Review: Sustainability or Collapse: An Integrated History and Future of People on Earth

By Mannion, A. M. | Electronic Green Journal, January 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Review: Sustainability or Collapse: An Integrated History and Future of People on Earth


Mannion, A. M., Electronic Green Journal


Costanza, Robert, Graumlich, Lisa J. and Steffen, W. (eds.) Sustainability or Collapse? An Integrated History and Future of People on Earth. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2007. 495pp. ISBN 13: 978-0-262-03366-4. $US 38 Hardcover, Alkaline paper.

The now widespread acceptance that global warming is a reality has reinvigorated the debate about sustainable development which, in turn, recognizes the necessity of balancing the needs of people with the resources of their environment in order to ensure a future for both. Such a noble objective is not easily achieved without the co-operation of all the stakeholders: scientists, politicians, industry, agriculture and not least the general public. Failure to recognize this fundamental link between people and environment in the past is one reason why the unsustainability of resource exploitation, notably of carbon-based fossil fuels, poses the current risk of "collapse," however this may be interpreted in terms of scale, intensity etc.

Held in May 2003, a Dahlem workshop addressed the issue of human history and environment in order to bring together hitherto disparate narratives and to highlight the value of interdisciplinary approaches to evaluating people-environment relationships over various time scales. Sustainability or Collapse? is the published outcome comprising five sections and 22 chapters.

The introductory section urges a reconsideration of human history in relation to environmental change, highlights the importance of past people-environment interactions, and considers how data relating to such different conditions can be constructed and employed. Section II comprises six chapters which present case studies relating to the ancient Maya, the Roman Empire, the record of human presence in Australia, and hegemonic regimes on the basis of millennial timescales. …

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