Historian discusses environmental crises

Emory University historian Patrick Allitt gives a lecture titled, “The Environment & America from 1950–2010” at the George Washington Forum in Baker Center. (Dustin Lennert| Picture Editor)

The United States has had its fair share of environmental crises during the past century, and in a presentation Tuesday evening, a noted historian walked an audience through the debates around those crises.

Patrick Allitt, the Cahoon Family professor of American history at Emory University, spoke to a crowd of about 80 in Baker University Center for a talk titled “The Environment & America, 1950–2010” hosted by the George Washington Forum.

Allitt studied at the University of Oxford in England before obtaining a doctorate in American history from the University of California, Berkeley. He has published several books, most recently with Yale University Press, and is now working with Penguin Group to publish a book about American environmental debates.

“(Allitt) is one of the rare people who actually combines prolific, enviable scholarly production and is also an excellent teacher,” said Robert Ingram, an associate professor of history at Ohio University and founding director of the George Washington Forum.

Various outside organizations support the forum, though the Apgar Foundation Inc. and The Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation funded Tuesday’s lecture.

Allitt focused on environmental scares in America during the last half-century. Although he admitted he didn’t have the technical knowledge to examine the scientific details, he said he examines the debates from a historical point of view.

After walking through environmental crises — such as overpopulation, scarcity of natural resources, environmental cancer and global warming — Allitt detailed his conclusion that society must weigh precautions taken against the effect those precautions may have on industry.

“We ought not to get preoccupied with what we’re going to do now to help people 50 years in the future,” Allitt said. “Let each generation concentrate on taking care of their own.”

Allitt noted that he wasn’t agreeing or disagreeing with the environmental debates he explored, but does believe society shouldn’t disregard skeptics.

“I do think that a lot of the skeptics are reasonable in their skepticisms,” he said. “It’s not that these problems aren’t problems — they are — it’s that they’re manageable problems.”


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