Roots of Environmental and Ecological Thought

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Roots of Environmental and Ecological Thought

The Pioneers...2
Birds of America...4
"The Big Trees of California"...10
An Overland Journey from New York to San Francisco in the Summer of 1859...13
Man and Nature: Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action...16
The White-Thorn Blossom...19
"Johnny Appleseed: A Pioneer Hero"...21
"The Wonders of Yellowstone"...23
Roughing It...26
The Conservation of Natural Resources in the United States...28
An Address by J. Sterling Morton on Arbor Day 1885...31
Octavia Hill (1838–1912) founds English National Trust...34
Our National Parks...37
Drawing the Line in Mississippi...41
A Book Lover's Holiday in the Open...45
Mt. Williamson, The Sierra Nevada, from Manzanar, California...48
The Green Belt...51
"'Silent Spring' is Now Noisy Summer"...53
Rachel Carson Dies of Cancer...57
"The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis"...61
"The Tragedy of the Commons"...64
"American Institutions and Ecological Ideals"...68
Coming into the Country...72
Gorillas in the Mist...76
Fascist Ecology...79
Julia "Butterfly" Hill Stands In A 200-Foot Tall Old-Growth Redwood Tree...82
Gaia: A new look at life on Earth...84

Ancient religions usually connected human life with natural annual cycles of crop planting and harvesting, weather, the moon and sun, and animal fertility. Some early religious texts contain directives to preserve the sources of fertility. One such provision, for example, states that eggs and young birds may be harvested from birds' nests in the wild. However, the mother must be left untouched, presumably to produce more eggs and young. There are even warnings against overdevelopment.

Early tribes and civilizations maintained a religion-centered sense of connection to the earth and responsibility for its well being. They believed it was wise to pay close attention to the natural processes around them. Continuous attention to plants and animals produced an intimate awareness of the natural world, which yielded thousands of herbal remedies and helped establish the basic varieties of domesticated plants and animals existing today.

In the 1700s, the science of biology exploded with new discoveries. Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) developed a vast classification system for living things, still in use today. The European imperial powers launched investigative voyages throughout the world to look for resources to exploit. Many of these vessels carried a biologist on board. Human knowledge of the living world became systematic; at the same time it expanded beyond the local and traditional forms of knowledge that had always existed. Scientific knowledge about life on Earth became detailed enough to allow a sense of how the web of life interacts.

British naturalist Charles Darwin (1809–1882) furthered this sense of life as an interconnected web in the mid-1800s, especially with his book On the Origin of Species (1859). He argued that interactions with other living things are among the most important factors shaping the course of natural selection. Western thinkers were quickly learning to see living communities as self-interacting, self-shaping, and self-sustaining—the essence of "ecological" thought. The word "ecology" itself was coined c. 1870 by German biologist and Darwin supporter Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919).

However, there is more to environmental thought than just an awareness of nature. There is fear of the harm that human beings can do to it. The Industrial Revolution, by wreaking immense violence on the landscape, showed that human beings were not only part of the natural world, but a threat to it. In the early 1800s, British poet William Blake (1757–1827) spoke of the "dark Satanic Mills" belching air and water pollution in Great Britain. In 1859, American author Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) wrote Walden. Comparing nature to a vast book, he expressed his grief at finding it mutilated. With fellow American author Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882), Thoreau planted nature-awareness deeply at the heart of American thought.

This section presents writings that helped form the roots of modern environmental and ecological thought—ideas that continue to nurture many branches of social activism and philosophical viewpoints on social issues related to environmental use and abuse.