The increasing sophistication of environmental arguments and
the subjects from which they draw can create problems for the
beginner. There are those who might argue that environmental
education is little more than being nice to nature but in real
terms, environmental science is a highly complex synthetic science
whose practitioners need to be familiar with a very wide range
of disciplines. Indeed, part of the problem we have in understanding,
let alone solving, current environmental issues lies with this
need for a multidisciplinary approach. One practical upshot
of this situation is the current employment market for those
with environmental qualifications is strong.
brings us to the need for texts to help beginners gain this
familiarity with the range of subjects they are likely to deal
with. Dictionaries help but there is need for a more systematic
text which is where this book comes in. There are approximately
220 subjects here, each given a page or two to outline their
key features. To help the reader the book is divided into six
parts. The first covers the range of disciplines that are part
of the environmental pantheon. We start with anthropology and
go through to soil science. Take the entry for 'ecology' as
a case. We start with a brief definition using, in this case,
Margalef's ideas. This is then used as a springboard to sub-divide
the topic. In two pages the basic areas of study are outlined
which, with a half-page of references, makes up the complete
topic (in addition to a series of links to closely related entries).
The references used make interesting reading in themselves.
Some are standard (although the reference to Townsend et al
could have been the more recent edition) and some are less common.
Odum gets a mention for the classic Fundamentals of Ecology
although it is not easy in the text to see where this is cited.
Also, if one is quoting Odum why not Krebs whose work is equally
seminal? This analysis is not to condemn the text but to highlight
the real difficulty the authors have had to put together something
both comprehensive and compact. Everyone would have their own
favourites and the judge needs to be the reader and not the
expert. In this case, the entry does outline key areas and suggest
the importance of the topic. This notion of brief outline, links
and references is continued throughout the text. If part one
dealt with topics then part two deals with environments. There's
an eclectic mix similar to the first part with entries from
Antarctic to vegetation types. Although this section deals with
environments there's a mix of areas and processes. Part three
looks at paradigms and concepts which is a clearer area. Paradigm
itself gets a mention and does a biocomplexity through to uniformatarianism.
Part four looks at processes and covers a range of, largely,
physical geography topics - rock types, cycles, erosion, volcanoes
etc. Part five turns to scales and techniques although there
seems to be only 1 of the former and several of the latter although
the inclusion of small entries for both 'Pleistocene' and 'Quaternary'
leads one to speculate. Finally, part six covers environmental
issues. Here the reader is on surer ground with most of the
key current issues rating a mention (nice to see global dimming
next to global warming as the former is often left out.
an ambitious project. With the range of possibilities at their
command it would be almost impossible to make a list to which
everyone in their own fields would agree. What we do have is
a very commendable spread and some attempt to link closely related
topics and ideas. The reading list will no doubt help expand
areas left with insufficient detail in the entry. Although neither
dictionary nor encyclopedia (for concise or more lengthy analysis)
this book does highlight the considerable range of topics needed
to understand environmental science. It's simple structure and
vast number of topics will help the beginner appreciate the
nature of the task.