The English word heresy is derived from the Greek hairesis, meaning “to choose.” Although it is now defined as a thought that challenges prevailing orthodoxy, its root simply describes the expression of free will. As such, heresy has the potential not only to dismantle traditions and institutions, but also to forge new ones.
As environmental practitioners, we are often viewed as heretics by the culture at large. However, we also cultivate our own share of unyielding dogmas, which we defend against all comers. Some involve tenets considered inviolable until they are disproved via the scientific method. Other, more unspoken rules may be cultural, philosophical, or ethical in nature.
For instance, the suggestion that financial resources be withdrawn from management of popular endangered species, such as the Giant Panda or Piping Plover, and allocated to lesser-known species with better chances of recovery, upsets many widely-held assumptions about the moral responsibility of conservationists. Proposed strategies for curbing exponential human population growth have elicited even more fevered responses both from within and outside the resource management field. Fundamental religious notions about the relationship between humans and the natural world continue to drive debates on the role and relevance of environmental stewardship that extend into economics, evolutionary biology, even warfare.
Insofar as we, as environmental professionals, share the same basic objective of promoting, maintaining, and protecting a healthy planet, how do we remain open to heretical ideas that seem counterintuitive, but may ultimately prove beneficial? To that effect, how can we become better heretics? Volume 20 of Whole Terrain seeks challenging, insightful, and original explorations of the theme of Heresy that encompass the full range and scope of environmental practice.
The reading period for Volume 20 concluded in December, 2012.