2. Wed 12 Feb: Donald Worster on Environmental History

Start Forums Current Debates and Themes in Global Environmental History 2015 2. Wed 12 Feb: Donald Worster on Environmental History

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January 15, 2015 at 12:17 #15976

Student organiser: Meghan Buurmans
Reading: Worster, Donald (2004 [1979]). Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s (304 pp).

Wed 12 feb 9-10 Introduction to Cemus and pedagogic planning (Cm 122 e, Geocentrum, Villavägen 16)
Wed 12 feb 10-12 Discussion seminar with Donald Worster. (Cm 122 e, Geocentrum, Villavägen 16)
Tue 13 feb 13-15 (venue to be announced) Mind & nature open seminar with Donald Worster “Shrinking the Earth: From an Age of Abundance to an Age of Limits”

Instructions: Read the text and follow instructions given by the student organisers. A 1 page reflection according to instructions given by the student organisers must be submitted on 28 jan 18.00 in discussion forum. You must also comment a fellow student’s text (first in the list of course participants after you that attends the seminar. If you are in the end begin the count again from the start, use the same procedure for remaining seminars) before 29 jan 18.00.

January 28, 2015 at 19:11 #16344
Miguel Núñez

Miguel´s reflection on Dust Bowl: The Southern plains inthe 1930s

February 15, 2015 at 16:22 #16595
Meghan Buurmans

Meghan’s reflection on Worster: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5DNLR1S1FTNdllSTUhtbjBvS2M/view?usp=sharing

February 15, 2015 at 18:55 #16596
Lauri Jokinen

My reflection paper: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1XKe3n4yXeHUfkHop9TIahznBu_-t_u27GvkDrtM0Uso/edit?usp=sharing

-Lauri Jokinen

February 16, 2015 at 10:45 #16601
Henrik S


February 16, 2015 at 13:13 #16602
Josefin Heed


February 16, 2015 at 13:49 #16603
Ylva Lundkvist Fridh

Ylva’s refelction: https://docs.google.com/document/d/18RO6s4AadqSjc3RgJct78bFGaMH988McpPom5RBuMLs/edit?usp=sharing

February 16, 2015 at 16:08 #16614

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.

February 16, 2015 at 18:23 #16615

Fanny’s reflection https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JlnnkNnNEgMtEP0cPwBrvaiJWS545CI2Bz6RdqqnN_M/edit?usp=sharing

February 16, 2015 at 21:26 #16621

Ghide Habtetsion Gebremichael
Reflection of Current debates 1st seminar
Donald Worster
15 February 2015

Is climate change movement ( green movement, intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) and other environmental NGOs) real? What about some of the world scientists currently argue that CO2 is not the real cause of global warming? Rather they said it has more advantageous for plant and vegetation growth. These were some of the questions I get the privilege to ask Donald Wonster. And he argued me that “if you are still in a middle of street it is better to be in one side”. He expressed his pessimism on the world argument towards climate change either of political propaganda or economic advantage. He argues also the history of me and my family on the southern plains in 1930s is enough to witness the environmental crisis. Though his argument looks pessimistic, it explicitly signifies changing perception towards climate change is inevitable and unfortunate fact. He discussed also natural disaster is as a result of human irresponsibility not of God’s will. And basically this also notified in Old Testament of Bible that when Adam was thrown away from the Garden of Eden.
Donald Worster’s main arguments were taking into account of our food and the environment, agriculture and overproduction, demanding of energy and scarcity of resources. He talked also about the discoveries of new world changed and how it changes our perception. “ if we going to solve the current environmental problem, we have to change our perception” said Worster while he was explaining environmental history is not a field by itself but a way of changing perception and viewing towards nature in a new paradigm.
He also expressed the idea of capitalism overpowered the view of over production, thus environmental crisis is the result. His argument embedded deductively from his personal experience of the Southern Plains in 1950s and late 1960s. But I would like to argue him that too pessimistic statement might let an actors or societal group to neglect of climate issues. At the same time he was not clear in which way we have to change our view. His statement at some point looks like open ended and very controversial. He tries to justify the human limit and the final destination but he didn’t deliver some light of hope in already started environmental movement and activities.
In conclusion Worster recommends that policy makers should think in deductive way. They should reduce complex rules and regulation of environmental issue with simple and practical idea. Agricultural strategies should also be decided by ecologists not economists said Worsters to signify the ecologist has more sound knowledge than economist on natural phenomena. He also mentioned our design should be with respect to nature not some new entity and in a minimum production.

February 17, 2015 at 02:32 #16623
Flavia Manieri


February 17, 2015 at 15:22 #16628

Comments on Fanny Sannerud´s reflections from seminar with Donald Worster

I think your reflections regarding Worsters pessimistic attitude toward combating the problems created by climate change are interesting. I also believe he could perhaps have expressed his negative views a bit different. Especially sense he also did talk about that the affects of climate change may not be as dire as many scholars seem to believe today, which would suggest that he also had more positive views on the outcome of climate change. Let us hope that his audience, such as us, instead feels obligated to assist in proving him wrong. At the end of the day know on can predict the outcome of climate change with any certainty, and there are still much that can be done to alleviate the situation.

I also think it is good that you cover Worsters focus on the problems with Capitalism, and its belief in continued economic growth. It is certainly something that I also see as a major narrative both in his book and as a topic in the seminar.

Your reflections on agriculture and food production I believe are also in line with what Worster called one of the three major themes of Environmental History. The first theme being the importance of studying agriculture, the second and third theme being the climate and the impact of capitalism. I think his comments that at the heart of Environmental History lays the issue of food, and how we get it, and that this connects us most to nature shows a strong belief regarding the importance Worster places on the issue. He also reiterated that agriculture was a ten thousand year old mistake, which really puts the study of how we get our food recourses in a more sustainable fashion into focus.

February 17, 2015 at 17:11 #16631
Ylva Lundkvist Fridh

Comment to Peter:

Dear Peter!

You wrote: “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.”. I have not heard this before and find it very interesting! What is your source? I did not see that claim in Dust Bowl.

I also find it very interesting, and possibly brave, that you question the whole basic narrative/theory of Dust Bowl. Namely that capitalist profit maximising cultures are especially prone to create natural disasters and deny the fact that they do so. It would have been interesting to hear more of that critique of yours! It might need to be more developed, for the reader to follow you. I don’t believe after Worsters seminar that he actually meant that the mechanism is very different in an communist dictatorship or even an welfare, liberal, capitalist state, but that the real alternative lies in creating strong local communities that act upon etic values rather than competion. Did you interpret him differently? And do you not think that capitalist economies like US (and China!) are the worst contributors to global warming?

You end your reflection by referring to Worsters talk about Bio-mimicry. What are your own impressions and thoughts about this idea?

Kind regards
Ylva Lundkvist Fridh

February 17, 2015 at 20:44 #16632
Lauri Jokinen

Comment to Henrik: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Ph44kWgfdZc0GrgeeRrtvWztqTPx2IyTsuxZXinKuNI/edit?usp=sharing

-Lauri Jokinen

February 17, 2015 at 21:50 #16633
Meghan Buurmans

Reflection on Lauri’s reflection:
You use the topic of agriculture for this reflection, like I think many of us did. Since environmental history discusses many topics, to have someone focus so strongly on agriculture has made an impact and I can see that you agree quite a bit with what he said. If you do question some of his statements, it would have been nice to see a more critical opposition to parts of his statements, but perhaps you do agree mostly with them! When I first read the reflection, it seemed to me that you focus too much on the meanings and almost spirituality connected to food and agriculture, while Worster to me seemed a lot more practical on the issue. Continuing to read however, I can understand more of where you are coming from and it offered me a different view on what Worster said. I’m not sure I completely agree with you, but I like having the different interpretation even though we heard the same talk and it did give me the option to reevaluate some of the ways I interpreted his statements. I agree with you that Worster said one of the major issues with agriculture is the use of species not suited to the environment, which he really seemed to focus on, in addition to using monoculture. I also agree with you that it is unlikely that people will easily adjust their agricultural practices, although I’m not sure that is because we have lost the ability. I simply think that people don’t want to give up many of our different food sources and live a simpler lifestyle.

You spend the whole reflection on agriculture, which was indeed an important part of Worster’s lecture, however he seemed to me to continue on to more broad paradigm changes in parts of the discussion. You incorporate that through the thoughts on agriculture, but to me it seemed like Worster was moving beyond agriculture to provide a broader message on environmental thinking and uses agriculture as an example or starting point instead. Perhaps you were able to link this more than I noticed during the discussion.


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