Sumner cliff slideIn 1944, Kenneth Cumberland, a recently emigrated British geographer published Soil Erosion in New Zealand, a geographical survey of what was fast becoming known as the “erosion epidemic”. Refreshingly, Cumberland does not shrink from expressing strong opinions. In the introduction to his book, he writes:

[New Zealand's] cultural youth has been characterised to a large extent by the pioneer destruction of the resources of a little known environment…

The people of New Zealand have been reared in the midst of unnecessary losses of soil and become so accustomed to their presence as to take little heed of them. They often come to consider soil erosion as a “normal”, unavoidable occurrence…

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In a recent essay published in the Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand newsletter, University of Canterbury Professor of Geography Eric Pawson asks why people are becoming more – not less – vulnerable to environmental disasters. Recent events, such as the recent Canterbury earthquakes, the Japan earthquake and tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the Victorian bushfires of 2009 have brought this question to the fore. The primary reason for this increasing vulnerability has been our growing confidence in the human ability to control nature through engineering and other means, leading us to disregard the recurrent and inevitable threat posed by natural hazards. (more…)

At envirohistory NZ, we like to review the most popular posts of each quarter (though sometimes – such as on this occasion – a little late). The top five posts of the first quarter of 2011 covered a wide breadth of topics, from the the environmental histories which contributed to the devastating consequences of the seismic disasters of Christchurch and Japan; an urban wetland; a history of whaling in New Zealand; and the Scandanavian settlers of the Manawatu. Here are the topics in order of hits:

1. The Scandinavian settlers of the Manawatu

2. Waitangi Park – an urban wetland recreated

3. Christchurch: a city haunted by its environmental past? (more…)

Episode 5 of the envirohistory NZ podcast series is now out. This episode explores the critical link between environmental history and the decisions we make about how we shape and live within the environment. To illustrate the importance of environmental history in helping to inform  environmental policy and planning decisions, this episode reflects on two recent natural disasters – the February 22nd Canterbury earthquake and the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in north-eastern Japan. (more…)

When Europeans began arriving in the Canterbury region in the early 1800s, most of the swamp forest – dominated by matai, totara and kahikatea (white pine) – that covered much of the Canterbury Plains in previous centuries was gone. It is thought that it had been destroyed by a great fire that swept across the plains during the moa hunter period, leaving only a scattered bush remnants. (more…)

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