Timber floating in northern Sweden, ca. 1950. Photo courtesy of the Skogsbibliotekets arkiv, SLU, Umeå.
Sweden is one of the largest timber exporters in Europe. The country has been an exporter since at least the early modern period. That is not surprising because pine and spruce forests cover large parts of northern Sweden. These forests are part of the single largest land biome on earth, stretching along the pole circle of Eurasia and North America: the taiga.
Not that long ago, the forests of northern Sweden were almost untouched by human hands. That changed during the 19thcentury when a timber frontier moved across northern Sweden, driven by the demand for wood in the industrialising countries of Europe. The timber frontier forged changes across the forests of northern Sweden, not in the least the construction of tens of thousands of kilometres of floatways. This transformed not only the ecological structure of the forests, but also the social and economic dynamics of Sweden and shaped the modern country that we see today.
Erik Törnlund is a forest historian who studied the transformation of the forests in northern Sweden and the development of the floatway system. On this episode of the podcast Erik examines the Swedish timber frontier and the associated environmental, economic and social transformations that have occurred in Sweden since the 19thcentury.
Thomas Cole’sThe Oxbow (1836). The New England landscape that inspired Calvinist and Puritan ideals about landscape, a scientific world view and moral notions about use of the land. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Ever since Lynn White’s 1967 essay on “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis”, it is common to read in many publications that Christianity is both too anthropocentric and not much concerned with the protection of nature and the environment. Subsequently the environmental movement has developed along very secular lines using science to underpin their arguments for the protection of nature and the environment. For religion there seems no place amongst modern environmentalists. But in in the late 19th century and early 20th century this was quite different and early American conservationists were often deeply religious but had no difficulties in combining this with new scientific ideas about nature. A recent book entitled Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism shows that religion provided early environmentalists both with deeply embedded moral and cultural ways of viewing the natural world which provided them with the direction, and tone for the environmental causes they advocated. It reveals how religious upbringing left its distinctive imprint on the life, work, and activism of a wide range of environmental figures such as George Perkins Marsh, John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, Rachel Carson, E. O. Wilson, and others.
This podcast episode explores the history of conservation and religion in America with Mark Stoll, Associate Professor of History at Texas Tech University, in Lubbock, Texas. He is the author of Inherit the Holy Mountain.
Mark Stoll, “Rachel Carson: The Presbyterian Genesis of a Nature Writer,” in: Nicolaas Rupke, ed., Eminent Lives in Twentieth-Century Science and Religion, 2nd rev. and much exp. ed. (New York: Peter Lang, 2009)
Mark Stoll, “Creating Ecology: Protestants and the Moral Community of Creation,” in: David M. Lodge and Christopher S. Hamlin, eds., Religion and the New Ecology: Environmental Responsibility in a World in Flux (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006)
Sphere of satellites and space junk surrounding Earth. Image: NASA
Since the early days of the Space Age spent rocket stages, decommissioned satellites, and rubbish of all kinds have contaminated near-Earth space. At present more than 100 million pieces of human-made debris ranging in size from dead satellites to flecks of paint whiz around the Earth at incredibly fast speeds. This cloud of space junk poses a threat to our space infrastructure on which we now depend so much for navigation, communication, Earth surveillance, and scientific and industrial data collection, because even small fragments of a disintegrated spacecraft can seriously damage other satellites.
Does the creation of space debris mean that humanity has extended the “industrial sphere” into near-Earth space? Historian Lisa Ruth Rand, A PhD candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, discusses this question on episode 67 of Exploring Environmental History. She also examines why environmental historians should study the expansion of humanity beyond earth and other space environmental history related issues.
Further reading & resources
Lisa Ruth Rand, “Gravity, the Sequel: Why the Real Story Would Be on the Ground”, The Atlantic, 28 February 2014.
Lisa Ruth Rand, “How Apollo Astronauts Took Out the Trash. One small step for garbage. One giant leap for garbage-kind”, Popular Mechanics, 21 July 2015.
We take electricity for granted and do not think of where it comes from when we switch on a light or use an electrical appliance. But behind the electricity coming out of a wall socket lays an entire energy landscape of poles, wires, electrical substations and power stations. It is imposed on the landscape like a gigantic web, a grid that has become almost part of the natural scenery.
Just over a century ago this electricity grid did not exist. Power generation was local or at best regional and often based on the burning of coal or the use of locally produced gas. In less than a century the grid covered the entire United Kingdom and many other countries. It revolutionised our lives, the way we worked and it made air in cities a whole lot cleaner. But how did the development of this energy landscape impact on the landscape and environment? What were the social and economic consequences of the expansion of the grid?
This history is now researched by Cambridge based PhD candidate Kayt Button. Her project is part of the British Arts and Humanities Research Council funded environmental history initiative “The Power and the Water: Connecting Pasts with Futures”, that focuses on environmental connectivities that have emerged in Britain since industrialisation. Episode 66 of the Exploring Environmental History podcast features Kayt’s work and discusses the development of the UK National Grid, and how it changed people’s lives, its environmental impacts and how the past informs the future development of the grid.
Under the Peak District of Derbyshire is a subterranean network of drainage tunnels, the so-called soughs that were used to drain the lead mines of the region
Up till the 16th century most lead mining In the Peak District done on the surface and miners followed horizontal seams. By then the surface seams were exhausted and miners had to sink shafts to reach rich underground seams. By the 17th century most mines were down to the water table. To prevent the mines from filling up with water drains or ‘soughs’ were cut through the hills to a neighboring valley. The construction of soughs changed the hydrological landscape of the Peak District, both below ground and above. In some cases the soughs not only drained mineshafts but also the small rivers above, which as a result were dry most of the year. The construction of soughs also reduced the flow of watercourses powering the mills of the early Industrial Revolution. This led to legal conflicts between sough builders and others who relied on the availability of water. Petitions were submitted to the courts and many of these court cases rumbled on for decades.
During the 20th century the soughs were largely forgotten but recently the soughs have been rediscovered for their industrial heritage on the one hand, and their detrimental effect on the hydrology of the landscape, pitting heritage values versus ecological restoration, creating a new battle ground of interests.
This edition of the podcast examines the environmental history of the Derbyshire Soughs with Carry van Lieshout, a historical geographer at the University of Nottingham. She works on a research project that investigates the environmental and cultural history of the Derbyshire soughs in order to inform understandings of this largely forgotten cultural landscape and to develop management and conservation strategies for underground heritage.
The history of human civilization is closely linked to the exploitation of mineral resources. It is no coincidence that the periodization of prehistory and antiquity has been chosen according to the main metals in use: stone, bronze and iron. It shows the centrality of the exploitation and production of these mineral resources in human history. Since the Industrial Revolution metals have become global commodities, including tin. The importance of tin increased with the invention of canned food in the 19th century, and during the 20th century with the rise of the electronics industry. Both of these factors made tin a strategic resource not seen since the days that it was used in the production of bronze for weaponry.
The heart of the Cornish tin-mining district, looking from Dolcoath Mine (on an unusually smoke-free day), ca. 1890. Source: Wikimedia Commons
A new edited book entitled Tin and Global Capitalism, 1850-2000: A History of the “Devil’s Metal”, explores the evolution of the global tin industry, from mining through the trade networks and the politics surrounding the strategic importance of tin. Interrogating the rhetoric of “strategic” raw materials is important in order to understand the social, political, and environmental effects of displacement of communities, environmental degradation and pollution, and ‘resource conflicts’.
This edition of the podcast explores these themes with the editors of Tin and Global Capitalism: Andrew Perchard, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Business in Society at Coventry University; Mats Ingulstad, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Historical Studies, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU); and Espen Storli, Associate Professor in History at the NTNU.
The first people to settle in Australia, ancestors of present day Aboriginals, arrived in Australia about 50,000 years ago. They took advantage of the lower sea levels that were the norm throughout the last 100,000 years and were the result of a cooling global climate – part of the last ice age cycle. The first people who entered Australia encountered a cooler and drier continent than at present. From about 35,000 years ago global temperatures and water availability declined even further culminating in the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), about 21,000 years ago. At this time, the Australian continent entered its driest and coolest period since modern humans colonized it. By 12,000 years ago the climate warmed rapidly, sea levels rose and climate began to ameliorate.
How did populations in Australia respond to these climate fluctuations? This episode of the podcast explores this question with Alan Williams, an archaeologist and graduate student in the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University in Canberra, and an Aboriginal Heritage Team Leader at AHMS Pty Ltd. Alan’s research explores the responses and adaptations by Aboriginal people to climate change through time.
Williams, A.N. (2012) The use of summed radiocarbon probability distributions in archaeology: A review of methods. Journal of Archaeological Science, 39: 578-589.
Williams, A.N. (2013) A new population curve for prehistoric Australia. Proceedings of the Royal Society B,280: 20130486.
Williams, A.N., Ulm, S., Smith, M.A., Reid, J. (2014) AustArch: A Database of 14C and Non-14C Ages from Archaeological Sites in Australia – Composition, Compilation and Review (Data Paper). Internet Archaeology 36, doi:10.11141/ia.36.6
Williams, A.N., Atkinson, F., Lau, M., Toms, P. (in press) A Glacial cryptic refuge in southeast Australia: Human occupation and mobility from 36,000 years ago in the Sydney Basin, New South Wales. Journal of Quaternary Science.
Williams, A.N., Ulm, S., Turney, C.S.M., Rodhe, D., White, G., Cook, A.R. (submitted) The Establishment of Complex Society in Prehistoric Australia: Demographic and Mobility Changes in the Late Holocene.
Williams, Alan N., Ulm, Sean, Cook, Andrew R., Langley, Michelle C., and Collard, Mark, “Human refugia in Australia during the Last Glacial Maximum and Terminal Pleistocene: a geospatial analysis of the 25-12 ka Australian archaeological record”, Journal of Archaeological Science, 2013, 40 (12). pp. 4612-4625. See also: “How aboriginal Australians coped with the last ice age.”, ScienceDaily, 23 September 2013.
Williams, A.N., Ulm, S., Goodwin, I., Smith, M.A., “Hunter-Gatherer Response to Late Holocene Climatic Variability in Northern and Central Australia”, Journal of Quaternary Science, 2010, 25(6): 831-838.
Most of these and other papers can be requested from Alan Williams’ Academia.edu page.
Who is responsible for global warming? That is a question that has dominated recent climate negotiations, most notably the failed 2009 climate convention in Copenhagen. Developing countries were putting the responsibility for historic carbon emissions and thus global warming on the developed nations. Developed nations on the other hand demanded that developing countries reduced their carbon emissions. The developing countries refused this because they felt that the rich nations had to reduce their carbon emissions and allow developing nations to continue to emit carbon in the quest for economic development. The rich nations in turn argued that we are all in it together and that from now on developing nations will be the greatest carbon emitters. The deadlock over historic carbon emissions remains to this day.
A recently published article entitled “Counting carbon: historic emissions from fossil fuels, long-run measures of sustainable development and carbon debt” attempts to uncover whether the developing countries have a point about the historic responsibility for carbon emissions by the developed nations or whether this question is more complex altogether. The lead author of the Counting Carbon paper, Jan Kunnas, an independent researcher from Finland who was until recently affiliated to the University of Stirling in Scotland, discusses the question of historic responsibility of carbon emissions on this episode of the podcast.
Jan Kunnas, Eoin McLaughlin, Nick Hanley, David Greasley, Les Oxley, Paul Warde, “Counting carbon: historic emissions from fossil fuels, long-run measures of sustainable development and carbon debt”, Scandinavian Economic History Review.
Jan Oosthoek, “The IPCC and the Ozone Hole: a Warning from History”, Globalizations, March 2008, Vol. 5, No. 1, 63-66. Download paper.
Australia is a country of extremes: it can be extremely hot and dry but also wet and prone to very big floods and its soils are poor and thin. Regardless of these extremes farmers have carved out livelihoods in his hostile environment. It is the story of how Australian farmers have tried to grow food and cotton, and conserve the environment, with all the environmental ignorance, the violence and courage that marked this endeavour. A new book entitled The Broken Promise of Agricultural Progress. An Environmental History journeys to the inland plains of Australia and tells the story of how the arrival of modern agriculture promised ecological and social stability but instead descended into dysfunction.
This episode of the podcast features Cameron Muir, a researcher at the Australian National University and author of The Broken Promise of Agricultural Progress. This fascinating book brings together the fields of environmental, cultural and agricultural history as well as political history. It is a true tour de force that starts in regional Australia but also touches on the global food system.
May 26, 2014 / K. Jan Oosthoek / Comments Off on Podcast 60: Origins, entanglements and civic aims of the early forestry movement in the United States
Birdsey Grant Northrop. Source: Peck, Ellen Brainerd, “The Founder of Arbor Day”, The New England Magazine, Vol. XXII (new series), No. 3, May, 1900, pp. 269-275
While the origins of forestry in the United States have been the topic of sustained interest amongst environmental and forest historians, the history of the early forestry movement itself remains neglected. This is partly due to the manner in which later professional foresters often air brushed their “forest sentimentalist” predecessors out of the story and forest historians focused their narratives on of the development of forestry science and the modern Forestry Service, isolating that institution’s history from the broader social movement in which it originated. This broader movement advocated forestry not just as a means to produce timber for an increasingly industrialized nation but also as a vehicle of social reform and religious awakening. One of the pioneers in this movement — and a key advocate of Arbor Day, village improvement and forestry education — was Connecticut educator Birdsey G. Northrop. This episode of the podcast explores the alternative origins, entanglements and civic orientation of early forestry in the US through Northrop’s forgotten tour of Europe’s Forestry Schools in the summer of 1877. This journey and the impact it had on American forestry is a theme studied by the guest on this episode of the podcast, Jay Bolthouse, a PhD candidate in the Graduate School of Frontier Sciences at the University of Tokyo.
Richard Grove, “Scotland in South Africa: John Croumbie Brown and the roots of settler environmentalism”, in: Tom Griffith and Libby Robin, Ecology & Empire. Environmental History of Settler Societies (Melbourne University Press, 1997), pp. 139-153.
Harold Steen, The U.S. Forest Service : a History (Forest History Society in association with University of Washington Press, 2004)
Greg Barton, Empire Forestry and the Origins of Environmentalism (Cambridge University Press, 2002)
Gro Harlem Brundtland, Prime Minister of Norway, addressing the UN General Assembly on Environment and Development, 19 October 1987. Source: UN Photo
The term sustainability and phrase sustainable development were popularised with the publication of Our Common Future, a report released by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987. Also known as the Brundlandt report, it introduced the widely quoted definition of sustainable development: “development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
The report argued that economic development and social equity were necessary in order to protect the environmental and that the goals of economic well-being, equity and environmental protection could be reconciled if social and environmental considerations were systematically integrated into all decisions affecting the economy. Since the publication of the Brundtland report sustainable development has been widely accepted as a guiding principle, and yet the concept remains elusive and implementation has proven difficult. This is caused by the fact that economic development, social equity, and environmental protection are contradictory areas that are difficult to be reconciled. As a result the report is seen by many as a landmark in environmental politics and diplomacy while others decry it as a missed opportunity.
In a newly published book entitled Defining Sustainable Development for Our Common Future. A History of the World Commission on Environment and Development Iris Borowy critically examines the history and impact of the Brundtland Commission. The book explores how the work of the Commission brought together contradictory expectations and world views in the concept of sustainable development as a way to reconcile these profound differences.
This episode of Exploring Environmental History examines these contradictions as well as the historical context of sustainability with the author of Defining Sustainable Development, Iris Borowy. She is a researcher at the Institute of History, Theory and Ethics in Medicine of RWTH Aachen University, in Germany.
Original report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future, from un-documents.net
Christian Pfister, “The “1950s Syndrome” and the Transition from a Slow-Going to a Rapid Loss of Global Sustainability”, In: Frank Uekoetter (ed.), The Turning Points of Environmental History (Pittsburgh, 2010), pp. 90-118. Download paper.
Environmental Humanities are rethinking the place of humanity in the environment. Source: Elias Schewel/Flickr.
Solutions to environmental issues such as climate change, toxic waste, deforestation and species extinction, have been mainly framed as scientific, technological and economic problems. The slow progress of dealing with these issues has made us realise that science and technology do not have all the answers. Increasingly the humanities are called upon to provide perspectives on the environment and natural world that includes humans and human cultures. In response the environmental humanities have emerged as a new research arena that aims at infusing a humanities perspective into complex issues surrounding environmental problems and questions of the place of humans in the environment itself and of what the human actually is.
The Hawaiian Crow or Alalâ Source: Wikipedia
In this edition of the podcast Thom Van Dooren, Senior Lecturer in the Environmental Humanities at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, explores what the environmental humanities are and why it has so rapidly emerged in recent years. Thom’s current work focuses on the philosophical and ethical dimensions of species extinctions. In the second half of the podcast Thom discusses his work on the Hawaiian Crow or Alalâ, which is extinct in the wild, and how this research connects the humanities with ecology, biology, and ethology.
What are the most important events in the collective environmental memory of humanity? In the spring of 2013 a group of environmental historians from around the globe was confronted with this very question. They were asked to nominate one event that, in their opinion, should be part of this collective memory. This was part of a survey for a special issue of the journal Global Environment on environment and memory. The twenty-two entries that were returned provide an interesting window in what professional environmental historians regard as world changing environmental events that should be remembered by all of us. The events suggested are a colorful mix including animals and bombs, dust and climate, organic and mineral resources, the old conservation movement and the new post-1970 environmental movement. In spatial terms, events were scattered over all five continents as well as the entire globe.
The guest on this episode of the podcast is Frank Uekotter, the organiser of the collective environmental memory survey. He discusses what the spatial and temporal distribution of the entries as well as the obvious silences and omissions tells us about our historical imagination and the present direction and focus of the discipline of environmental history.
Wanderer above the sea of fog contemplating the power of nature. Separate or part of the wild? Painting by Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840). Source: Wikipedia.
The power of the wild is an idea that has been important in western thought as a place of refuge or separation where we can feel the power of nature. It is a place where humans are not in control and their power is limited.
Using nature as a category of power creates a dichotomy between humans and nature, which is problematic because humans are very much part of eco-systems in which we live. Is it then valid for historians to invoke models of power dynamics to study past interactions between humans and nature?
This was one of the questions considered at a workshop held at Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire, England in April 2013. The participants of the workshop also examined if a nature reserve like Wicken Fen can be made wild again, a process called re-wilding. In episode 53 of this podcast series Dolly Jørgensen argued that no re-wilding is needed but that the wild is all around us, even in urban settings.
In this episode of the podcast Paul Warde, reader in history at the University of East Anglia, argues that the experience of the wild is hard to find in an urban environment, even an urban park or in a nature reserve in densely populated England. The question is then if rewilding of an heavily dominated human landscape like Wicken Fen is possible and can be returned to a “wild state”. This desire of rewilding Wicken Fen also led to the question whether such a rewilded area would be truly wild.
An imaginary scene depicting of the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in Table Bay showing the land, its people and the environment that the Europeans so totally misread. The European settlers were not able to mange the South African environment within its limits because they misinterpreted the nature of African nature and it created a legacy that still endures. (Painting by Charles Bell, 1813-1882). Source: Wikipedia.
On 14 and 15 November 2013, the 44th symposium of the Australian Academy of the Humanities was held at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. This year the meeting focused on the burgeoning field of the environmental humanities and the symposium was entitled The question of nature. The first two sessions of the symposium were devoted to an important component of the environmental humanities: environmental history.
The symposium opened with a keynote address by leading environmental historian Jane Carruthers, Emeritus Professor at the University of South Africa. Her talk, entitled “The question of nature, or the nature of the question?”, explored the nature and purpose of environmental history in South Africa. In this episode of the Exploring Environmental History Podcast professor Carruthers argues that the European settlers were not able to manage South Africa’s environment within its limits because they misinterpreted the nature of African nature and it created a legacy that still endures. She explores why and how environmental history has an urgent role to play in addressing this legacy and should contribute to discussions about issues such as environmental and social resilience and sustainability as well as social justice. Jane Carruthers argues that environmental historians are well equipped to raise questions related to environmental and social issues particular to emerging countries such as South Africa.