Environmentalism from a global perspective, Part I

Not long into this course my classmates helped me realize see that our conservation perspectives are dominated by writers from the West (and global North), so now I am reading a book by an Indian author, Ramachandra Guha, on environmental history.  Some notes and extracts below:


  • “Like apple pie, but unlike the flag, national parks are distinctively but not uniquely American.”
  • “The environmental movement is a child of the sixties that has stayed its course […] pacifism, the counter-culture and the civil rights struggle–have either lost out or lost their way, [but] the green wave shows no signs of abating.”

Seeing environmentalism as an evolving social movement:

  • “The first wave of environmentalism proceeded step-by-step with the Industrial Revolution, itself the most far-reaching process of soical change in human history. […] possibly for the first time in human history there was now the perception of an environmental crisis. This was the perception seized by the first wave of environmentalism, which asked whether the great increases in wealth and prosperity brought about by modern industrialization were in fact sustainable.”
  • A first wave of environmentalism came with the Industrial Revolution when people started questioning whether the huge increases in prosperity and resource use were sustainable.
  • The first wave of environmentalism was a social movement with different varieties: back-to-the-land as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution (think of authors like Blake, Wordsworth, Dickens), scientific conservation – the idea of sustained yields of natural resources, and the wilderness idea that combines morality, science and aesthetics.

When did it all start?

  • Some of the oldest conservation organizations were created in the UK in the 1800s. The first national park was Yellowstone in the US, 1872. However, countries around the world have been setting aside land for protected areas for centuries (e.g. kings and emperors would set aside hunting land for themselves).

Forestry and why conservation has had such a bad reputation in some places:

  • In the 19th century, the centralization of political authority and formation of nation-states led to the concepts of “national forests” or “rivers as property of the nation” – and the management of these was guided by the increasing prestige of science. The most powerful cases of this were in “in European colonies of Asia and Africa, where authoritarian state systems allowed for the exercise of scientific conservation unconstrained by parliaments, a free press, or the practice of democracy more generally.”
  • Forestry practices from the temperate forests of Europe and North America were used in India and Africa, but were often inappropriate: for instance, tropical forests have far more species than temperate forests and also have monsoons, so replanting large stands of pine or expecting logged areas to regenerate (and not get washed away by monsoon rains) is unrealistic.
  • Another problem of traditional, state-run forestry? It doesn’t usually recognize customary rights of local people and assumed that the people were bad custodians of the land (often untrue).

2 Responses

  1. […] for me from this book I’m reading on environmental history by an Indian author. See this previous post for my first set of […]

  2. […] for me from this book I’m reading on environmental history by an Indian author. See this previous post for my first set of […]

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