Jennifer Thomson, Harvard University

Healing the Land: The Environmental Politics of Re-inhabitation

In the early 1970s, a motley network of deep ecological philosophers, conservation biologists, poets and grassroots activists took up a challenge from San Francisco activist Peter Berg and ecologist Raymond Dasmann to re-inhabit the land. More than a pastoral, back-to-the land project, re-inhabitation entailed a permanent commitment to heal an area damaged by human activity. This paper traces the enduring and changing history of re-inhabitation as both philosophy and practice through two organizations: the Planet Drum Foundation (1974), and the Wildlands Project (1991). Seeing humans as a “cancerous” growth on the planet, a species which had exploded its ecological boundaries, these organizations wove together philosophy, poetry, biology, and clinical medicine in order to re-conceptualize the scale of human technology; identify and doctor human-inflicted wounds to the land; and set forth a new vision of human community. Whether striving for spiritual and ritual communion with the land (PD) or establishing continental-scale North American wilderness corridors in which to reintroduce large carnivores (WP), these organizations pursued a divergent path from the increasingly abstracted planetary-scale concerns of many contemporary environmental organizations. In a present and future of escalating climate change, re-inhabitation invites us to consider a strangely optimistic possibility: that the path to a revitalized ecological balance lies in the rehabilitation—through inhabitation—of fixed locales.