Nats 1510 – History of the Environment

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NATS 1510 – History of the Environment
This course looks at the history of human impact on the environment through the lens of technology and science. It is posited that technology has magnified our impact on the environment, both in scale and in scope (e.g. the magnitude of impact and new kinds of impacts – e.g. new technologies). On one end of the spectrum, science has contributed to creating new materials (e.g. plastic) that are harmful to the environment, but science is also our primary tool to determine how we are damaging the environment, and possibly how to fix it. Thus science and technology both hinder and help the environment. We will look closely at the claim that the tendency of science and technology to be appropriated by business and government undermines the ability of environmentalists to enact positive change. The course will consider examples of human interaction with the environment (so-called anthropogenic impacts) from the earliest of human civilizations to present day.
Course Instructor

Dr. Ian Slater, Rm 304 Bethune College, 416-650-8278,

Course website:

Lecture: Tues 7-10, LAS B

Last date to enroll without permission – Sept 19

Last date to drop course without receiving a grade – Nov 9
Required Texts

NATS 1510 3.0 - Course Reader


1. Reading Summary and Critique (3-5 pages) - Oct 2 10%

2. Annotated Bibliography and Thesis Statement (3-5 pages) – Nov 6 10%

3. Short Essay (10 pages) – Nov 27 40%

5. Attendance - 10%

5. Final Examination – 30%

Notes on Evaluation

The summary and critique (about 2/3 summary and 1/3 critique) requires you to read one of three sources from the course (Evernden, Martin or Kirsch), summarize the argument and critique it. The annotated bibliography is a listing of sources related to your thesis with a one to two paragraph summary of each source. Both the list of sources and the thesis statement will change over the term. There are three essay topics to choose from, and all essays must include some discussion of the relationship between science and technology and the environment

Essay Topics

1. Social fixes solve problems by changing the way technology is used. Technological fixes solve problems by changing the way technologies are designed. Given the environmental problems associated with the automobile (pollution, waste, congestion), are we likely to solve these problems with a social fix, a technological fix, or a combination of both?

2. Transforming animals, plants and mineral into profitable natural resources (for consumption, for production, for tourism, etc.) reduces biodiversity, threatens extinction and leads to resource depletion. Society favors large scale production of resources (in the case of agriculture for example, the production of so-called “cash crops.”) Discuss how increasing demands on animal, plant and mineral resources matters to the environment, and possible alternatives to mass-production of natural resources for our use.
3. Science can be used to determine how much damage we are doing to the environment, and in some cases it can be used to fix that damage. Science is also responsible for creating some of that damage, by creating new products and processes that in some cases lead to environmental harm. Given that science can be part of the problem and part of the solution, is science good for the environment?
Lecture Schedule

Sept 11 – Introductory Lecture

- Neil Evernden, The Natural Alien, University of Toronto Press, 1985, Chapter 1
Sept 18

- Paul S. Martin, Twilight of the Mammoths: Ice Age Extinctions and the Rewilding of America, University of California Press, 2005, Prologue and Chapter 2

- James Maclelland and Harold Dorn, Science and Technology in World History, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999, Chapter 3
Sept 25

- Edmund Newell, Atmospheric Pollution and the British Copper Industry, 1690-1920, Technology and Culture, Vol. 38, No. 3 (Jul., 1997), pp. 655-689

- David F. Noble, America By Design: Science, Technology and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism, Oxford University Press, 1977, Chapter 1
Oct 2

- Ann Norton Greene, Horses at Work: Harnessing Power in Industrial America, Chapter 5

- David A Kirsch, The Electric Vehicle and the Burden of History, Rutgers University Press, 2000, Chapter 6, The Burden of History: Expectations Past and Imperfect, pp 195-208

- Assignment 1 due

Oct 9

- Robert Post, Urban Mass-Transit: The Life Story of a Technology, John Hopkins University Press, 2010

Oct 16

- Laura A Ogden, Swamplife: People, Gators, and Mangroves Entangled in the Everglades, University of Minnesota Press, 2011, Chapter 6 – Alligator Conservation, Commodities, and

Tactics of Subversion
Oct 23

- Paul R. Josephson, Motorized Obsessions: Life, Liberty, and the Small-Bore Engine – Chapter 2

Oct 30

- Steven Michael Cohn, Too Cheap To Meter, An Economic and Philosophical Analysis of the Nuclear Dream, Chapter 6, The Disestablishment of Nuclear Power as an Official Technology.

Nov 6

- Richard E. Jackson, Recognizing Emerging Environmental Problems: The Case of Chlorinated Solvents in Groundwater, Technology and Culture, Vol. 45, No. 1 (Jan., 2004), pp. 55-79

- assignment 2 due
Nov 13

- Laura Westra, A Transgenic Dinner? Social and Ethical Issues in Biotechnology and Agriculture, Chapter 4.9 in Laura Westra and Kristin Shrader-Frechette, Technology and Values, Rowman and Littlefield, 1997

Nov 20

- Michael Huesemann and Joyce Huesemann, Techno-Fix: Why Technology Won’t Save Us or the Environment, New Society Publishers, 2011, Chapter 6 - Sustainability or Collapse

Nov 27

Review Lecture

- Essay Due

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