Alibi V.24 No.10 • March 5-11, 2015 

Book Review

The Rancher and the Environmentalist

The Age of Consequences: A Chronicle of Concern and Hope

Counterpoint Press
hardcover
ecology
$26

In Age of Consequences, Courtney White’s new book from Counterpoint Press, there are really two parallel books: an attempt to write a fresh and encompassing vision of the global age of environmental degradation we are living in, which ultimately falls short, and an attempt to present a focused vision of how ranching in the American west can be done better, smarter, and with a caring and sustainable land ethic, which ultimately succeeds.

White is one of the founders of the Quivira Coalition, a group dedicated to bringing opposing groups of environmentalists and ranchers to the table to find common ground. White and his coalition are able, amazingly, to break through a logjam of differences that seem irreconcilable. Much of Age of Consequences deals with the successes of the Quivira Coalition and similar collaborative efforts, and White’s insights in this area are enlightening and hopeful. The past few decades of rancher vs. environmentalist conflicts have shown that the only real successes for either side have come out of cooperation, finding commonalities and realizing that there may even be shared goals underneath the vitriol. White shows how, at a deep level, many ranchers and environmentalists share the same land ethic, once they have the vocabulary to see it.

The past few decades of rancher vs. environmentalist conflicts have shown that the only real successes for either side have come out of cooperation, finding commonalities and realizing that there may even be shared goals underneath the vitriol. White shows how, at a deep level, many ranchers and environmentalists share the same land ethic, once they have the vocabulary to see it.

The book also shines when it delves into the modern-minded cattle ranchers (unfortunately still the minority) who are embracing a combination of old and new ecological practices to turn unsustainable, dying ranchland into healthy, and profitable, cattle ranches. Using everything from mobile-fence pasturing to active riparian restoration, these profiled ranchers offer a real vision of the positive ecological force ranching in the American west could be. This is the heart of the book, it shows us a view of ranchers who have as much of a heartfelt land ethic as the environmentalists who so often oppose them. White occasionally goes too far down this road, at one point stating without any real evidence, “Personally, I think an answer [to the climate crisis] is to eat more meat,” but his elucidation of these newer sustainable practices is educating nevertheless.

Where Age of Consequences stumbles is in its attempt to weave what is really a series of brilliant essays on environmentalist/rancher collaboration, new sustainable ranching practices, or the dangers of urban growth into a cohesive book that addresses the bigger picture of the ecological crisis we face in the present age. White calls our current age the Age of Consequences, but he ignores the wide range of intelligent writing on this age from other authors and experts. For example, he never once mentions that what he calls the Age of Consequences most scientists and writers are now calling the Anthropocene. He extensively quotes two environmentalists whose ideas directly support the new ranching practices he profiles, Aldo Leopold and Wendell Berry, yet virtually ignores every other writer currently exploring these issues.

White also has a tendency to belabor his points, sometimes ad nauseum. The first time he talks about how cows can disturb overly compacted soils, thus allowing seed germination, it is elucidating—the fourth time, it's just insulting to the reader. Some of this could have been fixed by better editing, but in the end it is a minor flaw.

White’s book is well worth a look despite its faults, whether you are a full-time rancher or a part-time urban farmer (or want to be one). Age of Consequences admirably shows how ranching and farming, when done right, can be not only profitable, but can heal land and people at the same time.

Courtney White discusses The Age of Consequences

Saturday, March 7, 3pm

Bookworks
4022 Rio Grande NW
344-8139, bkwrks.com