A Social Construct in Ecological Conversation

Dave Holmander-Bradford on Ecological Thought

07 July 2019

A Social Construct in Ecological Conversation

We do face the sun and pray to God through the sun, asking for strength to complete the Sun Dance and that our prayers will be heard. We are able to see the sun with our eyes completely open. It doesn’t blind us, and in it, we see visions.

Frank Fools Crow, Lakota Sioux

Introduction

A Social Construct in Ecological Conversation is the beginning point for an ongoing dialog around new green spaces in the rural communities of Northern New Hampshire. My research will consider the current attitudes of the residents toward green space and how may these attitudes be altered when considering a number of factors. This conversation will be considered successful if new green spaces are developed.

To move this conversation forward, the essay will first discuss the terminology of the four primary discourses used in environmental conversation, and then I will focus on the research to be considered. This will include highlights of possible research areas in the target community (ies). Greater details will be reserved for future writings.

Among the areas to be considered for research will be to study the economically disadvantagedpopulation and how green space may provide an enhanced quality of life. Also, a process for identifying new ecologically sensitive sites and an action plan to preserve these for future generations. The stated purpose of this essay, beyond starting a new conversation, are unlikely to be materialized in this short paper; however, it is the beginning point to framing a conversation

In considering research which pertains to any given area of environmental studies, we will need a base understanding of how this transpires. It is imperative that we have a functioning knowledge of the theoretical discourse method (s) so that one may effectively engage in environmental conversation

What Constitutes a Discourse

A logical beginning point for this conversation centers around how environmental discussion gets framed through the discourse. Aliaksandr Novikau explains, “The concept of environmental discourses currently has two distinct meanings in environmental politics. The first approach emphasizes its traditional meaning, as textual and spoken interactions about the environment. The second, more recent approach utilizes the notion of environmental discourses as group worldviews towards the environment” (1). However, this statement is too general and broad. He clarifies details, the scope concerning “political, social, and economic structures of society” (1) as these encompass political ideologies (1). When we have a clear understanding of how the conversation gets structured through discourse, we are ready to consider the various types.

As stated, discourse is the primary method of how a conversation in ecological thinking transpires. Each of the four discourse types, Environmental problem-solving, Survivalism, Sustainability, and Green radicalism,covered in this paper will receive a brief detailed overview; however, I should like to first set the necessary foundation in ecological thought why these discourse types are essential.

According to John S, Dryzek, in The Politics of the Earth, on environmental discourse, the environmental conversation began with the advent of the industrial society (13) and placed its emphasis on industrialism (13).  Dryzek cites, “Industrialism is informed by the terms of its overarching commitment to growth in the number of goods and services produced and to material that growth brings” (13). One may reason industrialization has improved the quality of life by providing goods and services which has benefited many people; thus, because it has made life more comfortable, it must be a good thing. Because of environmental discourse, we have come to understand industrialization has often left a negative effect on the natural world.

We must ask more profound probing questions in relationship to industrialization, e.g., what is the actual cost to the eco-system? Are there limits to unrestrained derogation to forest lands, and what is the long-term effect on the planet? Would abuse impact a healthy living environment for the planet’s residents? These are the kind of core questions addressed in environmental discourse about industrialization.

Dryzekfurther explains industrialization is not the complete picture (14).  He considers industrialization in the context of being “prosaic”[1] or “imaginative”. These dimensions are where the different discourses are assigned a classification. The classification results from how the different discourses are written about. Of the four primary discourses, he identifies, “Environmental Problem Solving” and “Survivalism.” He places these in the prosaic classification (15). It is because the writing style of the discourse converses in a plain language diction. “Sustainability” and “Green radicalism” are placed in the imaginative classification, because, these discourses reveal intuitiveness towards creativity and inventiveness (15). Current environmental discourse involves many challenges; because there are many influential voices as to what the proper relationship should be towards industrialization.

Four Types of Discourse

It is necessary to consider the different discourse types and to determine the perspective from which one will address their environmental view. The results will make one cognitively aware of their personal bias, and this will be especially important in approaching doctrinal studies. To pose a metaphorical question, each person should consider, did the discourse find me, or did I find the discourse? Our perspective will likely change over time as we become adept to our area of focus; however, this change will of necessity take place from a prior anchor point. As I consider my discourse identity, I find it is still developing and currently reflects a comfort zone blend somewhere between Sustainability and Green radicalism.

            The earliest shape of the environmental movement in the United States began at the beginning of the twentieth century (Dryzek,14). It was initially known as the “Conservation Movement” (14) with a principal concern to propagate the wise use of minerals, timber, and fish, etc. There was no concern for aesthetic or human health (14). The Conservation Movement became extremely inefficient and short-sighted, destined to failure while giving rise to the contemporary environmental discourse of the present day.

            The Environmental problem-solving discourse “is defined by taking the political-economic status quo as given but in need of adjustment via public policy” (Dryzek,14).  BACT Information for Coal-fired Power Plants is such a document issued by Walter C. Barber, Director, Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, EPA, as an example of the US Government problem-solving (Barber). The intent is trading CO2 emission credits from one power plant to another. It will solve long term systemic climate change problems because the overall CO2 emissions releases are capped. The policy has long been a favorite of pragmatic preference by liberal democratic governments; yet, one could argue these thinking ties to the core industrial complex with the economy as the primary driver (Dryzek,15).  Many applauded the goals of this discourse; however, there is no universal consensus among the environmental community, and they regularly use metaphors to heighten concern, i.e., the war against nature (18).

            Survivalism is a simple discourse to understand because its name states the goal. “The basic idea is that continued economic, and population growth will eventually hit limits set by the Earth’s stock of natural resources and the capacity of its ecosystems to support human agricultural and industrial activity” (Dryzek,15). This discourse must be viewed as reprehensible; because, it is tantamount to fatalism. That is to suggest we are on a doomed planet and there is nothing we can do about the impending disaster. Dryzek cites numerous examples of impending disasters, e.g., “environmental scarcities in the developing world can lead to violence and misery as ethnic groups … struggle over dwindling resources” (28). He is not the first to cite these conditions. Environmental discourse found a loud voice with the publication of The Tragedy of the Commons, by Garrett Hardin (1968), Garret uses examples to heighten awareness, reasoning an intellectual appeal in the discourse, by posing questions like, how many cows may graze on the common before there are too many (Dryzek, 29)? Survivalist discourse has been very successful in bringing to the forefront an acute awareness of the crisis all environmentalist shares particular through the use of metaphors (40).

            We have so far considered Environmental problem-solving and Survivalism discourse. These two hinges on the Promethean perspective[2], which Dryzek has popularized (1997, 51) and a close association with the anthropocentric[3] concept of man.

The remaining two discourses, Sustainability, and Green radicalism address the relationship between the natural world and human experience. It is to contextualize in a co-equal stance. Both are to be considered imaginative (Dryzek,15).

            Sustainability as a discourse emerged in the 1980s as a reasonable attempt to resolve the difference between environmental and economic concern (Dryzek, 16). Sustainability recognizes the legitimate development aspirations of all people to follow economic growth while maintaining ecological balance with the earth. Conflict arises between those nations already industrialized developed and those emerging (153). “Economic growth should, therefore, be promoted but guided in ways that are both environmentally benign and socially just” (153). What is somewhat unclear about sustainability in practical terms is what does it look like and how can we recognize it (158). As a discourse, the motive is for the public good; its metaphors are reassuring. My reflection towards sustainability is very favorable because it seems to incline the best of intention to nature and social consumption.

            Green radicalism is by far the noisiest voice of the environmental discourse today (Dryzek, 182). One need not drift very far for the daily news broadcast to find some issues. “It befits its imaginative and radical leanings; the world of green discourse is a diverse and lively place” (181), including deep ecology, ecofeminism, ecological citizenship, lifestyle greens, and eco-theology (181-190). Furthermore, green radicalism has continued to host an ever-expanding scope of focus points. Henry David Thoreau could easily be considered an early, perhaps the earliest, proponent of green radicalism. While the term radicalism dates to the early ninetieth century, it is not necessarily associated with environmental causes. However, a scant reading of Thoreau’s essays in Walden and Journals, some which are unpublished, clearly defines his green-leaning, e.g., “Men have been contriving new means and modes of motion – Steamships have been westerns during these late days…Meanwhile, plants spring silently by the brook’s side” (McKibben, 3). As I consider my own experience, a green consciousness calls me to chime the bell in support while ever focused on real-world social ills people face in the present. Green radicalism is ideal; it is the voice of consciousness. However, we must not be so numb and lose sight of the homeless child who requires a home or not to consider the plight of economically disenfranchised people.

Applying Discourse to Research and Change

            Finding the correct discourse from which to advance a dialog about the environment and its dynamic social underpinnings is of paramount importance. Also, of equal importance is the focus area of one’s study. As with any research, there should be passion; because I see a direct connection to the researcher’s area of interest and the research undertaken. 

The discourse which I will undertake revolves around the social dynamic of green space and its availability for public access to all people. The prevailing attitude offers some challenges because green space is abundant in my region; therefore, the logic could be, there is no reason to embrace the notion of greener space to set aside. On the surface, one may argue this is a correct conclusion. However, there are several possible reasons why this is a fallacy. The first reason is while acknowledging there is green space, not all the so-called green space has expressly been set aside as green space and preserved for future generations. In considering this fact, the current so-called green space is subject to residential or industrial development.

An additional factor, not all residents may have access to the green spaces if they are living in the center village locations as these are frequently inhabited by the economically disadvantaged. From this perspective, we might conclude, making green space available, along with education of its beneficial use, could enable lower income people, who tend to be overweight[4]  improve the quality of life; because, the use of green space with recreational activity lends itself toward a healthier lifestyle.  Furthermore, the addition of new green space would contribute to the total amount of ecologically sensitive areas placed into preserves of the region.

 As a young person growing up in the city and witnessing the suburban sprawl in the 1960s and 70s, I am acutely aware of how open space is developed using concrete and blacktop changing the landscape forever. Most memorable to me is a creek which began near my childhood home on the Everett/Malden Massachusetts city limit. My friends and I would hike along the creek edge until it dumped into the Atlantic Ocean a distance of three-plus miles. Today that creek is completely encased in concrete. It is likely most current residents are completely unaware of the creek’s presence. As a youth, I experience locational identity, and as an adult, I am experiencing the loss of that identity. Miwon Kwon, in One Place After Another, citing Marion Young, says, “a dream that expresses … a desire for selves that are transparent to one another, relationships of mutual identification, social closeness, and comfort … rest on the promise of a good society that can counter the experiences of alienation and disassociation” (149). The Lakota Sioux prayer at the beginning of this essay references the human connection to the earth. It is this personal passion and connectivity to place and the people who live there paired with an ecological identity which I bring to my research

The social dimension of my research will focus on the economically disenfranchised as the most significant beneficiaries from new green space. It is these communities which I believe have the least opportunity to benefit from current green space; because these spaces are geographically removed, making accessibility a problematic proposition. In research published by BMC Public Health, titled, A cross-sectional analysis of green space prevalence and mental wellbeing in England.  “The proportion of green space in an individual’s local area was significantly and positively associated with mental wellbeing in univariate models … While the green space in an individual’s local area has been shown to be related to aspects of mental health such as happiness and life satisfaction, the association to multi-dimensional mental wellbeing is much less clear” (Holden). If the discourse of my research results in improving the quality of life for the economically disenfranchised by opening up new green space, it will be considered a success.

The research will, also, focus on eco-tourism as a business model to help communities realize ecological care for the natural environment is good for business. It speaks to myself identifying philosophically as a pragmatist with a personal bias for which I make no apologies.  It places me within a Sustainability and Green Radicalism, discourse.

Conclusion

My research project maybe titled; Required education needed to affect change in the current ecological attitudes, which will bring about new green spaces in Southern Coos County near Whitefield, N.H. The research is project-driven with specific results of creating new green space.

            The goals of my research will be multi-faceted with specific identifiable goals and anchor point to mark the way. These will include identifying new green spaces which are ecologically sensitive and in need of preservation for future generations-improving the quality of life for the economically disenfranchised citizens who currently have limited access.  Finally, demonstrating to the communities which embrace a green space philosophy, they can turn this activity into a successful business model through eco-tourism. The research will be challenging; however, the benefits of the study will be shown to be effective when the implementation of the projects implied, become a reality.

Works Cited

Barber, Walter C., Director. BACT Information for Coal-fired Power Plants https://www.epa.gov/nsr/bact-information-coal-fired-power-plants. 22 December 1978. Pdf. 30 June 2019.

Crow, Frank Fools. Native American Wisdom. Ed. Kristen Maree Cleary. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996. Print, hardcover.

Dryzek, John C. The Politics of the Earth. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Paper.

Houlden, Victoria, Scott Weich, and Stephen Jarvis. “A cross-sectional analysis of green space prevalence and mental wellbeing in England.” 17 May 2017. BMC Public Health. Electronic. 1 July 2019. <https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-017-4401-x&gt;.

Kwon, Miwon. One Place After Another. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2004. Print.

Novikau, Aliaksandr. “The evolution of the concept of environmental discourses: ” 1 May 2018. WPSA, (Western Political Science Association),http://www.wpsanet.org/papers/docs/novikau.pdf. Pdf. 29 June 2019.

Thoreau, Henry David, edited by Bill McKibben. American Earth, “from Journals,” pp. 2-8. New York: Penguin Random House, 2008.Print.


[1]  characteristic of prose as distinguished from poetry, factual

 dull, unimaginative, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prosaic, accessed, 05 July 2019

[2] Promethean, is to suggest an unconscious ambivalence toward the environmental limits, though abused, nature will rebound as suggested in Greek mythology, e.g., Zeus (Dryzek, 1997, p.51).

[3] Anthropocentric, is defined, 1: considering human beings as the most significant entity of the universe

2: interpreting or regarding the world in terms of human values and experiences, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anthropocentric, accessed, 07-03-2019.

In the context, closely associated is, “anthropogenic climate change”, refers to the production of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity. By examining the polar ice cores, scientists are convinced that human activity has increased the proportion of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which has skyrocketed over the past few hundred years.”  http://www.global-greenhouse-warming.com/anthropogenic-climate-change.html, accessed, 07-03-2019

[4] This conclusion centers around much public research knowledge which has been overwhelmingly shown throughout a variety media outlet, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/healthcare/reports/2018/11/27/461418/public-policies-promoting-healthy-eating-exercise/, accessed, 5 July 2019

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