Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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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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Rain explained

By Storm Dunlop
Rainfall in excessive quantities or in an unusual location may give rise to flooding – as we have seen only too frequently in Britain in the past year – but quite apart from such problems and its many other uses, water is absolutely essential for agriculture – particularly in tropical countries where the onset and progress of the monsoon is anxiously awaited, and in regions where agriculture is utterly dependent on precipitation brought by the less predictable tropical cyclones – known as ‘cyclones’, ‘hurricanes’, or ‘typhoons’, depending on their location around the world.

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What is ‘the brain supremacy’?

Q: What is the brain supremacy? A: I use the phrase ‘the brain supremacy’ to describe the increasing relevance of neuroscience. It foresees an era – whose birth is already well underway – when the balance of power within the sciences will shift from the natural to the life sciences, from physics and chemistry to the fast-moving sciences of the mind and brain.

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Five inconvenient truths about the Antarctic

By Klaus Dodds
When I wrote The Antarctic: A Very Short Introduction, I wanted the book to be something of a provocation. The aim, in short, was to highlight things that often get neglected in the midst of stories and images of past and present explorers, melting ice caps, tourists and the penguin. The reality is rather more disturbing.

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The five stages of climate change acceptance

By Andrew T. Guzman
A few days ago, the President of the United States used the State of the Union address to call for action on climate change. The easy way to do so would have been to call on Congress to take action. Had President Obama framed his remarks in this way, he would have given a nod to those concerned about climate change, but nothing would happen because there is virtually no chance of Congressional action.

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The dog: How did it become man’s best friend?

The 11th February marks the opening of Westminster Kennel Club’s 137th Annual All Breed Dog Show. First held in 1877, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is America’s second-longest continuously held sporting event, behind only the Kentucky Derby. The Westminster Dog Show epitomizes our long-standing tradition of domestication of dogs, but how did we arrive at such a moment in human and dog relations? The Encyclopedia of Mammals, edited by David MacDonald, offers some explanation as to how this species went from being wild prey-hunters to “best in show”, and from defending territories to defending last year’s titles.

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Examining photographs of Einstein’s brain is not phrenology!

By Dean Falk, Fred Lepore, and Adrianne Noe
Imagine that you return from work to find that a thief has broken into your home. The police arrive and ask if they may dust for finger and palm prints. Which would you do? (A) Refuse permission because palm reading is an antiquated pseudoscience or (B) give permission because forensic dermatoglyphics is sometimes useful for identifying culprits. A similar question may be asked about the photographs of the external surface of Albert Einstein’s brain that recently emerged after being lost to science for over half a century.

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Douglas Christie on contemplative ecology

There is a deep and pervasive hunger for a less fragmented and more integrated way of understanding and inhabiting the world. What must change if we are to live in a sustainable relationship with other organisms? What role do our moral and spiritual values play in responding to the ecological crisis? We sat down with Douglas E. Christie, author of The Blue Sapphire of the Mind, to discuss a contemplative approach to ecological thought and practice that can help restore our sense of the earth as a sacred place.

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