related material. However, none examines our sense of wonder towards nature in the depth this book does, nor how to rejuvenate our sense of wonder.
I refer to many insights by other writers in the book, but all in fact resonated with what the land had also taught me. Perhaps the most surprising thing through doing this research was finding that many others had rediscovered the same truths again and again through engagement with nature.
I am a plant ecologist by original training, but worked for 8 years in CSIRO, and did my M.Sc. on ecotoxicology (heavy metals). I have also worked for some time as an environmental consultant. However since the age of 18 I have been an active conservationist involved with the protection of wilderness and rainforest. I have also worked in environmental NGOs and in local government as a Director of Sustainability. More recently I have taught in the Masters of Environmental Management at UNSW.
Engaging with the wild, both as a child and later on long trips through wilderness. The land is a great teacher – if we listen.
When I was 18 in the largest wilderness on the east coast of Australia (Wollemi) I woke at dawn to see a Lyrebird (the world’s greatest avian mimic) standing right next to me. I can only describe the experience as we looked into each other’s eyes as ‘swapping identity’ for a moment. That experience taught me to look at things through nonhuman eyes, and catalysed my whole research career, as it made me think (and feel) about ethics and our relationship with nature. Hence my books also contain a passion about the living world, and a sense of urgency in terms of solving the environmental crisis.
Listen! Go out solo into wild nature and sit down and listen with all your senses. Understand that you are kin with the rest of life. Put yourself in the shoes of other life forms. Find and take part in the Deep Ecology nature ritual ‘The Council of All Beings’, where you speak for another life form. On your solo, put aside the insidious anthropocentrism of Western society, and write a poem or do some art in that place. Reflect on what you learned.
I firmly believe that the book finds the author, and certainly my engagement with place drove the writing of this current book. However, lately I have been thinking about the phrase ‘How could we get it so wrong?’ in terms of the way we live in the world, both in terms of the environmental crisis, the social crisis, and our endless growth economy (which on a finite planet is the cause of unsustainability). I will have to ponder such a topic in more detail however before I decide if it will work as a book.
Well I am also a poet, so I loved the book of poems by Mary Oliver’s ‘West Wind’. I think her poem: ‘Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches’ is one of the greatest poems of all time written about nature.
Routledge may well be the largest publisher of books on the environment in the world, and its range is very broad. I have published books with them on the problem of climate change denial, human dependence on nature, demystifying sustainability, and the steady state economy. However, this one was very different, it was about our sense of wonder towards nature, and how we can rejuvenate this. It was thus outside the ‘pure science’ model and dealt with ethics and feelings. I was thus very happy when Routledge agreed to run with what is a very different book from my previous ones. I think this shows an ethical depth to them as publishers, which I think is praiseworthy.
I have several role models or heroes. The first is visionary writer Henry David Thoreau. Next is author Rachel Carson. Next is Prof. Paul Ehrlich, who has spoken out about environmental issues for so many decades. David Suzuki likewise. However ‘geologian’ Thomas Berry was also one of my heroes (read his book ‘The Dream of the Earth’!). Deep ecologist Joanna Macy has also been an inspiration. And of course the rugged wild country of Wollemi NP has also been a major inspiration and teacher.
I would only add that we stand as a society at a moment of decision, and it is not ‘too late’ to change things around for the better, and to move towards a truly sustainable future. It will not be easy, but the exciting positive solutions lie before us, and can be brought to reality. That is something we can all be part of, and something my books aspire to explore.
What is sustainability? Much has been said about the terms ‘sustainability’ and ‘sustainable development’ over the last few decades, but they have become buried under academic jargon. This book is one of the first that aims to demystify sustainability so that the layperson can understand the key…
Paperback – 2015-01-26
Humanity is dependent on Nature to survive, yet our society largely acts as if this is not the case. The energy that powers our very cells, the nutrients that make up our bodies, the ecosystem services that clean our water and air; these are all provided by the Nature from which we have evolved and…
Paperback – 2012-09-18
Humans have always used denial. When we are afraid, guilty, confused, or when something interferes with our self-image, we tend to deny it. Yet denial is a delusion. When it impacts on the health of oneself, or society, or the world it becomes a pathology. Climate change denial is such a case.…
Paperback – 2011-04-22
A Sense of Wonder Towards Nature:
Healing the Planet through Belonging
Dr Haydn Washington is an Adjunct Lecturer at the PANGEA Research Institute, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW, Australia. His particular interests are sustainability (and what this really means), solutions to the environmental crisis, human dependence on nature, and humanity's denial of its problems. He is also keenly interested in wilderness and the 'sense of wonder' humanity feels towards nature.