The Monterey List:
Growing toward a sustainable future
for ourselves and for the planet

This page is sort of an experiment.

I wrote The Monterey List in 2003, and immediately set it aside in order to complete another book that was already under contract. By the time I had finished the contracted work, three years later, I'd forgotten all about this one.

In the spring of 2016 I ran across it again - decided it was worth sharing with the world - tidied it up, and sent it to my agent. She had no luck with it. Twenty-two publishers turned it down.

That was a bit - uh - discouraging. I still think it's worth sharing with the world, though, so I'm going to share it here. One small section at a time.

As explained in the Introduction (see below), The Monterey List originated as an actual list I made in a Monterey, California hotel room in 1997. The items on the list were all short observations pertaining to sustainable living on this planet, couched as aphorisms, mostly made up on the spot. There were 112 of them. For the book, I rearranged the aphorisms into a coherent order, combined a couple of them with others (there are now 110), numbered them, and expanded them into essays. I plan now to release those essays on this page, one at a time, once per week. This will take approximately two years. Partway through the process - assuming enough interest develops - I will publish the whole thing as an e-book. If you purchase the book, you will be able to read all of the essays without waiting. Until then....well, patience is a virtue, and anticipation can be sweet.

Enjoy! And please let me know what you think. You can enter your comments at the bottom of this page.

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So here's how I expect this to work. Each Saturday (the good Lord willin' and the crick don't rise) I will post a new section of The Monterey List in this space. The previous week's section will be removed and replaced by a link to a .pdf version of the same material. In that way, the book will be built, piece by piece, over the next 111 weeks.

This week's section is the book's introduction. Next week, Chapter I, section (1): "There never was a war against nature. The war was against ourselves. "

Introduction


This book is an attempt to reframe the discussion of environmental issues in a way that will fit them more successfully to the world we inhabit in the 21st century.

We face an immense array of problems - global climate change, water and energy shortages, mass extinctions, and the general decay caused by carrying capacity overshoot, to name just a few. Anxieties brought on by these problems have been exploited by politicians who have used them to consolidate power and wealth within a tiny fraction of the population. Many of the protections won in the last century are being rolled back; ideologies have taken hold that threaten, not only our existing environmental regulations, but the very idea of regulation itself.

Arrayed against these forces is an environmental movement whose philosophical underpinnings have not changed much since the 1890s. It is based primarily on the concept of preservation. Early leaders such as John Muir and Aldo Leopold originally fought to preserve wildlands. In the 1960s, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring expanded the idea of preservation to include animal and plant species, while the widely-reported “death” of Lake Erie ignited a campaign to restore and preserve clean surface waters. Writers such as Edward Abbey and photographers such as Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter kept us aware of the need to preserve the beauty of natural landscapes and the experience of solitude.

It seemed too simple. It was.

I do not wish to downplay the successes of the preservation movement. The world is a much better place as a result of its efforts. I have no regrets about my own lengthy participation in it. But it is not adequate to deal with the problems that challenge us today. Those of us who care for the environment need to switch our emphasis, from preservation to sustainability.

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Sustainability is not a new concept; it has been a thread in the environmental movement since at least the turn of the last century. Gifford Pinchot - the creator, along with Teddy Roosevelt, of the National Forest System - was a prominent advocate: the slogan he adopted, “The greatest good for the greatest number over the longest time,” still serves well as a succinct explanation of what a sustainable lifestyle really means. A flurry of books at mid-century, including Barry Commoner’s The Closing Circle, Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, and especially Donella and Dennis Meadows’s The Limits to Growth, briefly brought sustainability to the forefront of our national conversation.

But interest waned. Partly this was the result of a flurry of major challenges - the extension of the Wilderness System, the need for action on clean water, the love affair of Congress with big dams - that required a preservationist response; partly it was because preservation is considerably sexier than sustainability. Mostly, though, it was because of our familiarity with the concepts involved. The environmental movement fell back into doing what we knew how to do. We had evolved a large body of techniques for making preservation happen, and a complete set of philosophical rationales for using them. In times of mounting environmental crises, it was natural to turn to these old and trusted friends.

When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

We can no longer afford the luxury of the familiar. Preservation is of little use against mass extinction; it is of even less use against water or food shortages. And it is of no use at all against climate change and carrying capacity overshoot. It is time to switch gears. This book is one small attempt to encourage that process.

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The name “The Monterey List” comes from an actual list that I made in a Monterey, California hotel room in November 1997. The list had its genesis a few years earlier, in an incident - described fully in my book The Left Hand of Eden- that had caused me to question the continuing validity of preservation as a tool for environmental protection. Each entry on the list was a short aphorism that expressed in as succinct a form as possible one of the principals I thought the environmental movement would have to adopt in order to switch from preservation to sustainability. Some of them were borrowed, but most were made up on the spot. There were more than one hundred of them. The present book consists of a reordering of those aphorisms into a coherent form, a division of them into chapters, and an expansion of each aphorism into a short essay that explains what the aphorism means and why it is necessary. The aphorisms themselves are present as numbered statements, in italics, at the head of each essay.

The original Monterey List, in the order it was written down in that hotel room, may be found in the Appendix.

Comments? Compliments? Criticisms? Please share your thoughts.


Click and type in a question or comment

Dave Forman, in his book, Take Back Conservation, (I have an autographed free copy thanking me for all of my work), says that we need to retain the idea that we value natural places and preserve them for their own sake, not for human-related reasons. I agree with that, while still recognizing that we need to maintain sustainability.We need both views.
Diane Newell Meyer

(Please note that your name will not appear unless you type it as part of your comment.)

Looking forward to the next installment.