Tuesday 9 April 2024

Invisible Nature by Kenneth Worthy


In this book, Kenneth Worthy offers a new understanding of the precarious modern human-nature relationship. 

All the luxuries of the modern world tend to blind us to our disconnections from nature and from the consequences our actions have for the natural world. Our personal and professional choices damage nature, from radioactive landscapes to disappearing rainforests, but we are too separated from nature to see this. This book traces the broken pathways between consumers and the production of most things we rely on, from food to smartphones, which often rely on the work of poorly paid people who we will never meet in countries we will never visit.

Worthy has spent time in Bali, where he notices that people are still connected to nature and to each other in traditional ways that have been lost in most societies, including the USA and UK. He also compares his own life to his ancestor Charles who settled in Canada in the seventeenth century and lived a life much closer to nature than the author is able to do himself. 

I really enjoyed the early parts of this book. Worthy takes a psychological approach to the issues, questioning how we can maintain a good relationship with nature when we spend so much of our time in abstract pursuits and are increasingly restricting our time to the human shaped world. Nature has, for many people, become a distant background to their lives. Even those of us who spend a lot of time in nature, these days need to make a conscious decision to engage with nature, much more so than our ancestors who lived more natural lives. He also looks at how people can be persuaded to destroy nature, through distancing them from the ultimate effects of their actions (decisions to destroy rainforests are made by people in front of computers at desks far removed from the forests themselves) or by offering no benign alternative (buying bottled water rather than drinking tap water is forced on people in countries where tap water is not drinkable.) 

The solutions put forward in the book are, however, less satisfying, ranging from a number of approaches that feel as though they have been discussed many times already with little effect to hippy sounding ideas like developing a more mindful way of relating to everyday objects.

Overall though this is a fascinating, thought provoking book about the disconnection between humans and nature, well recommended.

Invisible Nature by Kenneth Worthy, published (2013) by Prometheus Books.

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