At its core, Gardeners of Eden: Rediscovering Our Importance to Nature, by Dan Dagget is a lesson in human ecology, or the study of “the relationship between humans and their natural, social, and built environments.” Although broad in scope, Dagget approaches this weighted subject through the lens of an ecological land planner, sifting through some of the prevailing environmental ethics of our contemporary culture. Above all though, Dagget takes us along for the journey as he seeks answers to a question that many environmentally conscious or concerned individuals have been asking for some time now: “Do we really belong here, on Earth?”
Although Dagget addresses a variety of issues relating to current land use practices, his discussions all revolve around the “leave-it-alone fallacy,” which is a philosophy adopted by many conservationists today that advocates for a more hands-off approach to ecosystem rejuvenation. While proponents of this type of conservation have nothing but positive intentions, Dagget asserts that the idea of Earth being “better off” without our stewardship (or very presence for that matter – a sobering thought) is a troubling and false notion.
Although it’s becoming essentially undeniable that the modus operandi of contemporary mankind is indeed placing tremendous burden on our planet, he claims that a severe emotional divide is formed between humans and our environment when we view our very existence as the cause for this burden – a disconnect that is symptomatic of a relatively recent ailment that is global in scale.
All is not lost, though, according to Dagget. Instead of continuing to swear by the “leave-it-alone” mentality, viewing “pristine nature” as off-limits and proposing that Earth’s natural processes will restore degraded landscapes, we need to completely turn our paradigm upside down. A holistic, systems-based, hands-on approach to land management is necessary, where human intervention is entirely instrumental in initiating the scale of change that conservationists, ecologists, and the (almost) entire scientific community are saying is necessary to sustain life in a manner that is respectful of the Earth.
Dagget’s bold claims are supported through a series of case studies and anecdotes which serve as a narrative structure for the book itself; he takes the reader across the Americas, recounting visits with the ranchers, ecologists, and common folk who most closely grapple with the issues stemming from the “leave it alone” methodology of land management. One of the most valuable takeaways from this novel, though, are the historical perspectives offered regarding the impact of ancient and pre-industrial humans on our landscapes, which radically transform our common perception of “pristine nature;” Dagget reveals that only a small portion of our ecosystems are in fact untouched, and much of what we label today as pristine is in fact the result of centuries of large-scale propagation, tinkering, and refinement courtesy of our surprisingly ecologically intelligent predecessors.
More than anything, though, Dan Dagget’s insights into the “Human versus Nature” discussion provide an easily legible, pragmatic, and inspiring and essential counterpoint to much of the existing (and often somewhat somber) literature on this topic. Having absorbed the stories and information contained in its 144 pages, one feels much more informed about the potential dangers of our current environmental land ethic, and armed with the confidence that perhaps the most important tool at our disposal isn’t a tool at all, but a mindset free of Anthropogenic guilt and a willingness to get one’s hands dirty.