Jan. 9 and 14 ENV222 Understanding the environmental problem: 1 and II
Note: in all these lecture notes, my references to required readings will be by the page number of
the course reader, not the page number of the work
Clarification of terminology:
. "argument" - we need to distinguish two types of "arguments"
. analytical argument: an explanation of reality, in the face of competing explanations; a
claim for what is, based upon empirical understanding eg, Folke and the authors he cites
claim that planetary boundaries do exist and that if human impacts on environment exceed them
we risk losing "a safe operating space for humanity" (p. 26);
. prescriptive argument: a claim for what should be done; also referred to as a
"normative" argument; perhaps based in part on empirical understanding, but largely based on
"values" (what we consider good or bad) eg, Folke p. 31 claims humans should become "wise
stewards of the living planet" to ensure we do not exceed planetary boundaries
As can be seen by these examples, analytical and prescriptive arguments are often linked, but we
need to be aware of which we are making throughout the class discussions. Traditionally, science
attempts to restrict itself to analytical argument (be objective), while disciplines such as
philosophy and the social sciences and humanities in general are more willing to engage in
prescriptive argument (but see Conservation Biology as a science with strong normative
elements). Interdisciplinary environmental studies, like women's studies, is based on prescription
(we should do more to protect environment) but necessarily draws on analytical argument (this is
the impact humans are having on environment).
As an example of clashing prescriptive arguments see:
. Economist Leader (editorial) p. 17 bottom: "Quite small things ... could help a lot. ...
often through simple and piecemeal actions."
v. Folke p. 30 "Incremental tweaking is not likely to be sufficient...."
This is a major theme we will discuss throughout the course. I believe Folke is right, but the
question is whether such large-scale change in human behaviour can come about through market
action or only if dictated by the state - which encounters the kind of problems Carter points to, in
particular the power of producers (business), those who benefit from the existence of
The Economist and Folke agree, however, on the prescriptive argument that we cannot see
environment as separate from humanity and simply leave it alone - we have to actively manage
the human-nonhuman dynamic. This is a major issue in environmental studies, and so an ideal
subject for the first written assignment, due Feb. 4. My argument is:
. the Economist and Folke are right, we humans have a moral and self-interested
responsibility to manage the problem, since we created it;
!1 . but doing so is enormously difficult, if only because there is no global governance
system in place;
. furthermore, managing by technological solutions like geo-engineering the atmosphere
may well create more problems than it solves, if past history of technology use is a guide;
. so, we should first leave the nonhuman world alone as much as possible, and only then
. "human and nonhuman worlds"
. human world: the human creature, one species amongst many, all seven billion of us
. nonhuman world: everything else , biotic (living) and abiotic (not living)
This usage attempts to avoid the complications of referring to humanity and "nature" with the
implication that some things are "natural" (eg, the nonhuman world) and therefore good, while
others are "artificial" (eg, the human world) and therefore bad.
Throughout the course, we will be discussing causes and solutions to environmental problems.
The term has negative implications, but the flip side of problem is opportunity - see Folke p. 31
last sentence: "The shift ... creates exciting opportunities.... ." This also suggestions the inherent
interconnection of problem and solution.
1. Overview of development of the environmental problem - Goudie and Viles
In particular, note:
. 10,000 years ago; transition from hunting-gathering to fixed settlements, creation of agriculture,
domestication of plants and animals - important for increase of human ability to influence
environment through population growth (Jan 16 lecture); new technology (Jan 30 lecture); and
increase in human power, elite over mass (Feb 6 lecture)
. 300 years ago, industrial revolution; new technologies, eg steam engine run by coal, linked to:
. 300 years ago; access to fossil fuels, pp. 8-9; burning fossil fuels itself creates problems, eg acid
rain, smog, climate change, and also vastly increased human ability, using technology, to
influence nonhuman world - almost could be treated as a basic cause by itself, rather than simply
an adjunct to technology
. past 100 years, accelerating rate of the environmental problem, p. 11; one implication is that to
date, we have had little time to adjust, address this new problem; another is that even greater
acceleration is likely in the future, absent effective action
!2 2. Review of categorization of environmental problems by science; see Economist reading,
human influence on carbon and nitrogen cycles (pages 20-21) and the 9 boundaries proposed by
Folke and others (pages 26-30)
3. Interconnectedness of environmental problems; eg, biodiversity loss/species extinction is
caused by climate change, land use changes and other impacts; Goudie and Viles, pp. 13-14;
Folke p. 30 interdependent boundaries; see Carter critique p. 41 of "single-medium regulations"
which makes it hard to deal with the fact contaminants cycle through air, water and land
4. Interconnectedness of environmental and human problems; Folke p. 31 "Ecosystem services
are not really generated by nature but by social-ecological systems."; eg, to address the human
problem of poverty, we pursue industrialization and economic growth, which creates
environmental problems, which will exacerbate poverty problems of some; see Goudie and Viles,
5. Systemic and cumulative problems, the local-global connection; Goudie and Viles p. 9
6. Traditional view of environmental problems, starting in 1950s and 60s; Carter