A Companion to Global Environmental History -  - ebook

A Companion to Global Environmental History ebook

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The Companion to Global Environmental History offersmultiple points of entry into the history and historiography ofthis dynamic and fast-growing field, to provide an essential roadmap to past developments, current controversies, and futuredevelopments for specialists and newcomers alike. * Combines temporal, geographic, thematic and contextualapproaches from prehistory to the present day * Explores environmental thought and action around the world, togive readers a cultural, intellectual and political context forengagement with the environment in modern times * Brings together environmental historians from around the world,including scholars from South Africa, Brazil, Germany, andChina

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List of Maps

Notes on Contributors


Global Environmental History: An Introduction

What Is Environmental History?

Global Environmental History

The Companion

PART I Times

CHAPTER ONE Global Environmental History: The First 150,000 Years

The Environment Shapes Paleolithic Humans and Human Affairs

Paleolithic Humans Shape the Environment

Neolithic Farmers Shape Themselves and Their Environments


CHAPTER TWO The Ancient World, c. 500 bce to 500 ce


Problems of Scholarship


Radiocarbon Dating


Pollen Analysis


Environmental Factors in the Decline of Civilizations

Conclusion: Comparative Environmental History

CHAPTER THREE The Medieval World, 500 to 1500 ce

Sixth-Century Disasters

The Middle East



Fourteenth-Century Disasters

The Maya


CHAPTER FOUR The (Modern) World since 1500

The Biological Old Regime, c. 1500

The Columbian Exchange, c. 1500–1600

European States and Colonial Empires, 1500–1800

The Ecological Limits of the Biological Old Regime

The Fossil-Fuel Escape from the Biological Old Regime, 1800–1900

The Gap and the Making of the Third World, 1800–1900

The Great Departure in the Twentieth Century

PART II Places

CHAPTER FIVE Southeast Asia in Global Environmental History

The Southeast Asian Region

The Natural Environment

Natural Change Prior to the Human Presence

The Arrival of Hominids and Humans

Foraging and Agriculture

Crops and Livestock

Changing Agricultural Practice

Wet-Rice Cultivation


Forests and Forestry

A Two-Track Pattern

CHAPTER SIX Environmental History in Africa

Continental Historiographical Challenges

Contours of African Environmental History

Themes in African Environmental History

A Future Agenda?


CHAPTER SEVEN Latin America in Global Environmental History

The Region, Precontact

Conquest and Colonization

Export Orientations


Current Trends and New Directions

CHAPTER EIGHT The United States in Global Environmental History

The Pre-Columbian Period

The Ecological Atlantic

The Early Republic and Antebellum Periods

Slavery and African-American Environmental History

The Civil War Era

Industrialization and Ecological Conflict

The American Century

Environmentalism and Environmental Justice


CHAPTER NINE The Arctic and Subarctic in Global Environmental History

Migration to the Arctic

The Fur Trade and Whaling

Colonization and the Destruction of Indigenous Economies

Nationalism and Conservation

CHAPTER TEN The Middle East in Global Environmental History

Sources for Middle East Environmental History: Seasons of Want or Plenty?






CHAPTER ELEVEN Australia in Global Environmental History

Origins of Environmental History in Australia

A Confluence of Disciplines on a Regional Environmental Scale

Australian Environmental Identity – a National Question?

Global Environmental Stories from Australia

Place Studies: A Return to the Regional and Ecological in the Face of the Global

Conclusion: Scaling Australia into Global Environmental History

CHAPTER TWELVE Oceania: The Environmental History of One-Third of the Globe

Exploring and Colonizing Oceania

The Oceanic Environment as a Human Habitat

Islands and Relative Isolation

Cultural Determinism versus Environmental Determinism

Cultural Ecology

Culture Contact and the Impact of Precolonial European Influences

European Settler Societies and Plantation Colonies

The Pacific War and the Nuclear Age

Independence, Economic Viability, and Sustainable Development


CHAPTER THIRTEEN The Environmental History of the Soviet Union

PART III Drivers of Change and Environmental Transformations

CHAPTER FOURTEEN The Grasslands of North America and Russia

The Great Plains

The Steppes



Deep Forest History

Precolonial Forests



North America

Twentieth-Century Forests

CHAPTER SIXTEEN Fishing and Whaling

Prehistoric and Ancient Fisheries

Medieval and Early Modern Fisheries

Modern Fisheries

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Riverine Environments

Transportation Canals




CHAPTER EIGHTEEN War and the Environment

Hunter-Gatherer and Sedentary Farming Cultures

Urban Civilizations with State Systems

Medieval and Early Modern Europe

Global Empires in the Early Modern Era

Wars of the Industrial Era

World War I

World War II

The Late Twentieth Century


CHAPTER NINETEEN Technology and the Environment

Agriculture, Nature, and Technology

The Plow

The Industrial Revolution and Agriculture

The Tractor

Concentrated Animal Feed Operations (CAFOs)

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

Fisheries and Aquaculture

Urbanization, Industrialization, and the Environment

Air Pollution and Its Historical Roots

Industrial Pollution and Hazardous Waste

Cities as Technologies with Environmental Impacts

The Rise of Preservation and Conservation Movements

The Automobile

Large-Scale Technological Systems and the State

Military Technology

Technological Failure and the Environment


CHAPTER TWENTY Cities and the Environment

Origins of the Field

Major Debates

Themes and Topics

Future Research

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE Evolution and the Environment

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO Climate Change in Global Environmental History

Background, Methods, Concepts

Climate in Prehistory

Climate and Crisis in the Ancient World

Medieval Warm, Medieval Cold

The Little Ice Age

From the Little Ice Age to Global Warming


CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE Industrial Agriculture



Reshaping Nature

Industrial Agriculture Goes Global

Nutritional Transitions

Conclusion: Industrial Agriculture and the Global Environment

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR Biological Exchange in Global Environmental History


Before Agriculture

Agrarian Societies and Overland Biological Exchange to 1400 ce

Seaborne Biological Exchange and Biological Invasion before 1400 ce

Biological Globalization after 1400 ce


PART IV Environmental Thought and Action

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE Environmentalism in Brazil: A Historical Perspective


The “Environmentalist” Intellectual Debate: 1822–1930

Natural Scientists and Organized Initiatives: 1930–70

Confrontation in the Public Sphere: 1970–90

Professionalization of Environmentalism: 1990–present

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX Environmentalism and Environmental Movements in China since 1949

Early Chinese Environmental Thought and Legislation (1949–72)

Urban and Rural Health

Soil and Water Conservation

Changes in Chinese Environmental Thought and Consciousness (1972–2011)

Environmental Governance within the Chinese State

Environmental NGOs in China

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN Religion and Environmentalism

Research Deficits

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Environmentalism

The Apocalypse Needs Prophets

Charismatic Animals in Noah’s Ark

The Ecological Reinvention of Buddhism and Spiritual Vagabonds

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT The Environmentalism of the Poor: Its Origins and Spread


Causes of Environmental Conflicts

The Chipko Movement and the Environmentalism of the Poor

Southern Europe and Latin America

The GDP of the Poor

Two Ecuadorean Women

In India

In Mexico




This series provides sophisticated and authoritative overviews of the scholarship that has shaped our current understanding of the past. Defined by theme, period, and/or region, each volume comprises between 25 and 40 concise essays written by individual scholars within their area of specialization. The aim of each contribution is to synthesize the current state of scholarship from a variety of historical perspectives and to provide a statement on where the field is heading. The essays are written in a clear, provocative, and lively manner, designed for an international audience of scholars, students, and general readers.WILEY-BLACKWELL COMPANIONS TO EUROPEAN HISTORY

A Companion to Europe 1900–1945

Edited by Gordon Martel

A Companion to Eighteenth-Century Europe

Edited by Peter H. Wilson

A Companion to Nineteenth-Century Europe

Edited by Stefan Berger

A Companion to the Worlds of the Renaissance

Edited by Guido Ruggiero

A Companion to the Reformation World

Edited by R. Po-chia Hsia

A Companion to Europe since 1945

Edited by Klaus Larres

A Companion to the Medieval World


A Companion to the American Revolution

Edited by Jack P. Greene and J. R. Pole

A Companion to 19th-Century America

Edited by William L. Barney

A Companion to the American South

Edited by John B. Boles

A Companion to American Indian History

Edited by Philip J. Deloria and Neal Salisbury

A Companion to American Women’s History

Edited by Nancy A. Hewitt

A Companion to Post-1945 America

Edited by Jean-Christophe Agnew and Roy Rosenzweig

A Companion to the Vietnam War

Edited by Marilyn B. Young and Robert Buzzanco

A Companion to Colonial America

Edited by Daniel Vickers

A Companion to American Foreign Relations

Edited by Robert D. Schulzinger

A Companion to 20th-Century America

Edited by Stephen J. Whitfield

A Companion to the American West

Edited by William Deverell

A Companion to the Civil War and Reconstruction

Edited by Lacy K. Ford

A Companion to American Technology

Edited by Carroll Pursell

A Companion to African-American History

Edited by Alton Hornsby, Jr

A Companion to American Immigration

Edited by Reed Ueda

A Companion to American Cultural History

Edited by Karen Halttunen

A Companion to California History

Edited by William Deverell and David Igler

A Companion to American Military History

Edited by James Bradford

A Companion to Los Angeles

Edited by William Deverell and Greg Hise

A Companion to American Environmental History

Edited by Douglas Cazaux Sackman

A Companion to Benjamin Franklin


A Companion to Western Historical Thought

Edited by Lloyd Kramer and Sarah Maza

A Companion to Gender History

Edited by Teresa A. Meade and Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks

A Companion to International History 1900–2001

Edited by Gordon Martel

A Companion to the History of the Middle East

Edited by Youssef M. Choueiri

A Companion to Japanese History

Edited by William M. Tsutsui

A Companion to Latin American History

Edited by Thomas Holloway

A Companion to Russian History

Edited by Abbott Gleason

A Companion to World War I

Edited by John Horne

A Companion to Mexican History and Culture

Edited by William H. Beezley

A Companion to World History

Edited by Douglas Northrop

A Companion to Global Environmental History

Edited by J. R. McNeill and Erin Stewart Mauldin

For further information on these and other titles in the series please visit our website at


This edition first published 2012© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Blackwell Publishing was acquired by John Wiley & Sons in February 2007. Blackwell’s publishing program has been merged with Wiley’s global Scientific, Technical, and Medical business to form Wiley-Blackwell.

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The right of J. R. McNeill and Erin Stewart Mauldin to be identified as the authors of the editorial material in this work has been asserted in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

A companion to global environmental history / edited by J. R. McNeill and Erin Stewart Mauldin. p. cm. Includes index.

ISBN 978-1-4443-3534-7 (cloth)1. Human ecology–History–Cross-cultural studies. 2. Global environmental change–History–Cross-cultural studies. 3. Environmental policy–History–Cross-cultural studies. 4. Environmental protection–History–Cross-cultural studies. I. McNeill, John Robert. II. Mauldin, Erin Stewart. GF13.C63 2012 304.209–dc23


A catalog record for this book is available from the British Library.

Cover image: Philip James de Loutherbourg, Coalbrookdale by Night, 1801, oil on canvas. Science Museum, London / The Bridgeman Art LibraryCover design by Richard Boxall Design Associates

To Julie, once moreAnd to Daniel

List of Maps


Roman Empire, 395 CE


Easter Island (Rapa Nui)


The Black Death in fourteenth-century Europe


Southeast Asia


Contemporary Africa


Latin America


The continental United States


The Circumpolar North


The Middle East


Australia, showing its six states (formerly colonies) as federated in 1901, with their capital cities


The Pacific


Remote Oceania and Near Oceania




The Dust Bowl of the 1930s


Changes in global forest cover over 8,000 years


Rivers featured in Chapter 17


Human settlement of the globe


Transitions to agriculture, 11,000 to 4,000 BCE




China: provinces

Notes on Contributors

Jordan Bauer is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Houston and is currently working on her dissertation, a history of urban growth and politics in post-1945 Raleigh-Durham.Peter Boomgaard is Professor of Economic and Environmental History of Southeast Asia, University of Amsterdam, and Senior Researcher, Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV), Leiden. Among his publications are Frontiers of Fear: Tigers and People in the Malay World, 1600–1950 (2001) and Southeast Asia: An Environmental History (2007). He is currently writing a book on the forests of Java between 1500 and 1950.Stephen Brain is Assistant Professor of History at Mississippi State University. He is the author of Song of the Forest: Russian Forestry and Stalinist Environmentalism, 1905–1953 (2011). He is currently conducting research for a manuscript about the environmental history of the White Sea and the fishermen who worked there, the Russian Pomor.Jane Carruthers is Research Professor of History at the University of South Africa. Her main interests lie in environmental history, the history of national parks, and the biological sciences in South Africa, and she has published widely in these fields.Paul D’Arcy is a Senior Fellow in the Department of Pacific and Asian History of the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University. He is author of The People of the Sea (2006). He has just finished editing a collection on Asian investment and engagement with Pacific Island nations, and is currently working on his next book, Warfare and State Formation in Hawai‘i: The Limits of Coercion in the Pre-Modern World.Daniel Headrick is Professor Emeritus of History and Social Science at Roosevelt University in Chicago. He is the author of several books, most recently Technology: A World History (2009) and Power over Peoples: Technology, Environments, and Western Imperialism, 1400 to the Present (2010). He is currently writing an environmental history of the world since the Stone Age.J. Donald Hughes is John Evans Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Denver. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey. Author of An Environmental History of the World (2nd edition, 2009) and What Is Environmental History? (2006), he is a founding member of the American Society for Environmental History (ASEH), the European Society for Environmental History (ESEH), and the Association of East Asian Environmental Historians (AEAEH).Paul Josephson is Professor of History at Colby College. He is a specialist in the history of big science and technology. He has written several books in environmental history including Industrialized Nature (2002), Resources under Regimes (2005), and Motorized Obsessions (2007). He is currently writing a history of the environmental impact of Soviet arctic conquest.Nancy Langston is Professor in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is author of Forest Dreams, Forest Nightmares: The Paradox of Old Growth in the Inland West (1995), Where Land and Water Meet: A Western Landscape Transformed (2003), and Toxic Bodies: Hormone Disruptors and the Legacy of DES (2010). She is currently editing Environmental History and working on a history of boreal forests.Bao Maohong is Associate Professor of History at Peking University, China. He is the author of Forest and Development: Deforestation in the Philippines (2008), Environmental Governance in China and Environmental Cooperation in Northeast Asia (2009), and The Origins of Environmental History and Its Development (2012). He is currently working on the transformation of East Asia from the perspective of environmental history.Robert B. Marks is Richard and Billie Deihl Professor of History at Whittier College. He is the author of Tigers, Rice, Silk, and Silt: Environment and Economy in Late Imperial South China (1998) and The Origins of the Modern World: A Global and Ecological Narrative from the Fifteenth to the Twenty-First Century (2007). His latest book is China: Its Environment and History (2012).Joan Martinez-Alier is Professor of Economics and Economic History and Researcher at ICTA at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. He is the author of Ecological Economics: Energy, Environment and Society (1990) and The Environmentalism of the Poor: A Study of Ecological Conflicts and Valuation (2002). He is a founding member and past president of the International Society for Ecological Economics. He is also coeditor of Getting Down to Earth: Practical Applications of Ecological Economics (1996), Rethinking Environmental History: World-System History and Global Environmental Change (2007), and Recent Developments in Ecological Economics (2008).Erin Stewart Mauldin is a PhD candidate in US environmental history at Georgetown University. She is currently writing her dissertation on the environmental history of the Reconstruction period in the southern United States, exploring the ecological legacies of the American Civil War and its impacts on southern agriculture and economy during the late nineteenth century.Meredith McKittrick is Associate Professor in the Department of History and the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is the author of To Dwell Secure: Generation, Christianity and Colonialism in Ovamboland (2002) and numerous articles on the history of Namibia. She is currently writing a book about riparian farming communities in southwestern Africa.J. R. McNeill is Professor of History and University Professor at Georgetown University. He is the author of Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620–1914 (2010) and Something New under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World (2000), and coauthor of The Human Web (2003) and A Short History of the Anthropocene (2013). He served as president of the American Society for Environmental History from 2011 to 2013.Martin V. Melosi is Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Professor and Director of the Center for Public History at the University of Houston. He is the author or editor of 19 books including his most recent, Precious Commodity: Providing Water for America’s Cities (2011). He has also completed Atomic Age America and the World (2012) and has started work on An Island Not Too Far: Fresh Kills and Staten Island.Alan Mikhail is Assistant Professor of History at Yale University. He is the author of Nature and Empire in Ottoman Egypt: An Environmental History (2011). He is currently writing a book about the changing relationships between humans and animals in Ottoman Egypt and also editing a collection of essays on Middle East environmental history.Shawn W. Miller is Associate Professor of History at Brigham Young University. He is the author of Fruitless Trees: Portuguese Conservation and Brazil’s Colonial Timber (2000) and An Environmental History of Latin America (2007). He is currently researching the environmental history of the street and the automobile in Rio de Janeiro.David Moon is Anniversary Professor in the Department of History at York University, UK. He researches in Russian and transnational environmental history. He has published several articles, and is completing a monograph on the environmental history of the steppes. His earlier work focused on the Russian peasantry, but he also investigates connections between the Russian steppes and the North American Great Plains. He is an active member of the European Society for Environmental History.Micah S. Muscolino is Associate Professor of History at Georgetown University. He is the author of Fishing Wars and Environmental Change in Late Imperial and Modern China (2009). He is currently writing a book on the environmental history of World War II in North China’s Henan province.José Augusto Pádua is Professor of Brazilian Environmental History at the Institute of History/Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, where he also coordinates the Laboratory of History and Ecology. Since 2010, he has been president of the Brazilian Association of Research and Graduate Studies on Environment and Society (ANPPAS). His most recent book, in association with J. R. McNeill and Mahesh Rangarajan, is Environmental History: As If Nature Existed (2010).Liza Piper is Associate Professor of History at the University of Alberta. Her book, The Industrial Transformation of Subarctic Canada (2009), examines the role of industrial resource exploitation and science in the twentieth-century transformation of subarctic environments. Her current research considers how disease and climate have changed human relations to nature in the Subarctic and Arctic since the nineteenth century.Joachim Radkau was Professor of Modern History at Bielefeld University, Germany, until his retirement in 2008. His most important publications on environmental history in English include Nature and Power: A Global History of the Environment (2008) and Wood: A History (2011). In 2011 he published Die Ära der Ökologie: Eine Weltgeschichte, which is to be translated into English.Libby Robin is an environmental historian at the Australian National University and at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra. She is Guest Professor at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm. Her books include How a Continent Created a Nation (2007) and Ecology and Empire: Environmental History of Settler Societies (coedited with Tom Griffiths). She is currently working (with Sverker Sörlin and Paul Warde) on Environmental Futures, an anthology of the literature of global change.Alan Roe is a PhD candidate in Russian environmental history at Georgetown University. He is currently researching his dissertation on outdoor recreation in the Soviet Union. He is coeditor of the Routledge Reader for World Environmental History (forthcoming).Edmund Russell is a Professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society and the Department of History at the University of Virginia. He is the author of Evolutionary History: Uniting History and Biology to Understand Life on Earth (2011) and War and Nature: Fighting Humans and Insects with Chemicals from World War I to Silent Spring (2001), and coeditor (with Richard P. Tucker) of Natural Enemy, Natural Ally: Toward an Environmental History of War (2004).Richard P. Tucker is Adjunct Professor of Environmental History at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Insatiable Appetite: The United States and the Ecological Degradation of the Tropical World (2000), and coeditor with Edmund Russell of Natural Enemy, Natural Ally: Toward an Environmental History of War (2004). He is currently writing a book on the military and the environment in the contemporary world.Sam White is Assistant Professor at Oberlin College, where he teaches courses on global and environmental history. He is the author of The Climate of Rebellion in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire (2011). He is currently researching the impact of climate on the first European colonies in North America.


This book represents a team effort. As editors, we wish to register our appreciation to the platoon from Wiley-Blackwell. Tessa Harvey initiated the project and gracefully agreed to every modification of plans along the way. Gillian Kane and Isobel Bainton crisply and cheerfully helped us navigate the inevitable bumps in the road. Leah Morin, copy-editor extraordinaire, deserves our gratitude in full measure.

When editors are rash enough to agree to assemble a book that depends on original contributions from a roster of 28 authors, the probability that something will go badly wrong is considerable. Our authors defied the odds, writing their chapters promptly, answering our queries swiftly, and tolerating tweaks to their pearly prose with equanimity worthy of Marcus Aurelius or a Zen master. We thank them for that.

We also thank Peter Engelke and Yubin Shen, who translated chapters into English from German and Chinese respectively.

Finally, we wish to express our appreciation to the students and faculty of the Georgetown University History Department. Our book is a little better, and our lives a lot better, for the collegiality and support this community of scholars has offered over the years.

J. R. McNeillErin Stewart Mauldin

Global Environmental History: An Introduction


Since the 1970s, environmental history has evolved into a self-conscious and self-aware scholarly field that boasts journals, university programs, and international organizations devoted to its practice and promotion. Global environmental history, however, is much younger. Although a dynamic field with a steadily increasing number of practitioners, global environmental history remains, as yet, unclear in its structure, shape, and place within the historical profession.

This volume aims to orient readers to the fast-growing arena of scholarly inquiry known as global, or world, environmental history. It is a collection of new essays by 28 scholars from all six inhabited continents, many of whom have been instrumental in the establishment of environmental history. It surveys past developments in the field, current contours of scholarship, and possible approaches for the future. The Companion to Global Environmental History is intended to be useful not only to people who are coming to environmental history for the first time – serving as the equivalent of a road map to the field – but also to people who have long labored in one province of environmental history, and, for whatever reason, seek to broaden their horizons and begin to develop comparative perspectives – or deepen their existing ones.

What Is Environmental History?

Like every other subset of history, environmental history represents different things to different people. Our preferred definition of the field is the study of the relationship between human societies and the rest of nature on which they depended. Humankind has always been a part of nature, albeit a distinctive part. While the natural world has shaped and conditioned the human experience, over time, humans have made increasingly far-reaching alterations to their surroundings. Environmental history recognizes that the natural world is not merely the backdrop to human events, but evolves in its own right, both of its own accord and in response to human actions. Nature is now both natural and cultural, at least in most places on Earth. Indeed human influence upon nature has attained such proportions that some scholars maintain life on Earth has entered a new geological era, the Anthropocene. This term, while gaining acceptance, is by no means conventional yet. But its increasing use signifies growing awareness in scientific circles of the burgeoning human environmental impact.1

The vast scope of environmental history invites many and varied approaches. There are, we think, three chief areas of inquiry, which of course overlap and have no firm boundaries. First is the study of material environmental history, the stories of human involvement with forests and frogs, with cholera and chlorofluorocarbons. This entails the examination of human impact on the physical environment as well as nature’s influence upon human affairs, each of which is always in flux and always affecting the other. This form of environmental history puts human history in a fuller context, that of the Earth and life on Earth, and recognizes that human events are part of a larger story in which humans are not the only actors. A full extension of this principle is the so-called “Big History” of David Christian and Fred Spier, which places humans into the unfolding history of the universe, and finds recurrent patterns over the largest timescales. In practice, however, most of the environmental history written in the material vein stresses the economic and technological side of human actions, and thus concentrates on the last 200 years when industrialization (among other forces) greatly enhanced humankind’s power to alter environments.

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