Friday, December 22, 2017

Forest regulation and its critics in early China

The latest Environmental History has an article by Ian Matthew Miller, "Forestry and the Politics of Sustainability in Early China", with some fascinating discussion of arguments for and against regulation in Chinese philosophy. The abstract:
Between the sixth and second centuries BCE, Chinese states developed offices to oversee the sustainable use of forest resources. This era, often cited as a period of rampant environmental degradation, also saw the emergence of a discourse of sustainability. The early philosopher texts criticized the environmental and moral degradation of their era in order to promote specific policy interventions. In response to the deforestation they depicted, moralist and pragmatist philosophers alike argued for regulations on land use as the basis of a sustainable political order. Early states used these ideas to justify state forestry, culminating in extensive forest bureaucracies under the Qin and Han empires in the second and third centuries. These forestry institutions were among the earliest in the world, preceding state forestry programs in Europe and Japan by nearly two millennia. Yet even at the early apex of state forestry, many thinkers criticized government regulation as immoral or ineffective and promoted the self-sufficient community as an alternative basis of conservation. These early texts were established as the core of the Chinese philosophical tradition, and their arguments for and against state regulation became the basis of many later debates over sustainability and institutional forestry.
9th century version of the character yu (hunter or forester)
(Chuan Cao, 2016, from the article)

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