Our place on the planet

Environmental Change and Human Development - People and Environment
February 4, 2005

These two books by established writers are useful additions to the growing literature on environmental change and environmental management. Each has a UK provenance but global outlook and is aimed at undergraduate students of geography and environmental studies/science.

Both books are student-friendly, clearly written and logically structured, contemporary in approach and content and informed by international literature. Each includes useful pedagogical devices such as text boxes, photos and diagrams, and end-of-chapter readings (or, in Gareth Jones's case, relevant websites); Chris Barrow even includes a useful glossary of terms. They tackle the big picture very successfully, and both conclude with a chapter that looks to the future. Librarians will shelve the books close to each other.

So what distinguishes one book from the other? The answer lies mainly in the authors' approaches, because each has a different background and views the environment through a different lens. Barrow, a specialist in development studies, focuses on the environment's effect on people. Jones, an environmental scientist, explores people's effect on the environment.

Environmental Change traces the shifting nature of the people-environment relationship, emphasises the need to reduce human vulnerability in the face of environmental uncertainty and risk, and illustrates how human flexibility and adaptability can help us cope with environmental change.

One gets no feel for the relative likelihood, significance or possible consequences of changing types of environmental risk, and no sense of the size and seriousness of the challenges posed by global warming.

People and Environment has a more familiar emphasis on particular environmental problems such as biodiversity, ocean management and climate change, and it poses more frequent rhetorical questions about how best to manage such challenges.

Although the books contain predictable examples, they also offer useful first-hand observations from a variety of countries and cultures. Neither author tips more than the occasional nod in the direction of postmodern ideas, so perspectives such as social construction are curiously absent from both books.

Chris Park is professorial fellow and director of the Graduate School, Lancaster University.

Environmental Change and Human Development: Controlling Nature?

Author - C. J. Barrow
Publisher - Arnold
Pages - 253
Price - £17.99
ISBN - 0 340 76404 X

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