Environmental determinism is the study of how physical geography determines or compels the actions or outcomes of peoples or societies influenced by that geography. Historic views on the subject are contemporaneously held as explanations, justifications, or apologetics for racism, imperialism, and colonialism.   The study has recently been revived with new interpretation, sometimes called "neo-evironmental determinism", with proponents such as Jared Diamond and Jeffrey Herbst. This new study examines state-building, economic development, and institutions and how they are influenced, affected, or determined by physical geography.
The concept of environmental determinism stretches back to antiquity. The Greek physician Hippocrates in "On Airs, Waters, and Places" attributed body mass, constitution, diet, libido, among other attributes, to "the changes of the seasons," humidity, wind, and the like.  The Afro-Arab writer al-Jahiz argued that skin color of people and animals was determined by water, soil, and climate. 
In the colonial period, environmental determinism was closely tied with scientific racism. It was used as a justification for slavery. Thomas Jefferson, supported and legitimized African colonization by arguing that tropical climates made the people uncivilized. Jefferson argued that tropical climates encouraged laziness, relaxed attitudes, promiscuity and generally degenerative societies, while the frequent variability in the weather of the middle and northern latitudes led to stronger work ethics and civilized societies. Adolf Hitler also made use of this theory to extol the supremacy of the Nordic race.
Ellen Churchill Semple, a prominent environmental determinism scholar, applied her theories in a case study which focused on the Philippines, where she mapped civilization and wildness onto the topography of the islands. Other scholars argued that climate and topography caused specific character traits to appear in a given populations. Scholars thereby imposed racial stereotypes on whole societies. Imperial powers rationalized labor exploitation by claiming that tropical peoples were morally inferior.
The role of environmental determinism in rationalizing and legitimizing racism, ethnocentrism and economic inequality has consequently drawn strong criticism. As such, the study fell out of favor for much of the mid-twentieth century.
Contemporary and neo-environmental determinism
Environmental determinism was revived in the late-twentieth century as neo-environmental determinism. The new term coined by the social scientist and critic Andrew Sluyter. Sluyter argues that neo-environmental determinism does not sufficiently break with its classical and imperial precursors.
Neo-environmental determinism examines how the physical environment predisposes societies and states towards particular trajectories of economic and political development. It explores how geographic and ecological forces influence state-building, economic development, and institutions. It also addresses fears surrounding the climate change. Jared Diamond was influential in the resurgence of environmental determinism due to the popularity of his book Guns, Germs, and Steel, which addresses the geographic origins of state formation prior to 1500 A.D.
Currently, the prevailing view of environmental determinism is that of Possibilism; that is, the environment has an important role in human development, but gives possibilities of such development rather than determining its course.
See alsoCultural geography
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