Environment and Society Part 1 Notes

Chapter 1: Many of the ideas about social constructs, environmental ethics, environmental justice, risks and hazards and defining wilderness seemed repetitive compared to what we have already read, so this might be a better book to read at the beginning of the year to serve as introductions to those topics. The authors also gave a strict definition of “environment” and “society,” which might have been an interesting topic to discuss at the beginning of the semester while we tried to define “wilderness.”

Chapter 2: We have been working with mathematical models in my marine biology class, specifically with the Malthus equation and logistic equation to model populations. While the Malthus equation is only accurate on short time scales, it is a fundamental equation in population biology that has influenced most other population models. Most of the models we have been working with deal with birth and death rates, so it was interesting to see Ehrlich and Holdren’s impact model that is influenced by affluence and technology, to read about where humans place blame for environmental impacts – on the overall population, on the wealthy, the poor, and even women – and see how much of an impact education can have on population size. It would be interesting to add in terms like education, sustainability programs and healthcare to Ehrlich and Holdren’s model. Then, we could manipulate these variables to see how the model predicts population growth may change. We could even test out the model with different types of healthcare policies or educational programs. If overpopulation is a problem in certain areas, these mathematical models could inform the government what types of programs might be useful.

Chapter 3: This is an interesting article that analyzes the effects of green taxes and has a table listing impacts of green taxes in different countries. Much like how cap and trade can lead to “locally disastrous” pollution, the banking and withdrawing techniques seem like a dangerous attempt at a solution because it depends on destroying habitats and creating habitats in places they otherwise would not naturally be. Certain species might only thrive in one particular area, and there is no guarantee that by creating a habitat like a wetland in a different location that the same species will inhabit that wetland.

Chapter 4: This chapter brought up the point that people are more willing to work toward a common goal and cooperate if they can set limits on themselves, together, rather than being forced to comply to certain limits. I like that the authors look at strategies from different angles, like explaining common property, while it is successful at times, can also be dangerous since it is dependent on binding and excluding “potential user populations” (62).

Chapter 5: Here is an interesting article explaining the successes and failures of the Endangered Species Act. Singers argument of “good” meaning maximizing pleasure and happiness reminded me of a section of Calicott’s “Triangular Affair.” It was Bentham and Mill who proposed the binary that pain is evil and pleasure is good (Callicot, 19), so it would be ethical to increase the good and minimize the pain in the world. The land ethic encourages us to “[reappraise] things unnatural, tame, and confined in terms of things natural, wild and free” (Callicot, 32), and pain is natural and, as Callicot points out, necessary. In the case of things like disease or injury, pain informs the individual that something is wrong, so animals can respond in a way to become healthy/ healed. To stay in physical shape, animals need to exert themselves to a healthy level, and pain informs them of what that healthy level is. Stress can help to keep animals vigilant or focused, for example if prey is being hunted its stress can keep the prey vigilant, or if humans are in a dangerous situation stress can inform them that a response like fight or flight is necessary. Overall, pain is necessary and beneficial to survival. Callicot’s work also explains animal liberation from different viewpoints, including the land ethic, so it would be an interesting work to read in supplement to this chapter.

Chapter 6: Hazards can “fall in between natural and anthropogenic” because humans can increase the risk of a situation. For example, building houses all out of wood increases the risk of fire, building homes right on the ocean increases risk associated with hurricanes, and humans overuse pesticides partly because yielding so much of one crop in one area leads to a bigger insect problem.

Is every decision “…inevitably social and political…”? (93)

What are some examples of risks affected by cultural differences in America compared to other countries?

Chapter 7: The section on “commodification” made me think about how ecotourism is a prime example of nature being valued for exchange rather than itself. Ecotourism is in part a way to “…use market principles to solve environmental problems…” because it allows certain areas in nature to be preserved to attract tourists (109). At the same time, it does treat nature as a part of politics and the economy, so in a way ecotourism is a partially desirable “produced nature” (109).

Should we give up on the idea of “going back to ‘wilderness’”? (109)

Chapter 8: The introduction of this chapter explaining how we choose vacation destinations and how what we think we see in forests is influenced by other people reminded me of a place my friend stayed at while he was in Peru. The Ecolodge in Oxapampa, Peru helps their visitors feel more secluded by building their lodges so that no lodge is visible from the road, or from looking out the windows of the other ecolodges. None of the ecolodges have electricity, all use recycled running water, and all food was either bought from local growers or obtained from around the ecolodge.


I also find how large an impact the media has on our idea of nature very interesting, and was reminded of a vacation pamphlet for Atlantis in Paradise Island, Bahamas. It has a picture of an elegant hotel rising up in the background of a digitally-enhanced picture of blue water with colorful marine life. The pamphlet says “Welcome to Paradise” and “Paradise Found”, directly connecting to Cronon’s explanation of “Nature as Eden.” The pamphlet also says “Sometimes you have to get away to get together,” connecting to the idea that wilderness is an escape and a “place of recreation” (Cronon, 78).

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