Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Faveread: fascinating history of Joachimsthal

Those of you who read German will want to take a look at this article from Die Zeit.

Those of you who don't read German are missing an article that brings a lot of coincidences together. First, St. Joachimsthal, a valley in Bohemia, was once a major silver production site. The "thal" ending means valley, and the silver coins were called "Thaler" - whence we get the name of the leading global currency today.

Second, the destruction of the local environment from the production of silver, which was short-lived, led a German humanist (Paulus Niavis) to publish a book in which nature takes the business world to court. It seems that this book is the first time we know of that thoughts of conserving nature are weighed off against what has long been felt as our God-given right to use natural resources to improve our lot. According to the paraphrasing in the German article, the business world makes a compelling case in the book that we have an obligation to consume natural resources rather than leave them lying around unused.

Third, the book was published in 1492.

Fourth, the book speaks of "sustainability" and "conservation" -- possibly the first time they are used together in the modern sense.

Fifth, Joachimsthal later turned out to be a major source of uranium. In fact, the uranium that German researchers Hahn and Meitner used to prove Einstein's theory of relativity came from Joachimsthal, which later also provided a lot of the uranium for the East Bloc.

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