I began this semester with the mindset that overpopulation was the priority problem of environmental studies (A Plethora of People: Overpopulation as a Priority Problem). Although I still agree with the points I made, it’s interesting to look back and compare what I knew then to what I know now about population in terms of classic and contemporary environmental thought.
Very early on, I was struck by the question, Where does the Environment Begin and End? It was an interesting thing to ponder so early on, because “what is the environment” seems like such a simple question. In today’s complex world of environmental studies though, we need to focus on specific aspects of a problem in order to situate our approach and gain a better understanding of what’s going on.
The importance of linking consumption with production became evident to me after reading Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach (Ecology and Economy: The Missing Link). The idea of Ecotopia was an extreme, but the idea of putting in time and labor to see the ecological impact an economic purchase would make really resonated with me. However, I also realized that the hands-on, anti-technology approach of Ecotopia was a bit of an extreme, and that Technology is Not the Problem. It would be easy to condemn the use of large machinery in today’s forestry practices from an Ecotopian point of view: the machinery further distances people from what they’re doing to the ecosystem. However, as Shellenberger and Nordhaus’ Love Your Monsters argues, it’s not the use of technology that has been causing problems, it’s our treatment of the technology we create. Technological innovations have been vital to human development; we just need to make sure we monitor the effects that our technology is having, and make changes when necessary.
Even though technology is a necessary part of our world today, it does still remove us from the effects of our actions. Therefore, when it comes time to remediate mistakes we have made, we might not know exactly what we should do. Today, we live in a world with the media telling us to “vote with your dollar,” promoting a very individualistic approach to taking action. The truth, though, is that Collective is More Effective. If, instead of buying into the “plant a tree, buy a bike, save the world” mentality outlined by Michael Maniates, we come up with action plans that involve groups instead of individuals, our efforts would be a lot more effective.
Throughout the semester, we had a few visits from students in more advanced ENVS classes. It was really great to hear some Words from the Wise. They taught us about situated approaches, discussed Love Your Monsters with us, and answered any questions we had about the major. I enjoyed comparing the viewpoints of my classmates to the ENVS 400 students while discussing LYM and noticing how the ENVS 400 students’ thinking differed from our own.
Most recently, we studied markets in relation to the environment (Environmental Economics). This chapter gave me a new perspective on possible environmental solutions that I had previously discounted. I noted the importance of using multiple approaches to help solve environmental problems, and I look forward to connecting many more ideas and stretching the way I think even further as the semester progresses.