Here we attempt to explain the concept of classic and contemporary thought by drawing on multiple works from esteemed environmental authors, explaining its connection to the various Ecotypes, connecting it back to green roofs, and finally by writing about our own experience.
In our first section, we present an overview of classic and contemporary thought. Drawing on the publications of several authors, we explain how their thought processes indicate a classic take or a contemporary one. To elaborate on these concepts, we introduce the Ecotypes in section two. We connect classic and contemporary thought back the EcoTypes survey and clarify where each side leans in on the poles. We also present how each school of thought relates to the Food theme, as well as our personal conclusions on this matter. In section three, we delve into the concept of green roofs, evidencing how a classic thinker may view its widespread implementation through several publications. We also elaborate a contemporary take on this issue, differentiating between the two sides and seeing where their main differences lie. In our Assessment, we sum up our conclusions, offering a summarization of our personal viewpoints on classic and contemporary thought based on our experience and insights gained from the readings.
Two Sides Searching for Solutions
We first began by introducing the classic thought, which is based on the idea that we are in an era of solid modernity. In classic thought, there seems to be general consensus on the idea that the future is headed towards certain environmental collapse unless we make fundamental changes in global human behavior. This is depicted in “The Tragedy of the Commons”, where Hardin writes that “the only way we can preserve and nurture other and more precious freedoms is by relinquishing the freedom to breed, and that very soon” (Hardin 1968, 1248). In this example, classic thought is depicted as a lens with an apocalyptic view, calling for immediate radical changes and making no room for alternative solutions.
Classic thinkers disapprove of the inactivity we see in today’s modern landscape and make clear the urgency of change. The dire need for change is presented in “Planetary Boundaries”, in which the authors write that we must “support global sustainability goals and pathways. This evolution is needed more than ever before . . . problematic trends are not being halted or reversed despite international consensus about the urgency of the problems.” (Steffen et al. 2015, 9). Thinkers that follow classic thought seem to have an outlook that almost reflects an “all or nothing” approach in which the change we need to see is clear. This kind of thinking is also reflected in the article “Planetary Boundaries” by Meadows et al. who state that “society develops technologies and markets that hasten a collapse instead of preventing it” (Meadows et al. 2004, 9). This is another important note about classical thinkers, as they typically do not believe in the benefits of embracing technological innovation.
On the other hand, contemporary thought seems to have a more uncertain outlook. Though contemporary thinkers are not complacent in the state of the world, they acknowledge that while change is necessary, there is no one solution that is absolutely correct. Its main divergence from classic thought is depicted in the words of Vaclov Smil, a proponent of contemporary thought. In his criticism of “Limits to Growth,” he writes “righteous choices, succoring the poor, sharing… for all of this in a majestic translation you might as well reread . . . the sixth chapter of the King James version of Luke’s Gospel” (Smil 2005, 163). Smil is criticizing the classic authors of “Limits to Growth” by stating that while they envision utopia for humanity and nature, they do not propose any real solutions, only an ideal that we all want.
Contemporary thought is based on the idea that technology can propel us into a future that can serve both mankind and the natural world, as evidenced in Shellenberger and Nordhaus’ claim that “only continued modernization and technological innovation can make such a world possible” (13), by which they mean a world in which nonhuman species and environments survive. Proponents of contemporary thought offer the suggestion of the possibility of change and new solutions and take into account that while enforcing worldwide solutions may not be possible, we can still focus on small scale change that may make its way into the global dialogue. Essentially, the fundamental differences between classic and environmental thought are the perspective each side takes on what kind of changes are possible in the future and the place of technology in making these changes. Elinor Ostrom sums up the concept in a neat package, “we should not act as if we know for certain how to achieve sustainable development. We can, however, recognize our growing capacities and . . . gradually improve outcomes” (Ostrom 19).
The ecotypes survey provided us with a deeper insight into the differences between classic and contemporary environmental thought, narrowing in on the axis of 15 different EcoTypes. The poles of each EcoType axis connects to either classic or contemporary environmentalism. Three axes that strongly reflect the differences between the two ways of thinking are technology, future, and society. Within each of these three axes classic environmentalism is reflected on the left side of the pole and contemporary environmentalism is reflected on the right side of the pole. Each EcoType provides an example of the differences of classic and contemporary environmental thoughts, giving a more in depth understanding on how classic and contemporary thought differs within specific subjects.
The two sides of the technology axis are technophobia (classic side) and technophilia (contemporary side). Each member in our group scored to the side of the technophilia or contemporary environmental thought, Carly scored a 3.8 and Britney scored a 2.5. The technophilic side shows contemporary environmental thought, saying that technology can make our lives healthier, easier, and more comfortable and that technological advancements will have a large impact on how we manage our global environment. This way of thinking is shown in Shellenberger’s “Evolve” where he says that we must look at technology as the dreams of the future coming true; we have to embrace it instead of blaming it as the source of our environmental problems (Shellenberger and Nordhaus 2011). Classic environmental thought is shown on the technophobic side of the pole arguing that technology only creates more problems and that technological advancements only benefit the corporations that develop them. This classic environmental view on technology can be seen in Meadow’s “Limits to Growth: the 30-Year Update” where he claims that technology will not help us out of our current crisis because technology only works for the goals of society and the goals of society do not reflect the health of our environment (Meadows 2004). The EcoType technology axis provides the reader with a better understanding of the differences between classic and contemporary environmental views on technology.
The two sides of the future axis are crisis and possibility. Carly scored 3.8 towards possibility and Britney scored -3.8 towards crisis. These two viewpoints reflect a key difference between classic and contemporary environmental thought. A contemporary environmental view on the future aligns with the right (possibility) pole of the axis, and a classic environmental view aligns with the left (crisis) pole. The possibility pole states that there are many opportunities for us to solve environmental problems and that this crisis is not inevitable. Contemporary environmental thought takes a far more optimistic stance when looking at the future and allows for the possibility of future solutions and prevention of a total collapse of humanity. This contemporary look on the future can be seen through both Shellenberger and Bensons and Craig’s writing. Shellenbereger says that there is little evidence that there will ever be an environmental end to humanity and Benson and Craig say that we must “embrace the future” and accept that we live in a world of liquid modernity (Benson and Craig 2014). However classic environmentalists view the future differently, believing that crisis is inevitable, and that future ecological disaster is almost certain. This way of thinking can be seen in Meadow’s “Limits to Growth: the 30-Year Update” where she tells of an inevitable end to society (Meadows 2004). The future EcoType axis contrasts the differences between classic and contemporary environmental views on the future state of our world.
The poles of the society EcoType are consensus and conflict. Our group’s results varied for this EcoType, Carly scored a -5.0 towards consensus and Briteny scored a 1.3 towards conflict. Carly’s placement towards the consensus axis reflects a classic environmentalist view. The consensus pole states that all of us contribute equally to society, and therefore; each one of us is partly to blame for our environmental conditions. In addition, we can solve our environmental problems if people came together and worked in agreement with each other. This is seen in the classic environmentalist writing of Guthman’s “Strawberry fields forever? — When Soil Muddies Sustainability” where she calls for large scale change for the majority of the agricultural industry, arguing that large scale change is better than small change on a local scale (Guthman 2018). The conflict pole however, says that a small and powerful subset of society is to blame for the world’s environmental problems and that environmental problems arise from power gaps between people and therefore we must confront those in power to get environmental justice. The EcoType survey gave our group a better comprehension of the differences between classic and contemporary environmental thought in regards to specific subjects, as well as better enlightening us on our own personal environmental positions.
Environmentalism and the Agricultural Industry
Classic and contemporary thought is also evident in the topic of green roofs. A classic take would emphasize the benefits of green roofs, idealizing it as an ultimate solution that not only produces higher-quality foods, but also other various benefits. This is evidenced in publications that claim that food production on green roofs also has the potential to reduce food miles, enhance food security, connect consumers to food, and save resources (Specht et al. 2014; Ackerman et al. 2014). The picturesque view of the benefits of food production on green roofs points to a classic view because it emphasizes green roofs as a clear solution to several broad issues, evidencing solid modernity.
A contemporary response to these ideas can be seen in an article that Walters and Midden wrote in 2018. These two take a contemporary approach on this issue by acknowledging the previously mentioned benefits of green roofs but bringing up the fact that green roofs are not the total solution because vegetable production is limited. As only certain vegetables are suitable for green roof production, the utilization of green roofs for food production is not extensive, and these barriers make it difficult for it to acknowledge as a complete solution to the aforementioned issues (Walters and Midden 2018).
Classic writers, however, continue to view green roofs as an ideal solution to an array of issues. This is evidenced in an article that emphasized the ability of green roofs to double as habitats for urban wildlife, noting that the soil composition is ideal for locally and regionally endangered species (Brenneisen 2006). Another publication even quantified the amount of pollutants that could be removed from the air if intensive green roofs were implemented on all the rooftops of Chicago (Yang, Yu, and Peng 2008). These authors evidence classic thought through their consensus of the good that can come from green roofs.
Contemporary writers, however, attempt to bring new information into light in an attempt to show that proposed solutions are not all-encompassing. For example, in an article published in 2014, Williams, Lundhold, Maclvor write that the habitat restoration benefits and biodiversity conservation of green roofs are still unclear, therefore proponents of green roofs should refrain from claiming the conservation value of green roofs for biodiversity. Another contemporary publication questioned the true impact of green roofs, stating that the very production of polymer materials that are designed to make green roofs lighter comes with the consequence of polluting the air (Bianchini and Hewage 2012). Here, these contemporary authors represent the idea of liquid modernity, which is built upon a foundation of uncertainty.
All in all, green roofs, when seen in the eyes of a classic thinker, have the potential to address a multitude of issues. Contemporary thinkers question this idealization of the implementation of green roofs, asking: what about the other side of the picture? The consensus that is apparent in classic thought is what contemporary thought lacks, while the questioning process that is evident in contemporary thought is what is missing classic thought.
Here is a helpful table from Jim Proctor’s site that demonstrates where each of the themes fall in terms of classic and contemporary thought. Green represents classic thought, and gray represents contemporary thought!
After spending weeks reading, writing, and discussing both classic and contemporary environmental thought, both Britney and Carly find themselves leaning more towards the side of contemporary environmentalism. Both Britney and Carly had some ecotype results that placed them closer to the classic pole and others that placed them closer to the contemporary pole, however both feel that after learning more in depth about classic and contemporary environmentalism their ecotype results are a completely accurate picture of their environmental views. We have been presented with many new readings that show new ways of thinking that have either changed our prior views or opened our eyes to new possibilities.
Carly finds herself drawn to contemporary environment thought because she prefers to look at the future with an optimistic eye, and feels that contemporary environmentalism better allows this. She believes that with the help of new technological advancements positive environmental change is possible and can be achieved. She opposes the inevitable crisis view of classic environmentalism and sees the acceptance of liquid maternity to be a more realistic approach to combat our ever changing global environmental problems. In addition, classic environmentalism tends to call for large global environmental changes as the only solution. While she wishes these large radical changes were possible, Carly thinks that large global changes can not be viewed as a realist solution to the problem, without a global government it is unlikely that these larger radical changes could ever be implemented. Due to this, she chooses to currently place herself on the side of contemporary environmentalism, however she sees truths behind both sides and continues to view her own environmental stance loosely, allowing for fluctuation as she continues to read, discuss, and deeper explore new environmental views.
Britney, too, finds herself leaning toward the side of contemporary environmental thought. She thinks that because both are centered around facts, the validity of each cannot be compared in terms of which is more true, rather it is a matter of option. Britney’s views changed radically throughout the past month. Her EcoType results reflect her original position of classic environmental thought, however she now feels strongly that she is closer to the side of contemporary environmentalism. Despite her personal views aligning closer with contemporary environmentalism she feels that while defining the differences between classic and contemporary environmentalism it’s important to see the differences between them as a reason why change is so hard to bring.
Food 1 defines the difference between classic and contemporary environmental thought to be the changes in overarching ideas and total outlook on the future of environmentalism and the state of our global community. These changing ideas include views on the use of technology, the belief that there will or will not be total environmental collapse, and the acknowledgement that we live in a world of liquid maternity. The ecotypes survey gave Food 1 better insight on their own positions between the two environmental approaches and introduced them to their groups’ focus, the food ecotype. Comprehending the differences between classic and contemporary environmentalism is vital to understanding the current state of our world and allowing us to grow with a knowledgeable environmental conscious, allowing us to make intelligent claims and suggestions on current environmental issues.
- Ackerman, Kubi, Michael Conard, Patricia Culligan, Richard Plunz, Maria-Paola Sutto, and Leigh Whittinghill. 2014. “Sustainable Food Systems for Future Cities: The Potential of Urban Agriculture.” The Economic and Social Review 45 (2, Summer): 189–206–189–206.
- Bianchini, Fabricio, and Kasun Hewage. 2012. “How ‘Green’ Are the Green Roofs? Lifecycle Analysis of Green Roof Materials.” Building and Environment 48 (February): 57–65. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2011.08.019.
- Brenneisen, Stephan. 2006. “Space for Urban Wildlife: Designing Green Roofs as Habitats in Switzerland” Urban Habitats. 4 (1): 10.
- Hardin, Garrett. 1968. “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Science 162 (3859): 1243–48. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.162.3859.1243.
- Meadows, Donella, Jorgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows. 2004. Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.
- Ostrom, Elinor. 2008. “The Challenge of Common-Pool Resources.” Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development 50 (4): 8–21. https://doi.org/10.3200/ENVT.50.4.8-21.
- Shellenberger, Michael, and Ted Nordhaus. 2011. “Evolve.” In Love Your Monsters: Postenvironmentalism and the Anthropocene, edited by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus. Oakland, CA: Breakthrough Institute. http://www.amazon.com/Love-Your-Monsters-Postenvironmentalism-ebook/dp/B006FKUJY6.
- Smil, Vaclav. 2005. “Limits to Growth Revisited: A Review Essay.” Population & Development Review 31 (1): 157–64.
- Specht, Kathrin, Rosemarie Siebert, Ina Hartmann, Ulf B. Freisinger, Magdalena Sawicka, Armin Werner, Susanne Thomaier, Dietrich Henckel, Heike Walk, and Axel Dierich. 2014. “Urban Agriculture of the Future: An Overview of Sustainability Aspects of Food Production in and on Buildings.” Agriculture and Human Values 31 (1): 33–51. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-013-9448-4.
- Steffen, Will, Katherine Richardson, Johan Rockström, Sarah E. Cornell, Ingo Fetzer, Elena M. Bennett, Reinette Biggs, et al. 2015. “Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet.” Science 347 (6223): 1259855. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1259855.
- Walters, Stuart Alan, and Karen Stoelzle Midden. 2018. “Sustainability of Urban Agriculture: Vegetable Production on Green Roofs.” Agriculture 8 (11): 168. https://doi.org/10.3390/agriculture8110168.
- Williams, Nicholas S. G., Jeremy Lundholm, J. Scott MacIvor, and Richard Fuller. 2014. “Do Green Roofs Help Urban Biodiversity Conservation?” https://pubag.nal.usda.gov/catalog/1191440.