An Introduction to Human-Environment Geography

moseleyRating: ★★½☆☆

William G Moseley, Eric Perramond, Holly M Hapke and Paul Laris. 2014. An Introduction to Human-Environment Geography. Wiley Blackwell. ISBN  978 1 4051 8931 6.

Part of the problem with both environmental science and geography is that the problems they investigate can seem increasingly complex. This might encourage some to study to greater depth. At the other end of the spectrum, issues, especially in mainstream media, are often presented as simple, almost shallow in their treatment. The aim is to keep the more detailed work on complex issues, because that is vital for ameliorating many issues, but also there is the need to allow the beginner to get some perspective on what is happening. This text is aimed at the latter, the person who needs some overview to put study into perspective.

Subtitled ‘local dynamics and global processes’ this text aims to help students get their first grasp of the subject area put by describing a uniquely ‘geographical’ way of thinking. The central argument is that geographers have a unique contribution to make to environmental issues by virtue of their use of theory and modelling. An opening chapter sets up some idea of the issues we are going to study and some of the ideas about the nature of geography. Geography is seen as the pattern of human processes and the reasons for this. It is also focussed on the spatial, accepting both differences and commonalities in regions. An earlier objective that “humans, like other animals, are able to sustainably interact with their environment” must surely be an issue because if it were so, this book would not need to exist. From this somewhat shaky start, it settles down to consider spatiality as the key criterion. The next two chapters focus on two of the fundamental areas of environmentalism – politics (where we have a fairly brief run through a North American perspective) and the biophysical environment. Here, in a relatively few pages, we take a charge through the key ideas of physical environmental geography looking at atmospherics and meteorology, ecosystems and basic ecology (particularly pertaining to ecosystems e.g. disturbance, competition etc.).

Part two looks at some of the current perspectives in geography. We start with cultural and political ecology that asks the question, not of the thing being questioned, but the person doing the asking. The focus is to get people to see different, but equally valid, answers to what is happening. A range of examples shows how our interpretations can be wide of the mark. Studying, in particular, the interpretations of poverty and farming, the authors get the reader to see how other views might yield better insight. A following chapter on environmental history mixes human action with tree-ring data and personal histories. Again, the idea is to suggest that familiar perspectives might be useful but they are not the entire picture. Chapter six continues this theme by looking at the social issues caused by hazards and the risks we face (or even increase) by trying to deal with them. A final chapter dealing with environmental justice starts with two maps highlighting that racial minorities in the US are more likely to have poorer environmental backgrounds e.g. access to open space. From this, the history and purpose of environmental justice is spelled out along with examples. Love Canal gets a nod although that is one of the few cases not looking at racial groupings. Overall, this is an interesting section. It looks at a range of modern social-environmental schemes and puts forward some good ideas. It certainly promotes a specific perspective on environmental issues but one might be less convinced that there is a heavy geographical connection.

Part three looks at specific physical themes rather than social issues. We start with climate, atmosphere and energy. Some good examples are used – acid deposition, ozone depletion and, of course, global warming, but in all three cases the theoretical treatment is slight. The section on air pollution notes inversion layers but not heat islands. Turning to energy, the text looks only very briefly at urban transport. The next case is population, using the Ehrlich perspective of consumption and technology. There is talk of population rise and and carrying capacity but less of demography and the start of population stabilisation. Next, we turn to agriculture with an excellent chapter dealing with basic agricultural types, energy flow and some discussion of famine. An examination of biodiversity and conservation covers some of the main ideas of local, regional, national and trans-boundary ideas but less of the theory behind it. A final chapter, discussing key issues with water, goes back to fundamentals with the water cycle and issues of water management including marine water.

A final section turns to the theory of geography. Like previous chapters, it’s a pot-pourri of thoughts with a range of the more common philosophies put forward as geography and a description of a very few (largely social) ones followed by data gathering. A final brief chapter suggests environment-geographers can make a change.

It’s an unusual book that tries to cover a lot of ground in a little space. Some areas are covered extremely well – agriculture stands out in this regard. Other areas appear less well thought-out. for example the penultimate chapter on philosophy confuses key themes and leaves others out. Despite its uneven treatment in places it does try to enliven the scene by creating a series of issues to start chapters and the references allow more detailed work to be carried out later. As a primer on the sort of ideas that should be considered, this is a useful addition.

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