As the last three chapters have shown, environmental crisis has diversified, deepened, and globalized during the last several decades. Old problems have been explored in new ways; new problems have emerged for the first time. Along with individual problems changing, the way in which they have been made to cohere into a comprehensive picture has also altered substantially. Crisis conceptualization, if I may call it that, also has a history, and how this overall conceptualization of environmental crisis has changed during the post-World War II period is the subject of this chapter. Examining this history will reveal plainly how crisis thought has moved from describing an environmental apocalypse ahead to exploring crisis as a place in which people presently dwell. It will show just how and why society has entered a time in which environmental crisis seems increasingly a feature of present normality, not an imminent, radical rupture of it. Early postwar versions of environmental crisis, such as Fairfield Osborn’s Our Plundered Planet and William Vogt’s Road to Survival, helped establish a recognizable pattern. Osborn and Vogt were vividly aware of themselves as pioneers exploring a subject that was just then becoming one of true global importance. “It is amazing how far one has to travel to find a person, even among those most widely informed, who is aware of the processes of mounting destruction that we are inflicting upon our life sources,” Fairfield Osborn wrote.1 “The few who realize this fatal fact,” he continued, “do not as a rule associate it with the vast surges and pressures of increasing population” and thus with the logic of ever-increasing environmental damage that population increases seem to create. At last, in
1948, Osborn argued, an age-old process of population increase threatened human civilization as a whole.