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Fostering Environmental Stewardship through Reading

Ecocritical book recommendations from Dr. George Handley

Professor George Handley presenting on "Five Books to Inspire Better Environmental Stewardship and A Sense of Place" at BYU Education Week August 2022

Doctrine and Covenants 59:18–20 reminds us that all things have been given to us to use and treat with good judgment. After opening with these scriptures on August 17, 2022, during Education Week, Professor George B. Handley (Environmental Humanities) gave a lecture sponsored by the Humanities Center as part of the series Lifelong Learning: “5 Best.” His lecture was titled “Five Books to Inspire Better Environmental Stewardship and a Sense of Place.”

Handley’s “5 Best” recommendations were books exploring environmental humanities— specifically, ways to approach thinking about the environment and resolving environmental issues that we face today from a people and cultural standpoint.

1. A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold is a collection of early essays on ecology and “land ethic” from the 1940s when humans’ relationship to recreation and land began to change. One of Handley’s favorite quotes from the text is “recreational development is a job not of building roads into lovely country, but of building receptivity into the still unlovely mind.”

2. The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder by William P. Brown is about thoughts on science and religion. This text covers concepts like how we approach the fact that the Bible is nominative and imperative but science is indicative. The scriptures depend not only on the content within them but also on the questions with which we approach them. One concept the author suggests is instead of calling ourselves Homo sapiens (“knowing man”), we should call ourselves Homo admirans (“wondering man”) because where we really start to think is at the edge of what we know.

3. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. This book is another collection of essays, with the addition of human stories. It is about weaving science, botany, spirits, wisdom, and Native American beliefs together and why it matters—from the view that the world is both spiritual and physical, and we must consider reciprocity with the world and that where we are from is where we go.

4. Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home by Pope Francis is an encyclical on the climate. It is about Christian stewardship in the age of climate change. Handley shared this quote: “The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation.”

5. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. In this book the author reflects on the meaning of natural accident and beauty as she closely engages with nature for a year. Handley read, “When I walk with a camera, I walk from shot to shot, reading the light on a calibrated meter. When I walk without a camera, my own shutter opens, and the moment’s light prints on my own silver gut. When I see this second way I am above all an unscrupulous observer.”

Handley has produced several publications on this topic, informed by his own studies, experiences, and testimony. To learn more, go to http://georgebhandley.com/.