Environmental History and Philosophy:
Environment: all biotic (organisms, their food and their interactions – alive) and abiotic
(sunlight, soil, air, water, climate and pollution – not alive) factors (external factors) that
act on an organism, population or ecological community.
The biotic and abiotic factors influence survival and development
Ecology – from Oikos (greek household) – what is important to know about your
household? – parallel in the “larger Oikos?”
Precautionary principle: If there is a policy or action to be taken that has the potential risk
to cause harm for either the public or the environment and there is no scientific consensus
that it won’t cause harm, then it is up to whoever is taking that action (or enacting the
policy) to provide proof to ensure that it doesn’t cause harm.
Business as usual is not a precautionary principle.
Important environmental issues are often determined and influenced by
- prevailing social attitudes and dominant groups ie Hegemonic power: a position
held by a state or class when it so dominates its sphere of operation that other
states or classes are forced to comply with its wishes
- cultural practices, traditions, values and educations
Paradigm – pattern or model or concept of how something is viewed
Paradigm Shift – how a set of theories or hegemonic set of ideas gives way to another
over time. – Happens continuously, driven by science, data, information, technology?
Two Basic Groups:
1. Individual-centred or Atomistic:
- Anthropocentric: human-centred
- Biocentric: life-centred
2. Earth centred or Holistic
- Ecosystem or ecosphere centred
- Planetary worldview, human-centred, Western industrial/post-industrial.
- Four themes:
1. Dualism – Humans are separate from nature
2. Hierarchy – Humans are most important
3. Utility – Nature as a resource for humans; intrinsic vs instrumental value
(Instrumental value – value due to the way it can be used for something else,
whereas intrinsic is it is valued for what it is) 4. Stewardship – Humans in charge of taking care of nature for other species
- Comes from the 18 century; secular, individualism.
- Understanding, controlling and managing the planet for our benefit means
- Assumption: Economic growth is good and unlimited.
- That a healthy environment depends on a healthy economy.
- Earth’s resources are unlimited and indefinitely renewable with science and
technology. – science cannot create NATURAL resources! There is a finite
- We need the earth, the earth does not need us
- Earth’s resources are limited and to be sustainably used by all species (intrinsic
- Not all economic growth is beneficial
- Earth-degrading growth should be discouraged/prohibited
- Healthy economy depends on a health environment
- We will never have enough information/understanding to manage the planet
- Understands complexity
- all living and non-living components of Earth have right to exist in a natural state
(no human interference)
- Moral values and rights for all organisms and ecosystems
- Resources are limited
- Not all economic growth and technological advancement is beneficial
- Humans should adapt to the needs of the Earth
- Middle ground
A Paradigm Shift: The Environmental Movement
- Environmental awareness
- 1800’s, John James Audubon, John Muir, Aldo Leopold
- Modern Environemtental Movement
- Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring 1962
- DDT banned 10 years later
- The Environmental impact of: population boon, technology development, energy
use shift, politics, economics
- Current state accepted as “normal”
- Spent ~30,000 years as hunter-gatherers – until ~10,000-20,000 YBP
- Resource use for survival only; nomadic
- Directly connected with nature
- Shared duties and population controlled
- Limited life span - Energy sources: solar (wind/water/plants), fire, muscle
- Environmental impact: low
Agricultural Revolution: (First real paradigm shift)
- Began ~10,000 – 12,000 YBP
- Domestication of plants and animals
- Subsistence farming, reliable supply and trade
- Irrigation, plow invention
- Urbanization, competition and conflict
- Cultural shift: duties and view of nature
- Energy sources: solar, fire, muscle power, animal power
- Environmental impact: increasing
- When you have reliable food, the direct impact is a population increase
Industrial Revolution: (and after)
- Began ~275 YBP (Mid-1700 and 1800’s)
- Fertilizers and plant breeding = more food
- Increased production and consumption
- Exploding population
- Urban expansion
- From ~400,000 YBP to 1800s, populations increased to 1 billion
- From 1800’s to present, population increases to 7 billion
- Energy Sources: solar, muscle and animal power, fossil fuels, metals
- Environmental impact: degradation and destruction
- The sources of energy were not being controlled
- 5 to 6 B took only 12 years (1999)
- 6.79 b in July 2009
- 7 b estimate Oct 31, 2011
- Surpass 9 b by 2050
- Exponential growth
What will limit global population size?
1. Decreased reproduction
2. Increased mortality
It is not just about the average children had, but the population density (Areas such as
India, China and Europe have largest numbers)
Those with greater PD are more likely to continue in exponential growth.
- socio-economic and cultural factors contributing to declining birth/fertility rates
- higher education nand affluence (esp. female)
- Postpone/control childbearing
- Female employment status - Children not needed for family labour
- Decreased infant mortality (most developing countries highest mortality rates are
- Older age of first marriage
- Pension availability (don’t have to rely on your children to support into old age)
- Changes in religious or cultural norm
Stages of Demographic Transtion:
- Time axis does not specify a time, depends on the country
- As a country enters a transitional stage, death rates drop out –more food, hygienic,
- Post- negative birth rates, population only staying normal due to immigration
Note: Natural increase is produced from the excess of births over deaths
Current “Important” Environmental Issues:
Issues in Science and Technology:
- Biodiversity, overfishing, climate change, nuclear power, sustainability.
- Human population, biodiversity, tropical soils and food security, fisheries future,
freshwater, energy, air quality and pollution, climate change, sustainability,
American Experience – Earth Days
1. What are the differences in lifestyle, experience and outlook on life between the
generation that grew up during the Great Depression and the generation that grew up
in the 1950’s, after World War II?
During the Great Depression – learned to live from the earth, simpler lifestyle.
After WW2 – increase in labour, production line. Spoil children.
2. What factors and attitudes contributed to the development of the car culture and
abandonment of public transit after WWII?
Want to believe in a future that was expansive. The creation of the production line –
TAYLORISM. Assumption that there was just always going to be land and oil.
Automobile was the future.
3. What invention/discovery was deemed the salvation of humanity, but also lead to
reliance on technology?
Nuclear bomb? The ability to manipulate radioactive technology.
4. What president supported and backed Rachel Carson? What was the response of
Overuse of pesticides – right moment and right book. The industry first reacted calling
her hysterical and saying they were gross misinterpretation of actual facts. Not held up
by scientific fact. Kennedy supported her.
5. What “first” occurred in the 1960’s?
The first list of endangered animals – including American Bald Eagle.
6. What two organizations were on the forefront of conservation issues during the
National Wildlife Organization and CR Club.
7. Describe the point of view and goals of the counter-culture?
Reduce your impact and do less to effect the Earth. Very anti-technology. Much of it
disapproved of the space missions.
8. How did the photos of Earth from space change the point of view of individuals?
Not just about the individual anymore, but about the entire world. Flips is from a
world we’re on to a planet we’re in. Realized it is a small thing.
9. When was the first Earth Day, who’s idea was it, which political party did they belong
to and what new U.S. Federal Agency was created? 1970 – originally spent on Spring Equinox. Gaylord Nelson and Denis Hayes. –
Republican. Environmental Affairs.
10. What did the critics of the environmental movement and Earth Day suggest the real
purpose of the movement was?
Deflecting from Vietnam? Said it was a communist plot.
11. How did those involved in the movement help in removing 7 political incumbents?
By creating a campaign called the dirt dozen – targeting 12 members of congress
with terrible environmental records.
12. Why did Nixon sign the Clean Water and Clean Air Bill?
Has to be now? There are environmental effects. Gave people the power to
challenge unlimited technological growth.
13. What year range did the book Limits to Growth predict that if nothing were done word
result in human population reaching the limits and overshoot carrying capacity and
lead to civilization collapse?
2010 – 2030.
14. What significant event occurred in 1973 that was the first wakeup call that the
standard of living at that time could be held hostage by another country?
When the Middle East war began, they realized oil could be withheld. Price of
15. What was the name of the document put forth by Nixon in the 1950’s that focused on
energy security for the U.S. and what were some reasons it never went through?
Paley Commision. As a matter of national security.
16. Why is the shaming-and-blaming style activism generally not effective?
Did not implement true sustainability.
17. Which U.S. president was the first to bring alternative energy to the Whitehouse and
which one dismantled his efforts?
Carter was the first to bring alternative energy. Reagan shut down the efforts.
Environmental Groups vs “green” Political Parties:
- High concern for environment among public; decreasing trend - Membership: some overlap
- Concern inadequately reflected in politics (Should be Cross-class, nonpartisan –
BEYOND parties, no matter what you believe it is there)
- Environmental groups can influence politics of all parties – campaigning, action,
lobbying. Varied interests/goals, inconsistent, unstructured.
- People see environment and economy as two separate things
- No “one” environmental movement
o Highlights dissatisfaction on many fronts
o Divides and brings people together
o Grass roots movement
- Varied political approaches
o Conservative (structured, institutional) or radical (anarchic)
o Provoked by alienation from traditional politics or powerlessness
- Freedom of Information and education
- At one point it was more cohesive, but there are varied people with varied
interests and concerns
- Grassroots – small scale movement – community level – bottom up, support from
individuals ie eating locally, keystone alberta pipeline. Usually these are the ones
that result in change.
- We need both conservative and radical movements in order for cohesive change.
Social Movement: Purposive collective actions whose outcome, in victory and defeats,
transform the values and institutions of society.
Environmentalist and Environmental Scientist are very different! Anyone can be an
environmentalist while the scientist has the educational background.
- Fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race,
colour, national origin, or income with respect to the development,
implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies
- Same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal
access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to
live, learn, and work
- Those who have lower socio-economic status are more likely to experience
negative side effects of environmental issues
- Roots in African-American Civil rights movement
- Direct connection between socio-economic classes and distribution of
- Pollution exposure disproportionately high
- Unequal access to resources (benefits)
- Women – poverty, domestic duties, chemical testing, positions of power
- Those that are at a greater disadvantage in environmental issues: o 70% are women…lower socioeconomic status, less ability to unfluence
economic decisions for environment.
o Women are in charge of cooking – small enclosed area, inhaling smoke
o Washing in polluted rivers
o Domestic duties with cleaners – harmful chemicals
o Male and Female organisms could have different effects…a lot of
chemicals have not been tested on females, different metabolic rates etc
o Less women in power
International Environmental Politics:
- Argument against:
o Internationalization reduces the environmental issues that are dealt with.
Climate change minimization, biodiversity protection, international waters
pollution, ozone layer depletion reduction. Will depend on who has the
most power, not necessarily as focused on those without that same power.
o Sustainable development: “meeting the needs of the present without
compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”
This can be a contradiction, poorly understood. For post industrious as
well, must learn to look forward. Oxymoron because of how we look at
the word development.
- Treaties and agreements; but actual resolution? Ie Canada backing out of Kyoto
Protocol, is there a punishment? How do you punish a country?
- Argument for: Environmental issues are borderless
Greening of Governments:
- Beware of greenwashing – usually for marketing, superficial approach to making
the political party look like it has a platform for environmental issues, but have no
intention of putting those policies into place when they get into office.
- National environmental policy development
o International agreements, grass-roots, local governments
- Eu policies driven by richer, Northern countries
o Standards must be met to join the EU
- US Clinton/Gore administration – most environmentally friendly admin
o Party platforms; Green Party of Canada. – Each of the parties have an
Ease of Change for Politics
- Most societies are conservative and resistant
- Short time frames of governing
- Environmental movement
o Many environmental legislative and behavioural changes
o Local government or campaigns can produce results
o Social pressure
- International changes implemented on national scale uncertain - Unless there’s support from people and political will – environmental platforms
will not be put in place
- More emphasis on short term problems – especially with short times of governing
Resources: definition- anything we get from living or non-living environment to meet
wants and needs.
They are the basis for our economy. Can be subjective.
When we say things such as air, water, fertile soil and plants and animals are renewable,
we mean potentially. Need certain things to be renewable.
Non-renewable (exhaustible) resources:
- Fixed quantities in crust (finite!!!)
- Hundreds of millions of years to create
- Economically depleted
- Ex fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas), minerals (inorganic substances)
- Some can be recycled or reused
- Most economic growth has been fuelled by non-renewable energy
- Our entire standard of living has been based on these limited resources
- Not renewable in a human timescale – take hundreds of millions of years
- Direct solar energy
- Wind, ties, flowing water indirectly from solar energy
- Sun is going to be around for 6 billion years, perpetual. These other things all
effected by the solar energy
- renewed fairly rapidly by sun (direct or indirect)
- Can be depleted if used faster than they are renewed (environmental degradation)
ie used above sustainable yield
- Ex forest, fresh water, fresh air, fertile soil, grasslands, wild animals.
- Over several generations can be renewed. Use it at a sustainable rate that we can
give it enough time to replenish.
- Environmental degradation: can be depleted if used faster than they are renewed
- Goods and services; supply and demand
o Linear relationship
- Reosurces considered unlimited
- “Cowboy economy” – though resources were unlimited - about capturing
resources and using them to no end
- Reductionist perspective
o Complex system is only sum of its parts o Do not recognize the complexity -60s and 70s with fisheries collapse, not
- Challenged in the 1960s and 70s
- Belief that the market is self-correcting – as resource becomes limited, price
increases. Consumer stops buying that resource, demand goes down, forces us to
look for other resources
- Technology and progress “released” us from the constraints of nature…until?
How far can it take us?
- Logistic growth
- K = Carrying capacity
o Maximum population size that specific environment can handle (carry)
o Dependent on how resources are used
o Decrease resource quality/quantity reduces K
- Factors limit growth
- Exponential (j-curve) stops when on the rise
- Population cannot continue to grow forever. When resources (nutrients) run out,
limited finite resources, is when the population has reached its K, carrying
- # planet earths necessary for current living standards. If everyone were to love at
the living standard of a preindustrial country, would be okay
- As you increase resource usage, the carrying capacity decreases. If resource usage
decreases, carrying capacity increases.
Overshooting Carrying Capacity:
- Results in a population crash/die off
- Populations have a tendency to overshoot the carrying capacity and then dies off
- BASED ON FINITE RESOURCES
- Economic growth viewed as good for different reasons
o Developing vs developed countries
- GDP = market value of all goods and services produced within a nations border/yr
- Categories based on DP per capita
o Generally, increases as resources are used
o All countries generally have the same goal: increase in GDP, but it is
based on finite resources
Costs and Benefits of Economic Growth:
Assumption: Economic growth is good
What are the tradeoffs?
- Raise standards of living or degrade quality of life?
- How big can the human population get before we approach limits to Earth?
- Anthropocentric worldview sees economic growth as good – allowed for neo-
classical economics. Problem is where is K. Environmental Economics:
- Introductions of concept of “sustainable growth”
o From “cowboy economy” to “circular economy”
o The middle ground – where we would like to change to the concept of
sustainable economic growth
o Concept of recycling finite resources – can continue to have a sustainable
economy through this
- Circular economy
o First Law of Thermodynamics – recognize this – only changes from one
form to another
o Neither matter NOR energy can be created or destroyed; it can only be
changed from one form to another
o There is no AWAY when we throw something
o We have ALL the matter we will EVER have
- Reductionist perspective like neoclassical economics
- Focus on:
o Minimizing waste; return “waste” to economy by recycling
o Reduce degradation (ex resource depletion and pollution)
o Reduce negative environmental impact
o However, economy and humans are still central; metrics are quantitative
(GDP = humans)
o Doesn’t fully bring in ideas of complexity
o Purpose of recycling simply to provide economic growth
- Increase resource efficiency at lowest cost to economy
1. Commodify (focus on putting a monetary value on ecological services ie air
from trees) the environment
2. Define optimal level of environmental protection – protect this amount and
allow the rest to be used for economic purposes – very challenging
3. Create policies that help achieve #2
Environmental Economics can include:
- Environmental Taxes
o Help to internalize “external” environment
o Actual cost artificially low on things that cause environmental
degradation. Not necessarily creating change
o Argument against: easier to pay the tax than change behaviour or punish
- Tradable Permits
o Pollution permits
o Total allowable emissions set at target level
o Excess permits sold for profit; needed permits purchased
o Argument against: gives right to pollute
o Only works if permit levels are love enough level to reduce, and give the
incentive to reduce in order to sell it off (if they still have some left)
Ecological Economics: - Interrelationship between ecological, social and economic sustainability
1. Coevolution (instead of reductionism)