Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thoreau’s continuing relevance to the modern world

Thoreau’s writings are not “Pond Scum”

Posted by Richard Primack

In a recent article in the New Yorker, Kathryn Schulz goes to considerable lengths to argue that Henry David Thoreau and his book “Walden” are not worthy of their high reputation in American society.  She accuses Thoreau of hypocrisy, a dislike of people, and being full of contradictions. Schulz’s major concession to Thoreau is that he is a keen observer of nature. 

However, in a rebuttal published in the Boston Globe, we argue that Thoreau’s writings of a century and half ago have continued relevance to modern society on topics such as greed and materialism, the value of higher education, and species loss. 

We also describe how we have used Thoreau’s detailed observations from the 1850s of the timing of flowering and leafing out of plants and the spring arrival of migratory bird species combined with modern observations to document the impacts of climate change. Plants in Concord are now flowering and leafing out about 10 days earlier than in Thoreau’s time, while birds are less responsive to a warming climate. Thoreau’s writings still inspire new generations of people to observe and protect nature, and have special value in climate change research. 

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