422 Environment

422 Environment - "The Tragedy of the Commons" (env1) 1....

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"The Tragedy of the Commons" (env1) 1. History and Nature Human activity has always affected the natural environment. However, since the eighteenth century the magnitude of this phenomenon has grown astronomically. With the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, mankind asserted an unprecedented degree of mastery over the natural environment. In Western Europe and North America, for the first time in history, humans mastered techniques which allowed them to plot their future with increasingly less fear of periodic devastating periods of famine; for the first time, a large proportion of the population did not need to devote itself to the production of food. Yet this mastery of nature brought with it new challenges. Species have always come and gone, but increasingly nature and its effects are inextricably bound up with human activity. It is in this sense that facets of "nature" require a place in human history, particularly the history of the world since 1945. Awareness of the dangers of radioactive fallout in the 1950s opened the way for the environmental movement. The career of Andrei Sakharov, father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb and preeminent dissident in the final decades of the Soviet Union, reveals the relations of various movements that did not fit easily into the Manichean logic of the Cold War. His dissidence began when he saw testing of the hydrogen bomb in the Soviet Union in 1953 take precedence over protection of exposed populations. He came to see all nuclear weapon tests in the atmosphere as a “crime against humanity.” This enraged Khrushchev, but was also a factor in the 1963 US-USSR test ban treaty, certainly one of the most significant inter-state accords to protect the environment ever signed. Scientists who compare the environment today to that we know from prehistory (i.e., rate of deforestation, CO2 and heavy metals in the air) find that in many cases more than 50% of the change has taken place in the last fifty years. Not surprisingly, the idea of environmentalism (as opposed to conservation or communing with nature) is very much a product of the last thirty years. Environmentalism--whose origins were primarily in West Europe and North America--is a particular response to the rapid industrial growth in these areas after 1945. Cheap energy and environmental destruction were keys to postwar growth and to developments after 1973. This growth was in part due to the availability of inexpensive energy in the form of oil from the Middle East, itself the product of earlier periods of imperialism. And the troubled reception of environmentalism may in turn be tied to its appearance at virtually the same time as the dramatic rise in oil
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prices in 1973 put limits on this growth (and encouraged many to compensate for higher energy costs by seeking to limit the costs of environmental protection.) Higher energy costs for major energy users brought great wealth to oil producing nations. The primary challenges to the United States in 2007 come from these
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This note was uploaded on 12/10/2009 for the course HIST 151 taught by Professor Hunziker during the Spring '07 term at UNC.

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422 Environment - "The Tragedy of the Commons" (env1) 1....

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