Decades ago, back in the early 1950s when I was a toddler, a group of prominent academics from various disciplines were invited to present papers at a symposium. The papers were compiled and published in 1956; the theme of the symposium and the title of the resultant book was “Man’s Role In Changing the Face Of The Earth”.
I once had a copy (in two volumes) of a paperback re-issue of that book. Much of it I found to be unreadable, but Berkeley geographer Carl Sauer’s contributions stood out, because he could actually write well. Good prose is to this day uncommon in the manifold effusions originating in academia. Several of the essays were illustrated with aerial photos included in order to illustrate the big changes our species had wrought upon the “face of the earth”.
Reading these essays and looking at the ancient low-resolution aerial photos in the book I was impressed by the attitudes of the symposium contributors. They tended to share a placid assumption that the changes in the world’s landscapes were about as severe as possible, and that man’s ingenuity would soon ameliorate the troubling problems. Sixty years later it has become evident that the changes during the subsequent decades have exceeded their comfortable assumptions by an alarming margin.
When these scholars were pontificating the world’s rain forests were still largely intact. There were still large tracts of Midwestern tall-grass prairie. There were no shopping malls or fast-food restaurants. The final assaults upon the remaining forests of ancient Northwestern trees, organisms which predated European occupation and influence, were still to come.
So where does a sensitive observer hang out these days? In Arizona, certainly not in the wildly-developed and hot lowlands near Phoenix and Tucson. Up in the mountains, perhaps, where the need for non-human wildness is balanced with the presence of a select few, other folks with similar inclinations.