The Living Landscape, by Paul B. Sears | #11 | 2022 Centobibliennial Reading


This book is about the basic information of the ecosystem, but more specifically how it is essential to human survival.

It does flow naturally, so I have no criticisms on this part.

Paul B. Sears

He was a professor emeritus of Preservation at Yale University for a decade starting from 1950, and he taught botany at other universities. He also served as president of the American division of the Advancement of Science, the Ecological Society of America, and as director of the National Audubon Society.


One of the problems that Sears faced during this time was the risk of a growing and aging population outstripping the amount of land needed to feed it. He cautioned that this would create economic and societal problems. He argued that this was part of the reason of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.

There is a lot of information Sears provides about chemicals within water, sediments, and every other feature of the Earth. He started with water, which is an essential feature for life on Earth. He also gets into detail about the compounding of chemicals, the separation of chemicals, and the transition from liquid to vapor.

A key component to survival for all life on earth is water. This substance is also important for breaking down soil from rock or from fertilizer in order to feed vegetation. Another key component is the sun, which helps the plants grow. These substances are important to humans with no exception, which is why Sears indicates the importance of preserving as much water as possible, whether it is the pond, a sea, or an ocean. By disrupting the water cycle through pollution, then survivability is never guaranteed.

Of course, Sears does have retrogressive views of race and religion. It is important to keep those in mind when reading this book.

Historical Context

As for human desire for order in the universe, Sears wrote about how the Greeks, Romans, and Christian kingdoms in Europe did provide the foundation of science as we know it today. Christianity focused on the individuality of the soul and, though slowly, they would eventually culminate into the field of science. This was also done alongside the ancient philosophers of Greece and the emphasis on agriculture by the expanding Roman Empire. It eventually led up to Francis Bacon’s discovery of the Scientific Method in the Age of Enlightenment.

He provides context to the reason behind the richness of Kentucky soil, which is due to the lime deposits left behind from the Ice Age. However, soils tend to endure prosperous seasons but also dry seasons. This became evident with the Dust Bowl.

Sears also noted how phosphorus may have become found in sediments due to being carried and spread by animals. Phosphorus is found within the bloodstream in animals and humans, so it would make sense how it would spread,

With a few exceptions, Sears makes it clear that every civilization made use of an agricultural space to feed its growing population. Agriculture, he noted, can be traced back 15,000 years into the past. Though, when Sears wrote this book, it took place before climate change became a serious issue. So, it is very easy to judge this book as being outdated. Nonetheless, it would become one of the cornerstones of environmental science.

Sears noted how historical figures tended to discover features of the environment through stories and myths prior to statistics and the Scientific Method. He noted how Plato had saw the degradation of the Greek landscape through what Sears called “…process, trend, and consequence…”


When Sears talked allegorically about the foundations of human civilization being traced back to the advent of agriculture, it did call to mind Buckminster Fuller’s tale of human civilization in his book Critical Path. Though, it mainly had to do with how hierarchies were created.

As for Sears’ claim that observation was at the basis of pre-Enlightenment scientific pursuits, one name that he did not mentioned was Leonardo da Vinci, who also made observations. This resulted in his stunning, realistic artwork and copious amounts of notes, as noted by Walter Isaacson.

The basis of myths originating from observations in nature is also explored by K. David Harrison in his book about the indigenous communities with endangered languages. Just as Sears noted, indigenous communities base their myths, dietary habits, and overall way of life on the observations of their local biosphere.

Coming back to the retrogressive views of religion, Sears talks about how the Muslim empires were barbaric and their only intellectual hub was Spain. This is mostly wrong, as evidenced by Sturtevant and Kaufman, who explained that the Muslim empires were at the peak of their prosperity during the Middle Ages and produced many intellectuals and polymaths.

Connecting To The Previous Book

The Morrigan, as told by Morgan Daimler, does have an earthy attribute, which may derive from her mother Ernmas, the Irish goddess of agriculture. There have been Irish land features which have been named after her and her other names, such as the Paps of Anu.

As for the connection, I can see that the importance of the landscape would be reflective, if there is a connection to be made, of the Morrigan. Another aspect would be the importance of probability, which also connects with the Morrigan’s status as a goddess of war but also of fate–of foretelling the victory or death of a warrior. Fate might be a metaphysical word for probability or possibility, meaning a series of patterns that lead to a predictable conclusion.

Another reflection was the fact that Sears mentioned briefly how Pagans believe that there were many gods who reigned over the seasons and the landscapes. As such, they had more respect for nature than the ancient Christians did, he argued. This can be connected to the Morrigan, who is represented by animals such as the crow and the cow.

Writing Style

I do like Sear’s way of writing, for while it tends to be dry, it also tends to be quotable. If I wanted to find any quote within this book to post on social media or quote it in an essay, I would be in abundance. This is especially the case with sentences and paragraphs pertaining to humans’ responsibility towards balancing the environment.

Real-World Application

Despite admonishing the arrogance of human civilization in believing that it can always defy probability, Sears does believe that there is hope in humans in being able to reverse the course of catastrophe. In spite of the looming threat of overpopulating, Sears holds out hope that future generations would figure out how to avert a crisis from happening.

One goal that he recommends is making sure high school and college students learn as much science as they possibly can. This goal is to ensure that future generations know how important the environment is to their own survival. He especially encourages the teaching of geology, as Earth itself is the prime mover of many decisions made.

Sears also recommends recycling beyond metal scraps. This is to ensure that future generations do not put as much of a strain on the environment as possible. While energy is all-flowing–within an ergosphere–the biosphere can only self-repair so much.

Inspiration To Ian McHarg

Sears wrote about how humans should not be in defiance towards nature, rather to work with nature in order to have a prosperous future. This would also play out in McHarg’s notion that humans should not spoil the nest. He made it clear in his writings that humans should operate within their niches, rather make the niches operate with them.

As far as Sears discussing floodplains, he did explain why the early settlers built their houses above flood level. McHarg noted how irresponsible it was to build houses on floodplains in Wisconsin. Sears would definitely agree with McHarg about how important the floodplains were, since they cannot be tampered with.

Inspiration To Ken Yeang

Through McHarg, I can definitely see how Sears would have an indirect influence on Yeang, particularly when it came to the hope that should come with averting a societal collapse. Though, unlike Sears, Yeang is more focused on combating climate change through his eco-design. The over-reliance on crop lands may play a role, but it has more to do with the output of carbon into the atmosphere that Yeang seeks to cut if not eliminate.

Inspiration To Myself

As I once told my literature professor who specializes in ecocriticism, hope is simple a deference of responsibility; in other words, I can just remain hopeful, which does not require any action on my mind because I can just hope that someone else might fulfill that responsibility for me while I am in the clear. This is seen with technology like carbon capture and vegan grocery products. I can just hope that some billionaire like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk would finance a gadget that can help fix climate change; or I can help create demand for it by buying the product and using on a routine basis.

Although Sears did not write about humans’ interaction with the environment as individualized, it is helpful to keep in mind that one person’s actions can influence other people’s actions.


This book is a relic from a time in ecology before climate change occupied everyone’s minds. It definitely provides the type of insight that Sears expects from the future generations when dealing with the environment.

Recommend This To…

  • Anyone who is just getting into environmental studies, since this could provide a prime basis for what to expect. This is similar to the recommendation that I would give for Eugene Odum’s textbook in a previous review.


  • Daimler, Morgan. “Pagan Portals – The Morrigan: Meeting the Great Queens.” Moon Books. 2014.
  • Fuller, Buckminster. “Critical Path.” Re-Edition. Estate of J. Buckminster Fuller. 1980. Re-Edition 2016.
  • Harrison, K. David. “The Last Speakers: The Quest To Save The World’s Most Endangered Languages.” National Geographic. 2010.
  • Hart, Sarah. “Ecoarchitecture: The Work of Ken Yeang.” 1st Edition. John Wiley & Sons. 2011.
  • Isaacson, Walter. “Leonardo da Vinci.” Simon & Schuster. 2017.
  • Kaufman, Amy S. and Paul B. Sturtevant. “The Devil’s Historian: How Modern Extremists Abuse The Medieval Past.” University of Toronto Press. 2020.
  • McHarg, Ian. “The Essential Ian McHarg: Writings on Design and Nature.” Edited by Frederick R. Steiner. Island Press. 2013.
  • Odum, Eugene P. “Ecology: A Bridge between Science and Society.” 2nd Edition. Sinauer. 1997.
  • Sears, Paul B. “The Living Landscape.” Revised Edition. Basic Books, Inc. 1966.

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