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Archive for the ‘History of Sustainability’ Category

Lauren Wheeler wrote an interesting reflection on historian William Cronon‘s plenary talk at the 2011 American Society for Environmental History conference in Phoenix a few weeks ago. Wheeler’s reflection is titled “Reflection on Sustainability: Cronon’s 2011 ASEH Plenary Address,” and Cronon’s talk was titled “Sustainability: A Short History for the Future.”

Among other things, Wheeler has the following to say: (more…)

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I attended the 2011 American Society for Environmental History conference in Phoenix a few days ago. One of the sessions I attended was an interdisciplinary round table discussion, titled “Sustainability and its Discontents.” Political science professor Thomas Princen brought up a number of thought-provoking points that are relevant to our work here with the SHP.

Princen works in the arena of formulating and applying social science frameworks that are future-oriented and normative, so as to devise solutions that will help society avoid catastrophe. He sees “sustainability” as an important, if contentious, concept, on the same level as “peace,” “freedom,” “progress,” and “democracy.” Critics may claim that “sustainability” is meaningless because it can be so vague, but Princen argues that the concept, nevertheless, is essential because it helps frame a constellation of topics and issues that are essential to present and future generations. The concept of sustainability has three key elements, in Princen’s view:

    1) Provides a long-term outlook

    2) Encourages consideration of systems approach that reflects more accurately the complex interactions between nature and society

    3) Is a scalable concept that can be applied from the household level to the global level, and at all points in-between

Princen provided a clear and concise rule-of-thumb that he applies when people bring up “sustainability.” He asks: “sustaining what, for how long, and for whom?”

Princen’s final point involved asking a “dream team” of historians to provide examples to shed light on five areas he finds critical to implementing sustainability measures in the present and future. These are:
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The SHP post “On the history of sustainability in the Pac NW” provides a useful way to think about the regional history of the thing we call “sustainability.” I wrote this post in the hopes that the student who contacted me with that question would engage us in a discussion on this topic for all of our benefit—but, unfortunately, this has not yet happened.

However, a student in this quarter’s Capstone class recently forwarded me an email with information about Steven Reed Johnson’s work, and this information does help shed some light on the topic. There are also some other sources that provide insight as well.

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Past Actions: Present Woes, Future Potential: Rethinking History in the Light of Anthropogenic Climate Change

    A model syllabus for historians and other students of the past to engage with issues of anthropogenic climate change through the medium of history and related disciplines. Developed by a small team associated with the Rescue!History network.

The Rescue!History network is a group of practitioners in the fields of humanities and social sciences who “wish to affirm that investigations and findings from our colleagues in the scientific community overwhelmingly support the conclusion that contemporary global warming is anthropogenic.” They assert that this climate change is a “spectre . . . haunting the entire world,” and cite the “unprecedented hurricane sequence in the Gulf of Mexico” in 2005 as evidence of “nature’s payback for what we are doing to our precious planet.” Rescue!History members lament humanity’s response to this evidence:
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The Canadian Oral History Association (COHA) recently published a special issue of their journal Oral History Forum d’histoire orale titled “Talking Green: Oral History and Environmental History.” This special issue is available for free public access (one does not need to be a member of COHA or a journal subscriber to access the articles).

The journal is also available in electronic form through the PSU Library. The journal’s table of contents:

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I recently discovered a fascinating online project, “Native Perspectives on Sustainability: Voices from Salmon Nation,” run by Dr. David Edward Hall, professor of psychology at Portland State.[1] The website is an off-shoot of his PhD research.[2]

As indicated on the project website,

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In my recent Internet meanderings I happened upon an intriguing and rather complex timeline of key people, events, movements, and ideas related to “Sustainability” that will likely be of interest to our readers.[1] Authors Amir Djalali and Piet Vollaard call their project “a subjective attempt to historically map the different ideas around the problem of the relationship between humans and their environment.” Their timeline was published in 2008 in the journal Volume, produced by Archis, “an experimental think tank devoted to the process of real-time spatial and cultural reflexivity and action.”

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