Environmentalism for a New Millennium: The Challenge of Coevolution

By Leslie Paul Thiele | Go to book overview
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1
From Conservation
to Coevolution

First Wave: The Genesis of Conservation

Faced with nearly two billion acres of land available for westward expansion, the early settlers of America eyed a vast resource awaiting exploitation. The rapid development of much of this land was to be expected. Within relatively short order, signs of widespread degradation were evident. By the mid-1700s, a Swedish naturalist traveling in America could complain bitterly about the depletion of the soil's fertility and the lack of concern for natural and agricultural science among the colonists. He observed that “since the arrival of great crowds of Europeans, things are greatly changed; the country is well peopled, and the woods are cut down. The people, increasing in this country, have by hunting and shooting in part extirpated the birds, in part frightened them away. In spring the people steal eggs, mothers and young indifferently, because no regulations are made to the contrary. And if any had been made, the spirit of freedom which prevails in the country would not suffer them to be obeyed. The naturalist concluded his account: “I found everywhere the wisdom and goodness of the Creator; but too seldom saw any inclination to make use of them or adequate estimation of them among men. 1 The problem, evidently, was not simply that the European colonists of America cared less for the land than did the native peoples. Even relative to European standards, American settlers acted irresponsibly in their relationship to the land.

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