James Ormerod- Environment & Society 1st half

This book is the closest thing to a textbook that we have read this semester… because it is a textbook. The three authors, Paul Robbins, John Hintz, and Sarah Moore, are coming from a background of academia with all three teaching at universities.

Environment and Society brought together a lot of ideas about how we, as humans in the 21st century, view our environment. In Part 1, the authors define a lot of key ideas about society-environment relationships. And I mean a lot. Each chapter is packed with information and figures that highlight several important points. Since there is so much info I’ll summarize two of my favorite chapters here and add some discussion questions for class tonight.

Chapter 5- Environmental Ethics

Chapter 5 examines ethical approaches to the environment and how they have influenced our treatment of non human nature.

  • Factory farming- a necessary evil or something we can improve and evolve from?
  • Environmental justice: a principle stressing the need for equitable distribution of environmental goods (clean air, parks…) between all people.
  • The term anthropocentrism is defined as:  an ethical standpoint that views humans as the central factor in considerations of right and wrong action in and toward nature.
  • Ecocentrism: an environmental ethical stance that argues that ecological concerns should be central to decisions about right and wrong action.
    • should one of these be favored when deciding how we treat the land? is more more sustainable than the other?
    • which standpoint do government’s tent to take?
  • Aldo Leopond- Land Ethic
    • views the land as a community we are a part of
  • Western people once hold the idea that humans are separate from and superior to nature, and that nature is only as valuable as it is useful to humans.
  • Ancient Asian philosophy holds the idea that nature is sacred and if not superior, at least is in equality with humans.
  • Animal liberation: a social movement that aims to free all animals form use by humans, whether those uses are for food, medical testing, industry, etc.
    • argues if we should treat animals with equal consideration
    • Is there a spectrum in which we should treat animals? ex. a chimpanzee vs a chicken

Chapter 8- Social Construct of Nature

This chapter discusses environment-society issues that stress social construction – the tendency for people to understand and interpret environmental issues and process through language, stories, and images that are inherited through systems of media, government, education, and industry.

  • the book defines Wilderness as: a natural parcel of land, more or less unaffected by human forces
  • our idea of nature is a product of culture, media and education
    • Ex. National Parks. claim to be “pristine” nature but are constructed and maintained by humans
  • Constructivist: emphasizing the significance of concepts, ideologies, and social practices to our understanding and making of (literally constructing) the world.
  • Cronon’s view of wilderness- “quite profoundly and human invention”
    • 18th century view of wilderness was a desolate and savage place that was to be feared and eventually conquered by humans
    • idea originated from the Bible- garden of Eden where adam and eve were banished
  • non-Western cultures do not have a word for lands untouched by humans and don’t distinguish between “wild” and “non-wild” landscapes.
  • if wilderness is a human construct, does that mean theres no truth to our definition of it?
  • are national parks a more natural place than farm land?
    • Are humans natural being? Where is the line drawn between what we define as natural?
  • Why does it matter how we define things like wilderness or nature?


John Gast, “American Progress,” 1872

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