Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Wilderness, past and present.

In response to the rush to modernisation, to urbanisation and to the purely materialistic view of nature there emerged an alternative view in the form of romanticism. Exploitation of resources had allowed huge population growth which brought with it increased urbanisation increased squalor, pollution and despoiling of the natural environment. People came to realise what it was to lack clean air, open space and silence and a positive view of wilderness emerged. In America national parks were established in order to preserve what remained of the wilderness. The phenomenon of national parks has since spread across the globe. Although they symbolise a valuing of unspoilt environment and a wish to preserve at least part of it they also perpetuate the humanity versus nature divide. A major flaw in the preservationist approach to the environment is that apart from a few islands of wilderness the rest of the globe is not valued at all and can go on being used and abused. As John Vidal points out in his article, &ldquoThe great wilderness myth”, these areas of managed wilderness are in fact contrived. People are excluded and the ecology is controlled and is therefore not natural. They might well be the &ldquotree museums” referred to by Joni Mitchell in her song.

The writings of Thoreau and Muir in America did however herald a new and growing awareness of our environment. They began by extolling the majesty of nature but were followed by others who came to understand also the fragility of nature. From the time of Malthus prophets of doom have watched with horror at the worlds spiralling population. For Malthus the danger was that population would outstrip food supplies, but technological innovation has, so far, managed to keep pace. The real problem is created by the seemingly insatiable demand for natural resources to service, not the huge population itself, but its ever-increasing standard of living.

Since the beginning of the Twentieth century humanity has come to depend on fossil fuels, primarily oil, to drive its economies. The internal combustion engine and electrification have enabled us convert natures resources to almost any task. Now the average human has at their disposal twenty &ldquoenergy slaves” but while our ecological footprint gets bigger there are huge variations between developed and developing countries. In America for example the average person has seventy-five &ldquoenergy slaves” whereas in Bangladesh it would be only one. Globalisation has facilitated this imbalance, for no longer are we limited to local resources, now the fuel can come from the other side of the world. When someone turns on a light in Dublin the environmental impact is felt somewhere in the Middle East.

During the later half of the Twentieth century there gradually developed a greater public awareness of the environment. The vision of earth from outer space in the late sixties graphically illustrated the fragile nature of our planet. Confronted with this image it became clear to the &ldquothrow away” society that there was no &ldquoaway”. Also the oil crises of the nineteen seventies forced people to wake up to the reality that there were limits to the supply of the earths resources. Concerns at the effect of pollution brought state intervention, with laws banning lead in petrol and the burning of smoky coal. Acid rain, ozone depletion and fears of global warming helped people to grasp the concept of global reach in terms of the environment.

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