The issue of sustainability, and the idea that economic growth and development might destroy its own foundations, is one of the defining political problems of our era. This ground-breaking study traces the emergence of this idea, and demonstrates how sustainability was closely linked to hopes for growth, and the destiny of expanding European states, from the sixteenth century. Weaving together aspirations for power, for economic development and agricultural improvement, and ideas about forestry, climate, the sciences of the soil and of life itself, The Invention of Sustainability sets out how new knowledge and metrics led people to imagine both new horizons for progress, but also the possibility of collapse. In the nineteenth century anxieties about sustainability, often driven by science, proliferated in debates about contemporary and historical empires and the American frontier. The fear of progress undoing itself confronted society with finding ways to live with and manage nature.
"This is an important book. A history of ideas that ranges widely over political economy, the state and the environment, The Invention of Sustainability is a great example of how to present a compelling argument while respecting complexity. Paul Warde brings together wonderfully rich evidence and makes his case lucidly. The result is a bold and very satisfying work."
– David Blackbourn, author of The Conquest of Nature
"In this readable, erudite, and sophisticated book, Paul Warde persuasively argues that, although the current articulation of concerns about sustainability are relatively new, the concerns themselves have deep historical roots. He deftly combines environmental, economic, and intellectual history to show that analogous concerns with scarcity and depletion characterized. The practices of pre-industrial farmers and foresters, as well as the policies of those responsible for the management of organic and mineral resources and the theories on which those policies were based."
– Harriet Ritvo, MIT
1. Living from the Land, c.1500-1620
2. Governing the Woods, c.1500-1700
3. Ambition and Experiment, c.1590-1740
4.Paths to Sustained Growth, c.1650-1760
5.Nature Translated, c.1670-1830
6. Theories of Circulation, c.1740-1800
7.Political Economies of Nature, c.1760-1840
8. History and Destiny, c.1700-1870
Conclusion: Ends and Beginnings
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Paul Warde is a Reader in Environmental History at the University of Cambridge. His previous publications include Ecology, Economy and State Formation in Early Modern Germany (Cambridge, 2006), Power to the People: Energy in Europe over the Last Five Centuries (Princeton, 2013), and The Future of Nature: Documents of Global Change (New Haven, 2013).