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Against SustainabilityReading Nineteenth-Century America in the Age of Climate Crisis$
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Michelle Neely

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780823288229

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823288229.001.0001

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The Unlikely Environmentalisms of Nineteenth-Century American Literature

The Unlikely Environmentalisms of Nineteenth-Century American Literature

(p.1) Introduction The Unlikely Environmentalisms of Nineteenth-Century American Literature
Against Sustainability

Michelle C. Neely

Fordham University Press

Against Sustainability argues for a transformation of our environmental ethics and our environmental imagination. The introduction demonstrates that the manifest difficulties of centering transformative environmental ethics in mainstream U.S. environmentalism are compounded by the hegemony of the sustainability paradigm. Sustainability captures a well-meaning impulse to ensure the stable persistence of human societies over time, yet its reassuring emphasis on stability comes with a high cost: sustainability prizes continuity with pasts the Anthropcene reveals as environmentally and ethically problematic. The introduction illustrates the limits of future-oriented paradigms dominated by pastoral thinking by reading contemporary critics of the U.S. food system against their nineteenth-century counterparts. An archival approach to industrial farming and animal agriculture proves that many of their hallmark practices originate in the antebellum period or earlier. The introduction ultimately argues that an honest reckoning with the history of U.S. environmental ideas and practices compels us to recognize the imbrication of many of our most cherished environmental ideals with the systems that produced the problems to which they apparently respond: capitalism, settler colonialism, and white supremacy. If we want something different—for ourselves and for the planet—we will have to imagine it, and we will have to build it.

Keywords:   animal agriculture, Anthropocene, capitalism, environmentalism, food, industrial farming, nineteenth century, pastoral, sustainability, Sylvester Graham

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