Contemporary thought takes classical ideas and alters them to fit today’s issues which is why it is seen to mimic liquid modernity rather than solid modernity.”
Classical vs. Contemporary Environmental Theory
The two primary theories that most other concepts are drawn from in the field of "Environment" is a word so embedded in environmental discourse and scholarship that it has effectively disappeared. We all know what the environment is—or do we? And what do our unexamined assumptions about environment mean for how we approach environmental issues? A careful examination of the word might lead us to... More studies are classical and contemporary environmental theory. Classical environmental theory and contemporary environmental theory have always seemed like two distinct fields of thought that are separate from one another. However, after doing more in-depth research and creating more discussions around these two theories we have learned that the lines between the two are more blurred than one may have once thought. Initially, in the initial phase of discussing these two theories, it seemed like their were many distinct differences between the two. However, these two theories are much more intertwined than they are divided. This is largely because of the fact that contemporary environmental thought builds off of older, generally well-known classical concepts and ideas. Contemporary thought works to adapt and change as the modern world changes. It is very adaptable and malleable as new situations arise, it is altered to better fit those circumstances. Classical environmental theory however is more rooted in its ways. It mimics solid modernity which means that it is less adaptable. Because the classical approaches are generally unwavering, it makes it harder to apply and be relevant to modern issues that arise today because they are based off of issues that were more common in the past. As technology has emerged and grown, new environmental issues have risen with it. Classical environmental theory does not always hold the answers to these newer issues that arise then because we have seen nothing like some of these issues before. This is where contemporary thought comes into play. Contemporary thought takes classical ideas and alters them to fit today’s issues which is why it is seen to mimic liquid modernity rather than solid modernity.
Drawing from the Companion readings, there are many different sections that we read that embody the topic of either classical or contemporary environmental thought as they were placed into in Companion. However, there are also some that seem to fit better into the category that were not placed into in my opinion.
After reading a wide variety of sections from Companion, it is easier to group different sections together in ways that may be more detailed than just their overarching label of contemporary or classical environmental thought. For example, ““Wicked environmental problems” is a contemporary concept that describes when there is a “contested terrain” that arises out of contending, incompatible certainties. While these voices disagree, they all bring a valuable perspective, “each distilling elements of wisdom and experience that are missed by the others” (Thompson, 2018). There are multiple... More,” “Environmental Politics,” and “Ecological footprint is a classical environmental concept that seeks to define humans' biophysical connection to the planet, specifically our demand on natural capital (Castree et al. 2018, 43). The term ecological footprint was first introduced by Wackernagel and Rees in 1996 as a simple measure of the sustainability of a... More” are all very similar because they have a more institutional and global approach about them. These three sections are more focused on large scale changes and looking at what bigger institutions are being driven by rather than through a localized lens. While all three of these are more institutionally based, it is important to note that they all do not share the same environmental theory category. “Environmental Politics” and “Ecological Footprint” are both considered classical environmental thought while “Wicked Environmental Problems” on the other hand is categorized as contemporary. Even though they do not share the same category, it is important to note the similarities they still share in the factors that drive them.
When examining what sections are driven by a more localized and individual approach, three chapters stand out to me. These include “Cultural Theory,” “Bioregionalism,” and “Ecotheology is a classical approach to environmental discourse. In its most basic form, it is defined as “the construction of religious doctrines and teachings to emphasize the human relationship to nature,” contributing to the concern for the environment from a moral standpoint (Dalton 2018, 271-274). This approach has evolved significantly... More.” These concepts focus more on individuals innate connection held with nature. Bioregionalism focuses on how “humans and their natural environments c0=evolve dialectically, with each transforming the other…” (13). This emphasizes that humans and the natural world are working together to evolve which is a much more contemporary approach in my opinion even though bioregionalism is classified as a classical approach in Companion. The idea that they are working together to adapt and change feels similar to liquid modernity which is much more contemporary. Similarly, “ecotheology refers to the construction of religious doctrines and teachings to emphasize the human relationship to nature,” (271). Again, the emphasis placed on how humans and nature co-exist and how hybrid it is feels very contemporary in nature. “In our current moment, discrete boundaries and truths that once felt solid are now shaken. After the Brexit referendum and the 2016 US presidential election, the usage of the term ‘post-truth,’ (that objective facts have little influence on public opinion) spiked, warranting selection for the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the... More” is another chapter in Companion. It was deemed to be a contemporary environmental concept which I would agree with because as I discussed previously, hybridity allows for adapting to change which is necessary in the modern world as environmental situations are constantly shifting and evolving. As is mentioned in Companion, “today, hybridity is pervasive to the natural and social sciences literature dealing with society and the environment…” (211). This confirms that it is a more contemporary approach just because it is prevalent in today’s world. Hybridity is essentially the essence of liquid modernity because they both allow for adaption to change instead of being set in one way. It allows for more approaches to be useful in today’s world rather than being stuck in the past.
Additionally when examining classical approaches and theories, it generally seems that classical approaches tend to be more apocalyptic than contemporary environmental approaches and theories. Apocalypticism means that these concepts and approaches tend to view problems as “being all bad” and the end result will be bad no matter what. Some chapters in Companion that demonstrate this include “Ecological Footprint, ““Environmental catastrophe is an idea that relies heavily upon the greater concept of catastrophism, which is not limited to the decline of the natural environment or disasters, but a complete and sudden collapse of the earth on a planetary scale. Instead of a gradual decline, "..catastrophism is rather the act... More,” and “Natural Hazards Research.” These all hold elements of this shortcut because they all suggest that these environmental issues that are occurring are inherently bad and we are incapable of reversing the damage that has been done. This apocalyptic view pushes that we must take drastic measures if we wish to mitigate these negative environmental states that we as humans have caused. The concept of our ecological footprint is “closely related to that of ‘carrying capacity’ (CC),” (44). As has been well documented, CC can be seen as the average population that can be sustained in a given habitat with its available resources. The concept of CC has always been a threatening one to humans as we have been pushing the limits of our carrying capacity. It has always been emphasized that if we do not change our lifestyles to be more environmentally conscious, then we will surpass the carrying capacity, even with the additional resources we have managed to procure to raise that CC. Because our ecological footprint is associated with this in how we must reduce our footprint to not overshoot our CC, it is very apocalyptic because it threatens that if we do not implement drastic changes then it will be extremely bad for us and nature in the end.
Classical and contemporary environmental theories both hold value and truth to them, however, contemporary approaches seem to be more beneficial to the situations we face in modern times. These contemporary approaches stem from classical theories while being more adaptable and ready to applied to multiple different situations. Ultimately, classical and contemporary theories are not as different as they may have initially seemed, but contemporary approaches tend to be more geared towards issues that are more common today with the technological advancements that continually take place in the modern world.
Castree, Noel, Mike Hulme, and James D. Proctor. Companion to Environmental Studies. London: Routledge, 2018.