In doing background reading for my book, I bumped into a major debate over planetary boundaries (“…a safe operating space for humanity”), a concept I was familiar with, but knew little of the magnitude of its application…and controversy.
If anyone would like to see how classic and contemporary environmental thought compare (read: clash), planetary boundaries would be a great case study. Some resources:
- Wikipedia article: Quite thorough and plural in its treatment of planetary boundaries
- Dot Earth blog (Andrew Revkin): Andy’s work is consistently thoughtful and links to a variety of resources; this post on planetary boundaries from early 2015 is no exception
- The Breakthrough Institute: One concentrated source of critique of planetary boundaries may be obtained by searching this organization’s website
Briefly: as the Wikipedia article and Revkin post note, one can draw a direct line from the classic 1970s environmentalist notion of limits to growth to planetary boundaries. And many of the same objections to limits to growth surface among the diverse critics of planetary boundaries, who emphasize the possibilities of technological innovation, the politics of earth science, the complexities of global-scale pronouncements, and other considerations characteristic of contemporary environmental thought.
If you are reading this post and saying “Wait, I never heard of contemporary environmental thought!” you’re not alone. And, of course, environmental thought is much more varied than this simple two-box model suggests. But our Environmental Studies Program at Lewis & Clark makes sure that students are introduced to the best and most recent environmental scholarship, much of it representative of contemporary thinking around environmental problems and solutions.
Yes, we stand on the shoulders of those classic environmentalist giants such as Rachel Carson and Donella Meadows, and more recent (and still living) figures like Bill McKibben and Vandana Shiva. But many of their ideas have been extended or challenged by contemporary scholars—and by our ENVS students, who themselves make creative contributions to the ongoing environmental conversation.
Let’s nurture this spirit of civil disagreement as we continue to struggle with some of the most important and vexing issues of our time.