Gilbert F. White
A: It was published in two forms. The University of Chicago at that time had
a policy of simply publishing a few copies of a doctor's dissertation, putting
it in a few libraries around. And that was what was done with mine. Then
people began hearing about it and asking for copies, and so they published it
in what came to be a monograph series. So you'll find different dates ranging
from '42 to '45 depending on when people got access to it.
Q: In a nutshell, what do you think is the most significant finding in your
A: My judgment, which may not be that of others, is that the dissertation
suggested a simple but fundamental concept that, for any mode of resources
management, finding the optimal use of a resource theoretically involves
canvassing the whole range of alternatives that are open to society, and then
trying to estimate what the consequences would be, both favorable and
unfavorable, of undertaking any one of those alternatives or a combination of
them. This was applied to floods. The same notion would apply to any other
kind of resource management.
Q: This idea, which includes social well-being as well as the effect on the
environment and so forth, strikes me as something that later on became law
via NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act]. Do you see that
A: Yes, indirectly.
Q: What you're suggesting in your dissertation later on does become in fact a law
of the country, a major environmental policy. You must have been very
proud at that time to see . . .
A: That would be going too far. I didn't have any part in drafting NEPA. I
knew some of the people who did. The notion of alternatives came out, for
example, in a very interesting session at an Airlie House meeting which the
Conservation Foundation held in 1968, just before NEPA was drafted [The
Careless Technology]. There was a lot of argument about how to prevent
some of the unwise projects that were being discussed at that time. I
remember recounting the history of several African water projects as well as
the Presidential Memorandum of 1937, and noting what we had learned from