Environmental Issues

Environmental Issues
This course considers science, technology and the environment. Some readings focus more on one of
these areas than the others. Still, every lecture has an environmental issue associated with it, and here
is a list of some of the issues we have identified so far:
1. All human activity, even premodern and preindustrial, has an impact on the environment
2. Species extinction has both environmental causes and anthropogenic causes
3. Early human civilizations engaged in large scale hydraulic engineering, switched from hunting
and gathering to large-scale agriculture, concentrated populations in urban spaces, specialized
labor and increased production
4. Significant environmental transformation is possible with simple tools (e.g. Dutch hydraulic
5. The introduction of new technologies can have unintended environmental consequences (e.g.
land sublimation and flooding)
6. European colonization of Meso-America, necessitated by the need for trade and the shortage of
arable land led to significant population shifts (from Europe to the Americas) and to the
extraction of natural resources on a large scale
7. Trade, exploration and warfare have been motivated by the need to secure luxury resources
(e.g. beaver pelts) not just strategic or industrially significant resources (e.g. wood, coal)
8. Animals can be treated as “natural resources” and commodified just like minerals and plants
9. The introduction of trade and commerce to a region can lead to significant shifts in how the
environment is used by local communities (e.g. shift from farming to hunting in native
communities thanks to the beaver trade)
10. The introduction of new technologies can increase the scope of environmental impacts (e.g.
European guns and beaver hunting)
11. Resource extraction had become so important to nations by the 19th century that resource
blockades became as common as direct conflict between nations
12. Changes in production levels, transportation systems and the generation of power increased the
amount of goods that were manufactured, this increased the pressure on the environment in
terms of both resource extraction, pollution and production of waste
13. A wide variety of resources have been extracted for use, for example: food (e.g. sugar, fish),
non-food animal products (e.g. furs), minerals (e.g. gold and silver), plant materials (e.g. trees)
14. Natural resources became fiscal tools for the state, allowing them to generate revenue by
increasing extraction and production of natural resources
15. Technology was a key component in the increase of natural resource extraction (e.g. sawmills)