In many ways, Love Your Monsters has been a focal point of this class and my synthesis posts. Its technological optimism stands in stark contrast to the environmental classics, aligns neatly with market approaches, and is criticized by the political economy perspectives advanced throughout much of the textbook. Coming from an anarchist perspective, I have tended to point out flaws in market and hierarchical systems. I have also noted the fundamental shortcomings of neoclassical assumptions used to support arguments tying ecology to the economy. Throughout this whole semester, I have made an effort to remain open-minded to the ideas presented, and I think that shows in my synthesis posts. I have been uncomfortable with weighing in crassly about topics, and have instead favored more nuanced criticism of ideas, even when those stem from ideas I remain opposed to.
In my first post, Examining the Relevance of the Environmental Classics, I summarized the main arguments of the heavyweights of classical environmentalism—Ehrlich, Harding, and Meadows—and the lesser-known, but more fine grained critiques which have been made of their work. I concluded by offering my own critique of Ehrlich, using fertility rate statistics to support the argument that the “population bomb” has diffused itself, and that affluent consumption has a far more negative impact in the world today.
In Sustainability, Deep Ecology and Ecospirituality, I summarized the various and shifting definitions of sustainability, as presented in class, and then I grouped Ecotopia, “Deep Ecology” and “The Historic Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis” together, their commonality being a radical rejection of some aspect of mainstream socio-environmental thought. I concluded that solving ecological problems would require some difficult questioning of values, rather than just a technological shift.
With Techno-Optimism, Modernism, and a Rebuke of Environmentalism—Love Your Monsters, I situated all the Love Your Monsters readings as firmly technologically optimistic, though I considered “Evolve” and “The Global Green Brahmins” more simplistic than “Love Your Monsters” and “The Planet of no Return,” largely because of the sweeping normative claims (that I don’t necessarily believe in) made by Shellenberger, Nordhaus, and Shome. Fundamentally, their claims of modernization always being, on the whole, good, conflict too much with my worldview to accept without convincing supporting arguments.
In Questioning “Nature,” Green Consumption, and Neoclassical Capitalist Economics, I conveyed some of the ways that the readings this week problematized vague “environmentalist” words, like “nature” and “local.” I then delved deeper into the “Individualization” article by Maniates, and argued that his economic worldview is more radical than one might think upon skimming this article once. I concluded by considering neoclassical economics as a force preventing collective citizen action, that acts through lifestyle environmentalism to limit real change.
My midterm review post, Anti-, Anti-, Anti-?, opened with a recap of “Wicked Solutions, Clumsy Problems,” before moving onto an consideration of the classical environmentalism triangle of essentialism, reductionism, and apocalypticism, and its opposed contemporary environmentalism triangle, with the point raised at the end that some contemporary environmentalism is, rather than anti-reductionist, reductionist itself.
In Revisiting Population; Introducing and Questioning Markets, I first mentioned how the text mirrors the ENVS160 approach, with a consistent anti-essentialist viewpoint, and a focus on objects rather than topics. I then revisited the topic of population and neo-Malthusianism, adding the important caveats this book brought up (demographic transition model, and how the empowerment of women produces better results than cruel or totalitarian measures). I concluded by critique markets as tools that are very efficient at getting results which do not necessarily increase well-being, and just sustain market growth.
In The Commons, Ethics, and Risks, I looked at the chapters of the text dealing with those concepts. I summarized both Hardin’s and Ostrom’s arguments regarding the commons, and concluded that Ostrom’s neo-Institutionalism, with its more optimistic view of human nature, is not necessarily any less realistic or valid than Hardin’s view of humans as inherently irrationally selfish beings. I then moved onto a description of the dichotomy within environmental ethics between conservationism and preservationism, the former anthropocentric at its core, and the latter fundamentally ecocentric. I was sympathetic to preservationism, but also recognized its simple and sometimes fallacious essentialism, concluding that preservationism may be a valid underlying philosophy, but we still must examine issues with more complexity. Lastly, I restated the definitions of hazards, risks and uncertainties, and then critiqued the grand theory of late modernity—Risk Society. I was skeptical of its historical claims about the recency of the notion that modernity creates new risks, rather than solving old ones, though I accepted its overall concepts about modern society always being risky.
In Marxism, Constructivism, and the Environment, I summarized the radical frameworks political economy and social construction. Personally, I believe in most of the grand ideas behind the political economy, and it is now my prospective minor. I did criticize some of the more self-assured elements of political economic, especially the inevitability of social revolution in response of capitalism’s failures in some strains of political economy thought. I found social constructivism to tie in well with a political economy viewpoint, as it likewise is a meta-narrative about human society in relation to the environment. I found significant overlaps with political economics in its concern about who creates and benefits from socially constructed discourses. Overall, I found both of these frameworks to be good foundations for thinking about social and environmental issues, as through them one can examine either issues or objects themselves, or the ideological discourse around those notions.
With Carbon Dioxide and the Trees which breathe it, I delved into the first two objects presented in the text. I reviewed the analysis from various perspectives regarding these two objects. In general, I found the perspectives to offer an important element for understanding each of these objects. With carbon dioxide, I found the institutional, market-based, and political economy perspectives to offer elaboration, rather than rebuttal. Market approaches highlight cap-and-trade policies as answers to institutional failures, and political economic reminds us that markets too can fail. In dealing with trees as an object, the forest transition theory rose to prominence in the disputes between market and political economy approaches. This theory—that forests will naturally recover as societies develop further—is held up as an example of how economic development is the solution to ecological crises by market proponents. Political economists, meanwhile, point out that forests recover and degrade at a highly geographically unequal rate. In this view, trees become the object of the spatial fix.
In Wolves, Going Nuclear and Going Radical, I looked at how the (glaringly hypocritical) social construction of wolves ties in so importantly with the history of their extermination in North America. I connected wolves to the previous anthropocentric vs ecocentric ethical debate. I summarized how the textbook highlighted consensus-based institutions as key to resolving this debate, though I am skeptical of this dependence on ideals lining up. I then examined nuclear power, an object and issue I am deeply ambivalent about. I recognize the environmental benefits of nuclear, though the costs and exploitation its mining entails should also be noted. Overall, though, I think that nuclear advocates, as represented by the Breakthrough Institute FAQ, seem frighteningly out of touch with the average person’s risk perception; they state that nuclear power is statistically the safest power source, yet they ignore the huge divide between the nature of the risks of roofing falls to install solar panels compared to nuclear accidents.
In Tuna, Lawns, and Bottled Water, I analyzed those three objects form the textbook. I found the chapter on tuna as suffering from a bias it briefly described—namely, that of mammal-centrism. The focal point of the discussion about tuna was in fact about dolphins as bycatch. The chapter on lawns was largely a review for me, since I did my situated project on that exact object. I also remarked on the class debate on lawns, and found it interesting that people considered the muddled “lawns as constructions” viewpoint as convincing as they did. Lastly, for bottled water, I summarized the different drivers of bottled water consumption, as presented in the textbook. I challenged the categorization of Mexico’s bottled water consumption as stemming from infrastructural municipal water system failures, pointing to how bottled water demand in Mexico seems motivated by the same kinds of vague consumer fears of tap water which we see in America.
In my final post, Yet Another Monoculture and the Side-Effect of Tech, I looked at how potatoes have become (another) industrialized, commodified monoculture, with the chemical inputs used seeming quite familiar. I concluded by highlighting how irrational and destructive the process of maximizing monoculture efficiency can be. I found e-waste to be an emotionally evocative object; I think e-waste dumps in developing nations are both the clearest examples in the text of the spatial fix and environmental injustice, and clear rebuttals to technological optimism.