Society and the Environment: Pragmatic Solutions to Ecological Issues

Society and the Environment: Pragmatic Solutions to Ecological Issues

Society and the Environment: Pragmatic Solutions to Ecological Issues

Society and the Environment: Pragmatic Solutions to Ecological Issues

Excerpt

Why must books on the environment be so gloomy? Chapter after chapter detail what’s wrong, followed by, if you’re lucky, a chapter or two on what could be done to turn things around. No wonder my students express bewilderment and, in a few cases, something akin to borderline clinical depression when, during the first week of my Global Environmental Issues class, I ask about their thoughts on the ecological state of the world. A quick title search of my university library’s catalog reveals 311 books with the term environmental problems somewhere in the title or subtitle. A search of the term environmental solutions, conversely, brought up 2 books, both published in the 1970s. Sex, apparently, isn’t the only thing that sells books. We can add apocalyptic ecological predictions to that list.

I understand why, historically, all this attention has been paid to environmental problems. People are not much interested in reading about solutions until they’ve been convinced that there’s a problem in need of solving. It has been fifty years since the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (which was first published in 1962). Since then we have been exposed to a steady diet of problem talk, with measurable effect. An April 2009 Marist poll asked, “Thinking about how you live and the things you buy, overall, do you personally do a great deal, a good amount, a fair amount, a little, or nothing at all to help the environment?” Eighty percent responded by saying “a fair amount” or greater (Cohen, S. 2010). Even friends of mine who would rather lose a limb than be called an “environmentalist” acknowledge the problematic ecological conditions that surround us. (Granted, they might still be in denial about climate change, but not much else.) Who is left to convince? Isn’t it time to turn the corner and talk about—and even celebrate—instances of positive socioecological change?

This book is a bit of both: a bit about problems, a little bit more about solutions. By focusing on ecological solutions—rather than entirely on problems—I am striving to make this book hopeful, recognizing that if we can’t at least think and talk about and point to sustainable alternatives, we really are in trouble. But I am a realistic dreamer, as indicated by my evoking the term pragmatic in the book’s subtitle. Although it never hurts to be imaginative about what could be, we must be realistic about what can be.

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