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Earth Science


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


The Origins of Modern Environmental Thought by J. E. de Steiguer (University of Arizona Press) provides readers with a concise and lively introduction to the seminal thinkers who created the modern environmental movement and inspired activism and policy change. Beginning with a brief overview of the works of Thoreau, Mill, Malthus, Leopold, and others, de Steiguer examines some of the earliest philosophies that underlie the field. He then describes major socioeconomic factors in post–World War II America that created the milieu in which the modern environmental movement began, with the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. The following chapters offer summaries and critical reviews of landmark works by scholars who helped shape and define modern environmentalism. Among others, de Steiguer examines works by Barry Commoner, Paul Ehrlich, Kenneth Boulding, Garrett Hardin, Herman Daly, and Arne Naess. He describes the growth of the environmental movement from 1962 to 1973 and explains a number of factors that led to a decline in environmental interest during the mid-1970s. He then reveals changes in environmental awareness in the 1980s and concludes with commentary on the movement through 2004. Updated and revised from The Age of Environmentalism, this expanded edition includes three new chapters on Stewart Udall, Roderick Nash, and E. F. Schumacher, as well as a new concluding chapter, bibliography, and updated material throughout. This primer on the history and development of environmental consciousness and the many modern scholars who have shaped the movement will be useful to students in all branches of environmental studies and philosophy, as well as biology, economics, and physics.

The publication of Silent Spring in 1962 has generally been credited with beginning the modern era of environmental concern. The Ori­gins of Modern Environmental Thought is about that era. Its chapters explore the writings of Rachel Carson and of several environmental and natural resource scholars who followed her during the 196os and 1970s. These scholars include, among others, Barry Commoner, Gar­rett Hardin, Paul Ehrlich, Roderick Nash, Lynn White, and E. F. Schu­macher. Their theories about the causes of and solutions to our eco­logical problems have become an indispensable part of environmental wisdom. Above all, this book is about ideas and the power of those ideas to influence public opinion.

The Origins of Modern Environmental Thought is intended primar­ily as a supplemental reader for university-level environmental studies courses at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Such environ­mental courses would include those in agriculture, biology, ecology, economics, engineering, ethics, forestry, geography, history, law, literature, natural resources, philosophy, political science, and religion. The book also may be of interest to those who simply desire a deeper understanding of ecological philosophy.

The Origins of Modern Environmental Thought has examined a variety of ideas regarding the causes of and solutions to world environmental problems. In addition to Rachel Carson's pioneering work, de Steiguer examined the contributions of Harold Barnett and Chandler Morse. These econ­omists conducted the first empirical test of the Malthusian hypothesis and concluded that resource scarcity fears were unfounded for the United States but that concerns regarding loss of environmental quality were probably justified. Stewart Udall argued that by studying the his­tory of natural resource conservation we could plan for a better future. Roderick Nash taught us about the worth of wilderness. A. C. Pigou and the neoclassical economists suggested that a well-functioning sys­tem of markets was the key to coping with both resource scarcity and environmental problems. They also said that the hidden social costs of pollution damages, known as economic externalities, must be reduced in order to achieve the greatest possible level of human satisfaction.

Kenneth Boulding argued that the laws of physics, through the process of entropy, place limits on the availability of energy resources. This notion of energy entropy presented humanity with the ultimate Malthusian threat. Lynn White Jr. argued that Christian beliefs were the root cause of the environmental crisis. In the process, he initiated a dialogue on the relationship between religion and environmental mat­ters. Paul Ehrlich, in The Population Bomb, predicted that excess popu­lation and pollution would cause worldwide catastrophe within just a few years. He pressed for draconian constraints on individual freedom in order to save society from its own hedonistic tendencies.

Garrett Hardin alerted us to the fact that the common property nature of environmental resources was an important factor governing their exploitation. His classic article, "The Tragedy of the Commons," became one of the most widely read of all environmental works. Barry Commoner examined growth in human population, resource con­sumption, and modern technology to determine which was most re­sponsible for our environmental problems, concluding that the last was most at fault. However, Commoner was never able to suggest a social solution. Herman Daly revived the long-forgotten writings of John Stuart Mill and called for a voluntary steady-state economy in order to strike an equilibrium between humans and the natural world. He said that society should look toward intellectual achievement rather than material consumption as a means of personal fulfillment. Innova­tive researchers from MIT used modern technology in the form of computer models to predict the state of the future world. However, when their results indicated disaster, critics said it was merely "Mal­thus with a computer." When you put "Malthus-in," they said, you get "Malthus-out:' Fritz Schumacher suggested that by changing eco­nomic systems and consumption patterns, we could improve our stew­ardship of the environment. Finally, deep ecology philosopher Arne Naess urged people to look inward for self-realization regarding the proper state of the environment. He then charged them to look out­ward to find ways of implementing social change in order to achieve their vision of this perfect world.

As society faces future environmental challenges, the ideas pre­sented in this book will have continuing relevance. The importance to society of the wisdom offered by these environmental philosophers will increase with the passage of time. Students, professors, legislators, and politicians—all of those who would find solutions to the problems of growing human population, the exhaustion of natural resources, and the degradation of the environment—will continue to draw from these learned works. By virtue of their continuing social value, these contributions must truly be regarded as classical contributions to the environmental literature.

In this book de Steiguer has encouraged a search for accommodation among differing environmental worldviews for the purpose of resolving en­vironmental problems. I now challenge you, after studying these liter­ary works, to find ways in which these separate theories might accom­modate one another. As an example, de Steiguer close by examining how three of the environmental theories could be complementary. From Malthus and the neo-Malthusians, we derive an unyielding sense of urgency regarding environmental matters. Their hypothesis provides a haunt­ing image of what might be should we fail to take natural resource and environmental matters seriously. Admittedly, since Malthus' own time his theory has generated reaction and even outrage for its implied lack of faith in humanity. Yet, neo-Malthusian thinking continues to exert pressure on society to solve its environmental problems. Malthusian concerns no doubt provide the impetus for much of the modern en­vironmental movement.

The modern neoclassicists, in their role as analytical economists, have traditionally not been concerned with the philosophical and psy­chological factors governing resource consumption activities. Instead, they have dealt primarily with empirical validation of that behavior in response to prices, costs, and other market-related phenomena. The ethical motivations behind an economic response have been of less concern than the response itself. Indeed, modern mainstream econo­mists generally conclude that the establishment of normative social goals is beyond their role, because there is no objective way for them to establish those goals. With their particular perspective, environmental economists have brought practical skills to environmental matters. With rigor and mathematics, they have been able to suggest specific methods of analysis to determine the economic importance of en­vironmental damage, to examine the tradeoffs required to control losses, and also to suggest specific policy instruments for reducing damages. These mainstream economists will continue to provide ana­lytical information to elected officials who must draft and vote on environmental legislation.

Finally, from the modern steady-state theorists we receive impor­tant recommendations for developing closer working relationships be­tween economists and biologists and for establishing better systems for measuring aggregate economic performance. However, the most meaningful legacy of John Stuart Mill is his expression of faith that humanity can control its destiny. Far from being simply economic man—that pale wraith of a creature who follows his adding-machine brain wherever it leads him"—Mill's person had a heart and a mind to make intelligent choices that might involve denial of material needs. To many people, Mill's work represents something more than a utopian ideal; it may prove the solution to our environmental problems.

While researching and writing this book, de Steiguer has frequently returned to Silent Spring and the words of Rachel Carson as a source of in­sight and inspiration. Her final words in that book are fitting for this conclusion as well, because they eloquently express the themes of ac­commodation, creativity, and imagination that are needed to sustain life and resolve environmental problems:

Through all these new, imaginative, and creative approaches to the problem of sharing our earth with other creatures there runs a constant theme, the awareness that we are dealing with life—with living populations and with all their pressures and counter pressures, their surges and recessions. Only by taking account of such life forces and by cautiously seeking to guide them into channels favorable to ourselves can we hope to achieve a reason­able accommodation. . . . The control of nature is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of a Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man. (Carson)


Return of the Unicorns by Eric Dinerstein, George B. Schaller (Columbia University Press) What would it take to track down, subdue and move a 2.2 metric ton rhinoceros? And why would anyone endeavor to undertake such a daunting task? In the Terai Arc, the lush and richly bio-diverse corridor resting in the shadows of the Himalayas has become an important oasis of wildlife preservation. In an age of rapidly disappearing animal species there can be success stories in the world of wildlife conservation. Eric Dinerstein, Chief Scientist of the Conservation Science Program World Wildlife Fund U.S. based in Washington, DC., is the leader of the team responsible for the recovery of the formerly endangered greater one-horned rhinoceros in the Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal . His book provides an account of these unique mammals - who stand up to six feet high and reach fourteen feet in length - and details the practical conservation strategy that was successfully applied to save them. Return of the Unicorns distills more than two decades of observation of Asian wildlife into a conservation strategy applicable to much of the region's dwindling wildlife. It is valuable to biologists, conservation biologists, and to anyone interested in large mammals and their future.

Return of the Unicorns is as much about Dinerstein’s own transformation as it is about rhinoceros: from a child who dreamed of studying prehistoric large mammals to a curious wildlife biologist who counted rhinoceros and picked through their dung to a conservation biologist the Return of the Unicorns sounds many complex themes.

The sequence of the book emphasizes a conservation biology approach: describing the status and root causes of decline of an endangered species, understanding basic biology, and applying biolog­ical insights and knowledge of socioeconomic conditions to the design of conservation programs. Each chapter begins with an anecdote about Dinerstein’s experiences while studying rhinoceros or other large Asian mam­mals. Each chapter ends with statistical notes, where applicable. Appendix A describes the methods used in the field study.

Part I, " Vanishing Mammals, Vanishing Landscapes," covers the demise of rhinoceros and their habitats and identifies the causes of the loss. Chap­ter 1 traces the evolution and decline of rhinoceros and their relatives and looks at why they have persisted for so long. This chapter also covers the current status of remaining populations of rhinoceros in Asia. Chapter 2 ex­amines the threats to rhinoceros caused by demands for its body parts, no­tably its fabled horn. Chapter 3 introduces the endangered floodplain ecosystems of the study area and provides a brief history of conservation of Nepalese megafauna.

Part II, "The Biology of an Endangered Herbivore," explores the rhino's natural history, providing the scientific foundation necessary for devising conservation plans. Within this section, Dinerstein often refers to Royal Chitwan Na­tional Park; with its rich megafauna, Chitwan is a living laboratory--a win­dow on the Pleistocene--where one can observe and study interactions be­tween mammals and their environment not unlike those that occurred when giant herbivores dominated the landscape. Chapter 4 begins with a descrip­tion of the physical characteristics of greater one-horned rhinos and a com­parison of them with other rhinoceros in terms of both size and degree of sex­ual dimorphism. Dinerstein shows how extremely large body size influences various aspects of rhinoceros ecology and impinges on conservation efforts. Chapter 5 challenges certain aspects of the argument that very large herbivores are by nature prone to extinction. Dinerstein begins by describing the demographic, genetic, and environmental threats faced by rhinoceros. Then he traces the rapid recov­ery of the Chitwan population from a population bottleneck, and I discuss the remarkably high levels of genetic variability in the Chitwan rhinoceros population and the implications of these findings for other species. Chapter 6 focuses on the effects of very large body size on many aspects of rhinoceros biology, including use of space, feeding ecology, activity patterns, and thermoregulatory strategies. The social organization of an endangered species is extremely important because it ultimately affects such issues as population management and reserve design. Chapter 7 relates biology to social behavior by describing the rapid turnover of dominant males in areas of high densities of breeding females; it also discusses how the size and condition of the tusks (i.e.., procumbent outer incisors), rather than the horn or other secondary sexual characteristics, largely determine dominance. In chapter 8, Dinerstein illustrates the role that giant herbivores play as landscape architects while highlighting just how the rhinos do this. In some parts of their range, giant herbivore populations have been so decimated that they have suffered ecological extinction; they may persist in small numbers, but their once-prominent role in the ecosystem has vanished. In contrast, the presence of large prehistoric herbi­vores in Chitwan allows us to evaluate evolutionary theories about how giant mammals and plants interact without having to experiment instead with sur­rogate species such as domesticated livestock. Field studies detailing the fascinating story of rhinoceros as megafau­nal seed dispersers may interest evolutionary biologists but mean little to subsistence-level farmers, who view rhinos as unwanted consumers of their crops. Part III, "The Recovery of Endangered Large Mammal Populations and Their Habitats in Asia," devotes considerable attention to projects that attempt to link large mammal conservation and, by extension, biodiversity protection, with local development. Dinerstein begins, in chapter 9, by focusing on the role of ecotourism, using large mammals as the target species, and he doc­uments the effects of twenty years of ecotourism on conservation in Chitwan. Chapter 10 evaluates a highly controversial subject in conservation bi­ology - the utility of integrated conservation and development projects, also known as eco-development projects or sustainable use projects. These projects attempt to simultaneously raise local living standards while con­serving endangered species and their habitats. Dinerstein explors the reasons why these projects typically fall short of their objectives. One conclusion is that, absent strict protection of large core areas, eco-development projects are bound to fail. Chitwan is a successful example of eco-development. This program has allowed local people living outside the park to become local guardians of endangered species and to participate more actively in habitat regeneration programs.

Dinerstein’s final objective is to promote an integrated conservation strategy for Asian megafauna. In chapter 11, he proposes that, given adequate protection from poaching and provided with suitable habitat, even some of the largest, slowest-breeding mammals can recover quickly from episodes of near ex­tinction. The final chapter introduces an experiment in landscape-scale conservation for rhinoceros, tigers, and wild elephants -the Terai Arc - that draws on the natural history studies that Dinerstein describes in part II and builds on the lessons learned from the conservation program. The Terai Arc is de­signed to link eleven national parks and reserves across southern Nepal and northern India through wildlife corridors. The Terai Arc, which was being implemented as Return of the Unicorns went to press, will, the author predicts, be viewed as the most ambitious wildlife recovery project in Asia.

This book sums up with a thorough appreciation not only of the biology of this fascinating mammal but also of the endangered habitats for which rhinoceros serve as a flagship species. The vanishing landscape of lush floodplain grasslands and riverine forests at the base of the Himalayas is one of the most productive areas for wild ungulates on Earth and one of the most threatened. Ultimately, the conviction to con­serve endangered large mammals must spring from an appreciation of their intrinsic value and widespread public awareness, especially of the reality that once extinct, species are gone forever. It is hoped that, in its own small way, Return of the Unicorns spurs concerned individuals to speak up for the large Asian mammals that have no voice in their future.

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