Empire Forestry and the Origins of Environmentalism

Empire Forestry and the Origins of Environmentalism

Empire Forestry and the Origins of Environmentalism

Empire Forestry and the Origins of Environmentalism

Synopsis

Environmentalism began with the establishment of the first empire forest in 1855 in British India. During the second half of the nineteenth century, over ten per cent of the land surface of the earth became protected as a public trust. The empire forestry movement spread through India, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the U.S. and to other parts of the world. Gregory A. Barton's pioneering study views the origins of environmentalism in global perspective.

Excerpt

When and where did the environmental movement begin? Stepping back from the limitations of national history, this book examines the question of en vironmental origins on a global scale. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the most sweeping environmental initiatives emerged under the auspices of British imperialism. As the following study will show, hard-headed environmentalists and legislators found in empire forestry a ready-made model to persuade the public that the reservation of vast areas of the public domain would serve settlers, industrial development, governmental revenue, and environmental purposes. Empire forestry resolved the tension between romantic preservationist notions and laissez-faire policies. This book traces the inter national trail of environmentalism from India, under Lord Dalhousie's Forest Charter, to the British colonies in Africa and Australasia where it matured and, finally, to Canada, the United States, and other parts of the globe where environmentalism permanently entered the pantheon of political creeds.

By the First World War a large area of forested land around the globe lay in the public trust, managed by a professional cadre of government foresters. In the British colonies alone the crown had environmentally protected a land mass equal to ten times the size of Great Britain. Concurrently in the United States, after transferring 1 billion acres of public land into private hands in the early and mid 1800s (approximately one-half of the land mass of the continental United States) a change suddenly occurred. Congress authorized the president to set aside forest lands by proclamation and began America's process of environmental protection that would lead eventually to setting aside 15 percent of its land mass for various forms of protection and public use.

By 1928 British foresters managed environmentally every major forest type in the world. By 1936 the British Empire included a quarter of the land surface of the world, and of this, forests constituted one fourth. Fifty separate forest services protected not only trees but also soil, water, and – so foresters believed – the climate of entire continents and regions. Empire forestry triumphantly claimed credit for this achievement and served as an example for much of the reserved . . .

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