Paddy Woodworth on ecological restoration

January 29, 2014
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Our Once and Future Planet delivers an account of one of the most impressive areas of current environmental experimentation and innovation: ecological restoration. Veteran investigative reporter Paddy Woodworth spent years traveling the globe and talking with people—scientists, politicians, and ordinary citizens—who work on the front lines of the battle against environmental degradation, and the book positions the restoration of our ecosystems as vital—and often successful—leverage.

A recent review of the book in the Irish Examiner highlighted the implications of this restoration, from the vantage of long-term, if uncertain, commitment:

Here, as elsewhere, the fight to preserve refugia and take a long term view of restoration is well justified, but seldom a priority for a society and their political leaders guided by short term considerations.

Species restoration, especially of ‘cuddly’ animals or ‘trophy’ birds of prey, tugs at the heartstrings and can gain public support and finance. But habitat restoration is a much more difficult task to finance from the public purse. Woodworth’s experience confirms the complexity of the latter and reveals just how much of a knowledge gap exists for effective restoration. Ecological succession is a dynamic process, constantly being pushed by environmental changes to what sometimes seems, end points, illustrating the validity of chaos theory.

Our Once and Future Planet accounts for the centrality of these restoration efforts in generating the sense of possibility surrounding attempts to return blighted and polluted landscapes to ecological health. This perspective is far from a Pollyanna view, Woodworth argues, and evidence in support of the case studies he cites is well-documented in the book and its appendix, as well as in remediation efforts put forth by NGOs, public policy organizations, and industrial activists.

As a review in Scientific American pointed out, though uncertainty about our ecological future may prevail (“Restoration is also basically guesswork, Woodworth notes, because most of us have never actually experienced nature at its most pristine.”), we should at least sustain the risk involved in positive thinking.

To read more about Our Once and Future Planet, click here.

To read supplementary texts related to the book, click here.

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