This post introduces a recent publication, “Environmental engagement in troubled times: a manifesto” (2018)
What to do in these troubled times in the U.S.? I’m a member of the Association for Environmental Studies & Sciences (AESS), a higher education organization, and a glance at its email list following the 2016 election provided an overwhelmingly consistent answer: resist! My colleagues feared what would happen if President Trump’s proposals—e.g., cuts to the EPA—were enacted, and many worked to collectively fight those changes.
I share many of the same concerns. Yet I share with others larger concerns that our collective social fabric is tattered, a condition that may prohibit progress on all fronts, including but not limited to environment.
Each of us needs to rebuild this collective fabric, stitch by stitch, and one way to do it is to cultivate a relationship with someone who is unlike you; this is what engagement is about. See for instance this interactive article about political divides—I for one definitely live in a bubble. For me, my nonprofit work in southern Oregon continually reconnects me to a world far different from my current home in Portland.
In the summer of 2017 our AESS conference met in Tuscon, Arizona, and I organized a series of sessions titled “Engaging Many Shades of Green in Challenging Times”—how our teaching, and our action, could address the diverse, at many times conflictual, environmental views we encounter in the U.S. A simplified version of our key question is in the title above: should we fight (and equip our students to fight) those with whom we disagree, or should we talk with them?…or, should we do both?
The outcome was a collaborative effort involving six contributors, and a publication that appeared in spring 2018. There are many good publications discussing activist strategy these days; our hope was to complement this work by promoting engagement, which we applied in four expanding contexts. The abstract is below, and a link to the publication is here.
These are troubled times: our scholarly efforts in environmental studies and sciences seem under assault on all fronts. Yet we argue not just for environmental action, but for greater emphasis on environmental engagement as a foundation for effective action. The etymology of engagement suggests connection, commitment, and communication—a risky yet indispensable ingredient of effective action. We exemplify this approach to environmental engagement in four contexts of increasing scope: within our environmental studies and sciences community, across the college campus, among our fellow Americans, and at the global scale. In all such contexts, engagement is no end-run around conflict; it is political just like any form of action. Yet by engaging, we can be the environmental leadership that is so plainly missing and desperately needed to produce meaningful change.
Yes of course, activism and engagement—fighting and talking—both have a place. But ideally they inform each other, so that action can become action with, not always action against. And engagement is directed toward meaningful action.
It’s idealistic to be sure (and read our conclusion for caveats), but our country is about democracy, and engagement is to me the practice of democracy.
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.