Environmental History Forum


I just got back from an “Environmental History Forum”, a series of speeches and a group discussion held at the Smith center at PSU. The three guest speakers were all professors at the University of Wisconsin: Nancy Langston, James Feldman and William Cronon (from first term’s “Goals of a liberal education”). A main topic being discussed was our ability to learn from the past in order to create a more sustainable present and future, both by studying how previous cultures have changed or adapted to threats such as scarcity of resources as well as studying what didn’t work so well in the past. An example that I thought was interesting was that Cronon predicted that in 20 years we will look back on the compact fluorescent bulb and say what a mistake it was due to the spread of mercury that it causes. This learning from previous good and bad decisions seems to be one of the main pillars of environmental history. Another concept brought up is that “sustainability” is not actually a state of equilibrium or stasis that can be achieved, but more of a continual process of discourse to keep moving forward and making better decisions. Also popular was bashing on Jared Diamond and his idea of why civilizations collapse for being too simplified. Overall, it was a very fascinating event and I would recommend reading “Changes in the Land” or any of Cronon’s books. He is a very smart guy.

-Matt Z.

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2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    shermanj said,

    What sort of critiques of Jensen were being offered? Also, why would you specifically recommend “Changes in the Land?”

    – Jacob

    • 2

      matt z said,

      Jensen wasn’t mentioned at the forum, but I imagine most of the speakers would have disagreed with his ideas. They seemed to think that there is hope for civilization, by learning from the past and creating new ideas and innovations. For instance, one thing that Cronon said that I thought was surprising was that the fact that we waste and throw away so much is actually beneficial to us because it is the cause of new innovations. I’m pretty sure Jensen would disagree with this. I recommend “Changes in the Land” specifically because it is his most well-known book and I think it is the most relevant to the field of environmental history. I’m sure all of his books are worth reading though.


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