The past two weeks have marked a change in how the course is conducted. Moving on from explicit explorations of our area of interest, the course now addresses the theoretical side 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 through the usage of the Companion to Environmental Studies. This book is crafted to demonstrate the many diverse functions of environmental studies, laid out in an entry format to be easily accessible.
Within that book, certain distinctions can be made, such as the separation between entries that represent classic and contemporary environmental thought. It became immediately apparent to me that clear differences existed. Yet I find myself regarding the distinctions as ultimately useful because they enable a wider range of ways to do environmental studies. Even though many of the entries can be regarded as outdated, they still present value in the historical sense by representing the parameters of previous thought.
Our program does not exist within a vacuum. Each development that has been made has been crafted out of previous scholarship and by bringing in more diverse opinions. We should never stop at just classical forms of thinking because they present far too narrow of a lens of analysis, but that does not mean that they should be completely cast aside.
Many of those forms of thought are readily accepted by an older generation of both environmental thinkers and the voting base as a whole, so recognizing their tendencies in situating thought can provide avenues for the tangible change that must be enacted.
For example, while I might regard ecological footprints as outdated for their tendency to condemn the individual rather than the corporate polluters, it does represent a key idea for many popular green movements. Individual action can inspire people to see change in their own lives, and if people can see “the biophysical connection each individual has with the planet” (Rees 2018, 43), then perhaps they can more readily accept the necessity for change.
Many of the linkages between classical thought and actual change is purely hypothetical, because historically it has not been nearly enough. But if it can bridge the gap between complete inaction and tangible change, then it is worth re-examining. Sustainable development exists in a similar vein, and it has grown into a buzzword of environmentalism. As far up as the United Nations, sustainable development is regarded as “a core principle of local, national, and international governance” (Whitehead 2018, 110).
Yet what does this really mean? As a classical concept, it does not go far enough in addressing the inequities of development that exist. But much of that has to do with who constructs the idea of sustainability.
time scales that are relevant for environmental features rarely coincide with time scales of politics(O’Lear 2018, 322)
If the notion of “sustainable” is done through a centralized yet disassociated body, such as a westernized economy deeming development to be in agreement with business as usual capitalism, then sustainable development is outdated and cannot accurately reflect the needs of many people. However, if sustainable development is led and spread in a localized manner, then more input can be accepted and therefore more equitable conclusions are more likely to be reached.
Most of these terms can be turned into passive ways of environmental thought if used under the notion of the status quo but can also be utilized to present avenues of change, such as Resilience science is the study of how systems are able to adapt and transform following external change. Resilience measures how well a social-ecological system (SES) can return to a new or old stasis following a major shift to its core existence. The goal of studying resilience is to “establish the... More.
Resilience science is rooted in the capabilities of socio-economic systems to respond to change. While that may seem like an excuse to resort to the same means of environmental degradation, resilience science “is not about resisting change or recovering from a disturbance back to a previous state” (Milkoreit 2018, 454). Rather, it is entirely about the ability to fundamentally shift.
A large part of that argument comes from 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. Hybridity “leads to questioning the relevance of any norms” (Pollini 2018, 211), which can often be established in classical forms of environmental thought. The key distinction between the classic and contemporary is how they separate from one another in the norms that are followed. Certainly, if terms are regarded under their originating notion and never grow beyond that, then they can be completely useless in our present situation.
But recognizing the complexity of the situation and the context of from where it arose can bring about a possibility of informed change. Within much of environmental politics today, both the spatial scale and the temporal scale are incredibly important. One inherently effects the other. The spatial scale clearly reflects the spatial scope of the environmental issues, but the temporal scale is more nuanced in how it relates to the politics themselves, because “time scales that are relevant for environmental features rarely coincide with time scales of politics” (O’Lear 2018, 322).
This issue is incredibly pertinent and reflects the nature of the problems that we face. If we simply act without distinction between the classic and the contemporary, acting with the belief that everything is uniform in its construction of thought, then we cannot pretend to properly understand the context of our problems that we face.
The distinction is necessary because it shows us what came before, what still lies ahead, and the inherent threads that exist to connect it all together. The entry of 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 sums it up quite nicely; these forms of environmental thought “are a vital resource in understanding how struggles over climate change in part are about the construction and contestation of environmental knowledge” (Ekers 2018, 246).
We cannot limit our perspective simply because it is classical. However, we also cannot blindly accept the classical as factual in our present circumstance. As environmental thinkers, we must have the ability to engage with the understanding that these perspectives are just that, momentary constructions of the reality of our situation. We should always maintain our ability to search for something even more contemporary.
I am certain that the very ideas that we may designate as contemporary right now will soon sound archaic, and that is okay as long as they are contextualized in what they were and what they now can become. For example, four entries struck me as being intriguing in their perceptions of environmental thought: Queer ecology pushes back against the dominant binary theory of environmental discourse and expands previous theories of ecofeminism to be more inclusive and contemporary. This framework emphasizes the intersection of sexual identity and environmental issues within cultural ideas and the scientific realm (Seymour 2018). An important aspect within this framework... More, 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, ‘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 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.
Ecotheology as a cultural construction is intriguing because it represents a recognizable and relatable reaching out point for engagement with environmental solutions. By situating environmental problems in religious doctrines and teachings to emphasize human relationships to nature, those who may not typically find themselves thinking about the environmental issues at hand can be brought into a recognizable perspective.
Although this brings about the problem with individual action once again, it nevertheless entices people with the notion of “a moral responsibility to respond actively to the ecological crisis” (Dalton 2018, 274).
Ecocriticism is also intriguing because of how much it has been forced to shift in its situated thought. Beginning with the notion of reconnecting people to the idea of “nature” in the act of reflection, it has “been transformed in the course of constructive debates with other literary theories, notably feminism, post-colonialism, and queer theory” (Garrard 2018, 386). This returns again to the idea that these entries require a certain distinction between classic and contemporary.
Ecocriticism is not just one thing or perspective; it has grown to be a multitude of facets of thought centered in the reflections of literature. None of these ideas are stable in perpetuity, they are forced to expand to meet the needs of our present situation and the context of how that happens is often the most important piece.
Queer ecology is worth considering in its conceptual frameworks of how environmental issues have historically been portrayed. Rooted “from the insight that ‘the queer’ and ‘the natural’ have been opposed in cultural, scientific, and political discourses” (Seymour 2018, 449), queer ecology is still contending with its lack of scholarship beyond English-speaking texts. This shows just how contemporary some of these entries are, with many still beginning to explore the parameters of what is possible within the form of environmental thought.
Ecofeminism is another key contemporary form of thought because it is rooted in activism, which is fluid in its creation and continuation.
It is a form of thought that cannot be contained to just one scholar, because it exists as “valuing diversity in standpoints and including other species and environments interests as well” (Gaard 2018, 288). Ecofeminism presents a compelling path forward because it inherently recognizes that paths to tangible change are not solidified in a singular way.
Just as activism requires multiple techniques and actions in a cumulative way, the ability for ecofeminism to encompass and welcome different voices without a pretense of objectivity is certainly a compelling school of thought to engage with in regards to legitimate notions of change.
Dalton, Anne Marie. 2018. “Ecotheology.” In Companion to Environmental Studies, edited by Noel Castree, Mike Hulme, and James D. Proctor, 271-274. Milton: Taylor & Francis Group.
Ekers, Michael. 2018. “The Social Construction of Nature.” In Companion to Environmental Studies, edited by Noel Castree, Mike Hulme, and James D. Proctor, 243-248. Milton: Taylor & Francis Group.
Gaard, Greta. 2018. “Ecofeminism.” In Companion to Environmental Studies, edited by Noel Castree, Mike Hulme, and James D. Proctor, 286-290. Milton: Taylor & Francis Group.
Garrard, Greg. 2018. “Ecocriticism.” In Companion to Environmental Studies, edited by Noel Castree, Mike Hulme, and James D. Proctor, 383-387. Milton: Taylor & Francis Group.
Milkoreit, Manjana. 2018. “Resilience Science.” In Companion to Environmental Studies, edited by Noel Castree, Mike Hulme, and James D. Proctor, 454-459. Milton: Taylor & Francis Group.
O’Lear, Shannon. 2018. “Environmental Politics.” In Companion to Environmental Studies, edited by Noel Castree, Mike Hulme, and James D. Proctor, 321-324. Milton: Taylor & Francis Group.
Pollini, Jacques. 2018. “Hybridity.” In Companion to Environmental Studies, edited by Noel Castree, Mike Hulme, and James D. Proctor, 209-213. Milton: Taylor & Francis Group.
Rees, William. 2018. “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.” In Companion to Environmental Studies, edited by Noel Castree, Mike Hulme, and James D. Proctor, 43-48. Milton: Taylor & Francis Group.
Seymour, Nicole. 2018. “Queer Ecology.” In Companion to Environmental Studies, edited by Noel Castree, Mike Hulme, and James D. Proctor, 448-453. Milton: Taylor & Francis Group.
Whitehead, Mark. 2018. “Sustainable Development.” In Companion to Environmental Studies, edited by Noel Castree, Mike Hulme, and James D. Proctor, 110-114. Milton: Taylor & Francis Group.