Thinking nature is not new
About 150 years ago itself, pioneers like John Muir expressed environmental concerns which were carried forward by Gifford Pinchot, Aldo Leopold and others. The idea of this history.
Every idea has a history, so to know the idea truly, one also needs to know the history of the idea. This fact is important considering the misconception among many readers that the need for green sense has emerged very recently.
About 150 years ago itself, pioneers like John Muir expressed environmental concerns which was carried forward by Gifford Pinchot, Aldo Leopold and others. However, the modern age concern started around 1962 with the publication of “Silent Spring” authored by Rachel Carlson. She warned us against the unintended negative consequences of technologies, originally intended to better our lives.
She successfully demystified the myth of ‘controlling nature’, with references to chemical pesticides like DDT which made deep impact. 1966 saw Barbara Ward’s influential book “Spaceship Earth”, followed by Marshall McLuhan’s concept of “Global Village”, as western technologies reached out to all parts of the world.
Continuing the reservations John Kenneth Galbraith had on the concept of Gross National Product (GNP), in 1967 Edward Mishan wrote “The Cost of Economic Growth”, highlighting the negative impacts of growth on human welfare and environmental matters. All these new insights led to the first Earth Day observed in 1970.
Next to Silent Spring, it was the 1972 book “The Limits to Growth” by a group of MIT scientist authors funded by the Club of Rome which made headlines everywhere. They predicted that in next 100 years, the world would face serious food shortage and non-renewable resource crisis, if the present trends of population growth and energy demand continued.
Next year, “Small is beautiful” by Fritz Schumacher appeared, attempting to provide solutions to some of the problems then faced.
Within two years after this book came “Steady State Economics” by Herman Daly, who contended that every economic activity creates pollution and waste, hence more the activity more the wastes. The world cannot absorb all the wastes we generate, hence there has to be a limit to the scale of economics.
A noteworthy event of the decade was the U.N. Conference on Human Environment held in 1972 at Stockholm on the theme ‘Only One Earth”.
For the first time, environmental issues were accepted on the global agenda, indirectly leading to commissioning the United Nation Environment Program (UNEP), with head office at Nairobi. The 70s also saw one of the well stated descriptions of sustainable society, by the World Council of Churches which advocated equitable distribution, food supply more than demand, pollutants below absorption limits and human activities not adversely influenced by variations in global climate.
These and other emerging thoughts of the time led to the book “The Sustainable Society” by Dennis Pirages in 1977.
Since the 70s the environmental concerns have gone deeper, so there is more to follow up while studying how the present degree of eco-awareness has emerged and how institutions, experts and media have worked to create this awareness. Our job now should be to act upon this awareness.