Note to instructors (and advanced students): the below provides some of the scholarly motivations underlying EcoTypes.
Contemporary popular and scholarly environmental thought involves many shades of green. Yet the taxonomies we have inherited from classic environmental thought are quite limited, in part because theirs was a Crayola box limited to two colors: green vs. brown. We need a more diverse and rigorously grounded space in which to explore our environmental ideas; this is the typological imperative of EcoTypes.
Perhaps the most widely adopted environmental taxonomy is the New Ecological Paradigm or NEP (Dunlap et al. 2000; Dunlap 2008), introduced in the latter 1970s and still broadly used today. The NEP effectively defines environmentalism as involving an interrelated set of “green” predispositions (each linked here to one related EcoTypes axis): (1) belief in an inherent balance of nature (see nature axis), (2) the existence of fundamental limits to growth (see time axis), (3) anti-anthropocentrism (see ethics axis), (4) rejection of human exceptionalism (see technology axis) and (5) the possibility of an impending ecological crisis (see future axis); these NEP characteristics are distinguished from the (brown) Dominant Social Paradigm. Though well validated empirically (Hawcroft and Milfont 2010) and now used throughout the world (Dunlap 2008), the NEP has enjoyed less support among those who find its conceptual assumptions to be restricted to the environmentalism of a particular time, place, and social class (cf. Lalonde and Jackson 2002; Bernstein and Szuster 2017; Head et al. 2019).
In spite of its theoretical shortcomings, the two-box assumption behind the NEP taxonomy persists in popular thought: look at the preponderance of eco-, green, earth-friendly, natural, sustainable, and other marketing modifiers suggesting that the only choice is to support the environmental alternative—not which environmental alternative to support. Even when shades of green arose in classic environmentalism, they were typically pejorative binaries, such as radical vs. reformist or anthropocentric vs. biocentric approaches (e.g., Naess 1973).
More recent approaches, thankfully, have expanded these shades of green, but they have limitations. Nadasdy’s spectrum of environmentalism (2005) simply includes “brown,” “light green,” and “dark green” alternatives. Steffen (2009) added one (“bright green”), but his typology is more of a thought exercise than an empirically validated schema. Dryzek (2013) suggested, again without extensive empirical validation, a two-dimensional typology of four basic approaches, differentiated by “prosaic vs. imaginative” and “reformist vs. radical” axes.
In a more focused context, Nisbet (2014) identified three recent groups of public intellectuals commenting on climate: ecological activists, smart growth reformers, and ecomodernists. Nisbet’s schema is based on theory and evidenced by a number of examples, but possibly less generalizable beyond the case of climate discourse. A recent empirical pilot study informed by repertory grid analysis identified four types, overlapping Nisbet’s study: pragmatic reformers, activist greens, ecomodernists, and ecofatalists (Bernstein and Szuster 2018). In the popular realm, Milfont and Duckitt (2010) identified fully twelve factors defining contemporary environmental attitudes, though ultimately a single higher order factor, “Generalized Environmental Attitudes,” seems best to explain these twelve. Another major empirical study characterized nine types of Americans in the context of environmentalism, with groups such as “liberal greens,” “homebodies,” and “outdoor browns”—suggesting some possible underlying binaries informing their typology (AP & NORC 2015). As perhaps the most extreme typology, Integral Ecology: Uniting Multiple Perspectives on the Natural World (Esbjörn-Hargens and Zimmerman 2009) defines over two hundred approaches to environmental thought in its appendix—yet reduces all to a simple two-dimensional rubric differentiating between exterior and interior experience, and collective vs. individual realities (see also Esbjörn-Hargens 2009; Zimmerman 2009).
Single binaries appear to be overly simplified ways to situate the contemporary spectrum of environmental thought; yet binaries offer both conceptually clear distinction and possibilities for empirical validation. Multiple sets of binaries, then, may preserve their strengths while defining a higher-dimensioned space in which to situate contemporary environmental approaches. This is what we do here via EcoTypes axes and themes.
*This page authored by Jim Proctor in late 2016, with contributions by Jennifer Bernstein and minimal updates since.