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Environmental determinism

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Environmental determinism, also known as climatic determinism or geographical determinism, is the theory that the physical environment sets hard limits on human society and development. Proponents of this theory claim that we can look to simplistic patterns of environmental change or geographical difference (e.g. latitude) and from there we can see why some societies have flourished and will continue to flourish while others haven't and won't. This is bullshit.[1][2]

Environmental determinism, like Social Darwinism, poisoned academic disciplines such as anthropology, economics and geography in the 19th century where it had a huge appeal among advocates of colonialism and slavery. Cold northern climates produce "hardy and thrifty" people who were destined to rule the world. Meanwhile, the unrelenting heat along the equator produces lazy people condemned to forever languish in poverty, unless a strong northerner arrived to "enlighten" them.[3][4] It continued its popularity into the early 20th century, as people like Ellsworth Huntington worked on expanding the theory and created "climatic determinism", which stated that the economic development in a country can be predicted based on its distance from the equator. The farther away from it, the more successful it is.

The theory was buried in the 1950s as decolonization scholars ripped it apart. Environmental possibilismWikipedia replaced it in geography.


  1. Jim Blaut, 2000
  2. "Neo-Environmental Determinism, Intellectual Damage Control, and Nature/Society Science"
  3. Painter & Jeffrey, "Political Geography", Sage Publications, 2009, pg.177
  4. Shirlow, Peter, Gallaher, Carolyn, Gilmartin, Mary, "Key Concepts in Political Geography", SAGE Publications Ldt, 2009, pg.127.