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Roots of Ecologic Crisis Article Summary

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“The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis” is the article by Lynn White which appeared in the Science journal back in 1967. The author covers the story of the development of human beliefs about the environment, as well as the changes in the attitudinal aspects that are concerned with the treatment of ecology. White notes that with the rise and fall of different historical eras, people altered their vision of the surrounding world. Reflecting on the aspects of human treatment of the environment that evolved from antiquity to the middle of the 20th century, having been shaped by the Western traditions of technology and science, medieval epoch, and Christian religion, the author finds that in fact, the extreme pollution of the environment was not shaped by modern people, since the agenda of the ecologic crisis started in the past epochs. The thesis statement of the author refers to the necessity to break the pattern of exploitation of nature that is explained by the prevalence of the philosophy of humanism and anthropocentrism.

The entire narrative is a historical overview of the detrimental human impact on the environment. The author commences with the statement that ever since people existed on Earth, they created a negative impact since they did hunting, exterminating different mammals, irrigated some areas, destroying the land, cut many forest territories, devastating the large spaces. White claims that the humanity knows too little about the consequences of its presence on the planet, since the science of ecology in its modern meaning appeared only in the end of the 19th century, while the exact time when “man-induced changes came” is unknown (White 1203). Together with that, even back in 1285, London had already been polluted by smog, which entails that there is a huge mismatch between the study of ecology and the actual state of reality since it is apparent that the humans started imposing their adverse influence on the environment hundreds and thousands of years ago.

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The author argues that the general agenda of exploitation of the natural resources started around A.D. 1000, being followed by the Western traditions of technology and science that led to the evolvement of the Scientific Revolution and Industrial Revolution. The power machinery and automation marked the rise of technologies, and at the same time, built a foundation for the demise of nature. The subsection called “Medieval View of Man and Nature” discusses that the introduction of the scratch-plow, made the “relation to the soil” (White 1205) different, and people who were the parts of nature became its exploiters. Thus, the medieval era marked the transition of human consciousness that formed the base for the ecologic crisis. During this time, Christianity prevailed, having resulted in anthropocentrism. Although Christianity is based on the patterns of creation that are instilled in the Bible, this religion finally promoted and secured the paradigm shift in human mentality, suggesting that “it is God’s will that man exploits nature for his proper ends” (White 1205). It is conditioned by the fact that when people stopped the following paganism, they no longer believed that natural objects had a spirit. Thus, it was the particular sign that nature could be exploited.

The main points of White aim to emphasize that if humans continue following the Christian dogmas and worship humanistic ideals, the ecologic crisis will not be stopped. Also, the author of the ardent narrative notes that the Christian axiom which proclaims that nature has to serve human needs has to be denounced and rejected immediately. Also, when it comes to many religious believers, they tend to think that without God, they cannot make a difference in the context of the environment. The author refers to such thinking as to “Christian arrogance” (White 1207) since people deny that they can actually come up with the solution to the environmental pollution and devastation of the natural resources of the planet. The article concludes that it is crucial to step away from humanism, which is, in fact, the manifestation of the real egoism, and start the agenda of change since humanity is capable of doing so.

  • White, L. (1967). The historical roots of our ecologic crisis. Science, 155(3767), 1203-1207.