Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)
(1) His quasi-poetic musings on the place of nature, and the plea that humankind better familiarize itself with its workings if it expects to plot a responsible trajectory into its own future. This line of thinking speaks directly to the moral-ethical underpinnings of the current biodiversity conservation movement.
(2) His collecting and systematics work, which brought to professionals and laypersons alike a wealth of knowledge on the basic characteristics of biodiversity. In addition to being one of the most prolific specimen collectors of any time, he is increasingly being recognized both as history's pre-eminent tropical naturalist, and as one of its leading field biologists.
(3) The conservation of natural resources. On several occasions Wallace wrote on the conservation of nonrenewable resources, especially in the context of international trade.
(4) The degradation of landscape and climate. Wallace's knowledge of physical geography was very extensive, and he was a pioneer in recognizing how various synergies might result in the deterioration of surface processes.
(5) The protection of technologically inadvanced peoples. No one in his own time was more vocal in his insistence that culturally unsophisticated native peoples were yet our equals so far as intelligence and morality go. In practice, this implicitly became a plea for their fair and humane treatment.
(6) Land planning. Wallace's ideas and plans for land nationalization and other land conservation programs were ahead of their time, featuring suggestions for "rural renewal" such as the preservation of ancient monuments and commons grounds, the conservation of nonrenewable resources, geographically-graded property rental rate plans, and the construction of greenbelts.
In the following I have brought together the better part of Wallace's writings on conservation subjects and arranged them in simple chronological order, adding a few introductory notes along the way. Abbreviated source references are given as needed for each item; full citations can be found in the "Wallace Bibliography" section. We begin with his earliest notable commentary, a passage that has become one of the most frequently cited calls to arms of the biodiversity studies movement.
. . . In dwelling upon this subject--which I trust I have succeeded in making intelligible--my object has been to show the important bearing of researches into the natural history of every part of the world upon the study of its past history. An accurate knowledge of any group of birds or of insects, and of their geographical distribution, may assist us to map out the islands and continents of a former epoch; the amount of difference that exists between the animals of adjacent districts being closely dependent upon preceding geological changes. By the collection of such minute facts alone can we hope to fill up a great gap in the past history of the earth as revealed by geology, and obtain some indications of the existence of those ancient lands which now lie buried beneath the ocean, and have left us nothing but these living records of their former existence.
It is for such inquiries the modern naturalist collects his materials; it is for this that he still wants to add to the apparently boundless treasures of our national museums, and will never rest satisfied as long as the native country, the geographical distribution, and the amount of variation of any living thing remains imperfectly known. He looks upon every species of animal and plant now living as the individual letters which go to make up one of the volumes of our earth's history; and, as a few lost letters may make a sentence unintelligible, so the extinction of the numerous forms of life which the progress of cultivation invariably entails will necessarily obscure this invaluable record of the past. It is, therefore, an important object, which governments and scientific institutions should immediately take steps to secure, that in all tropical countries colonised by Europeans the most perfect collections possible in every branch of natural history should be made and deposited in national museums, where they may be available for study and interpretation.
If this is not done, future ages will certainly look back upon us as a people so immersed in the pursuit of wealth as to be blind to higher considerations. They will charge us with having culpably allowed the destruction of some of those records of Creation which we had it in our power to preserve; and while professing to regard every living thing as the direct handiwork and best evidence of a Creator, yet, with a strange inconsistency, seeing many of them perish irrecoverably from the face of the earth, uncared for and unknown.
In 1872, Wallace set out an innovative plan for the use of land surrounding Victoria Park in London:
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In 1873, in one of his first extended writings on a political question, Wallace expressed concern for free trade principles in their relation to the conservation of natural resources:
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The following excerpt, concerning land degradation, comes from pages 18-21 of the first essay, "The Climate and Physical Aspects of the Equatorial Zone" (S288), in Wallace's 1878 collection Tropical Nature and Other Essays (S719):
. . . Whether we are at Singapore or Batavia; in the Moluccas, or New Guinea; at Para, at the sources of the Rio Negro, or on the Upper Amazon, the equatorial climate is essentially the same, and we have no reason to believe that it materially differs in Guinea or the Congo. In certain localities, however, a more contrasted wet and dry season prevails, with a somewhat greater range of the thermometer. This is generally associated with a sandy soil, and a less dense forest, or with an open and more cultivated country. The open sandy country with scattered trees and shrubs or occasional thickets, which is found at Santarem and Monte-Alegre on the lower Amazon, are examples, as well as the open cultivated plains of Southern Celebes; but in both cases the forest country in adjacent districts has a moister and more uniform climate, so that it seems probable that the nature of the soil or the artificial clearing away of the forests, are important agents in producing the departure from the typical equatorial climate observed in such districts. The almost rainless district of Ceara on the North-East coast of Brazil and only a few degrees south of the equator, is a striking example of the need of vegetation to react on the rainfall. We have here no apparent cause but the sandy soil and bare hills, which when heated by the equatorial sun produce ascending currents of warm air and thus prevent the condensation of the atmospheric vapour, to account for such an anomaly; and there is probably no district where judicious planting would produce such striking and beneficial effects. In Central India the scanty and intermittent rainfall, with its fearful accompaniment of famine, is no doubt in great part due to the absence of a sufficient proportion of forest-covering to the earth's surface; and it is to a systematic planting of all the hill tops, elevated ridges, and higher slopes that we can alone look for a radical cure of the evil. This would almost certainly induce an increased rainfall; but even more important and more certain, is the action of forests in checking evaporation from the soil and causing perennial springs to flow, which may be collected in vast storage tanks and will serve to fertilise a great extent of country; whereas tanks without regular rainfall or permanent springs to supply them are worthless. In the colder parts of the temperate zones, the absence of forests is not so much felt, because the hills and uplands are naturally clothed with a thick coating of turf which absorbs moisture and does not become over-heated by the sun's rays, and the rains are seldom violent enough to strip this protective covering from the surface. In tropical and even in south-temperate countries, on the other hand, the rains are periodical and often of excessive violence for a short period; and when the forests are cleared away the torrents of rain soon strip off the vegetable soil, and thus destroy in a few years the fertility which has been the growth of many centuries. The bare subsoil becoming heated by the sun, every particle of moisture which does not flow off is evaporated, and this again reacts on the climate, producing long-continued droughts only relieved by sudden and violent storms, which add to the destruction and render all attempts at cultivation unavailing. Wide tracts of fertile land in the south of Europe have been devastated in this manner, and have become absolutely uninhabitable. Knowingly to produce such disastrous results would be a far more serious offence than any destruction of property which human labour has produced and can replace; yet we ignorantly allow such extensive clearings for coffee cultivation in India and Ceylon, as to cause destruction of much fertile soil which generations cannot replace, and which will surely, if not checked in time, lead to the deterioration of the climate and the permanent impoverishment of the country. (For a terrible picture of the irreparable devastation caused by the reckless clearing of forests see the third chapter of Mr. Marsh's work The Earth as Modified by Human Action.) . . .
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In 1878 Wallace composed an essay on his plan for the protection and development of the Epping Forest preserve:
* * *In 1879 Wallace wrote more on free trade and the conservation of natural resources:
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In 1880 Wallace again spoke on the use of Epping Forest:
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Wallace's largest work on land reform was his book Land Nationalisation (S722), published in 1882. From this work the following excerpts may be noted:
[from Chapter Five] . . . the free appropriation of land for dwellings as now proposed offers, perhaps, the only possible check to the undue growth of large towns. In all the more beautiful and healthful parts of the country land would be taken for dwellings, and these would become new centres of rural populations, forming in time country villages and small towns. All land and building speculation being abolished, the growth of towns, now mainly caused by such speculations, would be checked, and hundreds who now take houses from speculative builders merely because they have no real freedom of choice will then choose for themselves, will occupy much more land, and will thus spread themselves more generally over the country. Other checks might be applied by local authorities, which would tend greatly to the healthiness and enjoyability of our larger towns, such as the interposition of belts of park and garden at certain intervals around dense centres of population--a class of improvement which the ruinous competition prices of land held by private owners now renders impossible.
Enclosure of Commons and Mountain Wastes as Affecting the Public.--Next in importance to the power of securing pleasant and healthy houses, the general public have most interest in the right to free passage about the country--to roam over the commons, heaths, and woods; to search out the grand and beautiful scenes afforded by our rivers, moors, and mountains; to have preserved for them the ruins which are landmarks of our written history, as well as those more ancient monuments which tell us of pre-historic ages. In each and all of these directions they suffer injury from the powers claimed and exercised by landlords. As we have already seen, enormous areas of common land have been enclosed and appropriated by the surrounding owners, often without provision even of foot-paths by which the public may enjoy any of the land they once freely roamed over. Owing to inordinate game-preservation, the woods and copses are almost always rigidly shut up, and thus the public are deprived of one of the greatest enjoyments of country life--the power to wander freely under the shade of trees, in places where the choicest wild flowers blossom, and where the living denizens of the woods may be seen in their native haunts. Were it not for the ancient foot-paths crossing the country from village to village, many parts of our land would be almost shut out from the great body of its inhabitants. Fortunately these are tolerably numerous. But however great may be the need of fresh centres of population, we rarely hear of new paths being formed, while old ones are occasionally shut up or diverted, or so enclosed by fences that all their picturesque beauty and rural enjoyability is destroyed.
Another injury to the public and deprivation of their rights is the frequent and constantly increasing enclosure of those roadside strips of green sward which add so much to the charm of rural walks. Everywhere we find roads and lanes now bounded between parallel hedges or fences at a regular distance apart, while a few yards inside the fields on either side an old bank or an irregular row of trees show the distance to which the road formerly extended. We are assured by the Commons Preservation Society "that all such absorptions are illegal, the general rule of law being that the public have a right of way over the whole space between the hedges." And in a later report they repeat that such encroachments "are almost invariably illegal, and may be abated by the ordinary remedies provided in the case of the obstruction of a highway." It appears, therefore, that all over the country the public have for many years past been systematically robbed by means of these encroachments; and few more striking proofs can be given of the great evil of landlordism and the injurious power and influence of landlords than that such systematic robbery, though contrary to law, should have been almost always effected with impunity.
Equally, or perhaps even more, injurious to the interests of the public is the extensive appropriation by individual landlords of enormous areas of wild mountain country in Wales, Ireland, and especially in Scotland, whereby Englishmen are forbidden in many cases to visit and enjoy some of the most beautiful and picturesque scenery of their native land--spots where nature exhibits her full grandeur, and where alone the choicest and rarest examples of our native flora and fauna are to be met with. The right to these enormous tracts of land as private property appears to be of very recent and very doubtful origin. The Highland chiefs had certainly no such right to the land in fee, with the concomitant power to evict all the rest of the clan and sell or let the land to the highest bidder. Yet this is what the successors to those chiefs claim, and what they have in some cases actually done; and the law, ever on the side of the landlords and against the people, appears to have endorsed their claim, and has thus given to them complete and despotic power over the lives and liberties of the native inhabitants of the district. The result has been that terrible depopulation and pauperisation of the country which has been described in the last chapter, and the replacement of men and human habitations by sheep, cattle, and deer, for a parallel to which we must go back to the days of the Norman conquerors of England in the height of their despotic power. Some of the wildest and grandest mountain scenery of Scotland is now as rigidly shut up as if it were in a private pleasure ground. Hundreds of square miles of glen and rock and mountain-side are given up to deer and grouse for the pleasure and profit of a few individuals, while the public are thereby deprived of a means of enjoyment and healthful relaxation which hardly any country in Europe denies them but their own. . . .
. . .Permanent Deterioration of the Country by the Export of Minerals.--I have already given an example of a landlord denying the free exercise of their religion to his tenants, and cases in which sites for chapels have been refused are not uncommon; but I shall pass on to an example of the power of landlords which appears to me to go far beyond what should be allowed to any citizens of a densely populated country. I allude to the possession as private property of the minerals beneath its surface, and the power to work, sell, export, and totally exhaust them for their individual benefit.
It has not been sufficiently considered that the minerals of a country are in a totally different category from its agricultural products or even the agricultural land, inasmuch as man can neither produce them nor hasten their production by nature, while in the process of use they are completely destroyed. They are, besides, a portion of the very land itself; and their export to such an extent as to render the remainder more difficult of access, and therefore more costly, is a permanent and irretrievable deterioration of the country, rendering it less valuable to its future inhabitants. The power of doing this injury to the community should never have been permitted to individuals (any more than the right to sell their estates to a foreign Government), but it has become so great a source of wealth and is so firmly established as one of the "sacred rights of property" that only by the complete nationalisation of the land does it seem possible to abolish it.
It must be remembered that almost every extensive country in the world possesses coal and iron, besides many other minerals, and there is therefore no adequate reason for permanently impoverishing our country by sending its minerals all over the world and thus robbing future generations; and this, not for the benefit of the whole community, but for that of the few individuals who have been allowed to monopolise the land.
It may be said that the price of coal and iron has not yet been raised by the exhaustion of our supplies; but this is very doubtful. It is an admitted fact that the enormous consumption of coal, both for export and in the manufacture of exported iron, has led to coal being now worked at much greater depths than formerly, and this necessarily implies greater cost of working, and consequently a higher price than would be necessary at less depths; and this extra cost must go on increasing as more and more of the coal at moderate depths is worked out. But there is another way in which the community suffers by this excessive export of minerals. The areas devoted to mining and smelting are thereby increased far beyond what is necessary for supplying our own wants, and this leads directly to the sterilising of large tracts of land, and besides renders whole districts hideous and unfit for any enjoyable human habitation. Many thousands of acres of good land are covered up with the "waste" from mines and the "slag" from furnaces, and are thus rendered permanently barren; while the extent of black country over which all natural beauty is destroyed must be reckoned by hundreds or even by thousands of square miles. Whatever part of this destruction and disfigurement is absolutely needed to supply our own wants we must submit to; but that more extensive portion which owes its origin to the excessive export of the very vitals of our land for the aggrandisement of landlords and speculators is a serious loss which should be checked, and a public nuisance which should be abated. . . .
[from Chapter Eight] . . . Free-selection would Check the Growth of Towns, and Add to the Beauty and Enjoyability of Rural Districts.--There can be no doubt whatever that the power of obtaining land where and when required would lead to a steady flow of population from the towns to the country. Villages in all the more picturesque parts of the country which, at the will of great landowners, have remained for generations stationary, would steadily increase in population; but, as building speculation would be almost impossible, they would grow in the most picturesque manner by the addition here and there of single houses, of every size and cost, but never crowded together, so that the rural beauty of the district would not be marred. We should never see then (as we may often see now) noble old trees ruthlessly cut down, because they interfere with building on the narrow strips into which the land-speculator cuts up his lots, while no further additions would be made to those unsightly rows of hideous cottages which the farmer, the manufacturer, or the local speculative builder now provides for the labouring population.
The quantity of land, even in the smallest lots, would enable the occupier to dispose of all the house sewage, in the only natural and economical manner, by applying it to the fertilisation of his own ground; and this application should even be made compulsory, so that no further pollution of streams and no more gigantic drainage works would be necessary. It may, perhaps, be said that the owner of an acre lot would cut it up into three or four smaller lots to dispose of at a profit; but it may safely be predicted that this would not be done. The working man is too anxious to obtain land, and is too keenly alive to the inestimable benefits it confers upon him, to take a smaller quantity than his acre when the amount to be paid for that acre would be merely its agricultural value. No compulsory enactment against the subdivision of lots would be needed, because their subdivision would rarely or never be profitable.
How Commons may be Preserved and Utilised.--Some reference has been made in the fifth chapter to the way in which so many of our commons have been enclosed, for the sole aggrandisement of landlords and to the injury of all other residents and of the whole community. In some parts of the country, however, extensive commons still remain unenclosed, but usually where there is a very scanty rural population to benefit by them. Such is the case on the borders of Surrey, Sussex, and Hampshire, and there are enormous tracts in Wales, Ireland, and Scotland which, though claimed as private property, have never been enclosed, but remain in an absolute state of nature. On all such lands there can be no claim for tenant-right, and they would therefore become the property of the State on payment of annuities, in the one case to the Lords of the Manor, in the other to the present owners, of an amount equal to the average annual proceeds.
When these commons are not very extensive they would, of course, be preserved as common pasture land for the surrounding occupiers and cottagers, who might also have the customary rights of cutting fern or gorse, digging sand, gravel, or peat, under proper supervision of some local authority. All the more extensive of these wastes, however, would afford the opportunity for cultivation by labourers or small farmers, who might have choice of sites, on areas marked out as open to selection, on payment of a low quit-rent, which might be higher than the value of the land as unenclosed pasture, but much lower than that of the surrounding enclosed fields. A limit should be placed to the quantity allowed to be taken by one person, and this need not be high, because the holder would have extensive rights of pasturage over the whole common in addition. Ten acres might be a proper first limit, but when this quantity was brought into good cultivation and a house built, another ten acres might be granted on the same terms. In this way the more fertile and sheltered portions of all the great commons, heaths, and mountain wastes of the country might be gradually covered with small farms and cheerful homesteads, while still retaining extensive tracts of unenclosed land as common pasture, and as recreation ground and health-resorts for our ever-growing population. The numerous cases of the reclamation of the worst mountain land in Ireland by tenants with only a temporary occupancy afford us some idea of the beneficial results to our pauperised and landless population of the right to improve and cultivate waste land for their own exclusive benefit, with no fear of the interference of lords of the land or of the manor. . . .
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As part of his presidential address to the Land Nationalisation Society in 1885, Wallace spoke the following words on land economics:
. . . In arguing against the nationalisation of the land and the more equable distribution of capital which it would certainly bring about, Mr. Harrison maintains that there is "a universal tendency of organised industry, rural or urban, towards the massing and not the dispersion of capital;" and that "increased concentration of capital is an indispensable condition of modern successful industry." And he concludes thus:--"In the face of this universal law of modern industry, a law the more conspicuous the more free and virgin be the field of industry, how idle would it be to look for any regeneration of the industrial system to a natural dispersion of capital or land! In the teeth of universal tendencies such as these it is rather unnatural to struggle for the revival of the equable distribution of capital and land which marks the ruder types of society."
Now, such general propositions as this as to "universal tendencies and laws" are utterly valueless, unless you can first prove that they exist and have arisen under a social system founded on justice and freedom, and no such proof has been attempted. To illustrate what I mean, let us suppose Mr. Harrison to have been a Roman of the Augustan period. What would then have been his argument as to universal "social tendencies and laws?" Arguing with an advocate of free labour and enterprise, as against a system of slavery, he might probably have said:--"The universal tendency of modern progress is to divide men into freemen and slaves. Under this system alone is civilisation possible. Without slavery you cannot have a highly-cultivated, leisured class, able to produce those works of literature, art, and construction which are the marks of true civilisation. All history tells us the same story. Wherever you have civilisation you have slavery as its essential foundation. Look at the old civilisations of Egypt, India, Assyria, and Greece, all alike dependent on the existence of a small, cultured class, the possessors of myriads of slaves. To this system we owe all the grand monuments and works of art which those countries have produced, and whose ruins still exist. To this system we owe the splendours of Rome, the mistress of the world, and all that noble literature and art and refinement which has never yet been equalled." And he might have concluded almost in the very words he has used to-day--"In the teeth of universal tendencies such as these it is rather unnatural to struggle for a revival of the universal personal freedom and equality of condition which marks the ruder types of society."
The one argument is just as good, or as bad, as the other. Both, in fact, are equally bad, because they both rest upon the assumption that men have not equal rights to participate in the free gifts of nature to man. When one portion of society possess the Land, with all the powers and natural forces which it contains, and the other, and far larger portion, cannot even work or live, cannot obtain a particle of food or clothing, except on such conditions as the landholders collectively impose, they are--as Mr. George has so well shown--as truly slaves as were those who worked for Roman nobles or Southern planters. A system which has grown up under these conditions, and which is founded upon them, cannot set itself up as a guide as to what are the "universal laws and tendencies" of unfettered human industry.
In some respects, even, the modern slave is worse off than his predecessor in the ancient world, for he is the slave of machinery and capital, and to serve the purposes of his master is forced to live in huge cities far removed from the health-giving influences and spontaneous gifts of nature, and thus when, as so often happens, the capitalist has no immediate need for his labour, he must starve or live as a pauper. Much is asserted of the economy of this division of labour and production on the most gigantic scale, but it is not true economy, inasmuch as its results are to produce inordinate wealth for the few, incessant labour with widespread poverty and disease for the many. True economy is that which not only produces wealth freely but distributes it fairly; true economy must tend to the equalisation of both wealth and labour; true economy will not force men to be the slaves of machinery day after day, with no opportunity for that relaxation produced by change of labour, and that mental and physical invigoration which result from spending some portion of their time in tilling the soil the fruits of which they are themselves to gather. It is not true economy to place men in such a position that when work for an employer fails they are utterly unable to work for themselves. All this is false economy; and yet this is the system which Mr. Harrison tells us is founded upon "universal law and tendency"!
And when he descends from the heights of rhetoric and attempts to support his argument by an appeal to facts he is not accurate. He says: "The ancient controversies as to the great and little culture of land have now ended in this: that for the largest production of cereals and stock and for the highest scientific farming the big-scale culture at least is indispensable." This no doubt is what is repeated over and over again by men who claim to be authorities, but it is simply untrue, as I will prove to you by incontrovertible evidence. Lord Carrington has recently stated that his 800 allotment tenants in Buckinghamshire get a nett produce from the land of £40 an acre, while the most that a farmer can make out of the same land is £7 an acre. Here is big and small farming compared by the landlord, and his facts are supported by independent official evidence. It was proved before the Women's and Children's Employment Commission in 1868 that cottagers obtained an average return of £16 an acre above the farm rent. The Rev. Mr. Stubbs shows that his allotments at Granborough, in Buckinghamshire, cultivated by common labourers, produced 60 per cent. more wheat than the farmers' average, and 11 per cent. more than the average of the highest scientific farming. Thus a million labourers working for themselves would produce far more wheat than the same land does when cultivated by the most scientific farmers. Here is an actual fact, carefully recorded, worth a whole volume of assertions that the thing cannot be. And as to stock, Mr. Little, the Assistant Commissioner to the Royal Commission on Agriculture, in his account of Penstrase Moor in Cornwall--barren land entirely reclaimed by the labour of peasants and miners--shows that those little peasant holdings produce more than double the number of cattle and pigs per 100 acres than either the County of Cornwall or the Truro Union in which they are situated. Here, then, whether tested by the value of the total produce, by the quantity of wheat, or by the number of live stock, we see that small holdings beat large farms, not by a small margin, but by 50 or 100 up to 500 per cent.; while the moral and social advantages are so great that even if the produce were only the same or even less, the small culture system should be preferred. We see, therefore, that in the one case in which we can test it by an appeal to facts, the general statement as to the superior economy of large as against small-scale industry is shown to be absolutely untrue; and it is highly probable that when applied to other industries than agriculture it will be found equally untrue, because we have yet to see the value of diversity of occupation, of utilising spare time now wasted, and of that magic power of property which enables a man working for himself in his own house or shop to do half as much again as when working for a master, with little pleasure and no direct interest either in the quantity or the quality of his work.
We now come to the next point--the question of fact. Mr. Harrison maintains, and reiterates over and over again, that Land, as it now exists, is a manufactured article--that "an ordinary farm is as much artificial as a house or a factory." There is, he says, "hardly an acre of cultivated land in England which has not been made cultivated by a great outlay of labour and capital. It has really been as much built up as a railway or a dock." And thence he argues that even if the people of England have a right to the land of England, they have only a right to it as it was originally. "To seize it," he says, "after centuries of labour have been expended to utterly changing its very face and nature would be monstrously unjust." And further on he argues that the whole labour expended on reclaiming the land is so great that it often represents more than its present value; and concludes thus:--"Mr. George might as well claim the coats off our backs, on the ground that God made the sheep, as the farms which have been made by human capital and skill." And very much more in the same brilliant, but I think superficial, style.
Now, in all this there are two underlying fallacies: 1. The improvement to the land by culture is not, on the whole, nearly so great as is alleged, since in many cases it has been deteriorated and impoverished instead of being improved; and 2. The bulk of the improvement that has been made has been made by successive generations of tenant-cultivators, as an incident of cultivation, and the result, whatever it may be, is the heritage of the nation, not of the landlords, who have in most cases done nothing.
To take the last point first, Mr. Harrison argues as if the whole process of reclamation from forest or moorland, from marsh or mountain side, had been done by, or at the cost of, the landlords. But by far the larger part of the land now under cultivation has been so for many centuries, and was certainly brought under cultivation by successive generations of actual cultivators. This is proved by the fact that in 1557 wheat was exported from this country, which, taking into account the system of agriculture then pursued, the small crops raised, and the estimated population of England, shows that the amount of arable land was then nearly as great as now, if not greater. Of course we are speaking only of the land itself. Many farmhouses and buildings have been erected by landlords, and some other permanent improvements made by them, but neither we nor Mr. George have ever even proposed to take these away from their owners. The land itself, however, in so far as its value has been increased, has been improved bit by bit, by successive generations of tenants from Saxon times downwards, and we claim that the people of England, not the landlords only, are the true inheritors of that improvement.
But Mr. Harrison is equally in error in his estimate of the enormous amount of this increased value. On the contrary, it is very doubtful if the land of England, as a whole, is so inherently valuable now as it was three or four hundred years ago. There are two reasons for this opinion. In the first place, population was formerly distributed pretty uniformly over the whole country, and as there was then no system of sewerage (by which the fertilising refuse of men and animals are now carried away to the sea), almost the whole of the manurial products were returned to the land, and thus, with a regular system of fallows, its fertility was kept up. Now, on the contrary, almost all the vegetable and animal produce of the country is consumed in great cities far away from the land which produces it, and the manure is not returned to the land. Hence a progressive deterioration, only partially checked by the use of artificial manures. Again, we find, almost all over England, extensive tracts of poor pasture land which, by the ridges on its surface, show that it has formerly been ploughed. Much of this was probably once natural pasture, which, when on a good subsoil, is the most fertile of all land. During the periods when wheat was dear, under the old régime of the Corn Laws, this fine old pasture was everywhere broken up, and the top soil, rich in humus and vegetable fibre which had accumulated by thousands of years of grazing, gave for a few years immense crops of grain. Then, when its fertility diminished, fresh land was broken up and the other was allowed to go back into pasture. But its natural fertility had been irretrievably ruined. It now bears large crops of thistles and other noxious weeds, and is in many cases not worth half or a third of what it was before it was broken up. This was the work of the landlords, who got high rents for this corn-producing land; and if this, and the thousands of acres of chalk and limestone downs which have been similarly broken up and deteriorated, are taken into account, I think it very probable that instead of the landlords having improved the land, they have, by their greed for high rents, distinctly deteriorated it; and for this deterioration the people of England may perhaps present their bill when accounts come to be settled between them both.
Even the English language bears witness against Mr. Harrison's contention, for what word do we use when we want to express the best and richest undeteriorated land? We call it "virgin soil"--soil in a state of nature. How often do we hear of the difficulties of our farmers competing by means of the exhausted soil of England against the "virgin soil" of America! Yet, according to Mr. Harrison, this "virgin soil" is worthless, and only becomes good for anything after centuries of cultivation! Not only the English language, but history and experience alike bear testimony against this stupendous fallacy.
There are numerous other statements and arguments in Mr. Harrison's paper which appear to me to be equally unsound, but I have no time now to enter upon them. But I thought it essential to say a few words on this theory of "land being a manufactured article," because it was the main point in a lecture delivered by Mr. Harrison at Newcastle-on-Tyne last year, and, as I was informed by a person who heard it, produced much impression owing to the authoritative manner in which the proposition was laid down. . . .
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In 1898 Wallace incorporated the following words on environmental economics and land degradation into the final chapter of his book The Wonderful Century (S726):
. . .The struggle for wealth, and its deplorable results, as sketched in the preceding chapter, have been accompanied by a reckless destruction of the stored-up products of nature, which is even more deplorable because more irretrievable. Not only have forest-growths of many hundreds of years been cleared away, often with disastrous consequences, but the whole of the mineral treasures of the earth's surface, the slow products of long-past eons of time and geological change, have been and are still being exhausted, to an extent never before approached, and probably not equalled in amount during the whole preceding period of human history.
In our own country, the value of the coal exported to foreign countries has increased from about three to more than sixteen millions sterling per annum, the quantity being now about thirty millions of tons; and this continuous exhaustion of one of the necessaries of existence is wholly in the interest of landlords and capitalists, while millions of our people have not sufficient for the ordinary needs or comforts of life, and even die in large numbers for want of the vital warmth which it would supply. Another large quantity of coal is consumed in the manufacture of iron for export, which amounts now to about two millions of tons per annum. A rational organization of society would ensure an ample supply of coal to every family in the country before permitting any export whatever; while, if our social organization was both moral and rational, two considerations would prevent any export; the first being that we have duties toward posterity, and have no right to diminish unnecessarily those natural products which cannot be reproduced; and the second, that the operations of coal-mining and iron-making being especially hard and unpleasant to the workers, and at the same time leading to injury to much fertile land and natural beauty, they should be restricted within the narrowest limits consistent with our own well-being.
In America, and some other countries, an equally wasteful and needless expenditure of petroleum oils and natural gas is going on, resulting in great accumulations of private wealth, but not sensibly ameliorating the condition of the people at large. Such an excellent light as that afforded by petroleum oil is no doubt a good thing; but it comes in the second grade, as a comfort, not a necessity; and it is really out of place till everyone can obtain ample food, clothing, warmth, house room, and pure air and water, which are the absolute necessaries of life, but which, under the conditions of our modern civilization--more correctly barbarism--millions of people, through no fault of their own, cannot obtain. In these respects we are as the Scribes and Pharisees, giving tithe of mint and cummin, but neglecting the weightier matters of the law.
Equally disastrous in many respects has been the wild struggle for gold in California, Australia, South Africa, and elsewhere. The results are hardly less disastrous, though in different ways, than those produced by the Spaniards in Mexico and Peru four centuries ago. Great wealth has been obtained, great populations have grown up and are growing up; but great cities have also grown up with their inevitable poverty, vice, overcrowding, and even starvation, as in the Old World. Everywhere, too, this rush for wealth has led to deterioration of land and of natural beauty, by covering up the surface with refuse heaps, by flooding rich lowlands with the barren mud produced by hydraulic mining; and by the great demand for animal food by the mining populations leading to the destruction of natural pastures in California, Australia, and South Africa, and their replacement often by weeds and plants neither beautiful nor good for fodder.
It is also a well-known fact that these accumulations of gold-seekers lead to enormous social evils, opening a field for criminals of every type, and producing an amount of drink-consumption, gambling, and homicide altogether unprecedented. Both the earlier gold-digging by individual miners, and the later quartz-mining by great companies, are alike forms of gambling or speculation; and while immense fortunes are made by some, others suffer great losses, so that the gambling spirit is still further encouraged and the production of real wealth by patient industry, to the same extent diminished and rendered less attractive. For it must never be forgotten that the whole enormous amount of human labor expended in the search for and the production of gold; the ships which carry out the thousands of explorers, diggers, and speculators; the tools, implements, and machinery they use; their houses, food, and clothing, as well as the countless gallons of liquor of various qualities which they consume, are all, so far as the well-being of the community is concerned, absolutely wasted. Gold is not wealth; it is neither a necessary nor a luxury of life, in the true sense of the word. It serves two purposes only: it is an instrument used for the exchange of commodities, and its use in the arts is mainly as ornament or as an indication of wealth. Nothing is more certain than that the appearance of wealth produced by large gold-production is delusive. The larger the proportion of the population of a country that devotes itself to gold-production, the smaller the numbers left to produce real wealth--food, clothing, houses, fuel, roads, machinery, and all the innumerable conveniences, comforts, and wholesome luxuries of life. Hence, whatever appearances may indicate, gold-production makes a country poor, and by furnishing new means of investment and speculation helps to keep it poor; and it has certainly helped considerably in producing that amount of wretchedness, starvation, and crime which, as we have seen, has gone on increasing to the very end of our century.
But the extraction of the mineral products stored in the earth, in order to increase individual wealth, and to the same extent to the diminution of national well-being, is only a portion of the injury done to posterity by the "plunder of the earth." In tropical countries many valuable products can be cultivated by means of cheap native labor, so as to give a large profit to the European planter. But here also the desire to get rich as quickly as possible has often defeated the planter's hopes. Nutmegs were grown for some years in Singapore and Penang; but by the exposure of the young trees to the sun, instead of growing them under the shade of great forest-trees, as in their natural state, and as they are grown in Banda, they became unhealthy and unprofitable. Then coffee was planted, and was grown very largely in Ceylon and other places; but here again the virgin forests were entirely removed, producing unnatural conditions, and the growth of the young trees was stimulated by manure. Soon there came disease and insect enemies, and coffee had to be given up in favor of tea, which is now grown over large areas both in Ceylon and India. But the clearing of the forests on steep hill slopes, to make coffee plantations, produced permanent injury to the country of a very serious kind. The rich soil, the product of thousands of years of slow decomposition of the rock, fertilized by the humus formed from decaying forest trees, being no longer protected by the covering of dense vegetation, was quickly washed away by the tropical rains, leaving great areas of bare rock or furrowed clay, absolutely sterile, and which will probably not regain its former fertility for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. The devastation caused by the great despots of the Middle Ages and of antiquity, for purposes of conquest or punishment, has thus been reproduced in our times by the rush to obtain wealth.
Even the lust of conquest, in order to secure slaves and tribute and great estates, by means of which the ruling classes could live in boundless luxury, so characteristic of the early civilizations, is reproduced in our own time. The Great Powers of Europe are in the midst of a struggle, in order to divide up the whole continent of Africa among themselves, and thus obtain an outlet for the more energetic portions of their populations and an extension of their trade. The result, so far, has been the sale of vast quantities of rum and gunpowder; much bloodshed, owing to the objection of the natives to the seizure of their lands and their cattle; great demoralizations both of black and white; and the condemnation of the conquered tribes to a modified form of slavery. Comparing our conduct with that of the Spanish conquerors of the West Indies, Mexico, and Peru, and making some allowance for differences of race and of public opinion, there is not much to choose between them. Wealth, and territory, and native labor, were the real objects of the conquest in both cases; and if the Spaniards were more cruel by nature, and more reckless in their methods, the results were much the same. In both cases the country was conquered, and thereafter occupied and governed by the conquerors frankly for their own ends, and with little regard to the feelings or the material well-being of the conquered. If the Spaniards exterminated the natives of the West Indies, we have done the same thing in Tasmania, and almost the same in temperate Australia. And in the estimation of the historian of the future, the Spaniards will be credited with two points in which they surpassed us. Their belief that they were really serving God in converting the heathen, even at the point of the sword, was a genuine belief shared by priests and conquerors alike--not a mere sham, as is ours when we defend our conduct by the plea of introducing the "blessings of civilization." And, in wild romance, boldness of conception, reckless daring, and the successful achievement of the well-nigh impossible, we are nowhere when compared with Cortez and his five hundred Spaniards, who, with no base of supplies, no rapid steam communication, no supports, imperfect weapons and the ammunition they carried with them, conquered great, populous, and civilized empires. It is quite possible that both the conquests of Mexico and Peru by the Spaniards, and our conquests of South Africa, may have been real steps in advance, essential to human progress, and helping on the future reign of true civilization and the well-being of the human race. But if so, we have been, and are, unconscious agents, in hastening the great
We deserve no credit for it. Our aims have been, for the most part, sordid and selfish; and if, in the end, all should work out for good, as no doubt it will, much of our conduct in the matter will yet deserve, and will certainly receive, the severest condemnation.
Our whole dealings with subject races have been a strange mixture of good and evil, of success and failure, due, I believe, to the fact that, along with a genuine desire to do good and to govern well, our rule has always been influenced, and often entirely directed, by the necessity of finding well-paid places for the less wealthy members of our aristocracy, and also by the constant craving for fresh markets by the influential class of merchants and manufacturers. Hence the enormous fiscal burdens under which the natives of our Indian Empire continue to groan; hence the opium monopoly and the salt tax; hence the continued refusal to carry out the promises made or implied on the establishment of the Empire, to give the natives a continually increasing share in their own government, and to govern India solely in the interest of the Indians themselves.
It is the influence of the two classes above referred to that has urged our governments to perpetual frontier wars and continual extensions of the Empire, all adding to the burdens of the Indian people. But our greatest mistakes of all are, the collection of revenue in money, at fixed times, from the very poorest cultivators of the soil; and the strict enforcement of our laws relating to landed property, to loans, mortgages, and foreclosures, which are utterly unsuited to the people, and have led to the most cruel oppression, and the transfer of numbers of small farms from the ryots to the money-lenders. Hence, the peasants become poorer and poorer; thousands have been made tenants instead of owners of their farms; and an immense number are in the clutches of the money-lenders, and always in the most extreme poverty. It is from these various causes that the periodical famines are so dreadful a scourge, and such a disgrace to our rule. The people in India are industrious, patient, and frugal in the highest degree; and the soil and climate are such that the one thing wanted to ensure good crops and abundance of food is water-storage for irrigation, and absolute permanence of tenure for the cultivator. That we have built costly railways for the benefit of merchants and capitalists, and have spent upon these and upon frontier-wars the money which would have secured water for irrigation wherever wanted, and thus prevented the continued recurrence of famine whenever the rains are deficient, is an evil attendant on our rule which outweighs many of its benefits.
The final and absolute test of good government is the well-being and contentment of the people--not the extent of empire or the abundance of the revenue and the trade. Tried by this test, how seldom have we succeeded in ruling subject peoples! Rebellion, recurrent famines, and plagues in India; discontent, chronic want, and misery; famines more or less severe, and continuous depopulation in our sister-island at home--these must surely be reckoned the most terrible and most disastrous failures of the nineteenth century.
"Hear then, ye
Senates! hear this truth sublime:
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Wallace's most vocal denouncement of air pollution appears in a somewhat unlikely place: on pages 254-257 of the chapter on planetary meteorology in the book Man's Place in the Universe (S728), written in 1903:
. . . We thus find that the vast, invisible ocean of air in which we live, and which is so important to us that deprivation of it for a few minutes is destructive of life, produces also many other beneficial effects of which we usually take little account, except at times when storm or tempest, or excessive heat or cold, remind us how delicate is the balance of conditions on which our comfort, and even our lives, depend.
But the sketch I have here attempted to give of its varied functions shows us that it is really a most complex structure, a wonderful piece of machinery, as it were, which in its various component gases, its actions and reactions upon the water and the land, its production of electrical discharges, and its furnishing the elements from which the whole fabric of organic life is composed and perpetually renewed, may be truly considered to be the very source and foundation of life itself. This is seen, not only in the fact of our absolute dependence upon it every minute of our lives, but in the terrible effects produced by even a slight degree of impurity in this vital element. Yet it is among those nations that claim to be the most civilised, those that profess to be guided by a knowledge of the laws of nature, those that most glory in the advance of science, that we find the greatest apathy, the greatest recklessness, in continually rendering impure this all-important necessary of life, to such a degree that the health of the larger portion of their populations is injured and their vitality lowered, by conditions which compel them to breathe more or less foul and impure air for the greater part of their lives. The huge and ever-increasing cities, the vast manufacturing towns belching forth smoke and poisonous gases, with the crowded dwellings, where millions are forced to live under the most terrible insanitary conditions, are the witnesses to this criminal apathy, this incredible recklessness and inhumanity.
For the last fifty years and more the inevitable results of such conditions have been fully known; yet to this day nothing of importance has been done, nothing is being done. In this beautiful land there is ample space and a superabundance of pure air for every individual. Yet our wealthy and our learned classes, our rulers and law-makers, our religious teachers and our men of science, all alike devote their lives and energies to anything or everything but this. Yet this is the one great and primary essential of a people's health and well-being, to which everything should, for the time, be subordinate. Till this is done, and done thoroughly and completely, our civilisation is naught, our science is naught, our religion is naught, and our politics are less than naught--are utterly despicable; are below contempt.
It has been the consideration of our wonderful atmosphere in its various relations to human life, and to all life, which has compelled me to this cry for the children and for outraged humanity. Will no body of humane men and women band themselves together, and take no rest till this crying evil is abolished, and with it nine-tenths of all the other evils that now afflict us? Let everything give way to this. As in a war of conquest or aggression nothing is allowed to stand in the way of victory, and all private rights are subordinated to the alleged public weal, so, in this war against filth, disease, and misery let nothing stand in the way--neither private interests nor vested rights--and we shall certainly conquer. This is the gospel that should be preached, in season and out of season, till the nation listens and is convinced. Let this be our claim: Pure air and pure water for every inhabitant of the British Isles. Vote for no one who says "It can't be done." Vote only for those who declare "It shall be done." It may take five or ten or twenty years, but all petty ameliorations, all piecemeal reforms, must wait till this fundamental reform is effected. Then, when we have enabled our people to breathe pure air, and drink pure water, and live upon simple food, and work and play and rest under healthy conditions, they will be in a position to decide (for the first time) what other reforms are really needed.
Remember! We claim to be a people of high civilisation, of advanced science, of great humanity, of enormous wealth! For very shame do not let us say "We cannot arrange matters so that our people may all breathe unpolluted, unpoisoned air!" . . .
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In 1906 Wallace ended an essay on imperialism (S630) with a lament for our unconcern over a wholly different kind of conservation:
. . . So long as we possess colonies in which a considerable native population still exists we should, I think, always retain our guardianship of those natives in order to protect them from the oppression and cruelty which always occurs when a young, and mainly wealth-seeking community has absolute power over them. Where these natives are numerous and energetic, and are rapidly acquiring our education, our religion, and the outward form at all events of our civilisation, things cannot remain as they are. What the ultimate condition of such mixed communities may be it is difficult to say, but, whatever the future may have in store for us, it is certain that a method which recognises that the coloured races are men of fundamentally the same nature as ourselves, and which aims at developing the best that is in them, by granting them some at least of the elementary rights of men and citizens, is more likely to bring about a satisfactory solution of this difficult problem, than that system of contemptuous superiority and denial of all political and social claims that has hitherto so largely prevailed.
Having no personal knowledge of the country more particularly referred to in this article, I only put forward my views in a suggestive form. Forty years ago I had the privilege of enjoying the friendship of Sir James Brooke, and, during more than a year's residence in Sarawak, of observing the mode and results of his beneficent and sympathetic rule over antagonistic native races. A little later I spent several months in North Celebes, in Java, and in East Sumatra, where I had full opportunity of noticing the effects of the judicious rule of the Dutch, almost wholly exerted through native chieftains. For nearly twelve years I travelled and lived mostly among uncivilised or completely savage races, and I became convinced that they all possessed good qualities, some of them in a very remarkable degree, and that in all the great characteristics of humanity they are wonderfully like ourselves. Some, indeed, among the brown Polynesians especially, are declared by numerous independent and unprejudiced observers, to be both physically, morally, and intellectually our equals, if not our superiors; and it has always seemed to me one of the disgraces of our civilisation that these fine people have not in a single case been protected from contamination by the vices and follies of our more degraded classes, and allowed to develope their own social and political organism under the advice of some of our best and wisest men and the protection of our world-wide power. That would have been indeed a worthy trophy of our civilisation. What we have actually done, and left undone, resulting in the degradation and lingering extermination of so fine a people, is one of the most pathetic of its tragedies.
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Perhaps the most ennobling--and to the point--of all of Wallace's writings on conservation comes from pages 278-280 of his late work The World of Life (S732) in 1910:
. . . Already in the progress of this work I have dwelt upon the marvellous variety of the useful or beautiful products of the vegetable and animal kingdoms far beyond their own uses, as indicating a development for the service of man. This variety and beauty, even the strangeness, the ugliness, and the unexpectedness we find everywhere in nature, are, and therefore were intended to be, an important factor in our mental development; for they excite in us admiration, wonder, and curiosity--the three emotions which stimulate first our attention, then our determination to learn the how and the why, which are the basis of observation and experiment and therefore of all science and all philosophy. These considerations should lead us to look upon all the works of nature, animate or inanimate, as invested with a certain sanctity, to be used by us but not abused, and never to be recklessly destroyed or defaced. To pollute a spring or a river, to exterminate a bird or beast, should be treated as moral offences and as social crimes; while all who profess religion or sincerely believe in the Deity--the designer and maker of this world and of every living thing--should, one would have thought, have placed this among the first of their forbidden sins, since to deface or destroy that which has been brought into existence for the use and enjoyment, the education and elevation of the human race, is a direct denial of the wisdom and goodness of the Creator, about which they so loudly and persistently prate and preach.
Yet during the past century, which has seen those great advances in the knowledge of Nature of which we are so proud, there has been no corresponding development of a love or reverence for her works; so that never before has there been such widespread ravage of the earth's surface by destruction of native vegetation and with it of much animal life, and such wholesale defacement of the earth by mineral workings and by pouring into our streams and rivers the refuse of manufactories and of cities; and this has been done by all the greatest nations claiming the first place for civilisation and religion! And what is worse, the greater part of this waste and devastation has been and is being carried on, not for any good or worthy purpose, but in the interest of personal greed and avarice; so that in every case, while wealth has increased in the hands of the few, millions are still living without the bare necessaries for a healthy or a decent life, thousands dying yearly of actual starvation, and other thousands being slowly or suddenly destroyed by hideous diseases or accidents, directly caused in this cruel race for wealth, and in almost every case easily preventable. Yet they are not prevented, solely because to do so would somewhat diminish the profits of the capitalists and legislators who are directly responsible for this almost world-wide defacement and destruction, and virtual massacre of the ignorant and defenceless workers.
The nineteenth century saw the rise, the development, and the culmination of these crimes against God and man. Let us hope that the twentieth century will see the rise of a truer religion, a purer Christianity; that the conscience of our rulers will no longer permit a single man, woman, or child to have its life shortened or destroyed by any preventable cause, however profitable the present system may be to their employers; that no one shall be allowed to accumulate wealth by the labour of others unless and until every labourer shall have received sufficient, not only for a bare subsistence, but for all the reasonable comforts and enjoyments of life, including ample recreation and provision for a restful and happy old age. . . .