Caring for Nature:
Sources and Conflicts of Modern Environmentalism
Monday 3 November 2003
The British Academy, 10 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AH
The British Academy hosted a one-day symposium on Caring for Nature: Sources and Conflicts of Modern Environmentalism.
It is sometimes said that to be a friend of the earth one must be an enemy of man. Environmental reformers today typically start from the premise that human impact on the natural world is in principal wrong, and that the best way to deal with the rest of nature is to leave it alone. Yet the first ecologically-minded savants started, a century and a half ago, from a completely opposite premise: that while human global impact was often mischievous and potentially disastrous, care of the earth required ever more substantial human intervention. This event will explore how environmentalism began, why and how it has changed, and the consequences for the future of the Earth and of humanity.
Nineteenth-century pioneering reformers blamed human greed and ignorance for environmental disasters then first clearly evident. But they were persuasive in large measure because they believed that technological, social, and political progress made reform likely. Their environmentalist successors differ in condemning mankind and sacralizing nature, in mistrusting technology and government, and in their pessimism about rational collective action in the global future. To be sure, we also confront hidden and long-incubating dangers of a new kind. Whereas much of the damage earlier gauged seemed easily repaired at small expense, the remedies now needed to restore a sustainable globe dismay us as dauntingly difficult and economically crippling.