John Evelyn’s ‘Sylva’ and the origins of the modern sustainability discourse

View John Evelyn’s ‘Sylva’ and the origins of the modern sustainability discourse

Presenter: Ulrich Grober

Published: September 2013

Age: 14-19 and upwards

Views: 698 views

Tags: sustainability;growth;resources

Type: Lectures

Source/institution: Royal Society


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The idea of sustainability has deep roots in practically all cultures of the world. The term itself, however, so familiar in today’s global vocabulary, was shaped in the 17th century European discourse on timber shortage. Initiated by the newly-established Royal Society and its founding member John Evelyn, this discourse soon spread to the continent. It paved the way to a new approach to the management of forests. In Germany it led to the coining of the new term “nachhaltig” (i.e. sustaining, sustainable). Its first use dates back to 1713. Ulrich Grober is a journalist and author of Sustainability: a cultural history