Man and Nature in Delaware
An Environmental History of the First State, 1631-2000
William H. Williams
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In examining Delaware's environmental past, this study attempts to provide a basic description of the extraordinary changes in the state's natural world over the last four centuries. It also attempts to focus some attention, in the Delaware context, on the old debate about the relative significance of the physical environment versus human choice in the evolution of the modern world. In short, does the natural world force serious constraints on human activity, or can humans rise above those constraints and, in the process, become the dominant force in the equation? Moreover, what are the implications of human agency breaking free of those constraints? This study argues that throughout much, if not most, of Delaware's history, human actions and culture were limited by constraints imposed by the state's physical environment. However, when Delawareans reached a technological level that allowed them to throw off most of the shackles of nature-imposed constraints, they did so at their own peril. The rapid growth of industry and technology produced a much higher standard of living for the average Delawarean but at certain costs including dirty air, toxic dumps, polluted water, diminution in flora and fauna, and, in some areas, aesthetically unpleasing landscapes. And yet, since 1970, a growing sensitivity to these environmental problems has led both the state and the federal government to address environmental issues in a manner that, by 2000, produced dramatic results in some areas.