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Green Land, Brown Land, Black Land: An Environmental History of Africa, 1800-1990
A lively introduction to a subfield of history with important lessons for future African development. Using a series of geographically and historically diverse case studies, McCann points out that some instances of today's deforestation, desertification, and soil erosion are not necessarily the result of human land-use practices, contrary to widespread belief. Changes in African landscapes have indeed occurred, but their causes are much more multidimensional than popular explanations have generally allowed. For example, research now suggests that African agricultural practices at the margins of the Sahel were not a cause of, but a response to, changing climatic conditions in the 1970s that resulted mainly from shifting ocean temperatures. The alleged deforestation of Ethiopia in the twentieth century assumes that its highlands were heavily forested earlier, a "fact" now placed in doubt by historical research. This book shows that more detective work must be done before the historical interactions of humans and their natural environment can be understood.