Classic and Contemporary environmental thought is vital to the discussions of our current environmental issues. We are able to connect these environmental thoughts to a number of popular publications such as “The Tragedy of the Commons” by Garret Hardin, “The Challenge of Common-Pool Resources,” by Elinor Ostrom, “Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Update” by Meadows, and “Limits to Growth Revisited: A review essay” by Smil. These publications have sparked many controversies and discussions globally about how to approach our environmental issues. In our class, we unfold these complex ideas together and share among our group about what we believe classic and contemporary ideas mean to us. This synthesis post is a snippet of what we have discussed among our groups, we believe that a contemporary approach is most reliable during these preceding times. We believe that our world needs a more flexible approach to these detrimental environmental issues.
Defining Classic and Contemporary Thought
Classic and contemporary thought are two types of environmental thought that help us understand the different ways people think about environmental issues. Classic thought really began to take hold in the 1960s and 1970s, while contemporary thought has emerged much more recently. Although classic and contemporary thought are sometimes associated with a specific era, they aren’t restricted to them. Classical thought agrees with facts as evident and true, while contemporary thought often challenges facts. Contemporary thought may sometimes offer an alternative solution because modern problems require a new course of action, whereas someone with a classical way of thinking may only believe there is only one correct way to take action.
To determine whether a thought is classic or contemporary, we can use solid and liquid modernity as a guide. Classic thought is associated with solid modernity and contemporary thought is associated with liquid modernity (James Proctor EcoTypes and Classic/Contemporary Thought 9/27/20). Solid modernity is based on relatively clear norms. Some of us may gravitate towards solid modernity because it is grounded in stability and certainty. Liquid modernity is the opposite because it is a way of thinking grounded in uncertainty. Liquid modernity fills us with fear and anxiety because it is less certain and there is more disagreement.
An example of classic thought is in “The Tragedy of the Commons,” a well known piece of environmental literature, by Garrett Hardin. First, Hardin’s article was published in 1968, which fits the era in which classic thought was common. Second, it presents characteristics of solid modernity because Hardin argues about what he believes is universally true: Overpopulation is a threat to us all, and in order to eliminate it, people need to regulate the amount of breeding without the interference of the government (Hardin 1968). His argument is grounded in certainty and the norms are straightforward.
Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.Garrett Hardin “Tragedy of the commons” (1968, 1244)
We can also identify Hardin’s article as an example of classical thought because Elinor Ostrom wrote a contemporary critique of Hardin’s arguments. She wrote, “The Challenge of Common-Pool Resources,” a critique of Hardin’s philosophy about the commons. She says that Hardin basically “confused open-access commons” with ones that aren’t joint together. In her article, she also talks about the present-day issues regarding the overharvesting in fisheries and forests and then offers some insight on how we should approach our management of resources in a world in which we try to understand “sustainable development” (Ostrom 2010).
As mentioned earlier, literature with classical thought is often followed by a contemporary critique. An example of this relationship is present in the readings “Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Update” (Meadows et al. 2004) and “Limits to Growth Revisited: A review essay” (Smil 2005).
In Benson & Craig’s article, “The End of Sustainability,” they talk about the role that California plays in ecological justice as an “environmental trendsetter.” The article is a contemporary critique of the classic idea that sustainability is an ideal that can be achieved on an individual level (Benson & Craig 2014). Through liquid modernity, the authors insist that a sustainable future will depend on whose definition of sustainability we choose to follow.
Another example of classic thought comes from the article, “Strawberry Fields Forever?”, when Julie Guthman talks about how soilless systems can do some good because they are able to reduce the amount of pesticides used and improve working conditions of farmers (Guthman 2018). However, the author expresses classic thought by explaining that we must support food producers rather than try and perfect an agricultural system. Hydroponic systems and other systems that are meant to make things more efficient, can end up using fossil fuels more than the conventional systems of agriculture.
Classic and Environmental Thought in Ecotypes
Classical and contemporary thought applied to ecotypes gives us a better understanding of differing points of view. Classical and contemporary thought are by no means bound to a specific axis of ecotypes. They tend to lean to a side, but there is space for much variation. For ecotypes such as Future and Technology, classical and contemporary thought are very clear.
When it comes to the future classical thought has a very dark vision, it expects that climate and environmental collapse are inevitable. This viewpoint is especially evident in “Tragedy of the Commons” (an accepted example of classical environmental thought written by Garett Hardin) when Hardin alludes to an overcrowded overused earth as the consequences of overpopulation. Contemporary environmental thought has a much more positive view of the future, there is an expectation that the future will provide us with more opportunities to develop and solve environmental issues. This frame of thought is exemplified by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus’ Article “Evolve.” “Evolve” describes a future where humans are able to develop and adapt through technology in order to protect themselves from the consequences of climate change, or to solve climate change.
Technology within classical thought is viewed as irresponsible; they see technology bringing just as many costs as benefits. For example, the benefits of better health technologies may come from the costs of shipping and producing such a product. Contemporary environmental thought tends to be technophilic, it expects that technology can bring advantages to humans, while advancing enough to not put stress on the environment. As seen in Evolve technology may be extremely helpful to solve many of the climate problems we have in the future.
Some application of classical and contemporary thought to ecotypes is less clear. Although an issue may be valued by both classical and contemporary thought, their ways of solving it may differ. For example, when talking about the Sustainability axis classical thought expects a universal sacrifice to ensure a future where younger generations will have the same opportunities as current generations. Their main focus is conservation. Contemporary environmental thought may work for sustainability through adaptation, accepting that the world is ever changing and working to change with it.
Classical and contemporary thought have vastly different definitions of sustainability. Contemporary thought may define sustainability as equal opportunity for developing nations, the preservation of cultures, and the advancement of green technology. Classical thought may define Sustainability as preserving the planet the way it is for future generations, in an attempt to avoid a disastrous future.
Classic and contemporary thought also have a variety of approaches when it comes to addressing the health axis. Classical environmental thought may approach an issue by focusing on natural health, for example chiropractic medicine, and eating organics. Classical thought tends to be technophobic; it may distrust the development and use of advancements within a medical field, worrying about the unintended consequences for a product’s use. For example the benefit of an antibiotic can cost the risk of creating a Superbug. Contemporary thought might argue that new medical technology will be able to solve present-day problems with little risk, and solve any new problems in the future. They enjoy the benefits of modern health and technological advancements within the field of medicine.
Ecotypes give us a better understanding of classic and contemporary thought and their application to world issues and views . Classical thought tends to lean more towards a cautious approach to ecotype axes. Their priorities usually include conservation, a minimal footprint, and avoidance of the industrial revolution’s costs. Contemporary thought embraces the benefits of growth and technology. They have a positive vision of the future. They are less cautious because they believe we can evolve with the changing climate. Contemporary values conservation but doesn’t weigh it as imperative to survival. No problem has a perfect solution contemporary and classical thought provides us with avenues for understanding issues and their potential solutions. James Proctor’s website on classical and contemporary thought (accessed 9/25)was instrumental in providing information on Ecotypes and their applications to contemporary and classical environmental thought.
A Global Take on Traditional and Biomedical Medicine Classic and Contemporary Thought
The well-recognized debate between traditional or natural medicine versus biomedicine is a great example of classic and contemporary environmental thought on how we should approach public health. Traditional medicine is defined as alternative types of medicine which include practices such as herbal medicine, acupuncture, Ayurveda, homeopathy, naturopathy, Chinese or oriental medicine. On the other hand, biomedicine is defined as incorporating technology with biochemistry and biology to treat or prevent diseases. In Western culture, what we see the most is the promotion of biomedical health approaches in medicine rather than the usage of traditional medicine, as a result, Western culture tends to be more critical of traditional medicine.
The contemporary environmentalist argues that traditional medicine is not scientifically proven while biomedicine is tested through laboratory research. The mainstream medical community is highly critical of the treatments that are imposed by healers. With the help of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) certain herb ingredients, chemicals, and medicine can be regulated and tested until proven to be safe and effective. Contemporary environmentalists believe that traditional medicine is not meant for everyone because there is a danger of unknown toxic substances (Genuis 2012). Although many countries such as India and China use alternative medicine, contemporary thinkers tend to believe it is actually dangerous because it may delay the “appropriate” treatment to patients (Lahiri et al. 2017). Instead, biomedicine is able to use the technology needed to identify which chemicals are efficient for medical purposes to treat patients with serious health issues such as chronic diseases.
On the other hand, classic environmental thinkers believe that traditional medicine helps connect our bodies with our minds and souls. There is more to medicine than chemicals treating our systems, instead, we have to listen to what the body truly needs based on its symptoms. Traditional Chinese medicine uses “plant and animal products, minerals, acupuncture, and moxibustion — the burning of the mugwort herb (Artemisia vulgaris) on or near the skin” (Qiu 2007). Qiu explains that his practices are based on theories passed on through generations which have helped him treat many people by observing their symptoms and characteristics. Herbal medicine is a philosophy and healing art, it goes beyond what Western countries define as medicine. Qiu states that although traditional medicine receives many criticisms, we are all trying to achieve the same goal, which is improving human health.
Besides Chinese medicine, there are other groups of people that rely on traditional forms of medicine because it is most accessible to them. In Bolivia, the Quechua-speaking community in the Bolivian Andes relies on plant-based remedies that have been used for generations. Their surroundings are important to them because that is how they receive their health care (Vandebroek et al 2008). It is careless for a contemporary environmentalist to completely deny traditional medicine because certain cultures rely on their surroundings and traditions to survive in their location.
Both contemporary and classic environmental thought has some truth in their statements and we cannot deny one or the other. Traditional medicine is important to cultures and people who believe in this medicine while biomedicine is important to people who want to adapt to the new changes that are happening to our environment that may affect our health. Human health is important in both contemporary and classic environmental thought which allows for a middle ground.
In regards to classic and contemporary environmental thought, there are different nuances that make each environmental thought unique and strongly grounded. While classic thought aligns with solid modernity in having facts and clear norms, contemporary thought aligns with liquid modernity in challenging facts and being skeptical of what is presented.
The different arguments that make each environmental thought unique can sometimes be interchangeable between the two. This is especially relevant when understanding each thought when applied to different axes of EcoTypes. Many argue that contemporary thought with its uncertainty causes fear and anxiety. Yet one can also argue that the bleak and pessimistic view of the future from a classic thought view point can also cause fear and anxiety. The distinction here lies in that while in classic thought is grounded in fact and evidence, contemporary thought is built on uncertainty, therefore always anticipating any scenario with alternative modern solutions.
These solutions are often based on technology, which brings about another characteristic of the two environmental thoughts.
While classic thought can be technophobic, contemporary thought is technophilic which shapes the way each of them may solve issues. Our EcoType axis was health, which can be considered from a technophilic or technophobic view point depending on which environmental thought we are considering.
During the era in which classic environmental thought arose, the 1960s to 1970s, it was appropriate for that line of thought to be acceptable because there wasn’t as much environmental damage. That in turn made it easier to set distinct boundaries on environmental issues and how to respond to them. However there has been enormous change to the environment that requires solutions and alternatives presented by contemporary thought, which classic thought does not consider. It is now harder to have set rules because the problems become more dynamic by the day. This is in no way to disregard classic thought but to highlight the relevance of contemporary thought in current affairs.
Even though both environmental thoughts have their advantages and disadvantages, our group has agreed on siding with contemporary thoughts for various reasons. As mentioned in this writing, contemporary thought challenges what classic environmental thinkers consider facts and offer alternative solutions because modern problems require a new course of action. We feel that it would be reckless for us not to side with this because it proves to be more applicable every day as we face more problems that are not on the solid modernity spectrum and require new solutions never considered before. More so these problems tend to require technology-based solutions that align with contemporary thought.
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