The boundary between classic and "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 thought has always been a bit fuzzy to me. In my experience, classic environmental concepts were used to explain current or past circumstances rooted in misguided policies of the past that were strongly based on colonial thought. On the other end, I always thought of contemporary environmentalism to be new theories that incorporate more inclusivity and cohesion than classic theories.
After reading a few sections from the Companion to Environmental Studies, however, I have found there to be discrepancies and similarities in classic and contemporary theories. Reading the Companion, I can now see that “many classic environmental concepts are perennial ideas we will continue to extend, transform, and/or challenge in the future” (Castree et al. 2018). The similarities in the theories show how the relationship between humans and nature is continuously evolving, especially in how humans respond and react to nature. The discrepancies in these theories show that there is still work to be done in addressing inclusivity and cohesion.
The classic theories from the Companion I will be alluding to include 1.2 Bioregionalism, 1.7 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, 3.1 Cultural Theory, 3.2 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, and 3.5 Ecofeminism
The contemporary theories I will be using include 2.13 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, 2.19 Post-Environmentalism is a concept that has emerged in environmental discourse to challenge the classic dichotomy between the biophysical world and humans’ relation to it. Advocating for the rejection of narrow-minded environmentalism, post-environmentalism promotes the use of technology and urbanization to protect the environment. While its anthropocentric ethical implications raise concerns... More, 2.20 Social Construction of Nature, 4.4 ‘Ecocriticism’ is a contemporary approach to environmentalism that looks at humans' relationship with nature and takes a very critical view of the current way that we are tackling environmental issues. Ecocriticism is a very broad term that encompasses many different ideas and theories, but in its most basic sense, this... More, and 4.7 Earth System Science.
many classic environmental concepts are perennial ideas we will continue to extend, transform, and/or challenge in the future(Castree et al. 2018).
By using the Ecotypes Axes, differences between classic and contemporary thought are able to be compared through their adjoining pole sides. The Axes I found to be the most relevant to differences in classic and contemporary thought is Ethics.
Pertaining to Ethics, the classic and contemporary concepts and approaches often were about addressing human uses of nature and developing support for the relationship between humans and nature. A large question arises as to how we value the non-human world and how do we care about the non-human realm?
On the classic side of Ethics, there is a more Biocentric Pole that values non-human species, even if they do not serve a purpose pertaining to human needs. Environmental Catastrophe finds that humans are adversely affecting the planet and are the main contributors to large catastrophes. It is said that “human activities have had irreversible impacts on a planetary scale, pushing vital functions of the Earth system to the brink of collapse, with most serious implications for human societies and their survival” (Castree et al. 2018, 40). Not only are human societies at risk, but the ecosystems surrounding societies are crucially affected by humans reaching the planet’s tipping point resulting in catastrophic events. The biocentric pole puts a heavy burden on humans being the main cause of planetary problems.
On the contemporary side of Ethics, there is an Anthropocentric Pole that values nature when it can provide resources or other values to human lives. Humans value nature for how it serves human needs. Biocentrism, as it pertains to nature throughout history, has been an exclusive function that divided, oppressed, and stigmatized social groups. Ecocriticism, a more contemporary, Anthropocentric concept has seen a large change in nature to culture to where it is now “ more ‘nature-skeptical’ than ‘nature-endorsing’” (Castree et al. 2018, 386). Ecocriticism now has a focus on what it means to be an individual on our large planet, as well as humans being the dominant species.
Post-environmentalism, a contemporary concept, acts as a middle ground between Anthropocentrism and Biocentrism as it attempts to include all entities that comprise an ecosystem, not just the profitable ones. Nonhumans offer different resources for preservation than just being preserved for an ethical value. Post-environmentalists “do not claim that nonhuman entities lack ethical value but rather point towards different sources of this value other than the autonomy of nature” (Castree et al. 2018, 239). This concept aims to bring together humans and nature as being one, instead of separate entities.
As environmental crises become more apparent, Ecotheology attempts to address different religions and disciplines and their interaction with the environment. Ecotheology, a classic approach, brings together ancient traditions and the call to respond to the ecological crisis. Ecotheologists want to emphasize that humans are part of nature and participate in its ecology, placing it on the Anthropocentric pole. Ecotheology, as religion is a human-made concept, that uses human created problems to address “human alienation, war, racial equality, gender equality as well as the challenge by new scientific discoveries to traditional religious understandings of the universe” (Castree et al. 2018, 272). As there are many human social problems to address, Ecotheology excels on the Anthropocentric end of Ethics.
Nature itself has become an Anthropocentric term that has been socially constructed through politics and capitalism. Inherently, humans are involved in ecological processes, especially when they work on returning ecosystems to their natural state. Basically, “The concept of reality is vague and the concept of nature is even more so, so how can these terms be grounded by universal definitions? Simply, it cannot and must be evaluated along a continuum of ambiguity grounded in different perspectives of reality. Nature is not defined solely in its... More refers to the making of the world both physically and imaginatively, whether that is urban landscapes replete with infrastructure and parks or even children’s books that constitute the ideas we have about what counts as nature” (Castree et al. 2018, 244). Challenging preconceived notions of nature by using the Ethics Axes goes a long way in how we think about contemporary and classic theory. Being critical about environmental theories allows for more discourse and less reductionism in their approaches.
In doing Environmental Theory, there can be inherent shortcuts that create a narrow view that is non-inclusive. These shortcuts can fall into reductionism, essentialism, and apocalypticism. Reductionism is one of these shortcuts that I found to be prevalent in some of the Companion sections. Reductionism is boiling down a topic to a single group or category by putting imaginary constraints on a larger idea.
Earth System Science (ESS), a contemporary approach, resembles a reductionist view because it can be used to put values on aspects of nature and how they should be managed. ESS is creating the world’s most detailed ever ‘operator’s manual’ for a ‘machine’ of unequalled complexity. ESS is attempting to narrow down environmental changes by providing “a holistic analysis of Earth surface change” (Castree et al. 2018, 406). Essentially, ESS is attempting to reduce systems on Earth to a manual.
Cultural Theory is inherently reductionistic because it uses a grid-group model to boil people down into four categories. The grid aims to address possible social structures that are to be universal in human society. There are only two parameters: social differentiation and social cohesion. Four cosmological types emerge from this grid-group and can help serve as binary pairs. Cultural Theory serves as “a mechanism for social categorization and attribution of blame in cases of misfortune” (Castree et al. 2018, 267). Cultural theory’s explanatory concept is a combination of social relations and cultural bias.
Inclusivity and Cohesion
Inclusivity in Environmental Studies is the equal involvement of nature, social relations, and meaning which can be weaved together in a coherent manner that makes for meaningful analysis and relationship between topics.
Bioregionalism, a classic concept, attempts to combine nature and culture so that one is not more important than the other. Bioregionalism establishes a symbiotic relationship so “humans and their natural environments co-evolve dialectically, with each transforming the other, and the objective of bioregionalism is to achieve a co-adaptive fit between local cultures and local ecosystems” (Castree et al. 2018, 13). Combining humans and nature allows for more inclusivity.
In the conquest for modernization we’ve strayed so far from our natural world that we easily degrade and marginalize those with less power. Ecofeminism is a way of thinking and acting that aims to reconnect us with the natural world and recognize the societal power structures that relate social and... More, a classic theory, is the more social form of inclusivity by rejecting objectivism and universalism. Ecofeminism uses intersectionality to explain linkages between large societal systems and how they factor into the disadvantages of women relative to most men. The theory attempts to address environmental sexism, ageism, ableism, heterosexism, speciesism, and climate change. Ecofeminism uses “intersectionality to explain the linkages between systems such as global economics, agriculture, energy production, interspecies justice, and waste disposal” (Castree et al. 2018, 287). Ecofeminism rejects essentialism for broad and inclusionary analyses.
Today, hybridity, a contemporary concept, refers to things that constitute the world that are co produced by nature and culture. The intertwining of things is what makes something hybrid, in this context, it is nature and culture. Hybridity argues “there are as many natures as there are cultures that interact with it, that nature is not separate from culture, that it may even be misguiding to distinguish the two realms” (Castree et al. 2018, 211). Hybridity can take a more nuanced approach towards how nature and culture interact but can be considered inclusive in what it attempts to combine.
To get a better understanding of Classic and Contemporary approaches and concepts, reading the Companion to Environmental Studies has been helpful in providing a wide variety of content that touches upon different areas within environmental studies. There are variations and diversity through these concepts that can be found by comparing them to Ecoypes axes, overarching themes, and inclusivity. Classic and contemporary concepts and approaches are not always stringent in their beliefs, they are broad topics that allow room for growth and exploration that will be necessary for the continuation of doing Environmental Studies.
Bettini, Giovanni. 2018. “Environmental Catastrophe” In Companion to Environmental Studies, edited by Noel Castree, Mike Hulme and James D. Proctor, 243. New York, NY: Routledge
Boholm, Åsa. 2018. “Cultural Theory.” In Companion to Environmental Studies, edited by Noel Castree, Mike Hulme and James D. Proctor, 266. New York, NY: Routledge.
Buck, Christopher. 2018. “Post-environmentalism.” In Companion to Environmental Studies, eds. Castree, Noel, Hulme, Mike, and Proctor, James D, 238-242. London: Routledge.
Dalton, Anne Marie. 2018. “Ecotheology.” In Companion to Environmental Studies, edited by Noel Castree, Mike Hulme and James D. Proctor, 271. New York, NY: Routledge.
Evanoff, Richard. 2018. “Bioregionalism.” In Companion to Environmental Studies, edited by Noel Castree, Mike Hulme, and James D. Proctor, 13-16. London: Routledge.
Ekers, Michael. 2018. “The Social Construction of Nature.” In Companion to Environmental Studies, edited by Noel Castree, Mike Hulme and James D. Proctor, 243. New York, NY: Routledge.
Gaard, Greta. 2018. “Ecofeminism.” In Companion to Environmental Studies, edited by Noel Castree, Mike Hulme and James D. Proctor, 271. New York, NY: Routledge.
Garrard, Greg. 2018. “Ecocriticism” In Companion to Environmental Studies, edited by Noel Castree, Mike Hulme, and James D. Proctor, 381-387. London: Routledge.
Pollini, Jacques. 2018. “Hybridity.” In Companion to Environmental Studies, eds. Castree, Noel, Hulme, Mike, and Proctor, James D, 209-213. London: Routledge.
Suarez, Daniel Chiu, and Dempsey, Jessica. 2018. “Ecosystem Services.” In Companion to Environmental Studies, eds. Castree, Noel, Hulme, Mike, and Proctor, James D, 173-178. London: Routledge.