Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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A day for birds, birds for a lifetime

By Thomas R. Dunlap
Bird Day began in 1894 as part of the wildlife conservation movement that sprang up in response to the slaughter of the bison and the Passenger Pigeon. Birds always had a large role, for they were threatened but also familiar and fascinating. More than any other form of life they drew and held people, becoming for many a lifelong interest, passion, and even obsession.

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Looking at trees in a new way

By David Haberman
If I have learned anything as a lifelong student of the world’s multitude of religious traditions, it is that reality for humans is malleable and quite varied — nothing is essential in human experience. Almost everything gets filtered through and shaped by a particular cultural lens. Something as simple as a tree is not so simple after all.

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11 facts about penguins

Happy World Penguin Day! And what better way to celebrate than by looking at photos of penguins waddling, swimming, diving, and generally looking adorable. Penguin facts are lifted from the Oxford Index’s overview page entry on penguins (on the seabird, not the 1950s R&B group).

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The environmental history of Russia’s steppes

By David Moon
When I started researching the environmental history of Russia’s steppes, I planned my visits to archives and libraries for conventional historical research. But I wanted to get a sense of the steppe environment I was writing about, a context for the texts I was reading; I needed to explore the region. I was fortunate that several Russian and Ukrainian specialists agreed to take me along on expeditions and field trips to visit steppe nature reserves.

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What does Earth Day mean for an environmental law scholar?

By Liz Fisher
I have been pondering this question since asking my seven-year-old son (who for the record is not an environmental law scholar) what Earth Day was about and he told me ‘That’s the day you think about climate change and stuff’. His description might not be the most accurate and Earth Day has a complex history, but he is correct in the general sentiment.

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Earth Day

By Michael Allaby
Today is Earth Day. At least, that’s the date of the official International Mother Earth Day, as adopted by the United Nations in 2009. It’s a day when we’re asked to reflect on the interdependence of all living things, our responsibility to restore damaged environments to health, and to cherish the world around us.

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How is Earth doing after 40 years of Earth Days?

By Daniel B. Botkin
This year we will celebrate Earth Day for the 43rd time.  Where have we come in those years in dealing with the environment, and how has Earth’s environment fared? I have been an ecological scientist since 1965, five years before the first Earth day. Many improvements have taken place in how the major nations deal with the environment.

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Sacred groves

By Eliza F. Kent
In 1967, the historian Lynn White, Jr., published a ground-breaking essay proposing that values embedded in Christianity had helped to legitimize the despoliation of the earth. Writing three years before the first Earth Day, White argued in “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis” that Biblical cosmologies granted moral sanction to our unrestrained exploitation of natural resources

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Earth Day then, Earth Day now: ages apart

By Larry Rasmussen
By the late 1960s, air and water pollution had already achieved serious environmental damage in the USA. Acid rain damaged forests, smog plagued cities, and suburban sprawl in its own paved-over way extended urban blight. Yet little appropriate national legislation existed. There was no Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Clean Water Act, or Endangered Species Act. Land, rivers, and people — whether in city or countryside — were all dumped on.

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Earth Day 2013: dating creation

By Martin Redfern
Attempts to calculate the age of the Earth came originally out of theology. It is only comparatively recently that so-called creationists have interpreted the Bible literally and therefore believe that Creation took just seven 24-hour days. St Augustine had argued in his commentary on Genesis that God’s vision is outside time and therefore that each of the days of Creation referred to in the Bible could have lasted a lot longer than 24 hours. Even the much quoted estimate in the 17th century by Irish Archbishop Ussher that the Earth was created in 4004 BC was only intended as a minimum age and was based on carefully researched historical records, notably of the generations of patriarchs and prophets referred to in the Bible.

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Can we raise woolly mammoths from their Pleistocene graves?

By Sharon Levy
Thousands of years after the last woolly mammoth died, some bioengineers dream of resurrecting the species. When I first heard their arguments, these folks struck me as the modern, high-tech version of snake-oil salesmen. When I first heard their arguments, these folks struck me as the modern, high-tech version of snake-oil salesmen.

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A green equilibrium fosters a new behavior in Sri Lanka

By Christopher Wills
The balancing act that keeps ecosystems intact results from interactions, not only among the animals and plants, but also among their many smaller pathogens, parasites, symbionts, and pollinators. Taken together, all these interactions among the visible and invisible world produce an ecological balance, a green equilibrium.

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Environmental History’s growing pains

By Nancy C. Unger
In the fall of 1994 I was invited to offer my university’s first environmental history course. Entering this unchartered territory, I scrambled to find sample syllabi and appropriate books. Nearly two decades later, environmental history is a standard course offering, and my university, like so many others, boasts a thriving Environmental Studies major as well as a major in Environmental Science

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What can animals see, hear, or sense?

Our world is dominated by colours and patterns that provide information about how to behave and survive. These are a product of how our sensory system and brain interpret the physical properties of the environment. For example, how people see and describe colours can depend on whether they have ‘normal’ colour vision or not, what culture they come from, and even what their emotional state is. Colour is in the eye of the beholder!

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