Environmental turning point in history | Political economics

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he devastation caused by the floods compels Pakistani scholars to devise a plan to inculcate proper awareness on environmental degradation and climate change among the youth as well as the general public.

It is expected that each discipline will include in its curriculum courses that address the issue of environmental change. One thing is obvious: such a crucial issue cannot be left to governments, which seem to be pell-mell, aimless and directionless. Serious students of history understand that their discipline (history) has taken an environmental turn.

But in Pakistan, such a debate is noticeably absent. I am writing these lines to give an introductory introduction to environmental history in the hope that scholars will sensitize young people so that proper measures are taken to save Pakistan from natural calamities such as floods and earthquakes. earth.

Environmental history is the study of human interaction with the natural world over time, emphasizing the role nature plays in influencing human affairs and vice versa. In climate science, a tipping point is a critical threshold that, when crossed, results in significant and often irreversible changes in the climate system.

The crossing of tipping points is likely to have serious repercussions on human society. Environmental history includes the analysis of data on tides, winds, ocean currents, the position of continents relative to each other, and geology. It also takes into account the history of changes in climate, weather and disease spread patterns.

The primary goal of environmental history is to deepen our understanding of how humans have been affected by the natural environment in the past and how they have affected that environment. This is called the bilateral approach to environmental history.

Environmental history is a relatively new discipline. It originated in the 1960s and 1970s. It was a direct result of the growing awareness of global environmental problems, such as water and air pollution by pesticides, the depletion of the ozone layer and the increase in the greenhouse effect caused by human activity.

We can distinguish two important 19e Centennial origins of the history of the environment: ecology and geography. In modern environmental history, ecological concepts are used to analyze past environments and geography to study the ever-changing face of the earth. At the beginning of the 20th century, geographers emphasized the influence of the physical environment on the development of human society.

The idea of ​​the impact of the physical environment on civilizations was first adapted by historians of the Annales school (established in 1929 in France) to describe the long-term evolutions that shape human history. . This school gave rise to the concept of total history, in which history was mixed with geography.

Roderick Nash was the first to coin the term “environmental history” in an article on the impact of past human societies on the environment published in the Pacific Historical Review in 1972. His thesis, Wilderness and the American Spiritproduced under the direction of Merle Curti, has become one of the founding texts in the field of environmental history.

Nash’s early writings were one-sided; he studied the impact of human society on the natural environment. It is widely accepted that this is largely due to the work undertaken by Donald Worster (The richness of nature, Under the western sky, Rivers of the Empire), Christian Pfister (Climate and society in Europe: the last thousand years), Peter Brimblecombe (The Silent Countdown) and Clive Ponting (A green history of the world: the environment and the collapse of great civilizations) the environmental story has become mature. In other words, it has become less one-sided and influenced by political motives. Currently, environmental history is an international and interdisciplinary enterprise.

Donald Worster has identified three clusters of issues for environmental historians to address. The first deals with the human intellectual realm consisting of perceptions, ethics, laws, myths, and other mental constructs related to the natural world. Ideas about the world around us influence how we deal with the natural environment.

Here we enter the second level of the questions to be studied: the level of the socio-economic domain. Ideas impact politics, policies and economics through which they materialize in the natural world. With the impact of human actions on the natural world, we enter the third level of environmental history. This level deals with the understanding of nature itself, the natural realm. In the case of forest history, it is how forest ecosystems have functioned in the past and how they have been modified by human actions. The impact of human actions on the natural world evokes a situation that changes our ideas, our policies, our economy, etc.

Environmental history is an interdisciplinary subject. This means that historians, scientists and other scholars must look beyond the confines of their own subject. The historian must be aware that he must sometimes apply certain principles of the natural sciences, such as ecology, biology and forestry, to understand what happened in the past. However, this does not mean that the historian must become a scientist in the narrow sense. He is and remains a historian with the task of mastering and understanding the past as the key to a better understanding of the present.

But to do this, he must look beyond the limits of history and even the humanities and familiarize himself with the nomenclature and principles of other disciplines, especially the natural sciences. This does not mean that they should become experts in these fields, but that they should use them as a tool to better understand historical issues.

In America, Europe, Australia and China, the discipline has reached maturity. Even Indian historians write about this. The internationalization and institutional recognition of environmental history continues. It is increasingly part of the emerging environmental humanities. This is also seen in participation in the World Congress of Environmental History which is held every five years. This major international meeting attracts not only humanists and specialists in the social sciences, but also academics from other disciplines in the human sciences as well as specialists in the natural sciences.

I conclude this article with a quote from Donald Worster: “Whatever terrain the environmental historian chooses to study; it must address the age-old situation of how humanity can sustain itself without degrading the primary source of life. Today as always, this problem is the fundamental challenge of human ecology. To achieve this, it will be necessary to know the land well, to know its history and to know its limits.


The author is a professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts, National University Beaconhouse, Lahore

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