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The End of Nature?

By Karen MacNeil
August 3, 2017

If any industry should be panicked by Donald Trump’s decision to disengage the United States from the Paris climate accord, it is our own.  That decision—as depressing, infuriating, and frightening as it was—was also something more. It was a step toward the negation of Nature. And unhinged from Nature, wine as we know—our philosophic and emotional attachment to it—would simply unravel.

In the July 24th issue of The New Yorker, David Remnick recalls a piece first published in that magazine 1989 by the writer Bill McKibben. Titled, “The End of Nature,” McKibben was far more prescient than he undoubtedly hoped to be. I read the excerpt below on a weekend when I also found myself surrounded by the gentle vineyards and sapphire-colored glacial lakes of wine country in the Finger Lakes and in Ontario Canada. Reading it again, sends a shiver down my spine. McKibben wrote:

Changes in our world which can affect us can happen in our lifetime—not just changes like wars but bigger and more sweeping events. Without recognizing it, we have already stepped over the threshold of such a change. I believe that we are at the end of nature.

By this I do not mean the end of the world. The rain will still fall, and the sun will still shine. When I say “nature,” I mean a certain set of human ideas about the world and our place in it. But the death of these ideas begins with concrete changes in the reality around us, changes that scientists can measure. More and more frequently these changes will clash without perceptions, until our sense of nature as eternal and separate is finally washed away and we see all too clearly what we have done.

We in the wine industry so often speak about and discuss the idea of terroir. We speak about it with an assurance that Nature is not a variable; it’s a fixed part of the equation.

What happens if it no longer is? To ponder the end of Nature is no longer a radical notion. On the contrary, the idea is now right on our doorstep.