Over time environmentalism has changed and adapted to our world. Due to that we now have two distant sides of environmentalism, these have been named Classical and Contemporary Environmental thought. one is the more old school approach which correlates to the Hippie movement while the other is more forward thinking and optimistic. However, two was not enough to cover all the different viewpoints of environmentalists, that is why we developed Ecotypes.
Ecotypes is away in which we organize 15 different ideals that relate to a persons feelings on Environmental issue. You get racked from -10 to 10. If you receive a negative number you are closer to the left side and positive to the right. When you add them together you can get a wide range of answers but usually, you can also tell what someone believes as far as classical or contemporary based on what their ecotypes are.
When coupled together these ways of viewing environmental thought can explain a lot about the way we have responded to environmental change; In relation to the government and personal decision.
Defining Classic and Contemporary Thought
The narrative around addressing environmental issues and solutions can be categorized into two ways: Classic vs. Contemporary. The more old school way of thinking represents classic thought meanwhile, contemporary thought presents itself as more innovative and progressive. The classic approach became more popular along with the development of the Hippie movement during the 1970’s. Classic thought prides itself as more factual based and is easier to comprehend and contemporary thought is grounded in uncertainty, but is more optimistic for new solutions. A few familiar examples of classical environmentalists are Donella H. Meadows’ and Garrett Hardin. Both focus on the theme of utilizing science and theories to create environmental boundaries and limitations within society.
Garrett Hardin is an author that expresses classic thought by exploring a social dilemma through the analogy of ranchers grazing the fields in his publication of: “The Tragedy of the Commons.” (Hardin 1968). His premise is that mutual agreements are essential in conserving our natural resources. He emphasizes that “Individuals [are] locked into the logic of the commons are free only to bring on universal ruin: Once they see the necessity of mutual coercion, they become free to pursue other goals.” The logic of the commons is that the basic agreement between the ranchers is not to overuse cattle in fear of land degradation. Through seeing the “necessity of mutual coercion”, the ranchers are promoting equity and conservation for themselves and the biodiversity of the land. Despite being over fifty years old, Hardin’s theory is still widely accepted today because of the clear presentable truth he displays through this analogy which closely aligns with classic thought.
Meadows’ publication the “Limits to growth” (Meadows 2004) presents a thirty-year update to “The Tragedy of the Commons” and breaks down how much progress society has made in addressing our ecological footprint in comparison to the carrying capacity of Earth. This update follows the classic narrative as a premise to gain the attention of the general public. Meadows further pushes classic thought by setting limitations with developing technologies and markets that “hasten collapse” instead of preventing it. Displaying presentable truths and limitations to environmental progress is vital in raising alarm to crises such as pollution, food production, overpopulation, etc. meanwhile, the risk of dismissing other important factors related to environmental issues and finding solutions has become direr.
A more recent example of classic thought is the Half-Earth Project which was introduced by E.O Wilson and their mission is to “save the Earth” by conserving “50% of Earth’s biodiversity”. The website states that currently, “7.8% of marine life…[and]..15% of land areas are protected.” By developing a set goal that is easily understandable and does not address the complexity that global situations and human relationships have with natural resources, and reveals how this environmental organization is setting limitations on wildlife conservation so that the average viewer can comprehend the facts presented. Which closely resembling classic thought, because the project presents the truth that corresponds to solid modernity; The two concepts are rooted in the truth of environmentalism and are often settled within societal norms and institutions.
Unlike classic thought, the contemporary thought movement arose during the 19th century, because people became more concerned with the way environmental problems were being addressed. Contemporary thought is a more nuanced way of thinking and is rooted in addressing the changes in environmental challenges and finding new solutions to combat them. This thought process is also similar to liquid modernity which is what our lives are like in a more developed time and how the world will continue to develop. They are so similar because they both focus on a changing future not what is set in stone. Contemporary environmentalists realize that as the world adapts to the unpredictable changes, their approach must change with it.
Vaclav Smil’s review essay critiquing on Meadows’ “Limits to growth” (Smil 2005) is parallel to contemporary thought because he is accenting to natures adaptability towards obstacles that threaten our environment and is criticizing the authors binary insights surrounding the future of our planet. He recognizes the complexity that growth and the limitations to environmental progress is much more dynamic.
Another example of contemporary thought is Elinor Ostrom’s critique of Hardins’ “The Tragedy of the commons.” “The challenge of the common pool” (Ostrom 2008) represents contemporary thought by arguing that static solution and privatization provision are necessary for conversation – Ostrom presents self-governance as a solution. She is also far more optimistic about the future than Hardin was. In doing this she is embodying contemporary environmental thought.
Ruth Defries also expresses contemporary thought through her publication: “Planetary opportunities: A social contract for global change science to contribute to a sustainable future” (DeFries 2012). It brings to light to how societies adapt to changes and have historically implemented solutions to combat recent issues. Defries’ optimistic approach is revealed with her acknowledgment of the reality of humans dominating nature. Furthermore, she expresses the benefits of technology and arguing that “social-oriented” focuses on social and biophysical changes that ultimately challenge our approach to environmental conservation.
These few contemporary environmentalists are optimistic about the upcoming issues that will be addressed in innovative and progressive ways – following a similar relevance to liquid modernity.
Ecotypes in Relation to Classical and Contemporary Thought
Environmental problems are extremely complex and to understand them and the multitude of of opinions related to them we have ecotypes which is 15 different axes that have two differing opinions that people are then ranked on. To find out your specific rank you can take the EcoTypes quiz which is similar to the Myer Briggs quiz (a personality test) but for environmentalism. The Ecotypes quiz focuses on the three themes: place, knowledge, action. The goal is to give a chance for the participants to measure their beliefs on a scale that ranges from negative ten to ten. The more negative of a score that the participant receives depending on the axes, the more their ideas lean towards the left side of the scale. The more positive a score they receive, the more they lean towards the right side of the scale. For a good portion of the ideals classical thought is more closely tied to the left while contemporary thought is closer to the right (a breakdown of this can be found here).
One example is the Ecosystem tab the left side believes that ecosystems are generally stable between animals and plants and most likely if somethings breaks that balance it is human interaction. That is similar to classical because it addresses humans as the problem and is more pessimistic. Whereas the right side believes the environmental has always been changing with or without human interaction. That reflects contemporary thought because it is more forward thinking and allows for growth instead of just saying humans mess things up the end.
Considering our perspective of environmental ideas through a spiritual scale where the left side represents the sacred pole and the right resembles the secular pole is essential towards connecting with our environmental beliefs. The left side of the scale which emphasizes how spirituality and nature are connected and is automatically sacred aligns with classic thought because it grounds itself in the certainty that nature is not to be neglected. Moreover, the secular perspective follows contemporary thought by confronting that changes towards how we approach such environmental issues rationally rather than spiritually. Recognizing the benefits of nature spirituality ultimately helps us navigate through environmental issues such as protecting the old-growth forests.
One example that was very clear to me was the Technology side, it makes sense that people who follow classical thought would be more technophobic whereas someone who follows contemporary thought would be technophilic. Classic thought does not want more technology nor do they believe it will solve environmental problems. To them the less man made stuff the better. On the other hand contemporary thinks that technology has many answers to environmental problems. This is because they take a more forward thinking approach to environmental thought and understand that with how complex the world has become that we need new more advanced answers. They believe technology is one way to get those answers.
Of course there is much more to ecotypes then just these three, the website with all the axes will be link here if you want to further your understand of them.
Examples of Classic and Contemporary Thought Through Climate Justice in Oregon
As Environmental problems become more prevalent, organizations and activists are seeking Climate Justice and conservation in a variety of ways such as in Oregon.
The City of Portland follows a classic narrative on its government website by presenting the facts that address current climate challenges and the city’s progressive accomplishments in fulfilling climate justice. The article flaunts being the first, “US city to adopt a carbon reduction strategy in 1993..” and highlights how they are determined to guarantee a reduction in “emissions by 80% in 2050.” Presenting such facts allows residents to clearly understand their goals. Their campaign relates to classic thought because their plan is grounded in the certainty of reaching their goal.
An example of a group of environmentalists taking the more contemporary approach is The Breakthrough Institute which emphasizes the importance of having conversations to find recent technological solutions. The Breakthrough group acknowledges that the early stages of the environmental movements controversy fell within, “…its role in expelling indigenous people from their lands to create parks and reserves.” This institute acknowledges the lack of inclusivity surrounding the discussion of environmental conservation. They also critique those skeptical of nature’s resilience by bringing up significant moments that highlight nature’s strength to sustain such as the,“… Chernobyl nuclear facility, which melted down in 1986, wildlife is thriving, despite the high levels of radiation…[and]…the massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico [that] was degraded and consumed by bacteria at a remarkably fast rate.” This group’s perspectives closely relate to contemporary thought because they focus on technology and development such as bioremediation or the optimistic side of nature returning to its original state after trauma.
The Center for a Sustainable Economy (CSE) is an organization that actively seeks Climate justice through domains, “Economic Change, Political Change, and Cultural Change.” Their website resembles qualities of classic thought because the truth is presented in a way that is easily comprehensible and the facts are finite so the average person that wants to get involved knows exactly what issues specifically around Climate justice – that they would be participating in to address these challenges. They are taking a fact based initiative for seeking and addressing Climate justice.
1000 Friends of Oregon is a nonprofit organization that also works with Oregonians to promote the wellbeing of the planet and themselves through environmental activism. Their mission is to specifically enhance the,“… the quality of life by building livable urban communities, protecting family farms and forests and conserving natural areas.” With the support of many locals passionate to advocate for conserving and protecting the biodiversity of Oregon. They have had many successes such as getting enough bipartisan support to pass “HB 2001: Housing For All” and to protect over “20,000 acres of farm and forest land….from residential development.” This organization appears to be more contemporary since it focuses on addressing climate change at a foundational level.
Climate justice is still an extremely important topic especially to the upcoming generation of adults that are critiquing the more traditional methods surrounding environmentalism. Oregon’s Public Network reported on youth activists gathering in Portland from around the state to address more radicalized change in Oregon’s legislation. Nearly, “three dozen” youth rallied together to share their concerns about climate change and potential solutions surrounding “greenhouse emissions.” Seventeen-year-old Rhylie Woodley from Portland speaks to this concern; “This is not just a faraway problem; this is a community problem.” These young activists are following the contemporary narrative by confronting the failed progress of utilizing classic techniques to combat climate change and are seeking new and more impactful solutions.
A similar organization that is finding transformative ways to seek solutions that conserve the planet’s natural resources is EcoTrust. Founded in Oregon, this non-profit organization is made up of a diverse group of people that are communicating and presenting ideas that surround the theme of climate justice. This team of environmentalists aims to understand, “…the influences, opportunities, and challenges surrounding resilient economies, the natural abundance we all rely on, and the social conditions that inhibit or enable our well-being is critical to creating a path forward for resource-dependent communities like Garibaldi, and all of us. Since this organization focuses on situational environmental issues using technology it is representing contemporary environmental thought.
The BasinScout platform is adapting to the degradation of biodiversity and seeking solutions through the use of mapping technology. Their mission is to “rapidly assess field-level agricultural management practices and their impact on water resources, as well as run possible scenarios for achieving conservation outcomes within budget constraints.” This technological platform is following the contemporary narrative by using satellite data to solve the ever-changing environmental issues surrounding climate justice through conservation by assessing the impact of water resources surrounding field management. They recognize that new issues require recent solutions while using technology which is once again contemporary thought.
Elana’s View: I have always had an appreciation for the apocalyptic viewpoint so classical attracts me because of that. Though I know the worldwide “solutions” will never work, this is because we will never have the whole world agree to anything. Due to that, I have a respect for contemporary because it seems to be the best way to yield actual results.
Charlotte’s View: If people are agreeing to something why change it? It is so hard to get people to believe in environmental problems since more people agree with classical thought we should stick with that. Classical is old school and because it has been around longer more people trust it if we could find a way to combine contemporaries’ problem-solving ideas but keep it under the classical ideals that would be our best bet.
What we share: We both believe that classical thought is more likely to be agreed because it has been around longer and is based around facts. Therefore it makes more sense to support classical thought. Though neither of us discredits contemporary thought we just think that if we can get people to agree to something we should keep it that way.
Our ecotypes: Both of us believe nature should be wild and grow as it likes. Charlotte is more optimistic about the future (contemporary) whereas I (Elana) am more doomsday. Both of us think we need high diversity in the ecosystem which I (Elana) feel like should go without saying. Charlotte is very in the middle about if humans or nonhumans should be considered more when it comes to nature but I (Elana) believe wholeheartedly that nonhumans are more important. If you have not had the chance to take an ecotypes survey you can take it here.
I (Elana) believe that if you look at our ecotypes you could guess our view on classic versus contemporary and vice versa. They are so interconnected just like nature is. One person can never be 100% of anything but we can lean heavily to one side or both. Charlotte and I (Elana) both straddle the fence when it comes to classic and contemporary and we feel as though the mixture of knowing the general public agrees to classical but also understanding contemporary is more plausible as environmental students.
- DeFries, Ruth S. et al. 2012. “Planetary Opportunities: A Social Contract for Global Change Science to Contribute to a Sustainable Future.” BioScience 62 (6): 603–6. https://doi.org/10.1525/bio.2012.62.6.11.
- Hardin, Garrett. 1968. “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Science 162 (3859): 1243–48. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.162.3859.1243.
- Kareiva, Peter, Michelle Marvier, and Robert Lalasz. 2012 “Conservation in the Anthropocene.” The Breakthrough Institute. Accessed September 28, 2020. https://thebreakthrough.org/journal/issue-2/conservation-in-the-anthropocene.
- 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.
- Smil, Vaclav. 2005. “Limits to Growth Revisited: A Review Essay.” Population & Development Review 31 (1): 157–64.