Our environment –  legacy of our colonial past? 

We live in a society forged by the experience of empire. It affects our education, beliefs and values, the language we speak, and even the pressing social and political issues we face today.

But how much is New Zealand’s environment the legacy of our colonial past? It’s a question being asked by University of Waikato historian Dr James Beattie, who’s the author of a recent book on the environmental culture of the British Empire

The book, Empire and Environmental Anxiety, 1800-1920, reveals the dynamic connections between imperialism, environmental modification and conservation in colonial South Asia, New Zealand and Australia – and provides a valuable historical background to resource management issues we face today.

“Most studies represent European expansion as reckless, confident and profligate,” says environmental historian Dr Beattie. “This study presents a picture of greater complexity.”

Dr Beattie’s research shows systematic deforestation was accompanied by anxieties about human-induced climate change. He’s found evidence of colonial fears about the power of environments to affect health.

His book also argues that conservation was a form of imperial control that generated revenue and enabled resources to be more systematically exploited.