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Environment: An Interdisciplinary Anthology

Glenn Adelson
James Engell
Brent Ranalli
K. P. Van Anglen
Illustrations Editor Erin Sheley
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 984
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    This major anthology is the first to apply a fully interdisciplinary approach to environmental studies. A comprehensive guide to environmental literacy, the book demonstrates how the sciences, social sciences, and humanities all contribute to understanding our interrelationships with the natural world. Though not specialized,Environmentis a book that even specialists can learn from.

    Ten innovative case studies--climate shock, species endangerment, nuclear power, biotechnology, sustainable development, deforestation, environmental security, globalization, wilderness, and the urban environment--are followed by readings from specific disciplines. These can be integrated with the case studies to shape individual interests and teaching strategies. The volume presents an imaginative array of texts, from scientific papers to poetry, legal decisions to historical accounts, personal essays to economic analysis. Taken together, these selections provide a balanced, authoritative, and up-to-date treatment of key issues in environmental studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15031-5
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Contents
    (pp. ix-xxii)
  4. Interconnections: Cross-Listed Selections for Chapters in Part One, Concepts and Case Studies
    (pp. xxiii-xxviii)
  5. Why Environmental Studies?
    (pp. 1-5)

    With historically unprecedented power, we have become chief stewards of the Earth. How can we perform this task well? How can we ensure that future generations will be able to continue good stewardship?

    The best answers begin with environmental literacy. Environmental education can shape every child’s awareness and direct every adult’s actions. But the environment is unlike all other subjects. In ecology, states Barry Commoner, “everything is connected to everything else.” Like the web of interdependent relationships in an ecosystem, the web of Environmental Studies is exciting and complex. Every thread we pick up leads to unexpected places—and to...

  6. The Design and Use of This Book
    (pp. 6-8)

    The biologist Edward O. Wilson remarks, “If I learned anything in my forty-one years of teaching, it is that the best way to transmit knowledge and stimulate thought is to teach from the top down.” In other words, begin by posing large problems, questions, and concepts of the highest significance and then later, once attention and curiosity are secured, “peel off layers of causation as currently understood … in growing technical and philosophically disputatious detail.” Wilson warns, “Donotteach from the bottom up, e.g., ‘first we’ll learn some of this, and some of that, and we’ll combine the knowledge...

  7. Overture: Nature and Human Perception
    (pp. 9-10)

    I contemplate a tree.

    I can accept it as a picture: a rigid pillar in a flood of light, or splashes of green traversed by the gentleness of the blue silver ground.

    I can feel it as movement: the flowing veins around the sturdy, striving core, the sucking of the roots, the breathing of the leaves, the infinite commerce with earth and air—and the growing itself in its darkness.

    I can assign it to a species and observe it as an instance, with an eye to its construction and its way of life.

    I can overcome its uniqueness and...

  8. PART ONE Concepts and Case Studies

    • [PART ONE Introduction]
      (pp. 11-16)

      This fragment that Aldo Leopold jotted in a notebook is prescient in many ways. It was written before the two great discoveries in biology and geology of the mid-twentieth century: the nature of the DNA molecule and the theory of plate tectonics and continental drift. It also prophesied the need for an interdisciplinary approach to the relationship between humans and the environment, decrying the schism between the developing fields of ecology and economics.

      The two great cultural advances of the past century were the Darwinian theory and the development of geology. The one explained how, and the other where, we...

    • 1 Climate Shock
      (pp. 17-49)

      If an asteroid hurtling toward Earth would, with strong probability, strike this planet in forty years, raise sea levels permanently between six inches to sixteen feet, force up to one-quarter of all species into extinction, inaugurate plagues and disease, inundate parts of some nations, drown populated islands whole, render coasts uninhabitable, intensify hurricanes, typhoons, and tornadoes into record-breaking storms, cause frequent floods and landslides, and kill millions of people, then every government would work furiously to discover how that asteroid might be diverted or destroyed.

      There is no such asteroid (as far as we know), and there is no international...

    • 2 Species in Danger: Three Case Studies
      (pp. 50-82)

      Let us sit and tell sad stories of the death of species. Most schoolchildren know of the extinction of the dodo, a huge, flightless dove of Mauritius, whose name has become a synonym for stupidity characterized by lack of awareness. The passenger pigeon is the most unbelievable of all extinction stories, for no more than three decades prior to its demise, flocks of them existed in such numbers that they blocked out the sun. John James Audubon estimated that one flock he observed flying over the Ohio River Valley contained between two and threebillionbirds. The passenger pigeon had...

    • 3 Nuclear Power: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the Future
      (pp. 83-116)

      Advocates of nuclear power argue that it produces no greenhouse gases except negligible water vapor. Because generating electricity currently puts into the atmosphere twice the CO2produced by motor vehicles, this is a key argument. Furthermore, these supporters claim that while nuclear power may leave radioactive waste and may heat some bodies of water minimally, it does not pollute air or water in the usual sense. It has a worker safety record far superior to the oil and coal industries and emits negligible levels of radiation safe for the general public. These supporters also claim that, especially as new technologies...

    • 4 Biotechnology and Genetically Manipulated Organisms: Bt Corn and the Monarch Butterfly
      (pp. 117-137)

      The late nineteenth century brought about a revolution in biology: Charles Darwin unveiled the idea of evolution by natural selection, and Gregor Mendel provided insight into the nature of inheritance, giving birth to the science of genetics. While these discoveries were profound and startling, human culture had developed the practical application of the mechanisms of selection and genetics for ten millennia. Human manipulation of the genetics of non-human organisms began with the introduction of agriculture 10,000 years ago. The first field cultivators noticed that particular crosses (hybridization) between plants, especially cereal grains like wheat, provided food that was more reliable...

    • 5 The Paradox of Sustainable Development
      (pp. 138-171)

      In 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development (also known as the Brundtland Commission) issuedOur Common Future, and gave sustainable development its canonical definition: “development that meets the needs of today without inhibiting the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

      The concept was not new in 1987. The Iroquois have a long tradition of considering the effects of communal decisions on “seven generations.” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789 that since the earth “belongs to each … generation during its course, fully and in its own right, no generation can contract debts greater than may be...

    • 6 Deforestation
      (pp. 172-212)

      The world’s forests and native grasslands are vital to human life and the planet’s ecological well-being. In addition to providing material for housing, paper, and fuel, forests serve as CO2sinks, recreation areas, and habitat for countless species of birds, other animals, and plants. Our economic prosperity and our psychological health, as well as the biodiversity of the planet, rest on the preservation, good management, and sustainability of the Earth’s woodlands. Michael Williams and George M. Woodwell illustrate the current state of the world’s forests, in a North American and global context respectively: a prospect that is encouraging in some...

    • 7 War and Peace: Security at Stake
      (pp. 213-247)

      From ancient combat through two world wars, from Vietnam through the Cold War, from the Gulf War to the current battle against terrorism, the environment has played an important role as both cause and effect. Historically, most wars have multiple causes, with the ecological pressures of overpopulation and resource scarcity often underscoring more proximate ideological, ethnic, personal, and political tensions. The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars on the one hand, and the Russian Revolution on the other, correlated with demographic booms in the French and Russian countryside. War fulfills some of the same functions as trade; it is a way...

    • 8 Globalization Is Environmental
      (pp. 248-279)

      The famous picture taken from the moon proclaims Earth to be a single globe, one world. The activities of globalization interconnect regions, countries, cities, villages, and farms, but also jobs, products, regulatory practices, services, banking, markets, and industries. Globalization means different things to different people because it affects them in markedly different ways. It is a contested concept with supporters, skeptics, and opponents. Generally, it is the free movement of products, resources, plants, animals, and, in some cases, people around the world. It can include the free movement of ideas and knowledge. Freedom is a cherished value but creates conflicts...

    • 9 What Is Wilderness and Do We Need It?
      (pp. 280-310)

      At first glance, wilderness does not seem a problematic concept: “Wilderness” is derived from “wild”—the opposite of “tame.” Thus, “wilderness” can be defined as any place that humans have not tamed. But there is a difference between being tame and having been tamed; some areas appear tame in their natural state. As William Cronon points out in “The Trouble with Wilderness,” people tend to view a natural grassland as something other than wilderness. A rugged mountainside is wilderness, a dark and tangled forest is wilderness, a barren desert may be wilderness, but an untamed grassland is not. Why not?...

    • 10 The Urban Environment: Calcutta and Los Angeles
      (pp. 311-350)

      In 1900, some 150 years after the start of the industrial revolution (described by Wordsworth below, in 1805), there was only one nation (Great Britain) in which the majority of the population lived in cities. Today, dwelling in urban areas or in suburbs is fast becoming the global norm. Many consequences of urbanization have been positive. The prospect of a higher standard of living, more cultural and educational opportunities, and escape from the limitations of traditional societies are but a few of the benefits enjoyed by the millions who have moved to cities. Environmentalist Bill McKibben reminds us that there...

  9. PART TWO Foundational Disciplines and Topics


      • [I. Introduction]
        (pp. 353-361)

        The study of the natural world or “the environment” has long been the province of what is commonly called the natural sciences, usually distinguished from two other areas, the humanities and the social sciences. The three sections in Part Two ofEnvironmentmirror these three areas, and by doing so make the claim that all three are connected to environmental issues, and that each one contributes something important to the understanding of those issues.

        The natural sciences are usually delineated to include physics, “the queen of the sciences,” chemistry, biology, astronomy, geology, air and atmospheric science, oceanography, and sometimes mathematics....

      • 11 Biodiversity and Conservation Biology
        (pp. 362-411)

        Every rock has its own environment, as does every molecule of water. In the rock’s case, interaction with its environment influences its size, form, and location. But even though every non-living thing on Earth has an environment, when we think of the word “environment,” we most often think of it in relation to living organisms, or populations or communities of living organisms. The most pressing aspect of the study of these organisms and their ecosystems is their endangerment and loss. Species are becoming endangered and suffering extinction, ecosystems are being degraded, and genetic diversity is diminishing at a historically accelerated...

      • 12 Soil and Agriculture
        (pp. 412-448)

        All terrestrial life depends on the sun, water, and air. Although we rarely think of “dirt” as essential, such life depends equally on soil. Ninety-seven percent of human food comes ultimately from the soil, a general term denoting all loose covering on land. As population increases and arable land is used for buildings and roads, more marginal soils are farmed. Unfortunately, marginal land when cultivated is especially susceptible to degradation and increased erosion. The natural phenomenon of erosion moves soil and even creates it by breaking down rock. But soil erosion becomes problematic when wind and water remove disproportionate amounts...

      • 13 Air and Water
        (pp. 449-491)

        Imagine a model of Earth 40 centimeters or about 16 inches in diameter, where one inch equals five hundred miles. On that model, the atmospheric shell around the globe, roughly twenty miles high except for its thinnest upper reaches, which extend to sixty miles, would span only one millimeter, barely more than one thirty-second of an inch. And most life forms on land and in the sea exist withinone-tenthof that thickness. The atmospheric biozone of Earth is a remarkably thin, fragile envelope, yet its circulation connects all aerobic life forms. The atmosphere carries water vapor and is necessary...

      • 14 Energy
        (pp. 492-530)

        Every use of energy always creates environmental consequences and impacts. The dramatic increase of human use of energy during the past two centuries rests at the foundation of many if not most environmental issues and problems.

        The ability to make energy pass through human hands in a useful, applied way began to grow explosively only four lifetimes ago, at the start of the Industrial Revolution. During the previous thousands of lifetimes, wood, coal, wind, charcoal, draft animals, falling water, and sheer muscle power had propelled whatever projects and mills people could devise. The Romans had the metallurgy and knowledge needed...

      • 15 Toxicology
        (pp. 531-553)

        “The dose makes the poison.” With that insight, the medieval physician Paracelsus laid the groundwork for the modern discipline of toxicology. Living tissues operate within certain chemical parameters; too much (or in some cases too little) of a substance will damage or destroy them. Even water can be harmful in excess, as marathon runners who monitor their blood salt levels know.

        Normally our interest in toxicology is in substances that are harmful in small doses. Nature abounds with these; plants, animals, and fungi have developed a wide variety of toxins to deter, stun, and kill both predators and prey. Nature...


      • [II. Introduction]
        (pp. 554-559)

        The creative and intellectual endeavors of literature, art, ethics, history, philosophy, the spiritual life, and gender studies reveal human life in its widest context: nature and the non-human. The humanities ask how women and men should value what they know about the natural world, and how such evaluation should guide actions and change habits. This means that science must inform the humanities, yet science does not teach us what to value, care for, or commit ourselves to save and strengthen. Without humanistic guidance, those choices usually lead to unsustainable practices and environmental destruction.

        Similarly, if one could regard all environmental...

      • 16 The Inner Life
        (pp. 560-593)

        Religion is sometimes considered to be a regressive cultural force of diminishing relevance, especially to progressive causes like the environment. Likewise, raising the issue of the psychology of environmentalism might appear to undermine the objectivity and rationalism that many environmentalists believe characterize their scientific, economic, and political endeavors on behalf of the planet. Yet understanding the dimensions of the inner life is of great importance for anyone studying the environment. Historically, for instance, there is the tremendous impact since the Romantic period of what might be called the religion of nature: the belief that human spiritual awareness is most acutely...

      • 17 Ethics, Philosophy, Gender
        (pp. 594-621)

        Until recently, ethics has limited itself to one species, addressing the actions of human beings toward other humans. Before 1900, only rarely did Western ethics consider the human relationship to nature or non-human organisms. The main stumbling block to such a consideration has been lack of reciprocity. When considering whether one has an ethical obligation to another human being, it is easy to ask whether that person has a reciprocal obligation. In other words, I have a right not to be killed by you only by dint of our implicit contract (or the contract imposed upon us by the state)...

      • 18 Poetry
        (pp. 622-648)

        Poetry is the most distilled verbal expression of environmental awareness. Fusing perception, cognition, and the passions in a compact way, poetry conveys complex states of feeling and, through symbols, transmits ideas. Poetry calls on many faculties—vision, outward sense, an ear for music, inner visualization (the “mind’s eye”), ethics, emotion, memory, reason, and the visionary or prophetic impulse—and especially on the one faculty connecting them all, the imagination. Poetry is distinguished from science, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge notes, by proposing for its immediate object pleasure, not truth. Yet poetry adumbrates truths about human relationships to the environment. Poetry therefore...

      • 19 History and the Environment
        (pp. 649-675)

        The interactions between societies and their natural environments have histories that help explain how their current relationships originated. As Donald Worster argues in the selection included here, the widespread contemporary phenomenon of single-crop or single-species agricultural ecosystems is better understood, for example, when we consider how such systems first developed during the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century. The same market economic doctrines that shaped these ecosystems then predominate in developed and developing economies today, creating a perceived imperative that the environment be managed for maximum short-term profit. Environmental study as a discipline and environmentalism as a movement also have...

      • 20 Nature Writing
        (pp. 676-703)

        Nature has long been a subject for writers of poetry and prose. Moreover, many literary works contain passages that focus on specific environmental problems and concerns. Nineteenth-century American fiction alone provides striking examples like James Fenimore Cooper’s attacks on deforestation inThe Prairieand Herman Melville’s depictions of the whaling industry inMoby-Dick. Still other texts reflect the recent history of attitudes toward nature and the environment, as well as the history of the natural sciences and the environmental movement. As a specific kind of literature, however, nonfiction prose nature writing is relatively recent and perhaps disproportionately American in provenance....


      • [III. Introduction]
        (pp. 704-709)

        The natural sciences identify and define environmental processes; the humanities foster in us a sympathy with the environment and living nature. Both deepen our understanding and motivate us to reflect upon and change our personal values. But large-scale action is primarily understood and prompted by the social disciplines. Laws, public policy, market mechanisms—these are the principal tools in any effort to better the environment.

        In the 1960s, when environmentalism was a marginal countercultural movement, environmentalists tended to see economics, law, politics, and all other human-created systems as the enemy. To some, environmental problems were so urgent that they trumped...

      • 21 Politics and Public Policy
        (pp. 710-745)

        The late Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Thomas P. (“Tip”) O’Neill famously claimed, “All politics are local.” Individual situations in which politics and public policy have had an impact on the environment would seem in some ways to bear O’Neill out. For instance, in explaining the ecological and social problems resulting from the exploitation of oil resources inGenocide in Nigeria: The Ogoni Tragedy, playwright and novelist Ken Saro-Wiwa (himself later executed after a trial widely thought to be politically inspired) gives full credit to the ethnic and religious rivalries that led to civil war and that...

      • 22 Law and Environmental Justice
        (pp. 746-773)

        United States Chief Justice Warren Burger concluded his opinion in the landmark case ofTVA v. Hill, below, with this quotation ascribed to Sir Thomas More:

        In the thickets of the law, I’m a forester. What would you do, cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you—where would you hide, the laws all being flat?

        Burger used this apt environmental metaphor of the forester and the trees to defend his upholding of the laws of Congress even when he personally did...

      • 23 Economics
        (pp. 774-806)

        Economics (from the Greek for “management of the household”), like ecology (“science of the household”), is a study of exchanges and interdependencies, equilibria and disequilibria, growth and development. Over the years, exchanges between the two sister disciplines have informed their own growth and development. Malthus’s forays into the realm of population ecology, for example, earned economics the nickname “the dismal science” in the nineteenth century, and early practitioners of ecology fancied that they were studying “the economy of nature.” Even today, cultural critics such as David Korten urge that human economies should “mimic the behavior of healthy living organisms and...

      • 24 Human Population
        (pp. 807-830)

        Since Thomas Malthus published his 1798Essay on the Principle of Population, observers have been haunted by the prospect that human population may grow to a point where the Earth’s resources cannot sustain it. Some, like Paul Ehrlich inThe Population Bomb, have envisioned various forms the crisis might take and how it might be avoided. The degrading effects of human overpopulation on the planet’s environment are widely recognized. Yet the degree of probability—let alone inevitability—of a demographic catastrophe is debated, as is the speed with which it might come about and the geographic patterns in which it...

      • 25 Anthropology
        (pp. 831-856)

        The table of contents of this volume reflects the diverse ways in which the environment and its relationship to humans may be conceived. A strong connection exists between an interdisciplinary approach and the concept of diversity: aninterdisciplinarybook emphasizes the diversity of approaches to the subject of the environment. Yet this diversity, for the most part, reflects the diversity of ideas within just one subculture: a Northern, industrial, and academic one. The diversity of ways of thinking about nature and the environment increases exponentially when we contemplate the full spectrum of human cultures and the possibility that withineach...

  10. Coda

    • 26 Conviction and Action
      (pp. 859-888)

      For the first time in two billion years, a single species has become so “successful” and technologically advanced that it is changing Earth’s environment markedly. These changes are happening rapidly, in one ten-millionth of the planet’s time of existence. Antarctic ice cores, which run back tens of thousands of years, reveal that the unprecedented changes of the past two centuries have come more swiftly than all but the most catastrophic of previous alterations, such as those following major meteor impacts. If current human habits continue—and, as William James notes, “habit is twice nature”—then the future will be, as...

  11. Web Connections
    (pp. 889-896)
  12. About the Editors
    (pp. 897-898)
  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 899-900)
  14. Selection Credits
    (pp. 901-914)
  15. Index
    (pp. 915-950)