In this synthesis paper we will review classic and contemporary thought and demonstrate the difference with a real world example. Classic and contemporary thought are not often mentioned in news and climate change concerns, but they are the essential foundation from which to build off of. They also lend themselves to contrasting in the many Ecotypes, a project developed by Jim Proctor. While considering which environmental thought fits better in our present day, our group focused on America’s carbon footprint and how the hydroponic business is a successful example of contemporary thought. Without the advancement in technology, our society would rely on classic thought, a perspective that limits solutions and denies open conversation about our issues.
Classic vs. Contemporary
In ENVS 160, the topic of classic vs. contemporary thought was the answer to our questions as young environmentalists. The idea of classic thought mimics the idea of simple, unquestioning solutions. Classic thought is confident and defined as the answer, not an answer. On the other hand, contemporary thought considers a more inclusive perspective. It allows one to embrace uncertainty and a future with many options. Although the loss of concrete classic thought can be unsettling and cause anxiety, we need to embrace the uncertain contemporary nature of environmentalism today.
Classic thought developed years before contemporary, being the older environmental thought that we are more accustomed to. As Jim Proctor mentioned in his Classic vs. Contemporary thought video lecture, these environmental thought processes include “ideas & concepts, values & norms, theories & frameworks informing issues and forces” (Jim Proctor Lecture 2020).
Classic thought is centered around solid modernity. Confident ideas, ones that do not need questioning because they are believed to be the truth, fall under classic thought. Classic thought follows more of a “fact” structure and the universal solid modernity creates a life where we are grounded and we know what to do to overcome the issue, whatever it may be. This can create ease in life, but also create a bubble effect where we are turned away from the real complexity of the environment’s truth. Nothing can ever be this simple.
To help make sense of solid modernity, there are several articles that can be of use. One author, Will Steffen, wrote a piece called “Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet”. He mentioned that there are frameworks to guide human societies away from disaster by locating the boundaries of “safe operating space[s]”(Steffen 2015, 2). A beautiful transition from solid to liquid modernity that he uses is utilizing history to develop “early-warning signs” of environmental disasters. Stepping back for a moment, liquid modernity concerns our present state.
In general, we have more options in life right now. We do not have a defined path for our lives. This is known as liquid modernity; choice. Although this causes anxiety, it is essential to lean into the stress that revolves around liquid modernity and contemporary thought in specific. So, while much of what Steffen writes about concerns the unchanging facts of solid modernity and the unforgiving boundaries, he also emphasizes the benefits of using history as a tool. This information will ultimately help us create successful solutions in liquid modernity.
Another example of how classic thought is limiting on its own comes from an article written by Melinda Harm Benson, titled “The End of Sustainability”. Benson argues that “policy discussions remain framed by the goal of sustainability”(Benson 2014, 778). She then goes on to add: “What constitutes sustainable use of water in a given region when we no longer can trust historical rainfall, snowfall, and snowmelt patterns,”(Benson 2014, 779) inferring that we can no longer use systems that have historically worked for us. If the environment is changing, why aren’t we? Using the term “sustainability” is an example of classic thought.
Seeing the word “sustainable” written on your food ends the discussion of “was it produced safely in the environment?” When we enter the realm of contemporary thought, there are better defined words and origins on everything. Classic thought, although reassuring, is limiting and disguising the dirty truth.
Discovering new ways to think of the truth requires contemporary thought. Since we are currently in a period of liquid modernity, contemporary thought fits better into our lives, as they go hand in hand. Contemporary thought allows for many solutions to be explored and accepts uncertainty.
In Jim Proctor’s video, he says “in many ways contemporary environmental thought grounds facts and action in the reality of disagreement and conflict and also the reality of uncertainty about what is true and what we should do”(Jim Proctor Lecture 2020). Differing from classic thought, contemporary thought utilizes the failures to better assess future solutions, which also opens up discussions about what to do with more people.
A couple articles that come in handy while tackling the topic of contemporary thought come from Elinor Ostrom, Ted Nordhaus, and Miriam Greenberg. In Elinor Ostrom’s piece, “The Challenge of Common-pool Resources”, she highlights the question of “who can determine what”(Ostrom, 2008)? The simplicity of solid modernity and classic thought makes it easy to assume that everyone is following that norm. When the assumption is such, people are able to lay off and believe they do not have a significant impact. In Ostrom’s passionate words, “HUMANS DON’T LIKE BEING SUCKERS”(Ostrom Lecture Video 2009). She argues that society inevitably has “suckers” or, at the minimum, has people who are too trusting that it backfires. This upsetting reality in society causes mistrust and an individualistic attitude- self sufficiency is all that is needed… but is it?
Growth has limits and although contemporary thought includes almost a limitless amount of ideas, growth, and collaboration, classic thought is needed, since there can only be so much room to grow, so much space to expand. In “Evolve” written by Ted Nordhaus, he writes, “political movement founded on shrinking the human footprint is doomed to fail”. Instead of this classic thought approach, he begs society to embrace “human power, technology, and the… modernization” (Nordhaus 2011, 5).
Lastly, Miriam Greenberg adds that “the sustainable future we seek to build depends entirely upon whose sustainability we are talking about”(Greenberg 2013, pg. 57). Again, veering away from classic thought which only concerns a certain population, we need to have faith in contemporary thought. This is our future, instead of denying it, why not accept and do the best we can with the options available to us?
Relating to EcoTypes
Classical and contemporary thought are on different sides of the ecotypes spectrum. While typically the left axis of the ecotypes leads to classic thought, there can be some instances where the left axis can also imply contemporary (Jim Proctor 2020).
Contemporary environmentalism can be examined through technophilic viewpoints. Technophilic, meaning they advocate for the use of technology in solving our climate issues. To paraphrase a section in “Love Your Monsters” by Latour, they view technology as a savior for the environment. They also make points such as if we can create technology to travel in space, we are certainly advanced enough to adapt to the changes in our climate. (Latour 2011, 18) This is an example of contemporary environmentalism since it suggests adapting to create solutions, not just strict one-sided conservative suggestions.
Since the world is more advanced in technology, scientists have more tools to come up with solutions. We have since used contemporary and modernist approaches to provide cleaner and more realistic energies and technologies to trailblaze our way into an adapted climate.
Change is an axis in EcoTypes which does not easily represent classic and contemporary thought. Radical and incremental change can be subjective terms overall. Classic environmentalism will likely suggest radical change even though it leans toward the right side of the EcoTypes spectrum. The reason for radical change in classic environmentalism is because of the proof from scientific data. The data suggests that we have little time to fix our climate issue and reduce carbon emissions.
The radical change in this situation is the immediate cut of carbon emissions because of what the data says. But that is not to say that classic environmentalism does not lead to incremental change either. Incremental change is the approach taken in many political bills, but for the most part, is an older way of solving problems governmentally in hopes that they will get voters to agree with their overall plan.
In the world of climate change, there are many pressing matters. The issue our group tackled was food miles and the future of farming. There is less land to farm on, the climate is more unpredictable, the human population is increasing at a rate that we have not seen before and there are many other factors to take into consideration when we think of farming. Instead of wallowing in the scarcity that is the future of land irrigation, hydroponics is a technology-utilizing alternative.
Hydroponics uses water to farm produce, limiting the amount of pesticides and potential contaminants (AlShrouf 2017). In addition, hydroponic containers are able to be stacked, making the most out of vertical spaces. Most importantly, hydroponics is an adaptation to the ever-changing climate that makes farming more and more unpredictable (Gruda 2019).
Hydroponics is a system that diminishes food miles. Since hydroponic companies can pop up anywhere, more people can access organically resourced produce. This also makes creating a hydroponic company more attractive, since the community benefits are so high. As seen in “Strawberry Fields Forever” written by Julie Guthman, California is the ideal climate for the strawberry production. In almost any supermarket, you can find California grown produce. Instead of shipping these fruits nationwide, hydroponics allows so many fresh foods to travel many less miles, therefore reducing our carbon footprint (Guthman 2018).
Currently, America’s food carbon footprint on average makes up about one fifth of our total footprint(Kling and Hough 2010). If hydroponics were evenly distributed, many communities that travel to purchase food would be able to reduce their carbon footprint.
As of now, it is more tricky to locate hydroponic companies, but in many garden stores there is a surplus of hydroponic equipment(Portland OR Garden Centers, Yelp). If unable to find a hydroponic company nearby all up and running, then there are many ways to build a smaller version yourself(Family Plot Video Explanation). Building your own hydroponic garden takes time beforehand and throughout the farming process. If communities were to combine forces and distribute the labor and harvesting, then instead of waiting for companies to pop up, communities could sustain their own low carbon footprint food growth.
This thought then lends itself to the ideas of Garrett Hardin, who wrote “Tragedy of the Commons”. If each member of a community had a role in the “commons” of this new hydroponic public garden, who would take the lead? Who would determine the hours of each person’s labor(Hardin 1968)? This then may become a conflict of ideas and values in a community. Then again, the many ideas about our national carbon footprint is a conflict already, so why not attempt a feasible solution such as community hydroponics.
The ethics of hydroponics illuminates the requirements of contemporary thought in this time of liquid modernity. By using a technophilic approach in hydroponics, this system takes charge of adaptation. One company, Aerofarms, is using a specific technology in the way they construct their “fields”(AeroFarms 2020). Their layers include LED lighting, leafy greens, aeroponic mist, and a cloth medium. Since their setup is successful, they then can stack the containers on top of each other for as high as the building will go. With a simplistic, but technically sound system, their contemporary approach to changing farming is headed for success.
Our TakeSides team, Climate 1, prefers contemporary to classical environmentalism but also accepts classical as a secondary approach. Classic thought has beauty in the way it gives us security in “facts”. This type of thinking is how we learn and how we are used to educating. But maybe we’re past the point of educating about what’s wrong with our climate. Now we need new fluidity. Fluid thinking, or liquid modernity is an imperative way to think, similar to thinking outside of the box.
This is why our team believes contemporary environmentalism is necessary. Contemporary reflects liquid modernity the best, which is a preferred way to work with our climate issues. While classic environmentalism is more convincing to an audience, contemporary allows for new ideas, adaptation and inclusion for the coming generation.
Through our EcoTypes results, our team’s views lie towards the left side of the spectrum. The left side is representative of a modernistic environmental approach, however, a handful of these EcoTypes axes do not signify contemporary views. But again, our TakeSides team doesn’t fully claim the contemporary vision. We are continuously questioning and furthering our understanding of why we support contemporary environmentalism because of our EcoTypes results.
Our real world example of our montruous carbon footprint led contemporary environmentalists to create the hydroponic business. By thinking optimistically about technology, the creators of hydroponics utilized their resources, and have created an entirely new way to view farming. On a large scale of hydroponics, where companies can pop up anywhere in the world, imagine the possibilities of our society’s adaptations.
As Climate-1 continues to venture into our path of environmentalism, we will focus on the importance of how classic and contemporary thought are placed into our education. We recognize that both thoughts are important, but as we enter modernism, contemporary thought is the environmentalism of choice.
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