Reply To: 2. Wed 12 Feb: Donald Worster on Environmental History

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Peter # Posted on February 16, 2015 at 16:08

Reflections on seminar with Donald Worster

Worster brought up three themes that to him were essential for environmental historians to study. The first one was the importance of studying agriculture. Worster pointed to the production of food resurces as something that most connects us with nature. And agriculture started climate change over 10 000 years agos – something Worster described as “The ten thousand year old mistake!”. I personally find the view of agricultures importance interesting, and I have started to look more at agricultural production and consumption as possible subjects of my master thesis. It is also evident, though studies of the polar ice sheet, that agriculture over time collectively has contributed more to climate change than the last two hundred years of modernity.

The second theme that Worster pointed out was important for environmental studies was not surprisingly the climate. I believe that he voices a somewhat pessimistic view on the prospect of combating climate change. However, even though I believe he expressed that we may not solve the issue of climate change he still was optimistic that the consequences, although dire, may not be as dire as many predict by some scholars today. He also mentioned that some would pay the consequences more then others, which seems to revert back to the inequality aspect of climate change.

The third theme that Worster elaborated on was the study of Capitalism, or rather the study of the impact of Capitalism. In this sense he stressed the “ism”, because this is what constitutes the structure of beliefs and ideals in todays Western society. Again, something I do not find it hard to agree with. If I have any reservations it is the political narrative that I find in his book “Dust Bowl”. The problems of Capitalisms belief in infinite economic growth, in contrast to global environmental problems, are to me evident. However, I am sceptical to the use of Capitalism as a political narrative. In this context I do not believe it would have matter whether the political agenda of the United States in the 1930s were Capitalist, Socialist or other. The issue instead seems to lay in factors such as increasing population growth and availability of technical advances. Agriculturally founded natural disasters seems to have happened in both Socialist countries, such as Russia, and early twenties century democracies such as the German republic.

Worster also stressed the need to work globally in order to make powerful players responcible for environmental decision-making. In this aspect he also discuss the dangers of Liberalism because it entailed beliefs that rules and regulations are wrong, and even though people of today may not want ruled we can not hope to live sustainably in this world without them.

I also asked about Worster what he sees is Environmental History and how it fits in the concept of academia. Especially sense the field of study has been viewed differently in the U.S. in contrast to Europe. In this regard I believe Worster was adamant that Environmental History should not be viewed as a field, rather it is a world view and a new perspective that sees people embedded in the natural world.

Worster also looked at possible restructuring of agriculture to alleviate the unsustainable agricultural production we have today. He talked about “Design agriculture ecologically”, not as today cultivating single crops but instead a mix suited for the specific climate, agriculture has to understand the local environment. In this way he pointed to the importance of mimicking nature. This type of agriculture I believe he argued would not require fertilization or ploughing, and use crops as the perennial vegetation that they had once been.