Tuesday, 11 June 2013, 6:00PM
Barnard's Inn Hall

Choosing a Past for the Future: Why today's environment policy is also history (but doesn't know it)

Dr Paul Warde

It is hard to imagine an area of policy more future-orientated than environmental policy. Whether deciding the destiny of forests, nature reserves, protecting species, or seeking to arrest climate change, the policies we set now are shaping the world for generations to come.

At the heart of much of our policy-making is a concern for how to value the needs and aspirations of our descendants. This future-orientation has been built into the concepts of ‘environment’ and ‘sustainability’. The short history of these terms only stretches back a few decades. However, we do find that most environmental problems of today were already known about in the 1940s and 50s. Looking back to see how the past thought we might value things in their future back then is a lesson for our assumptions about what the future will truly value.

But this isn’t just a case of history repeating itself. The ‘nature’ we value is itself historical, the product of the interaction of humans and their environment over millennia. Species and landscapes we value and want to preserve are there because of what our ancestors did and the way past societies lived. The choices we make about conserving nature are choices about valuing the environments that our ancestors created; if we fail to understand this, we will not be able to devise conservation policies that work.

The second in a series of History and Policy lectures. The lectures in this series are as follows:
     What have Henry VIII and Elizabeth I got to do with 21st century development policy?
     Summit Diplomacy: Some lessons from history for 21st century leaders

dr-paul-warde

Dr Paul Warde is a Reader in Environmental an Economic History at the University of East Anglia. His research focuses on the environmental, economic and social history of early modern and modern Europe, with a focus in particular upon the use of wood as a fundamental resource in pre-industrial society, and forest history; the long-term history of energy use and its relationship with economic development, and environmental and social change; the history of prediction and modeling in thinking about the environment; and the development of institutions for regulating resources and welfare support. In 2008 he was a winner of the Phillip Leverhulme Prize.

He has recently completed books on history of energy use and its relationship with economic growth in Europe between 1500 and the present (with Paolo Malanima and Astrid Kander), and an anthology of documents with commentaries on the emergence of the idea of ‘global change’ and prediction in the environmental sciences (with Sverker Sörlin and Libby Robin). He is currently writing a book on ideas of sustainability in the early modern period; and (with Libby Robin and Sverker Sörlin) a history of the idea of ‘the environment’. Current research projects include work with policy-related studies of landscape change in Catalonia; reconstruction of historical natural capital accounts for the UK; and historical perspectives on fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic.

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11 June 2013

Choosing a Past for the Future: Why today's environment policy is also history (but doesn't know it)
Dr Paul Warde

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