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Know the West

Green versus gold

  California sometimes seems to play in its own league, its affairs completely separate from the rest of the West. But the lively new collection, Green Versus Gold: Sources in California's Environmental History, shows how universal California's lessons are.

Editor Carolyn Merchant dips into every phase of California's history, from before Europeans arrived, through Spanish colonization, the gold rush, and into the current period of sophisticated environmentalism. For each era she pairs first-hand accounts (-A Lumberman on Board-Feet Profits' and "Irene Diamond and Gloria Orenstein on the Emergence of Ecofeminism') with contemporary essays by scientists and historians.

Early chapters show that resistance to resource exploitation is older than readers might guess. For example, farmers in the late 19th century worked to stop the hydraulic gold mining that was polluting their water. Environmentalists don't become important enough to get their own chapter until the end of the book, which covers the last 30 years. Merchant's sympathies lie with the land's defenders, yet her scope is broad and fair enough that the book is useful history even as it provides inspiration for activists.

*Gabriel Ross