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Article: An eighteenth-century plea for sustainable forestry: Ostervald’s Description des montagnes & vallées du pays de Neuchâtel (1764)

TitleAn eighteenth-century plea for sustainable forestry: Ostervald’s Description des montagnes & vallées du pays de Neuchâtel (1764)
Authors
Issue Date2015
PublisherAMS Press, Inc. The Journal's web site is located at http://www.amspressinc.com/16501850.html
Citation
1650-1850: Ideas, Aesthetics, and Inquiries in the Early Modern Era, 2015, v. 22 How to Cite?
AbstractThis paper examines surprisingly relevant ideas about sustainability that are highlighted in the works of Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) of Geneva, and Frédéric Samuel Ostervald (1713-1795) of Neuchâtel. Ostervald authored an economic survey entitled Description des montagnes & vallées du pays de Neuchâtel en 1764 [Description of the mountains and valleys of Neuchâtel in 1764], which records unsustainable practices in a region with a relatively advanced industrial base: There is too little attention paid to the conservation and economy of the forests, whose complete destruction will one day render these areas uninhabitable. Would one believe that in a country that was once completely covered [by forest], the current dearness and ever-increasing cost of wood could have reduced these peoples to using peat and extracting the roots of half-rotted pines from their marshes? Ostervald uses a vocabulary that is familiar from current sustainability discourse: ‘conservation’, ‘complete destruction’, and ‘uninhabitable’. He attributes deforestation to two factors: (1) wood-consuming activities (industry, habitation, fuel), and (2) failure to replant the trees used. Rousseau, who lived in the Val de Travers near Neuchâtel from 1762 to 1765 agreed that the region was deforested: ‘one sees very few trees in the valley; they grow poorly and give almost no fruit’. His observation is illustrated by the engravings in Laborde and Zurlauben’s Tableaux de la Suisse. Drawing on this example, Rousseau warned Corsica against deforestation: Switzerland was once covered by woods in such abundance that it was inconvenienced. But as much for the extension of pasturage as for establishment of manufacturing, these were cut without limit or regulation; now all that remains of these immense forests are almost naked rocks. Happily, alerted by the example of France, the Swiss have seen the danger and have imposed order….It remains to be seen if their precautions are not too late; for if despite these precautions their woods diminish daily it is clear that they will be destroyed. Both accounts indicate that deforestation was well advanced by the mid-18th century in the Swiss Jura and that without corrective action, this process would prove irreversible, rendering the region uninhabitable. Rousseau took a somewhat more optimistic view of the chances for reversing the trend than did Ostervald. Ostervald likewise shows that low population density was no guarantee of sustainable land use because industries deceptively nestled on hills and in valleys were consuming the wood that was not being replaced. As Rousseau wrote, ‘[i]t is only in Switzerland that one find this mélange of wild nature and human industry.’ This ‘mélange’, both authors make clear, posed special problems that urgently needed to be addressed.
Persistent Identifierhttp://hdl.handle.net/10722/215655
ISSN

 

DC FieldValueLanguage
dc.contributor.authorCook, A-
dc.date.accessioned2015-08-21T13:34:24Z-
dc.date.available2015-08-21T13:34:24Z-
dc.date.issued2015-
dc.identifier.citation1650-1850: Ideas, Aesthetics, and Inquiries in the Early Modern Era, 2015, v. 22-
dc.identifier.issn1065-3112-
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/10722/215655-
dc.description.abstractThis paper examines surprisingly relevant ideas about sustainability that are highlighted in the works of Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) of Geneva, and Frédéric Samuel Ostervald (1713-1795) of Neuchâtel. Ostervald authored an economic survey entitled Description des montagnes & vallées du pays de Neuchâtel en 1764 [Description of the mountains and valleys of Neuchâtel in 1764], which records unsustainable practices in a region with a relatively advanced industrial base: There is too little attention paid to the conservation and economy of the forests, whose complete destruction will one day render these areas uninhabitable. Would one believe that in a country that was once completely covered [by forest], the current dearness and ever-increasing cost of wood could have reduced these peoples to using peat and extracting the roots of half-rotted pines from their marshes? Ostervald uses a vocabulary that is familiar from current sustainability discourse: ‘conservation’, ‘complete destruction’, and ‘uninhabitable’. He attributes deforestation to two factors: (1) wood-consuming activities (industry, habitation, fuel), and (2) failure to replant the trees used. Rousseau, who lived in the Val de Travers near Neuchâtel from 1762 to 1765 agreed that the region was deforested: ‘one sees very few trees in the valley; they grow poorly and give almost no fruit’. His observation is illustrated by the engravings in Laborde and Zurlauben’s Tableaux de la Suisse. Drawing on this example, Rousseau warned Corsica against deforestation: Switzerland was once covered by woods in such abundance that it was inconvenienced. But as much for the extension of pasturage as for establishment of manufacturing, these were cut without limit or regulation; now all that remains of these immense forests are almost naked rocks. Happily, alerted by the example of France, the Swiss have seen the danger and have imposed order….It remains to be seen if their precautions are not too late; for if despite these precautions their woods diminish daily it is clear that they will be destroyed. Both accounts indicate that deforestation was well advanced by the mid-18th century in the Swiss Jura and that without corrective action, this process would prove irreversible, rendering the region uninhabitable. Rousseau took a somewhat more optimistic view of the chances for reversing the trend than did Ostervald. Ostervald likewise shows that low population density was no guarantee of sustainable land use because industries deceptively nestled on hills and in valleys were consuming the wood that was not being replaced. As Rousseau wrote, ‘[i]t is only in Switzerland that one find this mélange of wild nature and human industry.’ This ‘mélange’, both authors make clear, posed special problems that urgently needed to be addressed.-
dc.languageeng-
dc.publisherAMS Press, Inc. The Journal's web site is located at http://www.amspressinc.com/16501850.html-
dc.relation.ispartof1650-1850: Ideas, Aesthetics, and Inquiries in the Early Modern Era-
dc.titleAn eighteenth-century plea for sustainable forestry: Ostervald’s Description des montagnes & vallées du pays de Neuchâtel (1764)-
dc.typeArticle-
dc.identifier.emailCook, A: cookga@hkucc.hku.hk-
dc.identifier.authorityCook, A=rp01219-
dc.identifier.hkuros249960-
dc.identifier.volume22-
dc.publisher.placeUnited States-

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