Synopses & Reviews
Written by natural scientists and historians, The Silent Countdown explores relations between societies and their natural environment from the Middle Ages to the present. Global views of ecological history in the long term are provided as well as sophisticated models quantifying the flow of energy across regional ecosystems. The impact of processes of production and consumption upon the natural habit (clearing of forests, soil erosion), of high pollution densities in urban centers (smoke, stench, water pollution) are demonstrated: it is shown, how people reacted to it and how efficient the measures were to control it. Battles between the owners of iron works and chemical industries, the local councils, the experts and the suffering peole suggest a surprisingly early concern of a loss of natural environment in the face of industrialization.
There is a growing need for cooperation between disciplines, not only to deal with the burning problems of the present, but to study the interaction of societies and their ecosystems in the past. In the 1970s studies in Environmental History were largely confined to North America. Recent years have brought about a vast increase in the "amount, the quality and the scope of scholarship on historical interactions between human (social and economic) de- velopment and the biosphere in Europe, both East and West. This broad interest in environmental history may have been heightened and sharpened by the dangers of unbridled technology and unlimited growth, which are becoming more and more manifest. However, for several reasons it is still difficult to become familiar with the different approaches to this new and interdisciplinary of study. Many fields of thought - biology, anthropology, field geography, sociology and history - are involved; the relevant books and articles are hard to find and a coherent theoretical framework is still lacking, because the key issues have yet to be submitted to a thorough scholarly debate. It is hoped that the pre- sent volume will make a contribution towards overcoming those shortcomings.