JEG 1998

Jaarboek voor Ecologische Geschiedenis



Geert Castryck & Michiel Decaluwe (Guest editors)

De relatie tussen economie en ecologie gisteren, vandaag en morgen Handelingen van de interdisciplinaire studiedagen ‘Ecologische en economische geschiedenis’ (Gent, 21 november 1997) ‘De spanning tussen economie en ecologie’ (Gent, 3 en 4 maart 1998)




Herman Balthazar



Erik Thoen

Wat kan de geschiedenis leren over de spanning tussen economie en ecologie?


[What can history teach about the tension between economy and ecology?]

This text tries to formulate some personal considerations on the role ‘ecological history’ can play as a discipline in understanding the relation between today’s economic reality and the environmental changes.


Jan Bieleman

Landbouw en milieu - Een eeuwig spanningsveld?


[Agriculture and the environment - An eternal area of tension?]

For centuries, the restricted availability of nutrients limited agricultural production, leading only to a minimal surplus. The spreading of first ‘clover cultivation’ and then of fertilizers increased the availability of nutrients, leading to higher productivity. This is a turning point in the area of tension between population growth and foods. Simultaneously, other land saving technologies showed to be successful, such as using bought (meaning produced outside the farm) fodder crops and forced feeding. The fifties brought with them another major turning point in the development of agriculture. A rapidly changing relationship between labour costs and product prices ignited a process of mechanization, specialization, rationalization and an increased scale. An ever growing input of fodder led to an enormous increase of the cattle density. Although fodder was imported manure remained on the place of production. Hence, eutrophication became a serious threat for the quality of the environment.


Isabelle Parmentier, Stedelijke vervuiling in de 18de eeuw - Een studie op basis van de stadsrekeningen van Ath, Charleroi en Nijvel


[Urban pollution during the 18th century, A study based upon the communal accounts of Ath, Charleroi and Nivelles]

This article investigates pollution during the Ancien Régime based upon an analysis of the communal accounts of three Walloon towns : Ath, Charleroi and Nivelles. The author shows the importance of communal accounts as a source for the study of environmental history, especially when this information is confronted with that derived from other (legal, ...) sources. It is demonstrated that 18th century local authorities showed real interest in problems related to pollution. It is, however, less evident that this concern was enough to tackle these problems if one examines legal actions against those who broke the law. The conclusion is that a large variety of measures were taken to tackle pollution, depending on the time and the place.


Pierre-Alain Tallier

Een nieuwe geschiedenis van het bos in België van het einde van de 18de eeuw tot 1914 - Pleidooi voor een globale benadering


[A new history of the Belgian woods from the late 18th century to 1914 - A plea for an integral approach]

In this article the author summarizes the major findings of his Ph.D. dissertation on the evolution of Belgian woods between the late 18th and the early 20th century, in which he refutes some earlier arguments on this subject. He stresses that the wooded area stabilized during this period and that it did not shrink under the influence of modern society. On the contrary, the Walloon industry could develop mainly because of the presence of these woods, which were privatized during the French and the Dutch period and which were, opposed to the general belief, well managed. Economy and ecology were well integrated in those days, and it can serve as an example for contemporary forestry.


Jelier A.J. Vervloet

Economie en ecologie in een historisch-landschappelijke optiek


[The close relationship between economy and ecology, read through the history of the landscape]

Inside and outside the geographical discipline, some researchers increasingly tend towards the idea that our natural substrate is totally transformable and that our environment can be totally ‘made to order’. Especially 19th century geographers followed a completely different thesis: man was totally determined by his surroundings. It is clear that these changing theoretical basic assumptions must relate to the various ways of thinking about our environment: the perception of nature through our history. The above cannot be separated from the thought that man was and is exploiting nature. In using available natural resources, man always tried to satisfy his economical needs. This creates a link between nature and economy. One can assume that the character of this involvement is a determining factor in the way man thinks about his relation with his environment. This contribution deals with landscape as the crystallization of this relationship between economy and ecology. Central questions are how man, during history, experienced his environment, how he dealt with it, which effect he had on this natural environment, to which landscapes this led and which landscapes will result from this relationship in the next century.


Eric Vanhaute

Van Malthus tot Rio - Retoriek rond economie en ecologie


[From Malthus to Rio Rhetoric on economy and ecology]

A changing world creates new images of this world. Some of them are of a distinct emancipatory character whilst others legitimize existing relations. The thesis held in this article is that ‘totalitarian’ ecological-biological models of society a) confirm social inequality and b) gain popularity in periods of increased insecurity. First there was Malthus, probably the most important spokesman in the period of first industrial revolution. His work is an example of how far-going social analyses are based upon apparently neutral observations such as ‘under unlimited conditions population growth exceeds the growth rate of foods’. A general ecological-biological translation of social processes legitimates a status quo in the name of general interest. Nearly a century later, during the second industrial revolution, ecological-biological concepts emerge within social Darwinism. The description of social processes is based upon biological concepts. Again, an ecological-biological discourse is used to legitimize existing power structures, also in the name of general interest. The late 20th century is in many ways comparable to these two moments of acceleration. It is clear that a similar alarming-legitimizing discourse is present.


Johan Braeckman

Omgaan met begrensdheid - Beschouwingen over ecologie, economie en demografie


[Dealing with limits Considering ecology, economy and demography]

Summary This article looks for rational motives ‘which led man to the irrational exploitation of nature. In this quest, the author comes to the conclusion that seeming ration, on a micro-scale could be completely irrational on a macro-scale and vice versa. Our growth-obsessed economy is drastically opposed to the restricted nature of our planet. This consideration is the central issue of environmental problems and is crucial in the environmental debate. The ecological capacity of our planer allows no continued exponential growth, and the cultural capacity or the capacity at a given standard of living reaches its breaking point even sooner. Some fundamental values which could bring man more well-being and happiness, and which will demand serious reflection by present and future policy makers, are being discussed. Are we prepared to take decisions which are against our interests, in view of the well-being of those yet to come?


Guy Quintelier

Mens en natuur - Een noodzakelijke conflictspanning en haar mogelijke oplossingen


[Man and nature, Possible solutions for a necessary but conflictuous tension]

This contribution does not want to be a forum for yet another discussion on values but aims to present both concrete and radical solutions for the conflicting tensions between man and nature. According to the author, every significant solution must take into consideration that the relation between man and nature is not harmonic and will always be subject to change and conflict. The reality-content, pros and cons of some known alternatives for the present capitalist waste economy are dealt with. Environmental technology, zero-growth and an ecological dictates show to be unsatisfactory. Finally this leaves us one idealistic alternative: an ecologically balanced economy, respecting the human dependence of nature. Concretely, this means aiming towards sustainability and using human labour in the production process. Here too, the question remains: are we prepared to take decisions which are against our interests, or against our supposed interests?


Isabelle Larmuseau

Het (milieu) recht als oplossing voor de spanning tussen economie en ecologie


[Environmental law as a solution for the tension between economy and ecology]

In her presentation, Isabelle Larmuseau situated and analyzed environmental legislation in function of the tension between economy and ecology. A clear classification of those legal rules relevant with respect to environmental pollution is followed by a brief presentation of some concrete legal rules and principles of justice. Regulations in which economy takes ecology into consideration are distinguished from regulations in which ecology considers economy. The often heard criticism that the legislator no longer considers the economic impact of environmental legislation is nuanced by the author. We must not be blind for the drastic measures which must be taken. Entrepreneurial circles are, however, capable of making the authorities consider the economic impact of environmental policy. It is up to the economic actors to decide whether they go for an economically well-considered environmental policy or whether they want to defend their economic interests. The author concludes with examples showing a real involvement of economic actors in environmental legislation.


Jan Luiten van Zanden

De markt voor natuur en milieu en de groene Kuznets-Curve


[A market for nature and the environment and the green Kuznzets curve]

This article examines the question of whether there is a certain connection between economic growth and pollution. The first impression is that growth nearly always harms the environment and nature. Recent international comparative research however indicates that in the richer countries this unequivocal correlation disappears in favour of the reverse situation: a higher income would be accompanied by less pollution. Explaining this relationship is the topic addressed in this contribution. Central are the changing appreciation of nature and the environment. The higher income levels and urbanization degrees, the higher a clean environment and an abundant nature are valued: they become luxury consumption products. This leads consumers and the electorate in countries with booming economies to develop actions to protect nature and to clean up pollution. The next question tackled is how the political system deals with this growing demand for environmental protection. A well functioning political system will allow a policy shift effectively leading to improved environmental protection. Once started, this can lead to the prevention of further harm to the environment. Whether it will be possible to combine growth and a cleaner environment will depend on a) the power of the environmentalist movement through which the growing appreciation for the environment is made visible and b) the efficiency of the political system in realizing a combined pattern of (economic) growth and (environmental) protection.


Eckhart Kuijken

Van roofbouw tot duurzame ontwikkeling? - Een ecologische benadering van de relatie tussen economie en ecologie


[From exhaustion to sustainable development? An ecological approach to the relation between

economy and ecology]

This contribution discusses the relation economy-ecology from a biological point of view, with an undertone of concern for nature conservation. The essential contributions of living species and ecosystem processes, such as photosynthesis and energy flows, are taken for granted. That is why they are so poorly appreciated in economical terms and processes, although they undergo a continued and increased pressure threatening their existence. The ever actual problems of the difficult integration of nature and environmental policy are put in a historical perspective. In contemporary society, a western consumption economy following free market principles focusing on individual welfare, any appeal to collective care and responsibility will be in vain. Nonchalance and a failing environmental education are some of the causes. On top of that, the often difficult communication between representatives of various disciplines (economists, sociologists, engineers and biologists) hinders an ecologically integrated policy.


Aviel Verbruggen

De druk van de industriële samenleving op het milieu


[The pressure of an industrial society on the environment]

A growing industrial system set within a limited nature necessarily leads to the conclusion that the use of nature must both improve and decrease. Changing the way in which we use nature is however a difficult social process as it requires a substantial change in mentality. So far, nature was considered as being freely accessible and usable. It is the duty of environmental policy to manage this change. The complexity of this mission becomes clear if one considers the omnipresence of the use of nature in the daily life of citizens. On top of that, an adequate environmental policy requires instant sacrifices which will only show to be effective at a later stage. This is contradictory to the well accepted ‘quid pro quo’ principle, again requiring a changing mentality. In order to be both efficient and effective environmental policy needs to be based upon scientific evidence and must consider all topic related to environmental harm. This presentation focuses on those factors of social pressure which are incorporated in the MlRA - 2 report, the second Flemish report on nature and the environment.


Herman Deroo, Renaat Tijskens, Frank Van Sevencoten en Guy Quintelier

Bijdragen van het discussiepanel aan de debatten


Pieter Saey

Rationaliteit, kapitalisme en wetenschap in vraaggesteld - Slotbeschouwingen bij het colloquium, ‘De spanning tussen economie en ecologie’


[Rationality, capitalism and science questioned - Concluding remarks on the colloquium ‘tensions between economy and ecology’]

The colloquium aimed to bring together scientists from different disciplines in order to reduce the mental distance between them and to obtain a more accurate insight in the tensions between economy and ecology. One can expect scientists to draw an objective picture of reality and to collaborate in finding solutions for social and technical problems. Are these objectives met? The distinct merit of this interdisciplinary colloquium lies in its undermining the credibility of Robinson Crusoe-style stories not placed in their historical context and in not underestimating the awkwardness of the current environmental problems.