Michael Egan

Michael Egan is Associate Professor of History at McMaster University and Director of the Sustainable Future History Project.

  • Barry Commoner and the Science of Survival

    Barry Commoner and the Science of Survival

    The Remaking of American Environmentalism

    Michael Egan

    Chronicles the activist career of Barry Commoner, one of the most influential American environmental thinkers, and his role in recasting the environmental movement after World War II.

    For over half a century, the biologist Barry Commoner has been one of the most prominent and charismatic defenders of the American environment, appearing on the cover of Time magazine in 1970 as the standard-bearer of "the emerging science of survival." In Barry Commoner and the Science of Survival, Michael Egan examines Commoner's social and scientific activism and charts an important shift in American environmental values since World War II.Throughout his career, Commoner believed that scientists had a social responsibility, and that one of their most important obligations was to provide citizens with accessible scientific information so they could be included in public debates that concerned them. Egan shows how Commoner moved naturally from calling attention to the hazards of nuclear fallout to raising public awareness of the environmental dangers posed by the petrochemical industry. He argues that Commoner's belief in the importance of dissent, the dissemination of scientific information, and the need for citizen empowerment were critical planks in the remaking of American environmentalism. Commoner's activist career can be defined as an attempt to weave together a larger vision of social justice. Since the 1960s, he has called attention to parallels between the environmental, civil rights, labor, and peace movements, and connected environmental decline with poverty, injustice, exploitation, and war, arguing that the root cause of environmental problems was the American economic system and its manifestations. He was instrumental in pointing out that there was a direct association between socioeconomic standing and exposure to environmental pollutants and that economics, not social responsibility, was guiding technological decision making. Egan argues that careful study of Commoner's career could help reinvigorate the contemporary environmental movement at a point when the environmental stakes have never been so high.

    • Hardcover $7.75 £6.99
    • Paperback $28.00 £22.00

Contributor

  • Recovering Lost Species in the Modern Age

    Histories of Longing and Belonging

    Dolly Jørgensen

    A groundbreaking study of how emotions motivate attempts to counter species loss.

    This groundbreaking book brings together environmental history and the history of emotions to examine the motivations behind species conservation actions. In Recovering Lost Species in the Modern Age, Dolly Jørgensen uses the environmental histories of reintroduction, rewilding, and resurrection to view the modern conservation paradigm of the recovery of nature as an emotionally charged practice. Jørgensen argues that the recovery of nature—identifying that something is lost and then going out to find it and bring it back—is a nostalgic practice that looks to a historical past and relies on the concept of belonging to justify future-oriented action. The recovery impulse depends on emotional responses to what is lost, particularly a longing for recovery that manifests itself in such emotions as guilt, hope, fear, and grief.

    Jørgensen explains why emotional frameworks matter deeply—both for how people understand nature theoretically and how they interact with it physically. The identification of what belongs (the lost nature) and our longing (the emotional attachment to it) in the present will affect how environmental restoration practices are carried out in the future. A sustainable future will depend on questioning how and why belonging and longing factor into the choices we make about what to recover.

    • Paperback $30.00 £22.50
  • The Arid Lands

    The Arid Lands

    History, Power, Knowledge

    Diana K. Davis

    An argument that the perception of arid lands as wastelands is politically motivated and that these landscapes are variable, biodiverse ecosystems, whose inhabitants must be empowered.

    Deserts are commonly imagined as barren, defiled, worthless places, wastelands in need of development. This understanding has fueled extensive anti-desertification efforts—a multimillion-dollar global campaign driven by perceptions of a looming crisis. In this book, Diana Davis argues that estimates of desertification have been significantly exaggerated and that deserts and drylands—which constitute about 41% of the earth's landmass—are actually resilient and biodiverse environments in which a great many indigenous people have long lived sustainably. Meanwhile, contemporary arid lands development programs and anti-desertification efforts have met with little success. As Davis explains, these environments are not governed by the equilibrium ecological dynamics that apply in most other regions.

    Davis shows that our notion of the arid lands as wastelands derives largely from politically motivated Anglo-European colonial assumptions that these regions had been laid waste by “traditional” uses of the land. Unfortunately, such assumptions still frequently inform policy. Drawing on political ecology and environmental history, Davis traces changes in our understanding of deserts, from the benign views of the classical era to Christian associations of the desert with sinful activities to later (neo)colonial assumptions of destruction. She further explains how our thinking about deserts is problematically related to our conceptions of forests and desiccation. Davis concludes that a new understanding of the arid lands as healthy, natural, but variable ecosystems that do not necessarily need improvement or development will facilitate a more sustainable future for the world's magnificent drylands.

    • Hardcover $32.00 £25.00
  • Plantations and Protected Areas

    Plantations and Protected Areas

    A Global History of Forest Management

    Brett M. Bennett

    How global forest management shifted from an integrated conservation model to a bifurcated system of timber plantations and protected areas.

    Today, the world's forests are threatened by global warming, growing demand for wood products, and increasing pressure to clear tropical forests for agricultural use. Economic globalization has enabled Western corporations to export timber processing jobs and import cheap wood products from developing countries. Timber plantations of exotic, fast-growing species supply an ever-larger amount of the world's wood. In response, many countries have established forest areas protected from development. In this book, Brett Bennett views today's forestry issues from a historical perspective. The separation of wood production from the protection of forests, he shows, stems from entangled environmental, social, political, and economic factors. This divergence—driven by the concomitant intensification of production and creation of vast protected areas—is reshaping forest management systems both public and private.

    Bennett shows that plantations and protected areas evolved from, and then undermined, an earlier integrated forest management system that sought both to produce timber and to conserve the environment. He describes the development of the science and profession of forestry in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe; discusses the twentieth-century creation of timber plantations in the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Australia; and examines the controversies over deforestation that led to the establishment of protected areas. Bennett argues that the problems associated with the bifurcation of forest management—including the loss of forestry knowledge necessary to manage large ecosystems for diverse purposes—suggest that a more integrated model would be preferable.

    • Hardcover $29.00 £23.00
  • The Greenest Nation?

    The Greenest Nation?

    A New History of German Environmentalism

    Frank Uekötter

    An account of German environmentalism that shows the influence of the past on today's environmental decisions.

    Germany enjoys an enviably green reputation. Environmentalists in other countries applaud its strict environmental laws, its world-class green technology firms, its phase-out of nuclear power, and its influential Green Party. Germans are proud of these achievements, and environmentalism has become part of the German national identity. In The Greenest Nation? Frank Uekötter offers an overview of the evolution of German environmentalism since the late nineteenth century. He discusses, among other things, early efforts at nature protection and urban sanitation, the Nazi experience, and civic mobilization in the postwar years. He shows that much of Germany's green reputation rests on accomplishments of the 1980s, and emphasizes the mutually supportive roles of environmental nongovernmental organizations, corporations, and the state.

    Uekötter looks at environmentalism in terms of civic activism, government policy, and culture and life, eschewing the usual focus on politics, prophets, and NGOs. He also views German environmentalism in an international context, tracing transnational networks of environmental issues and actions and discussing German achievements in relation to global trends. Bringing his discussion up to the present, he shows the influence of the past on today's environmental decisions. As environmentalism is wrestling with the challenges of the twenty-first century, Germany could provide a laboratory for the rest of the world.

    • Hardcover $29.00 £23.95
    • Paperback $20.00 £14.99
  • The Commons in History

    The Commons in History

    Culture, Conflict, and Ecology

    Derek Wall

    An argument that the commons is neither tragedy nor paradise but can be a way to understand environmental sustainability.

    The history of the commons—jointly owned land or other resources such as fisheries or forests set aside for public use—provides a useful context for current debates over sustainability and how we can act as “good ancestors.” In this book, Derek Wall considers the commons from antiquity to the present day, as an idea, an ecological space, an economic abstraction, and a management practice. He argues that the commons should be viewed neither as a “tragedy” of mismanagement (as the biologist Garrett Hardin wrote in 1968) nor as a panacea for solving environmental problems. Instead, Walls sees the commons as a particular form of property ownership, arguing that property rights are essential to understanding sustainability. How we use the land and its resources offers insights into how we value the environment.

    After defining the commons and describing the arguments of Hardin's influential article and Elinor Ostrom's more recent work on the commons, Wall offers historical case studies from the United States, England, India, and Mongolia. He examines the power of cultural norms to maintain the commons; political conflicts over the commons; and how commons have protected, or failed to protect ecosystems. Combining intellectual and material histories with an eye on contemporary debates, Wall offers an applied history that will interest academics, activists, and policy makers.

    • Hardcover $29.00 £23.00
    • Paperback $20.00 £14.99