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  • The Greening of Georgia: The Improvement of the Environment in the Twentieth Century
  • Vernon Meentemeyer
The Greening of Georgia: The Improvement of the Environment in the Twentieth Century. R. Harold Brown. Mercer University Press, Macon, GA, 2002. vi and 362 pp., photos, diagrams, illustrations, index. $39.95 cloth (ISBN 0-86554-789-0).

What is the truth about environmental changes in Georgia during the last century? This question forms the central theme of The Greening of Georgia: The Improvement of the Environment in the Twentieth Century, by Professor Emeritus R. Harold Brown of the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at the University of Georgia. Although Professor Brown's documentation applies almost entirely to the state of Georgia, his "truths" could be applied equally to much of the South.

Greening is presented in six chapters starting with "The Need for Good News," followed by "Changes in Land Use," "Restoring the Land," "Cleaning of the Water," "Cleaning of the Air," and "Restocking the Wildlife." Brown uses many rather obscure documents, government data sources, and various narratives to document the remarkable changes that have occurred. The reader may also be impressed by Brown's use of the poetry of Sidney Lanier and a lesser-known Georgia poet, Henry Roots Jackson, to tell the story of Georgia's changing land use. Professor Brown was born on a farm in Laurens County; his evidence includes a rich telling of his own observations and experiences of rural life in Georgia in the 1930s and 1940s. At that time, Georgia had most of the characteristics of a third-world country.

The book's emphasis does have a rural and Piedmont bias, but it is easy to argue this is where the "greening" has been most evident. The author also presents much original analysis of the environmental change data: several parts could indeed stand alone as essays or even research articles. The big story is the near elimination of erosive land-use practices in Georgia, which in turn greatly improved water quality and the habitats available for wildlife.

At first glance, it may appear that the chapter on improving air quality is the lesser part of Greening; however, Brown is clear that the change in water and air quality and the abundance of wildlife are interconnected. Moreover, it is Brown's message that people have also changed: Georgia's greening involved a monumental shift in attitudes toward the land. Huge government programs with commensurate financial investment and socioeconomic improvement were driving factors.

It seems that the author targets the younger generation of Georgians as well as new comers to the state. Do Georgians today know, for example, about the involvement of the clergy and the church in Georgia's greening? The "moral imperative of soil stewardship" and "personal stewardship obligation" preached from the pulpit apparently had a significant impact. Do today's mostly urban Georgians understand the importance and roll of the federal government's former Soil Conservation Service (now the Natural Resources Conservation Service) and the state's Soil and Water Conservation Districts, as well [End Page 293] as the Soil Bank Program that paid farmers to take land out of row-crops? Brown also documents the poor health of Georgians, especially rural Georgians, even into the 1960s and 1970s. The greening of Georgia is a story about people and their land, topics that are familiar to geographers. Indeed the work of two geographers, Stan Trimble and Merle Prunty, Jr., is well represented in Brown's book.

My own moment of understanding about the changes across Georgia was similar to that of Professor Brown's. He mentions finding an aerial photograph of Athens, Georgia, from about 1935, which showed cultivated land from stream bank to hilltop. In 1974, when I first saw the aerial photography of the Piedmont from the mid-1930s, I knew that I was looking at what used to be a much more barren and poor Georgia. Brown could have given the reader this stunning visual verification by including then and now aerial photography. Moreover, although Professor Brown's message does not disregard the new dangers to Georgia's environment, he does not go deeply into modern issues. It is his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1549-6929
Print ISSN
0038-366X
Pages
pp. 293-294
Launched on MUSE
2004-12-06
Open Access
No
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