The Face of the Earth: Environment and World History

By J. Donald Hughes | Go to book overview

various plants and animals, terrestrial and marine. No one wanted the depopulation of the early age of Cook. Most of these things were unforeseen and unintended consequences of human action. The law of unforeseen consequences is a potent one, in history as in ecology. Only a few environmental changes, such as sandalwood depletion or atomic radiation, could have been expected. They happened because some people -- often not Pacific islanders -- regarded them as an acceptable or a negligible price to pay for some economic or political gain. The laws, or at least the probabilities, of unequal power are potent as well.


Notes
1.
Paul Bahn and John Flenley, Easter Island, Earth Island ( London: Thames and Hudson, 1992); Clive Ponting, A Green History of the World ( London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1991). The Economist has printed a story on intrusive species in Hawaii. See The Economist, April 10, 1993, pp. 91-92.
2.
My approach here to environmental history is more ecological than chemical or physical. Most of the big changes (exceptions such as nuclear radiation and soil erosion are discussed) have been in biological communities, rather than in pollution or the shape of the earth. See J. E. Brodie and R. J. Morrison, "The Management and Disposal of Hazardous Wastes in the Pacific Islands", Ambio 13 ( 1984): 331-33, on the problem represented by pollution. Further, I have little to say here about pelagic fishing. It seems impossible to ascertain the impact of fishing until ca. 1970, when clear signs of overfishing appeared.
3.
Sherwin Carlquist, Hawaii: A Natural History ( Kaua'i: Pacific Tropical Botanical Garden, 1980), pp. 4-5.
4.
Patrick D. Nunn, "Recent Environmental Changes on Pacific Islands". Geographical Journal 156 ( 1990): 125-40, 128.
5.
F. R. Fosberg, "Vegetation of the Society Islands". Pacific Science 46 ( 1992): 232-50, 237.
6.
P. V. Kirch, The Evolution of the Polynesian Chiefdoms ( Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 23.

-120-

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