The second half of Robbins et al.’s Environment and Society seemed somewhat less intriguing than the first part. Largely, this is due to the fact that I’m more interested in the theoretical approaches outlined there. Meanwhile, the second half of the textbook deals with the sheer application of these various models to specific examples, which I generally found less enthralling. When reading, it often felt like the authors would go down the list of ideologies or worldviews, say a political economic one, and rattle off the perspective of that ideology on the subject at hand. Ultimately, I care more about the debate over and justifications for each individual theoretical approach than I care about how they can be applied to understanding french fries. In order to apply a view, one must adequately justify its veridicality in theory.
Minor criticisms aside, there were a few sections of the book that still caught my interest. One of such sections is the part of Chapter 10 that addresses whether or not trees should be accorded legal rights. Furthermore, it raises the question of which rights should a tree have if we were to consider a tree as capable of possessing them. When considered together, the former of these questions is easier to answer than the latter. The concept of nature or natural objects possessing state-sanctioned rights is not a completely silly one. Indeed, a former Supreme Court justice went so far as to assert that trees have legal standing, which would imply intrinsic rights to be protected. Additionally, certain non-sentient entities, like companies, possess personhood and rights as a legal fiction. However, they are also subject to certain limitations that real people in the U.S. are not affected by. As the book mentions, “Corporations cannot plead the Fifth Amendment” (Robbins et al. 179). In context, this point is made in order to specify that trees need not be granted obviously unnecessary rights, such as the right to vote. Nevertheless, this brings up the much murkier issue of what rights trees do have and by what criterion can we determine that they in fact have those rights. To these questions, I have no real answer. What I can say is that any right a tree possesses would be entirely contingent on the will of human beings. Though the authors are correct is stating that “this is the approach that most acknowledges…trees, living things with interests upon whom deforestation acts,” they are incorrect in arguing that it is not an anthropocentric approach (Robbins et al. 179).
Another segment of the book that I enjoyed is that which deals with the cultural attitudes surrounding lawns. As someone who views lawns as a monumental waste of time and effort, I am absolutely astounded by stories such as this one: “households that choose alternative landscaping over lawns are actually sued by one or more of their neighbors” (Robbins et al. 252). As this tale should indicate, lawns are arguably one of the most ludicrous and deeply-defended cultural constructions out there. After all, as the book further notes, people with judge the character of others on the basis of the other person’s lawn quality. I really have no serious argument against doing this, though it seems insane to equate the quality of a person with the quality of some insignificant grass. Of course, one could critique it on the grounds that the textbook more or less does: why criticize an alternative landscape when a lawn requires many dangerous chemicals to be properly sustained? This is a legitimate question, but one that I wouldn’t ask, owing to its overt moralism.
Currently, the National Parks Service plans on raising entrance fees to some of its most notable parks, such as Yellowstone or Yosemite. The fee increase is relatively substantial, with each vehicle of visitors being charged $70 as opposed to the current rate of $30. The intention of this price hike is to ensure the integrity of each park’s infrastructure in the years to come.