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Confronting Our Differences In Environmental Thought

Isabella Blair, Portland, Oregon

Week 1 and 2: September 12, 2018

In Environmental Studies this week, we each took Ecotype quizzes to figure out where we stand on certain subjects of environmental thought. I really enjoyed this exercise because not only did I get to know myself and my beliefs, but I also got to see how much I differ from others. It is easy to assume that people will agree with you on some of these subjects. In an environmental studies class, you would expect that everyone has similar views, but this was not true. Our class differed on topics such as whether or not wild, untouched nature is more beautiful or aesthetically pleasing than crafted, human-made things such as gardens. It’s very important to understand where your views stand amongst your peers, and even the rest of the world, because when discussing environmental issues, we must understand that others have different priorities and values when it comes to the environment. In order to come up with solutions, we must have an open mind and be able to work with others. Rather than argue over differences in these values, we can use these differences as a tool: we can tackle environmental issues from different perspectives, and come up with all encompassing solutions.

This week we discussed the difference between Classic and Contemporary Environmental Thought. I find myself leaning towards classic environmental thought. I think this can be partially attributed to the fact that classic environmental thought is what most students are taught, and partially because I believe that the environment is in a crisis and this crisis needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. I also believe that the Contemporary idea that environmental issues are “complicated” is true, but, in my opinion, the statement that “its more complicated than that” is only working towards complacency. If we boil everything down to “its complicated,” it will be feel daunting to actually delve into any issue and make change happen. I do think it is important to remain hopeful that we can make change as long as we have the mindset that we must make change. Complacency is our enemy.

When reading “Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Update,” I felt that there were lots of reasons to feel hopeless about the future. The planet does have a carrying capacity, and the human race seems to have surpassed this capacity. Limits to Growth refers to Malthusianism, which is the idea that Population grows exponentially and food grows linearly. As humans, we grow exponentially because we are constantly developing new technologies to advance the species as a whole, but this has come at the cost of the environment. This is the main point in Limits to Growth. There needs to be a way to advance as a species without depleting the environment, which is the point made in “Planetary Boundaries.”

“Planetary Opportunities: A Social Contract for Global Change Science to Contribute to a Sustainable Future” and “Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human development on a changing planet” both take a sort of middle ground approach to these issues. “Planetary Opportunities” claims that we should try to focus on solutions that are attainable whether they take place on a global or local scale. I agree with this idea. While I do believe that global solutions are necessary, it does not mean that proactive change on the local scale is not important. After all, the Earth is made up of millions of individuals and communities, and if all of these communities focused on their impact on the environment, we would be doing alright. However, some communities simply cannot afford to be environmentally conscious. As humanity has progressed, the gap between the richest and the poorest has grown incredibly wider. This is yet another trend that needs to be fixed. Limits to Growth claims that poverty leads to population growth and population growth leads to more poverty. It is these types of root causes that must be addressed.

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I disagreed with some of the points made in Vaclav Smil’s critique on Limits to Growth. He claims that it is impossible to predict exactly what will happen in 50 years, which I agree with, however, I believe that one can look at scientific trends, such as climate change, ozone depletion, increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, etc., and come to realize that the human degradation of the environment has been getting worse and worse since the industrial revolution. I felt that Smil’s argument that it is “impossible” to predict the future comes across as discouraging towards scientists who are trying to express the frightening trends that our society is following. It’s important to understand that we are going in a downward spiral, and whether or not things will pan out exactly like the scientific trends in Limits to Growth doesn’t matter. I think one of the main differences between Smil’s argument and Limits to Growth is the difference between those who believe in possibility for the future and those who believe in impending crisis. I think Smil is trying to say that Limits to Growth is too extreme in their claim that crisis is nearly inevitable. After reading these two arguments, I find that while humanity’s affect on the environment is seemingly irreversible, we must hold onto what hope we have so that we can start making positive change.

Limits to growth also talks about three different ways to respond to global depletion: first, to deny the signals, second, to invent technological and/or economic solutions, and third, to target the underlying problems. I believe that the third option is the best option. If we deny that we are depleting our earth, there is no way that society will be able to work towards making a difference.