The Wealth of Nature

In THE WEALTH OF NATURE Donald Worster defines environmental history as the interdisciplinary study of the relationship of culture, technology, and nature over time. Worster wants to call attention to that relationship by questioning the ecological and spiritual nihilism of Western culture’s narrowly materialistic attitude toward nature. Like Aldo Leopold, Worster believes that the natural world should be valued for its aesthetic and spiritual worth, not merely its productive capacity. The capitalistic drive to maximize individual wealth which lies at the heart of Western culture’s exploitative relationship with nature is the greatest threat to the land, water, and creatures of the earth. The present environmental crisis can be overcome, Worster argues, only by drastically changing this ethos to one that regards consumption beyond modest sufficiency as wrong.

Western culture depends upon science to decipher the natural world and to enable mankind to control nature. Worster does not think scientists are able to understand nature completely or predict accurately the outcome of natural or human developments. Even the popular theory of ecosystems is now subject to debate within the scientific community. While science is useful, it is still culturally determined and often too reductionist to act as a sure guide to environmental decisions.

Worster’s essays, while controversial, demonstrates the value of environmental history in stimulating thoughtful discussion about nature and society.