Looking for a quick way to see how you score relative to the three EcoTypes themes of Place, Knowledge, and Action? The survey below takes only a few minutes, and you will immediately receive your scores on this page.
Please note that, by taking this survey, you agree for your anonymous data to be stored.
No identity information will be collected.
[Looking for the standard EcoTypes survey instead?]
Simply move the slider below each statement to indicate how much you DISAGREE (left) or AGREE (right). There are no right answers! And your answers are totally anonymous.
When you and I differ
Our world today is a world of difference and conflict. We routinely find it in the news, where environmental issues are portrayed as one side against another. What are we to do?
One could reasonably challenge this assumption that the environmental arena is governed more by conflict than consensus. In the context of the U.S., polls seem to indicate general support for environmental protection and stronger climate policy—let alone the overwhelming scientific consensus over anthropogenic climate change.
Yet related polls suggest that our fractured American political system has also fractured environmental consensus, say in climate attitudes among Republicans vs. Democrats. And when environmental issues are prioritized relative to other issues, political divisions have resulted in bigger and bigger differences over time, with environmental issues now ranking far lower among Republicans vs. Democrats.
Many of us avoid these uncomfortable differences by affiliating with people, media, or organizations with whom we find commonality. Thus, for instance, students in environmental higher education may share common motivations and concerns, and this solidarity may feel empowering. But difference and conflict are huge challenges to progress in our world today, whether or not we experience them daily.
Difference is a reality in EcoTypes as well, where each EcoTypes axis is defined by opposing poles. As one example, the Change axis is defined by incremental vs. radical approaches. You may find, after taking the EcoTypes axis survey, that your Change axis score differs from those of others. Does this mean you are wrong and they are right? Is there some compromise position that would bring you together, or is conflict inevitable?
Let’s pay attention to the possibility of difference and conflict. What should we do when our environmental ideas differ? We’ll consider three options: Agree, Disagree, or Engage. Each, significantly, presumes a particular notion of truth and thus offers particular opportunities and constraints.
Perhaps the most noble option is to strive to find agreement, often via compromise: whereas initially you and I seem to differ, after talking it through for awhile we may discover that we agree. In the Agree case, we work together to find a truth we can both share.
There are good examples of striving for agreement around environmental issues, especially in the field of environmental conflict—also called environmental dispute—resolution (O’Leary and Bingham 2003; Dukes 2004). As one example, environmental conflict resolution can help resolve differences over management of public lands and resources. There has been a great deal of applied research on consensus building, and it is a viable possibility in certain cases.
We all would love to find agreement over environmental issues: this may be why many people are drawn to approaches such as reconciliation ecology (Rosenzweig 2003). But environmentalists are also drawn to actions such as protests (e.g., Fisher et al. 2005; Rootes 2007; Olzak and Soule 2009), where the underlying reality is one of strong disagreement and the imperative is to fight for one’s side. In the Disagree case, others hold some notion of truth we find unjustified, possibly even repugnant. We thus choose and fight for our truth.
Disagreement has fueled major environmental protests in recent years, such as Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota in 2016-17, the 2017 People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C., or the global Extinction Rebellion protests of 2018-19.
Many environmental organizations thrive on the Disagree option as well, at least in their fundraising campaigns. Go to Greenpeace USA, for instance, and you may read a popup saying “Do we accept a truly terrifying vision of a broken planet, or do we fight for something better?” with a big “Donate Today” button below. As another example, the Natural Resources Defense Council fundraising banner reads “We are on the frontlines every day waging fierce courtroom battles and hard-hitting campaigns in defense of our climate, public health, wildlife, and wild places.” Apparently, Disagree is a way to get donations!
Let’s go back to notions of truth. Whether as a realm of mutual agreement, or the basis for strong disagreement, Agree and Disagree assume truth in the singular. This is understandable, given how we generally approach environmental truth as of fundamental importance in combating falsehood—say, in establishing the human role in climate change, or the economic viability of certain climate solutions.
But what if difference is a result of fundamentally incompatible truths in the plural, where both appear to have some justification? Maybe this option helps explain current conflicts and the apparent limitations of achieving resolution via Agree or Disagree. Let’s consider what Nobel Prize winning physicist Niels Bohr—known among others for exploring the wave/particle paradox of electromagnetic radiation such as light—had to say:
The opposite of a truth is a falsehood. But the opposite of a profound truth is another profound truth.
Here we can no longer assume truth in the singular, whether via Agree or Disagree; but neither have we embraced full-on relativism, where “truth” is always in scare quotes. This third realm is built on what Bohr called complementarity (Plotnitsky 1994; Bohr 1937; Plotnitsky 2014), with paired truths—each accurate, yet incomplete—arising from different ways to interact with reality, as in the wave vs. particle understanding of light.
How do Bohr’s insights help us approach environmental difference, beyond the options of Agree or Disagree? Perhaps environmental difference, like Bohr’s wave/particle paradox, arises from our differentiated interactions with environmental reality, leading to diverse forms of expertise and diverse truth claims. To get beneath the surface of these differences and discover the “profound truths” of our differentiated expertise takes work, primarily in the form of honest conversation across difference.
Let’s call this option Engage, where we deliberately seek out and interact with people across difference (Proctor et al. 2018). In Engage we remain committed to our own experience of environmental reality as true, yet in the accurate-but-incomplete sense of complementary truths. Engage is a mutual search for the profound truths emanating from our differentiated expertise, and an exploration of the creative tensions and possibilities arising from these complementary truths.
There is no guarantee of success with Engage, as suggested in examples of engagement over controversial issues such as gun violence. But there remains the possibility that Engage reveals, and builds on, more profound environmental truths than those that underly Agree or Disagree. And isn’t that an exciting opportunity for progress in this age of seemingly intractable conflict?
Engagement and coproduction
The Engage option is hard work. It’s far more than remaining in our communities of commonality. But it’s also more than a mere exchange of environmental perspectives—you believe this, I believe that—which encourage respect but lack any commitment of mutuality.
One important conceptual framework for engagement beyond mere exchange of perspectives is called the coproduction of knowledge (Jasanoff 2004). The coproduction of knowledge has been applied to a wide range of environmental issues (Meadow et al. 2015; Campbell, Svendsen, and Roman 2016; Puente-Rodríguez et al. 2016; Behe 2018; Djenontin and Meadow 2018; Miller and Wyborn 2018). In a manner akin to Bohr’s complementarity, coproduction of knowledge builds on the accurate-but-incomplete notion of multiple truths—thus the necessity of co-production via differentiated vs. singular expertise.
Via the coproduction approach, Engage remains mindful that truths are never firmly objective nor flimsily subjective. Environmental truths, as all knowledge, arise from the interaction of knowing subjects with objects of knowledge. Riding this “cusp”—the connection between subject and object in the coproduction of knowledge—is both challenging and eminently rewarding in environmental engagement (Hayles 1995).
Building in the insights of Bohr above, approaching environmental difference via the coproduction of knowledge suggests two related scales of engagement. Let’s call the first “truths data”: to get beneath our immediate differences—say, I support this policy but you oppose it—to reveal deeper difference, the profound truths revealed by our differentiated experiences. One community, for instance, may know an environmental issue intellectually via related literature, whereas another may know it more viscerally via workforce labor (White 1995). Here the focus is to discuss our varied experiences and what they have revealed about this issue.
The second scale of engagement is deeper, and vital to maintaining mutuality and making progress; let’s call it “truths metadata.” Since our truths arise from particular experiences with environmental reality, these truths are necessarily bounded, thus applicable to particular spatiotemporal scales or sociocultural contexts—though never merely subjective. When we explore truths metadata (data about data), we must acknowledge particular, limited realms of expertise among ourselves and others. Yet engaging around truths metadata can turn what may feel like a negative act (admitting what we don’t know) into a positive act (establishing our realms of expertise). Together, mutually exploring truths data and metadata offer a robust, if challenging, way forward in the coproduction of knowledge.
Engagement and creative tension
Engagement will not usually result in some tidy, puzzle-piece coproduction of knowledge, in which environmental differences (leading to truths data) and their corresponding realms of expertise (truths metadata) reside peacefully alongside each other. Indeed, Bohr’s notion of complementarity across a range of physical systems suggests a much more dynamic outcome of creative tension.
Consider your own body’s autonomic nervous system, responsible for a wide range of largely unconscious bodily function regulation. Its two main components are the competing sympathetic (“fight or flight”) and parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) systems. These systems aim toward entirely different goals, yet ultimately work together.
Perhaps as with physical reality and the body, the creative tension of Engage happens if all sides hold to their truth, and remain committed to mutuality as implied in knowledge coproduction. This is decidedly not the compromise trajectory of Agree, where each side has to water down its position to find a common truth; but neither is it the divergent truth trajectory of Disagree, where mutuality is lost.
Creative tension is, well, both creative (exciting!) but to some extent tense (alas…). Difference is difficult to explore, but if done in a sensitive manner it may reveal the deepest truths we mutually discover in the context of environmental issues.
Summary: Three options and EcoTypes
So, how may what you have learned here apply to EcoTypes? Let’s consider implications for EcoTypes topics, axes, and themes.
- EcoTypes topics apply its axes and themes to selected issues of environmental significance, such as climate or sustainability. Each topic includes a Take Sides selection with three predetermined positions you can use for a three-way debate. It’s possible that the outcome of these debates may be Agree (some compromise truth synthesizing all three positions) or Disagree (each position ultimately holding to its own truth even after considering the others). Or, it’s possible that you could approach the three positions as points of departure for the Engage option, seeking to discover their more profound underlying truths data and metadata. In brief, topics are potentially amenable to all three options.
- The fifteen EcoTypes axes, building blocks for your exploration of environmental ideas, are each defined by opposing poles. This setup seems to immediately suggest the Disagree option, and indeed there is good reason to consider that a choice must be made between one pole or the other. But at least some axis poles—see, for instance, the Diversity axis—seem to suggest an Agree outcome in that they represent extremes along a continuum, where some middle point is possible. And others may offer points of departure for Engage, where the axis poles eventually point to deeper, more profound truths.
- The EcoTypes axes Engage option points us directly toward EcoTypes themes: compilations of the fifteen axes under the banners of Place, Knowledge, and Action. Whereas some axes may indeed be amenable to the Agree or Disagree options, when they are combined into Themes we are moving more toward the deeper difference of Engage—in fact, the factor analysis technique used to derived these three themes identifies the general differences (factors) among all axes. The key questions summarizing theme poles, then, are ideal starting points for the Engage option, representing the most important differences among the many participants who have completed the EcoTypes survey to date.
One summary recommendation could be this: as you consider difference via EcoTypes, do remain open to the Agree, Disagree, and Engage options, but pay special attention to Engage, as it may be an option you have not to date considered.
As suggested above, one of the best ways to explore the Engage option may be via EcoTypes themes: you could do this by first taking the quick themes survey, then reading more fully about nonhuman/human Place, old/new Knowledge, and small/big Action, and then, well, doing Engage with your fellow participants over one or more of these themes! (To the extent that you also understand the details of contributing axes to these themes, so much the better.)
Enjoy your exploration of environmental ideas via EcoTypes, and do remain open to the unique ways Engage may help us successfully navigate difference.
Behe, Carolina. 2018. “Understanding the Arctic through a Co-Production of Knowledge | Accap.” Fairbanks, Alaska, April 11. https://accap.uaf.edu/coproduction.
Bohr, Niels. 1937. “Causality and Complementarity.” Philosophy of Science 4 (3): 289–98. https://doi.org/10.1086/286465.
Dukes, E. Franklin. 2004. “What We Know about Environmental Conflict Resolution: An Analysis Based on Research.” Conflict Resolution Quarterly 22 (1–2): 191–220. https://doi.org/10.1002/crq.98.
Fisher, Dana R., Kevin Stanley, David Berman, and Gina Neff. 2005. “How Do Organizations Matter? Mobilization and Support for Participants at Five Globalization Protests.” Social Problems 52 (1): 102–21. https://doi.org/10.1525/sp.2005.52.1.102.
Hayles, N. Katherine. 1995. “Searching for Common Ground.” In Reinventing Nature?: Responses to Postmodern Deconstruction, edited by Michael E. Soulé and Gary Lease, 47–63. Island Press.
Jasanoff, Sheila, ed. 2004. States of Knowledge: The Co-Production of Science and the Social Order. London: Routledge.
Meadow, Alison M., Daniel B. Ferguson, Zack Guido, Alexandra Horangic, Gigi Owen, and Tamara Wall. 2015. “Moving toward the Deliberate Coproduction of Climate Science Knowledge.” Weather, Climate, and Society 7 (2): 179–91. https://doi.org/10.1175/WCAS-D-14-00050.1.
Miller, Clark A., and Carina Wyborn. 2018. “Co-Production in Global Sustainability: Histories and Theories.” Environmental Science & Policy, February. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2018.01.016.
O’Leary, Rosemary, and Lisa B. Bingham, eds. 2003. The Promise and Performance of Environmental Conflict Resolution. Washington D.C.: Resources for the Future.
Olzak, S., and S. A. Soule. 2009. “Cross-Cutting Influences of Environmental Protest and Legislation.” Social Forces 88 (1): 201–25. https://doi.org/10.1353/sof.0.0236.
Plotnitsky, Arkady. 1994. Complementarity: Anti-Epistemology after Bohr and Derrida. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
———. 2014. “What Is Complementarity?: Niels Bohr and the Architecture of Quantum Theory.” Physica Scripta T163 (December): 014002. https://doi.org/10.1088/0031-8949/2014/T163/014002.
Proctor, James D., Jennifer Bernstein, Philip Brick, Emma Brush, Susan Caplow, and Kenneth Foster. 2018. “Environmental Engagement in Troubled Times: A Manifesto.” Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, March. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-018-0484-7.
Puente-Rodríguez, Daniel, Erik van Slobbe, Iris A. C. Al, and D. E. (Danny) Lindenbergh. 2016. “Knowledge Co-Production in Practice: Enabling Environmental Management Systems for Ports through Participatory Research in the Dutch Wadden Sea.” Environmental Science & Policy, Organising productive science-policy interactions for sustainable coastal management. Lessons from the Wadden Sea, 55 (January): 456–66. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2015.02.014.
Rootes, Christopher. 2007. “Acting Locally: The Character, Contexts and Significance of Local Environmental Mobilisations.” Environmental Politics 16 (5): 722–41. https://doi.org/10.1080/09644010701640460.
Rosenzweig, Michael L. 2003. Win-Win Ecology: How the Earth’s Species Can Survive in the Midst of Human Enterprise. New York: Oxford University Press.
White, Richard. 1995. “‘Are You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for a Living?’: Work and Nature.” In Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature, edited by William Cronon, 171–85. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Our environmental crisis is, in significant ways, a crisis of ideas.
At first glance, the above statement sounds absurd. Don’t we simply need better policies to address climate change, biodiversity loss, environmental injustice, and so forth? And what does this have to do with ideas?
EcoTypes is built on the premise that ideas matter. Exploring environmental ideas may feel like a distraction: once upon a time when rivers caught fire, we pretty much agreed on what must be done. But many environmental issues today are far more complicated and conflictual, demanding greater insight, creativity, and collaboration. In all such respects as these, ideas matter.
Ideas are the conceptual vehicles that take us places. Some ideas will get you farther than others. Some ideas will do so more quickly, or inclusively, or beautifully than others. Attending to environmental ideas will help us cultivate more insightful understandings of causes, more creative possibilities for solutions, and more collaborative actions toward lasting progress.
EcoTypes won’t tell you which environmental ideas are best. But by exploring environmental ideas you will learn three important things: first, there are many relevant ideas; second, you have choices with respect to these ideas; and third, these choices boil down to a few key themes and related questions.
- The scope of environmental ideas. Environmental ideas are ideas of environmental significance. Many don’t initially appear to be “environmental” at all, but they indeed are relevant. EcoTypes includes fifteen different kinds of ideas, each called an axis. There are axes you would probably expect—say, Nature or Ecosystems. But then there are other axes—Time, for instance, or Change or Diversity. All may be relevant to how we approach environmental issues.
- Choosing a position. Each of the fifteen EcoTypes axes has two poles, giving you space to choose your position on that axis. You may have heard some of these choices—for instance, between biocentric and anthropocentric Ethics—but you will probably discover choices you haven’t yet considered—say, between the ideal and material Domain. It’s always best to make an informed choice, thus the EcoTypes axis survey to help you understand your current positions, and the EcoTypes axis pages, each going into much further depth.
- Exploring key themes/questions. These fifteen EcoTypes axes are summarized via three overarching themes of Place, Knowledge, and Action, each built on a key question (below). It may be a challenge to make an informed choice on all fifteen axes, so studying these themes—and related key questions and poles—will orient you to the most important choices you and others make. Here is a quick themes survey you may take as a first step!
Do remember that ideas matter in a quite literal way. Ideas aren’t just things in our heads: they arise from, and inform, our daily material lives. In a larger sense, saying “ideas matter” means that environmental ideas accompany the gritty material politics and practices that define environmental issues. You may wish to reflect on your own environmental ideas as suggested via EcoTypes, how they arise from and influence your material life, and how this relates to larger environmental discussions and debates happening around you.
Below are network analysis results from a portion of the 2018-19 EcoTypes survey (N =595), in which fifteen axes (including a new Ecosystems axis) were included. Networks were developed based on correlations between axes. Two results are depicted:
- Network analysis and visualization features of Graph Commons, using the Force Atlas 2 algorithm and depicting relative axis size by betweenness centrality. To view an interactive version of the below, click on the image or see here.
- Network analysis using Gephi, again using Force Atlas 2 and depicting relative axis size by degree as well as edge weight. Gephi better demonstrates how these fifteen axes cluster around the three EcoTypes themes.
The six EcoTypes application topics are designed to more or less evenly represent all fourteen axes and three themes, as a way for your students to consider these axes/themes in a more concrete context.
Below is a sheet showing which axes and themes are emphasized in which of the six topics; click on the tabs at bottom to toggle between axis and theme information.