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close this bookEcology in Development: A Rationale for Three-dimensional Policy (UNU, 1984, 59 pages)
close this folderPreface
View the documentThe rise of human ecology
View the documentA framework for discussion
View the documentThe choice of material
View the documentThe aim of this monograph
View the documentAcknowledgements

The rise of human ecology

During the 1970s anxiety about the environment not only deepened but changed in quality and emphasis. Compared with the 1960s, less attention is now given to population growth and more to energy demands. More significantly, there is a growing tendency to make correlations between the quality of the environment and the quality of human life. Ecological, economic, and social decline are more often discussed as though they are inter-related (although the relationship is rarely well argued). Environmental problems now engage a greater mix of disciplines and professions than a decade ago, and in each group of specialists there is a greater awareness of other disciplinary orientations to similar problems and (dare we hope?) a new readiness to enter into genuine dialogue across disciplinary and professional boundaries.

This trend in the great ecological debate that began in the 1950s manifests itself in both scientific and political forums in the form of an evolving concern with "the human factor" in ecology and development. This concern is evident in popular literature on economic development and resource management from various parts of the developing and the developed world, and is reflected in the changing relationship between the so-called "basic" and "applied" approaches to research and in the background dialogue between the natural and the social sciences. But although the ideals of resource management are now somewhat more tempered by considerations of human interests and local perceptions (than, say, in the fifties), and applied ecology is more and more commonly understood to include a measure of social science, little progress has yet been made in the determination of acceptable standards in potentially conflicting policy areas, such as ecology and human wellbeing in relation to each other, let alone in integrating these concerns generally. However, in spite of the occupational divisions and other vested interests that constrain such intellectual reorientation and hamper the associated reformulation of problems and reorganization of scientific effort, a supra-professional and supra-disciplinary specialization has begun to develop, and a degree of integration of these newly related interests is already discernible. The fact that it is not yet possible to put a generally accepted name on it - though "human ecology" is often pressed into service, and for want of a better term is sometimes used in what follows - shows that its identity is barely formed and its independence scarcely viable. But there seems little doubt that it is gathering momentum and therefore warrants careful attention. This essay is concerned with some of the assumptions from which it is developing, and with its direction and significance.