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Chapter 2: Brief History of Resource Use and Conservation


Our species has walked Earth for only about 40,000 years (4.6 biIlion years is the age of the planet). We were hunter-gatherers for the first 30,000 years, using resources for survival. There have been two major cultural shifts since then: · the Agricultural Revolution began 10,000 to 12,000 years age. · the Industricrl Revolution began about 275 years ago.

These cultural revolutions have made available more energy and technology to alter and control more of the planet. With larger food supplies, longer life spans, and higher living standards for many people, there has been an increase in population size. The results have been greatly increased resource use, pollution and environmental degradation.

Most environmentalists see the need for a new cultural shift to the Environmental Revolution (Earth Wisdom), which calls for a halt in population growth, a change in our lifestyles, political and economic systems, and how we treat the earth (Guest Essay). This means we have to learn how nature sustains itself.


Hunter - gatherers survived by collecting wild plants, hunting, fishing and· scavenging meat from animals killed by other predators. Primitive weapons were used for hunting and as tools for harvesting plants and scraping hides. Most lived in small bands (fewer than 50) and were mostly nomadic, moving to find food. These hunter-gatherers survived through earth wisdom. They discovered which plants could be eaten, used for medicines, where to find water, predict the weather and how animals migrated They only had three sources ofenergy: sunlight captured by plants, fire, and their own muscle power. They were forced to keep their populations in control to survive. Some practices included abstinence, killing the young and old during hard times, herbal contraceptives, abortion, late marriage and prolonged breast feeding. Populations grew slowly due to high infant mortality and short life spans (an average of 30 to 40). Harmful impacts on the environment increased as hunter-gatherers improved their tools and hunting, allowing them to hunt herds and big game. Fire was used to flush game from forests and burn vegetation to promote the growth of plants they could eat. Advanced hunter-gathers converted forest to grasslands through their use of fire. They may also have altered the distribution' of plants (and possibly animals) by carrying plant seeds and roots to new locations. But, the environmental impact by hunter-gathers was limited and local. Natural forces kept population size in check. They relied on renewable resources and their usage was low. Most of the damage they did cause was repaired by natural processes. Their existence for tens of thousands of years suggests that their way of life was sustainable.

2-3 AGRICULTURAL SOCITIES The Agricultural Revolution began in several regions ofthe world. It allowed nomadic societies to settle in agricultural communities where people domesticated wild animals and cultivated wild plants.

The cause of the shift to farming is not known (possibly climate changes) . Primitive agriculture supplemented hunting and gathering at first, with some groups gradually shifting to more dependence on farming.

Agroforestry is an ancient and sustainable form of planting a mixture of food crops and tree crops. Small patches of tropical forests were cut and then burned. The ashes fertilized the nutrient-poor soils in this slash-and-burn cultivation.

Shifting cultivation was also used by early growers. After several years, a plot would become nutrient poor,. so the farmer moved and cleared a new plot. It would take 10 to 30 years for the soil to become fertile again. Sustainable cultivation could be practiced in tropical forests in this way.

Growing only enough to feed one's family, or subsistence farming, had little impact on the environment . This form of agriculture was sustainable mostly because population size and density of these early farmers were low.

The invention of the metal plow pulled by domestic animals, and the diversion of water from streams into ditches and canals for irrigation, allowed farmers to cultivate larger plots of land.

Emergence of Agriculture - Bases Urban Societies The shift to farming had several significant effects: · Using domesticated animals to plow fields and haul loads increased the energy use per person, which allowed for the expansion of agriculture. · Birth rates rose faster than death rates and populations increased. · People cleared larger fields and built irrigation systems to transfer water. · People began accumulating material goods (nomads could not carry much). · Farmers could grow more than enough food for their families (store or barter). · Urbanization became practical (fewer people were needed on the farms). · Conflict between societies became more common as ownership ofland and water rights became economic issues. · The survival of wild plants and animals became less important (animals were killed and invading plants were eliminated).

Environmental Impact of Agricultural Societies More food, and wood for fuel and building were needed for the growing populations. Forests were cut and grasslands were plowed, destroying habitats of plants and animals, leading to their extinction. Soil erosion, salt buildup and overgrazing helped turn fertile land into desert (topsoil was washed away). This gradual degradation of productive landscapes into barren regions contributed in the downfall of many civilizations in the Middle East, North Afri and the Mediterranean (Guest Essay). Sustainable Practices of the hunter-gatherersca, gave way to practices that depleted Earth capital.

Specialized occupations and new technologies, along with the expansion of commerce and trade, increased the demand for metals and other nonrenewable resources. Mining degraded land and water. Production of material goods increased growing volumes ofwaste. Towns and cities concentrated sewage and wastes, which polluted air and water, and spread diseases.

2-4 INDUSTRIAL SOCIETIES: THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION Early Industrial Societies The Industrial Revolution began in England in the mid-1700's and spread to the United States in the 1800's. Per capita energy consumption grew, along with the power of humans to shape the Earth and fuel economic growth. Production, commerce, trade and distribution of goods expanded rapidly.

England had used up most of its forests, so people began substituting coal for wood fuel. The Industrial Revolutionwas a shift from dependence on decreasing supplies of renewable wood and flowing water for sources ofenergy, to dependence on nonrenewable fossil fuels. Coal led to the Invention ofthe steam engine, and later to other machines Powered by oil and natural gas. These machines led to a shift from small-scale localized production ofgoods to large-scale production in factories within growing industrialized cities.

Rural people came to Factories and worked long hours under noisy, hazardous conditions. Coal miners and city residents were affected with lung ailments caused from coal smoke. Ash and soot might block the sun on certain days.

Crop yields increased with fossiI-fueled-powered farm machinery. Fewer farmers were needed and still more migrated to the cities. With a reliable food source, the human population began the sharp increase in size that continues today.

Advanced Industrial Societies After World War I(1914-1918), efficient machines and mass-production techniques led to the advanced industrial societies of the United States, Canada, Japan, western Europe, and Australia. Advanced industrial societies provided many benefits: useful and affordable products, increase in agricultural productivity, lower infant mortality and higher life expectancy, better sanitation, nutrition and medical care, decrease in population growth (birth control), education and greater average income and old-age security.

Environmental Impact in Industrial Societies

The benefits ofindustrialized societies have been accompanied by the resource and environmental problems we face today, industrialization also isolates more people from nature, reduces understanding of what nature provides, and reinforces the idea that our role is to dominate and manage as much of nature as possible, primarily for humanity's benefit.


America's First Conservationists

When Europeans first came to North America it was populated by indigenous people called Indians, now referred to as Native Americans. Most Native Amencan

Frontier Expansion, Resource Exploitation and Urban Pollution (1607-1900)

North American colonists found a land with seemingly unlimited resources. Flocks of geese blotted the sun, forests stretched unbroken, huge herds grazed the prairies, fish and animals fortrapping were plentiful. Settlers had a frontier worldview; wilderness was to be cleared, planted, and exploited for its resources as quickly as possible. The pioneers believed there always would be more. In 1850 about 80% of the land area of the territorial United States was government owned (taken from Native Americans). Expansion efforts after the Civil War moved west from the Missouri River. War was waged against the Native American tribes who lived on the plains. Many were killed in battle, or died from disease (smallpox), and large numbers of bison (their source of food) were killed. By 1876 the remaining Native Americans were in government-managed reservations. By 1900, half of the public land had been given away or sold cheaply, which encouraged widespread abuse of resources. Between 1832 and 1870, early conservationists including George Catlin, Horace Greely, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles W. Eliot, and Henry David Thoreau,

proposed that the government protect government owned wilderness as a legacy to future generations. But many believed the wildlife would last forever and people had the right to use the land as they pleased. Between 1870 and 1900 growing industrialized cities were causing environmental and health concerns. These problems included air pollution from burning coal, contaminated water supplies, horse manure in streets, lack of garbage collection, unsafe working conditions, overcrowding and epidemics of infectious diseases that killed large numbers of people. In 1888, Jane Adams established Hull House (Chicago) where women lived and worked to improve these conditions. Other settlements were established and the beginning ofthe health reform movement was born.

A Federal Role in ResourEe Conservation and Public Health (1872-1927)

Between 1 872 and 1927 a number of actions increased the role of the federal government and citizens in resource conservation and public health. Theodore Roosevelt was an ardent conservationist. His term of office (1901- 1909) has been called the country's Golden Age of Conservation. Roosevelt designated public land as federal wildlife refuges (Pelican Island was the first). He tripled the size of the forest reserves and transferred their administration from the Department of the Interior to the Departmerit of Agriculture. In 1905 Congress created the U.S. Forest Service, with Gifford Pinchot as its first chief. Pinchot pioneered scientific management, using the principles of sustainable yield (cutting trees no faster than they can regenerate) and multiple use. In 1907 Congress banned further withdrawal ofpublic forest. Roosevelt defiantly reserved 6.5 million hectares (16 million acres) the day before the bill became law. Conservationists split over the use of Hetch Hetchy Valley (now Yosemite National Park). The preservationist school thought the wilderness should be left untouched. The wise-use or resource conservation school believed that all public lands should be managed to provide natural resources. In 1912 Congress created the U.S. national park system, and in 1916 it passed the National Park System Organic Art. This dedicated the national parks to the preservation of scenery, wildlife, and natural and historical objects for the use, viewing, health and pleasure of people, and that they are to be maintained so they remain unimpaired for future generations. The act also established the National Park Service (Dept. ofInterior) to manage the system. Stephen Mather, its first head, established grand hotels and facilities for use mostly by the wealthy. Park policy was to establish tourism by allowing private concessionaires to operate facilities and provide access to automobiles (commercial enterprise). This strained tensions between the preservationists and the wide-use advocated (Mather). Also between 1900 and 1927, governments were pressured to establish public health boards by women such as Jane Addams, Mary McDowell, and Alice Hamilton.

After World War I (1914- 1918) the country entered an era of economic growth and expansion. During the adm inistrations of Presidents Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover, increased amount of resources were removed from public lands and sold cheaply, to stimulate economic growth. This was a shift from wise-use of public lands to exploitation, with most benefits to the wealthy. President Hoover (1929-1933) proposed that the federal government return federal lands to the states or sell them to private interest for economic development. The Great Depression (1929-1941) made owing such lands unattractive.

The Era of Expanding Federal Involvement in Resource Management and Public Health (1933-1960)

The second wave of national resource conservation and improvements in public health began with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. To help the country revive from the Great Depression, the government bought large tracts ofland cheaply from cash-poor landowners. Several government programs with lasting effects were Initiated during the Roosevelt administration. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was created in 1933 to provide jobs for the unemployed. The CCC planted trees, developed recreation areas and protected wildlife. Western state dams were built, including the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River; providedjobs, flood control, cheap irrigation and electricity. The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 (Bureau of land Management, BML, was its successor) required permits and fees for the use of federal grazing land, but this agency was poorly funded for another 40 years. The Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act of 1934 required hunters to buy a federal duck hunting license, with the money raised used for research and the purchase of waterfowl refuges. The Soil Conservation Service was created in 1915 to solve erosion problems that contributed to the Great Depression. During the great drought that turned the Midwest to a "Dust Bowl", many farmers went bankrupt and moved to findjobs. The Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 taxed sales of guns and ammunitions. The Federal Aid in Fish Restoration Act of 1950 taxed fishing equipment. Monies collected went to conserve the environment. The departments of Commerce and Agriculture merged in 1940 to form the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. World War II (1941-45) and the economic recovery that followed slowed the development ofresource conservation and public health policy in the 1940s and 1950s. But, episodes of air pollution and water pollution provided early warnings ofthe environmental problems that wbuld follow in the 1960s and 1970s, also led by rapid economic and population growth following the war. Few people took these warnings seriously. Improvements in public health continued through 1960, with vaccination programs, improved sanitation, and garbage collection. But, rapid industrial growth began exposing workers to solvents and pesticides with unknown effects. Industries created many illegal toxic dumpsites.

Rise of the Environmental Movement (1960-80)

The third wave of national conservation began with the administration of John F. Kennedy (1961 - 63).

A biologist, Rachel Carson, published Silent Spring in 1962. This book documented pollution of air, water and wildlife from DDT, which helped broaden the concept of resource conservation to include these areas.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 authorized the government to protect undeveloped tracts of public land for hiking and camping.

Between 1965 and 1970, the science of ecology was emerging. Biologists like Paul Ehrlich, Barry Commoner and Garrett Hardin wrote about the interlocking relationships between population growth, resource use and pollution.

Many events led to public awareness of pollution: · Concentrated air pollutants killed 300 in New York City in 1963. · Foam from non-biodegradable laundry additives appeared in rivers. · Oil-polluted Cuyahoga River caught fire and burned for 8 days in 1969. · bffshore oil leak coasted beaches in Santa Barbara in 1969. · Millions of fish died in Lake Erie due to pollution. · Wildlife was facing extinction due to loss of habitat and pollution.

The 1970s was called the first Decade of the Environment because of the increased public concern and action about environmental problems. Many environmental laws were passed and efforts were led with the first Earth Day held on April 22, 1970.

In 1973 Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) banned oil shipments to the United States because it had supported Israel in the 18-day Yom Kippur War with Egypt and Syria. It raised the price of crude oil, which caused global recession and high inflation in the U.S. In 1979 a second reduction occurred when Iran's Islamic Revolution shut down oil production.

President Jimmy Carter (1977-81) created the Department of Energy to develop long-range strategies to reduce dependence on imported oil. An oil glut since 1980 and resulting low oil prices have undermined these efforts.

Carter also appointed conservationists to key posts in the government and helped create the Superfund to clean up hazardous waste sites (Love Canal). He also tripled the amount of land in the National Wilderness System and doubled the national park system (in Alaska) before leaving office. Love Canal - a residential tract built on top of a toxic dump.

The Era of Continuing Controversy, Retreochment, and Some Progress (1980-1994) The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 gave the BLM authority to manage public lands (85% in western states), which restricted the use of these lands. A coalition of ranchers, miners, loggers, developers, farmers and politicians launched the sagebrush rebellion. Its goal was to remove western lands from federal ownership. They hoped the states would sell or lease the lands to them at low prices. Ronald Reagan, an advocate of less federal control, became president in 1981. He appointed people opposed to resource conservation and land-use control to federal positions ("putting foxes in the hen house"). He weakened existing conservation laws through budget cuts in enforcement agencies. Energy and mineral development, and timber cutting increased on public lands. He eliminated tax incentives for solar energy, lowered auto gas mileage standards and relaxed federal air-and water-quality standards. George Bush promised to be "the environmental president", but he received criticism for not providing leadership on the problems of population growth, global warming and loss of biodiversity and for not consulting with environmentalists about environmental policy. Vice President Dan Quayle, an avowed anti-environmentalist, led the Council on Competitiveness which was influenced by industry, mining, ranching and real estate development officials. In 1993, Bill Clinton became president, promising to provide global environmental leadership. He was praised by environmentalists for selecting Al Gore as for Vice President, and selecting environmentalists to key positions in resource agencies. He has been criticized for not supporting environmental initiatives and for compromising too easily when his policies came under attack. Environmental groups will probably spend much of their time and funds trying to keep existing environmental laws from being weakened or repealed -- a repeal of the early 1980s.


Environmentalists urge a new Earth Wisdom or Environmental Revolution. Because ofpopulation growth, resource consumption, pollution and degradation, they feel we only have a few decades to bring about this revolution. Environmentalists urge us to shift from pollution cleanup to prevention; waste disposal to reduction; species protection to habitat protection; resource use to resource conservation. We are urged to reward Earth-sustaining economic activities and discourage those that harm the Earth. Others, mostly economists, feel the problems are overblown and the solutions involve technological innovation and increased economic growth through a global economy. Others, industry-supported Wise-Use Movement, go further by trying to discredit and weaken the environmental movement in the United States.