Prodigality and Sustainability: The Natural Sciences and the Environment


Over time, the peoples living in Latin America’s diverse landscapes have developed complex and varied ways of understanding the world around them. While the natural sciences had been introduced to the Americas during the conquest, it was during the nineteenth century that Latin America’s political and intellectual elites began to systematically enlist the natural sciences to survey the natural world and (ideally) use nature to promote national development. For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the main goal of the sciences was to keep Latin America’s “prodigal” landscapes as productive as possible. Since the mid-twentieth century, a new countercurrent has emerged, which focuses on using science to conserve biological diversity, and to promote sustainability.