I read Changes in the Land by William Cronon out of a requirement for a class but it is actually an interesting read. The book tells the history of Native Americans and European Settlers: their relationship with each other, the land, and how they altered the landscape and ecosystems. Cronon uses journals and documents from the 1600s and onwards. Most of these sources were from the European point of view, but was still able to show how the land changed overtime. Cronon breaks the book into three parts: Looking Backward, The Ecological Transformation of Colonial New England, and Harvests of Change. The main portion of the book is in the Ecological Transformation section where he focuses on seasonality, agriculture, hunting, deforestation and urbanization (in a colonial sense). Each of these topics he talks about how it was with the Native Americans, as best as he can from historical evidence, then how those traditions changed when Colonists arrived and took over the land.
An interesting part of this book is that it shows from the start of our nation, we were a society of consumption. “New Englanders burned their wood in open fireplaces, which were four or five times less efficient than the closed cast-iron stoves of the Pennsylvania Germans. European travelers were frequently astonished by American consumption of firewood” (p 120). This of course is a reason for deforestation in the New England region. The consumption also was shown in hunting practices, which resulted in local extinction of bears, foxes, wolves, beavers, and other large mammals. Cronon argues that agriculture had the biggest impact on the land. “The lumberer was not the chief agent in destroying New England’s forests; the farmer was.” (p 114)
Some of this may be old news, since the book was originally printed in 1983. I still think it is worth a read. It allows you to understand how hard it will be to get out of the consumption rut. When we have constantly been a society of consumption it will take more than a few green tips to change our historical roots. I don’t think it is impossible to be sustainable and I think we must become sustainable for future generations, but it will take great cultural changes beyond what we are currently doing to become a sustainable society. This book hit me hard as did making this realization.
We have a long ways to go and a long fight ahead in order to make our society a truly sustainable one. But I know it is possible. We have already accomplished so much in a short span, we can do what we want as long as we really want it and truly try.