Growth - with values added on

The Terrestrial Biosphere - Green Development
February 7, 2003

These two books come from quite different perspectives to address a common issue at the heart of geographical inquiry, which is neatly summed up in the foreword of Steve Trudgill's The Terrestrial Biosphere: Environmental Change, Ecosystem Science and Attitudes and Values - "How should we view nature? What do we do for the best; how should we act; what are we trying to achieve; and what should we be guided by?"

Although the books tackle these questions in different ways, they share the view that a scientific understanding of the environment must be placed in the context of cultural attitudes and values (on which Trudgill focuses) and a fundamental recognition of the complexities and politics of human-environment interactions (Bill Adams' focus). Both books are based on the premise that issues relating to the environment and its management are fundamentally linked in theory and practice.

The preface to The Terrestrial Biosphere is a personal journey through the writing of the book - a telling account of a scientist engaging with attitudes about nature and their social construction. The book aims to engage with scientific debates about environmental change and looks at how we place these debates within social contexts - that is, cultural attitudes and values. This makes for a refreshing read and Trudgill's excitement at tackling these integrated and challenging issues is evident.

Drawing on a wide range of science, social science and non-academic literature, the book starts by taking the example of climate change and exploring the need to understand the multiple processes of change and its unpredictability, and the need to connect with ideas of adaptation and resilience. This means engaging with people: their notions of the environment and change, and their agency within this relationship. This approach works well in sections "Concepts, attitudes and values" and "Productive ecosystems", but it fails somewhat in the section "Soils: a fundamental resource", which sits awkwardly within the book. More process-based soil science than reflection on how soils, environmental change and attitudes and values are integrated, this section weakens the book's momentum. The outdated language and the lack of theoretical depth in places further detracts from what is a brave attempt to get physical geographers to acknowledge and engage with the notion that their scientific inquiry is embedded within a socially constructed environment.

Adams' Green Development: Environment and Sustainability in the Third World approaches similar issues from a different perspective. Firmly grounded in the theory and practice of sustainability and development, this second edition is a comprehensively rewritten and updated version of the popular original, first published in 1990.

Adams' central aim is twofold: first, to discuss the nature and extent of the "greening" of development theory through a thorough and detailed examination of the concept of sustainable development; and second, to draw a link between theory and practice by discussing the nature of environmental degradation and the impacts on development. By engaging upfront with politics and policy, Adams' book goes further than most in linking theory and practice around human-environment interactions. It is theoretically coherent, with a full and consistent argument running throughout. Yet it is also designed so that discrete chapters can be used independently by teacher and student. This makes it a highly accessible book, and the clear writing and attention to detail make it a valuable text for undergraduate courses addressing a wide range of topics.

The audiences for these two books are likely to be subtly different.

Trudgill's text will interest physical geographers encouraging their students to engage with and recognise the importance of cultural attitudes and values. Adams' book perhaps has wider appeal in its comprehensive and theoretically tighter approach to environmental issues and their place in development geography. Both contain useful summaries and suggested further reading, and Adams' book has an invaluable guide to recommended web resources.

But perhaps the most noteworthy is that the debates covered in these books have now gained such prominence. As Adams states: "When Green Development was conceived, the debates it explored were not only marginal to development, but marginal academically. A decade on, at the start of a new century, nothing could be more different."

Chasca Twyman is lecturer in geography, University of Sheffield.

The Terrestrial Biosphere: Environmental Change, Ecosystem Science, Attitudes and Values

Author - Steve Trudgill
ISBN - 0 582 30347 8
Publisher - Prentice Hall
Price - £19.99
Pages - 299

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