Seeing the Forest for the Trees: Reflections on the Sustainable Forestry Narratives of France
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Sustainability is often accused of being a modern buzzword, an accusation that masks the significance of the concept in human culture. Using environmental hermeneutics, this paper explores the origins and varieties of sustainable thought in early-modern France, a history that has its roots in forestry. Two dominant narratives are identified using Martin Heidegger’s concept of the standing reserve (The Question Concerning Technology, 1977) and Donald Worster’s dichotomy of Arcadian and Imperial thinkers (Nature’s Economy: A history of ecological ideas, 1994). These concepts illustrate two opposing visions of sustainability in France: The Imperial approach that saw the forest as a standing reserve of resources, and the Arcadian approach that had an idealistic view of sylvo-pastoral practices. These narratives are used to interpret forestry legislation, historic events and literary examples to paint a picture of the origins of sustainability that are unique to French culture. Through this interpretation, it was possible to identify the faults and merits of each perspective, and to judge that neither was motivated by any sort of deep ecology. The paper concludes with the assertion that given the implications of the French enlightenment on Western society, a better understanding of the history of sustainable thinking in France can provide insights to a more sustainable future.