Conservation And Climate Change

Knowledge about climate change has come slowly alongside the emergence of the conservation and, later, environmental movements. Differing approaches to conservation moved toward a more holistic understanding of human impact on dynamic environmental processes. For example, in an 1867 report to the Wisconsin Legislature, I.A. Lapham showed the relation of forests to stream flow. His suggestion about the need to plant more trees to protect watersheds foreshadowed the conservation movement. At about the same time, researchers also began to speculate about possible climate change related to forest removal, reflecting increased knowledge about the role of forests in cleansing the environment.

Emphasis on conservation helped feed understanding about interconnections between human activities and the environmental impact of pollution, raising human consciousness about wasteful practices. While pollution was easily visible at the local level, understanding its broader impact depended on the development of more sophisticated measurement tools, with computers capable of analyzing massive amounts of data taken from complex and dynamic ecosystems. The planning required for widespread conservation efforts demands a systems approach to human-environmental relationships, especially those associated with burning nonrenewable fossil fuels.

After World War II, increased understanding of the sources of smog and acid rain and their negative environmental impact, led to pressure from conservationists to clean up pollutants from coal-fired plants and motor vehicles. Improved combustion and scrubbing technologies, developed partly in response to government prodding in the Clean Air Act and state emissions laws, led to more efficient use of coal, and mitigated some smokestack emissions. In addition, new technologies helped increase auto fuel economy and reduce tailpipe emissions. Environmental economics developed as a specialty field to develop cost-benefits models to show the impacts of conservation and anti-pollution policies on firms and the economy. More recently, interdisciplinary teams of scientists have made significant strides by finding crucial links between pollutants and climate change. The gradual evolution of conservation helped spur techniques that reduced waste and conserved resources for future generations.

SEE ALSO: Agriculture; Capitalism; Forests; Industrialization; Maximum Sustainable Yield.

BIBLIOGRAphY. Peter Hay, Main Currents in Western Environmental Thought (Indiana University Press, 2002); S.P. Hays, Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency: The Progressive Conservation Movement 1890-1920 (Ath-eneum, 1980); Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There (Oxford U. Press, 1968); Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (Oxford University Press, 2004); S.L. Udall, The Quiet Crisis (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963); Spencer Weart, "The Discovery of Global Warming: The Carbon Dioxide Greenhouse Effect," American Institute of Physics, www.aip.org (cited July 2007).

Timothy Collins Western Illinois University

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