Word! Foundational Sustainability Works

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As I have mentioned before Google has created two neat tools Ngram and Trends for analyzing the popularity of words in books and web searches respectively. Searching for different Sustainability related words produces some interesting results. I won't be so bold as to call them insights but I intend to share some of the most intriguing in a series I am calling Word!.

Foundational Texts for Sustainability

I thought it would be interesting to look into the relative influence over time of several of the most important early texts for Sustainability. Justifying my selection would be a whole post in and of itself so lets just go with it.1)Also, I don't actually have valid justifications for choosing these works but I think for pre-1990 these are widely recognized as some of the most important. I choose A Sand County Almanac (1949), Silent Spring (1962), Limits to Growth (1972), Small is Beautiful (1973) and Our Common Future (1987).2)Somewhat to my own embarrassment I have actually only read Silent Spring and Sand County Almanac, the others I know by reputation and selected passages only. Now lets get to the fun, graphics!

Word_Works_Eng

Immediately we are impressed by the splash that Limits to Growth made upon arrival, though it along with Our Common Future and Small is Beautiful have faded in frequency of mentions over time. In comparison the popularity of Sand County Almanac and Silent Spring grew much more slowly though with more sustaining power, so much so that Silent Spring is now the most referenced book of the group (as of 2008). According to Wikipedia a 1990 poll concluded that these two were the most significant environmental books of the 20th century. On the web, searchers were more than three times as likely to have looked for Silent Spring than the next most common book, Small is Beautiful.3)This data is from 2004 to present, the full range available for Google Trends. Google Trends looks at the relative popularity of search terms for any given period not the absolute number. So there could be more searches while the trend was downward as each year there are many, many more people searching on Google.

Global Perspective

Word_Works_AllSomething else of interest emerged by comparing these works, their popularity varied internationally (by language and search location). On the left is the graphic for French, German and Spanish, click and open it in a new tab for better detail. Sand County Almanac was rarely referenced in non-English works nor was it ever searched for outside of the USA. I wonder since it is so focused on the idea of place, Leopold's land-ethic, that it does not translate well to other places, or whether it is just not well known outside of the US. If the later is the case, that is really too bad, because it is a great book! Small is Beautiful is much more popular in French and German texts than in English, though on the web it is most popular in India--which was certainly a surprising and interesting result. Limits to Growth is searched for much more often in Australia, perhaps because of their limited landmass...

...well now I am just speculating wildly so I had best stop.

Aaron Redman is the founder of Achieving Sustainability and what passes for an administrator in these parts. Currently he is working on his Sustainability PhD at ASU while raising a baby daughter and taking advantage of nap time to foment discussions on this here blog.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Also, I don't actually have valid justifications for choosing these works but I think for pre-1990 these are widely recognized as some of the most important.
2. Somewhat to my own embarrassment I have actually only read Silent Spring and Sand County Almanac, the others I know by reputation and selected passages only.
3. This data is from 2004 to present, the full range available for Google Trends. Google Trends looks at the relative popularity of search terms for any given period not the absolute number. So there could be more searches while the trend was downward as each year there are many, many more people searching on Google.
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