Posted by: Green Knight | April 25, 2011

Environmental Determinism

When I took Environmental Geoscience in my 3rd university stint, the professor, Dr. Ed Williams, discussed a long-standing feud in the scientific community of the Victorian era.  On one side were the “environmental determinists,” who believed that human endeavor was limited by factors including geography and climate.  The other camp believed in concepts like human conquest of nature, manifest destiny, and the like.  At last they decided to have it out once and for all, and agreed to an all-day debate in a London park.  The event got rained out.  The determinists won by default.

Nevertheless, that lost battle is still being waged.  Ever since “The Limits to Growth” was published in 1972, and its followup “Beyond the Limits” in 1992, attackers have been in plentiful supply.  Rather than taking a middle ground, they side with the overexploiters who act as if all resources are inexhaustible…strange that most of them call themselves “conservative.”  What, exactly, are they conserving?

On Saturday I happened to be leaving my building as the mailman was doing his delivery, so I waited until he locked the boxes to check mine.  He commented, “there wasn’t much mail today.”  I replied, “I bet I know why.”  He gave me a blank look, so I pointed out that most long-distance mail doesn’t go by truck, it comes through the airport, which had just been devastated by a tornado the night before.  He said, “wow, I never thought of that!”  See, the environment affects everything.

Thinking of Victorian science caused me to add a photo of my favorite bone-hunter and generalist, Edward Drinker Cope (1840-1897), from Philadelphia.  Reading about the “Bone Wars” between him and Othniel Charles Marsh is an enjoyable insight into the history of science. Plus, he kind of resembles me.


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