Monday, May 27, 2013

Farmer reviews Radkau, "Wood: A History"

Jared Farmer reviews Joachim Radkau's Wood: A History (trans. Patrick Camiller, Polity, 2012) in April's Environmental History, calling the book "masterful scholarship" (I can vouch that the same is true of Radkau's Nature and Power (Cambridge, 2008)). Farmer writes:
Radkau... asserts there never was a true wood shortage in eighteenth-century Europe or nineteenth-century America. “Deforestation phobia” was largely an invention of the state. Wood seemed scarcer because the state wanted to control the supply and raise the price. Forest ordinance, bureaucracy, forestry, and militarization all went hand in hand. In the new European system, which began to emerge as early as the sixteenth century, soldier-foresters guarded a “high forest” managed for long rotations of tall timber. It replaced a multiuse “low forest,” where domesticated animals grazed among coppiced trees used for firewood and charcoal. Far from being a tragedy of the commons, the old forest regime was regulated by a “moral economy” of user rights, wood courts, and local hierarchies. The transition from the communal system to the centralized system brought social discord. This is why Radkau characterizes “forest famine” as an institutional crisis rather than an ecological one.

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