A History of the Idea
Paul Warde, Libby Robin, Sverker Sörlin Johns Hopkins University Press (DECEMBER) Hardcover $29.95 (256pp), 978-1-4214-2679-2
Three academics delve into the history of the environment in the solidly researched, expertly written The Environment.
Though “the environment” is a term frequently bandied about by activists, scientists, and journalists, even its most fervent protectors may be ignorant of where the conceptual idea came from. In this highly readable history, Paul Warde, Libby Robin, and Sverker Sörlin set out to trace the origin of the term and examine its future.
The environment gained international exposure with the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s bestselling Silent Spring, but this book suggests that the stage was set in 1948 with the publication of William Vogt’s Road to Survival—“about the planet as a whole, and all the varied peoples that lived on it.” Vogt used the term “environment” as “a global object.” From here develops a fascinating study that often references much earlier works which alluded to the environment without employing the specific term.
The research in this book is impressive. Just as impressive is its use of historical context to discuss the environment in broad, contemporary terms. It explores the “four dimensions” of the modern-day definition of the environment: future, expertise, trust in numbers, and scalability. Each of these is explained in clear, precise detail.
Surely the most intriguing overlay onto the environment in recent years is “climate change,” and a chapter is devoted to how the climate and the environment have converged. Equally fascinating is the book’s coverage of the politicization of the environment, which emerged in the 1960s.
The book ends by raising a provocative and intriguing question: “Does the environment have a future?” Reading this excellent, authoritative, and insightful exposition should help provide the answer.