BOOKS IN BRIEF
EDUCATION, CULTURAL MYTHS, AND THE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS: TOWARD DEEP CHANGES, by C. A. Bowers (State University of New York Press, Albany, N.Y., 232 pp., $39.50 cloth, $12.95 paper). Professor Bowers, who teaches at Portland State University and the University of Oregon, writes that he believes firmly that "the cultural dimensions of the ecological crisis raise profound questions for educators who play such a key role in passing on the cultural templates to the next generation."
Most teaching in United States schools and universities, Bowers asserts, promotes attitudes that have led to overconsumption and pollution. Most reform advocates - liberal as well as conservative - ignore this important aspect of education, he says.
In this scholarly and provocative book, the author calls for "radical reform of the educational process," and says "the challenge for educators will be to assess whether the curricula they teach contribute to the myths of progress and an anthropocentric universe or to sustainable balanced living."
THE WEALTH OF NATURE: ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY AND THE ECOLOGICAL IMAGINATION, by Donald Worster (Oxford University Press, 255 pp., $25). One failing of the traditional academic field of history has been the lack of reference to the natural environment in which mankind quarreled and reasoned, made discoveries and progressed. How were we influenced by our natural surroundings, and what was the ecological impact of our development?
Donald Worster, professor of history at the University of Kansas, has been insightfully probing these issues for years. He is an eminent environmental historian and the author of several books including "Under Western Skies" (1992), "Dust Bowl" (1982), and "Rivers of Empire" (1987).
"The Wealth of Nature" is a collection of well-written articles and essays in which he explores such subjects as agriculture, water development, public lands, and what he calls "the cultural roots of the modern environmental crisis."
While environmental history by definition focuses on what Worster calls "the material reality of the natural world," the author here is searching much deeper - "to discover a less-reductive, less-ecologically and spiritually nihilistic, less-grasping kind of materialism."
BEGINNING AGAIN: PEOPLE AND NATURE IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM, by David Ehrenfeld (Oxford University Press, 216 pp., $22). David Ehrenfeld sees his work as a writer in prophetic terms, by which he means not just foretelling the future but "describing the present with exceptional truthfulness and accuracy."
Drawing on the teaching and publishing he does as a professor of biology at Rutgers University, Ehrenfeld concludes that "human population, powered by an unforgiving, ill-adapted, and poorly functioning technology, is rapidly growing past the inevitable crash point."
It is important to work at protecting the environment, he emphasizes in this collection of essays, but life in "the new millennium" will depend on "a revision of the way we use the world in our everyday living when we are not thinking about conservation."
AGENDA 21: THE EARTH SUMMIT STRATEGY TO SAVE OUR PLANET, edited by Daniel Sitarz with introduction by Sen. Paul Simon (Earthpress: Boulder, Colo., 321 pp., $24.95). This abridged version of the massive document produced at last year's United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro (the Earth Summit) covers, as the editor writes, "virtually every aspect of human civilization" in 40 separate sections with 120 action programs outlined.
The Earth Summit was an enormously ambitious gathering with virtually every nation represented. Tackling problems ranging from over-population to hazardous waste, from energy to international trade will require an even greater effort in vision and persistence. For those who believe in "thinking globally," this book is an excellent resource.