Author Robert Cabin Responds to 'Restoring Paradise' Review

posted in: August 2013, Forests | 0

I appreciated Patricia Tummons reviewing my book Restoring Paradise: Rethinking and Rebuilding Nature in Hawai`i in the July issue of Environment Hawai`i, but was surprised by her strong negative reaction to this and my previous book, Intelligent Tinkering. I also found her overall hostility ironic, because a central theme in both my books is the urgent need for more mutual respect, tolerance, and pluralism in conservation. In other words, we’ve got to stop circling the wagons and shooting at each other.

One of the most informative things I have ever done was interview a swath of Hawai`i’s broader environmental community. Despite all their differences, many of these people similarly lamented that rather than engaging in constructive debate and, when necessary, respectfully disagreeing and moving on, too often we myopically obsess on the relatively few things that divide us. I have certainly been guilty of falling into this trap myself. This is partly why I have become increasingly passionate about the need for those of us who love Hawai`i to put aside our often petty differences and unite around the many things we virtually all agree can and should be done.

Tummons correctly assumed that I don’t do this kind of writing for the money. At least for me, it’s damn hard work that provides essentially zero fame or fortune in return. I also agree that there are many other people who are more qualified to write about Hawai`i than I am. So why do I do it? Because to date no other writers have told the kinds of stories that I think need to be told. Why did I devote most of Restoring Paradise to the most successful ecological restoration programs in the islands? As I stated in the introduction, in part “…because these success stories demonstrate that at least some of Hawai`i’s remaining native biodiversity can be preserved and restored, I hope they will inspire us to do more before it really does become too late.” Whenever possible, I tried to tell these stories through the unfiltered eyes and mouths of the people responsible for their success.

I also strived to analyze and present my 72.5 hours of taped oral interviews as objectively as possible. For example, one of the questions I asked everyone was “What role does science presently play in guiding ecological restoration in Hawai`i, and what if any changes would you like to see in the future?” As I noted in Restoring Paradise, “This question provoked the most passionate responses from almost all my interviewees.” Some people “emphatically stated that science and scientists were of obvious fundamental importance” and “stressed the critical importance of carefully recording, monitoring, and assessing our management activities.” Others discussed what they perceived as the extreme tensions between scientists and resource managers, and how “scientists and resource managers come from and live within two distinct worlds.” Some questioned the practical relevance of conservation science; others suggested various reforms that they believed would help make this science more relevant. Still others said that science is only one of many different ways of knowing, and argued that the larger conservation movement needed to show more respect for other knowledge and value systems. In this section, and throughout the book as a whole, I worked hard to present the perspectives of each of the different “camps” on such divisive issues in an accurate, even-handed, and non-judgmental manner.

Tummons repeatedly accuses me of being disrespectful and unappreciative of science and scientists. I respectfully disagree. In fact, I would maintain that I have bent over backwards in my books and other writings to make it clear that these are neither my intentions nor my beliefs. I must say that it has been extremely gratifying for me that the larger expert community has appreciated and commended me for these efforts. I am also proud of the fact that excerpts from both of my books have been published in leading scientific and environmental magazines, and that these books have received such exceptionally kind and complimentary reviews (examples of these are available on my Amazon pages).

I hope that people who read Restoring Paradise will gain a greater understanding, appreciation, and respect for other people who may have fundamentally different perspectives on environmental issues and the complex and ever-evolving relationship between humans, nature, and science. Moreover, I hope that this pluralism will ultimately help catalyze more and better science and more and better conservation within and beyond the Hawaiian islands.


Robert Cabin

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