Science and Sensibility: Negotiating an Ecology of Place

by Michael Vincent McGinnis, author of Science and Sensibility: Negotiating and Ecology of Place

This guest post is published to coincide with the Ecological Society of America conference in Fort Lauderdale. Check back every day this week for new posts through the end of the conference on August 12th.

9780520285200Eduardo Viveiros de Castro writes, “Ecology is nothing but this: the evaluation of place.” As ecologists, we often spend a lifetime evaluating the impacts human beings have on ecosystems. Each generation of ecologists has less “nature” to draw from and observe. So as ecosystems decline, we witness a natural world receding like a mirage in the Arizona desert. The rivers of the Pacific Northwest were once full of wild salmon. Now ghosts of that abundant salmon remain. Tropical islands in the South Pacific are also slowly fading away as the sea level rises. The songs of marine life are also growing more silent as the diversity of the planet is diminished from global climate change. Watersheds are converted to wastesheds that shed human pollution. Local communities are suffering from globalization and the loss of ecosystem services. As the ecosystems we study are degraded, we are often left with a profound sense of suffering and loss that runs much deeper than an analysis of scientific information or raw data that shows the decline of a species or habitat. We may also witness the decline of the human community that fails to adapt to the loss of ecosystem health. The decline of peoples and places goes hand in hand. As we evaluate place, we begin to recognize our own destiny is connected to the protection of the places we inhabit.

In Science and Sensibility: Negotiating an Ecology of Place, I invoke the power of place to protect ecosystems and the people who depend on these systems. I am a product of the landscape and seascape I inhabit. The book draws from twenty years of experience in research and professional work that focuses on the importance of cultivating a science and a sensibility of place and one’s region. It offers a range of case studies—watersheds, river basins, offshore energy development, aquaculture, shipping, restoration ecology, marine protection, among others—that show that while scientific knowledge helps humans address complex problems, cultivating a renewed sense of place and increasing sustainability in our communities and larger ecosystems is essential to the challenges we face today.


Michael Vincent McGinnis is Associate Professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. He is the editor of Bioregionalism and is the author of Marine Governance: The New Zealand Experience.