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Geoscientist Online

The Environment: A History of the idea

Environment WardeWe’re at an important moment in history, with the need to tackle climate change, eradicate poverty, and transition to a more sustainable and inclusive development pathway at the forefront of international dialogue. While the environment is not the only thing considered in this context, it is a crucial component. The Environment provides a helpful overview of the historical context to these discussions, outlining the origin of the concept and how it has evolved from the late 1940s to the present day.

This book outlines how the concept of the environment provides a way for us to understand the complex interrelationships between different aspects of the natural world, and how human activities can have local to global impacts. The Environment discusses key people, organisations, moments in history, and policy frameworks that have resulted in today’s understanding of the environment.

Some of the discussions we are having today, for example about resource availability, are not new. This book demonstrates how questions associated with resource limits and needs, and the challenges of importing/exporting raw materials have been prevalent for many decades. Understanding how decisions have been made previously and the impacts of these decisions is clearly of importance to both ongoing research and public policy.

To aid the reader, the book would perhaps benefit from a timeline showing major contributions to the idea of the environment. At times it was difficult to keep track of who did what and when. A quick reference guide to people, organisations, reports and policies would have been very helpful and a good way to illustrate this book. I would also advocate greater reflection on indigenous ideas of ‘the environment’. The book largely focuses on western science and global policy frameworks, and lacks reference to the perspectives of indigenous peoples. While not a scholar on this theme, one imagines that a concept like ‘the environment’ is deeply rooted in indigenous understanding and was so long before European scientists.

This is a book I would recommend, particularly to Earth and environmental science students interested in the connections between science and public policy. The Environment goes well beyond the normal remit of Earth scientists, and this is a strong asset of the book. It helps Earth scientists to consider how their science fits into a broader science-policy interface at a time when environmental implications of technologies, policies and development pathways need to be understood and clearly communicated.

Reviewed by Joel Gill

THE ENVIRONMENT: A HISTORY OF THE IDEA by Paul Warde, Libby Robin & Sverker Sörlin, 2018. Published by John Hopkins University Press, 244pp. (hbk.) ISBN: 9781421426792 List Price: $29.95 W: