What is the environment?

What we call “the environment” is both a complex natural ecosystem, and a socially constructed abstraction.

The cognitive split between humanity and nature—indeed, between the spiritual world and the material—derives from the very earliest religious texts. (Duvall 2017, p.15)

The human species seems to be unique in its ability to cognitively disassociate itself from the natural world. Writes Willoquet-Maricondi (“Shifting Paradigms,” 2010): “We have erected a social structure, a civilization based on a perceptual error regarding the place of humans in the biotic community”. (54-55) (Duvall 2017, p.16)

History has been significantly marked by the ability of humankind to control natural processes and resources to serve its energy needs—in the beginning with fire, wood, water, wind, and metals, later with fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. The rise of mercantilism and imperial conquest established the supremacy of societies that could excel at invention in the fields of exploration and weaponry. (Duvall 2017, p.16)

Perhaps the first systematic challenge to the vision of technological progress emerged in 1864 with George Perkins Marsh’s Man and Nature; or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action. Marsh wrote one of the earliest explications of the ecological principle, noting the destructive effects of human activity on the natural world throughout history. (Duvall 2017, p.17)

From the visionary moral leadership of Sierra Club founder John Muir and the political support of avid outdoorsman President Theodore Roosevelt, the US Congress passed a series of laws creating a system of national parks. This “first wave” of environmental activism focused on conservation and preservation, recognizing that Americas’s natural resources were not as inexhaustible as previously believed. (Shabecoff,1993)

During the post—World War II period of conservative politics and economic expansions in the United States, environmentalism again took a back seat in the public mind. But beneath the surface, important thinking was going on. Aldo Leopold, author of Sand Country Almanac (1949), developed his concept of a “land ethic,” a scientifically based re-visioning of the relationship between humanity and nature that alerted man’s role from conqueror of the land to citizen upon it—just one living species among others in an interconnected web of life. Biologist Rachel Carson, whose 1951 book The Sea around Us was adapted into a feature length documentary film, also wrote Silent Spring in 1962, documenting the threats posed to humans and other species by pesticides, and bringing ecological issues to the attention of a broad public as well as the government. These thinkers and many others challenged the dominant paradigm of infinite growth and human hubris, increasingly regarding society in terms of systems thinking instead of ideological economic or political orthodoxy. …the decade of the 1970s, two important events helped to focus the public imagination on the environment and encourage holistic environmental thinking. (Duvall 2017, p.18)

The first was the moon landing in 1969, accompanied by photos of Planet Earth from space—Carl Sagan’s “pale blue dot.” (Duvall 2017, p.18-19)

Seeing Earth as a unified whole, dominated by blue oceans with land undivided by national borders, led the Earth’s residents look at their planetary life in a more integral way. One manifestation of this new vision was the first Earth Day in 1970, which for perhaps the first time brought together all the related issues of conservation, consumerism, energy usage, pollution, and species extinction into an interwoven context. (Duvall 2017, p.19)

these are some quotes from my research