[NOTE: This post was originally published on my 'non-academic' blog - The Organic Intellectual: Tribute to an Idea - on September 27, 2010. I wrote a number of reflective pieces in my doctoral seminar which I have decided to share here in the coming weeks.]
The most recent issue of Alternatives Journal
(Vol. 36, No. 5, 2010) focused exclusively on environmental education
in Canada, and provided a list of 54 university programs related to 'the
environment'. Skimming the cross-Canada directory, it is interesting to
see the range of programs considered to fall under the broader category
of 'environmental education' - whether it's the Tourism and Outdoor
Recreation program at Capilano University in British Columbia, the
Sustainable Agricultural Systems program at the University of Alberta,
or Planning at the University of Waterloo. At many universities,
environmental studies is offered by the Geography Department (at
Carleton, for example, it is officially known as the Department of
Geography and Environmental Studies). In other institutions,
environmental studies is a stand alone department, distinct from
Geography. In some cases environmental science is offered in place of environmental studies -
and needless to say the focus in such institutions is more on the
biological/geological/ecological processes of the Earth's system than on
the relationship between human social structures and the natural world.
who cares? Well, as I've discovered this week - it's a bit of a sore
spot for (some) geographers. Despite the pop-cultural 'common sense'
belief that geography is the study of maps, or at best unique places,
and that its leading association is the National Geographic Society, in
fact one of the discipline's most important underlying themes has been
the study of humans and their environment, at all the complex levels you
can interpret the dialectic (and this theme long outlives the rise of
popular environmental awareness in the 1970s and the growth of
'environmental education' programs in the last decade). Hence you have
within one department a spectrum of scholars - from those who study ice
cores in Antarctica to others who write about ecofeminism in small
Indonesian communities. But as the environmental movement ramped up, and
demand for environment-based courses popped up in universities, the
geographers who didn't manage to take ownership of environmental studies
felt, well, dissed (for lack of a better word). Rhetorical questions
were asked: If they don't think environmental studies is fully enmeshed in geographical studies, well then what do they think we actually do here in Geography - look at maps all day?
on the one hand it's easy to see how it can be a sore spot for geographers,
on the other hand, it's something geographers should learn to get over.
In acclaimed geographer Ron Johnston's words: "We should just get on
with it" (10). That is, we should keep doing the work that we do, and
strive to do it well. In doing so, we (that is, geographers - a group
I'm learning to refer to self-referentially) should worry not about
other disciplines 'stealing' environmental awareness from us. Rather, we
can embrace the opportunity provided by a unique discipline with a rich
history of anthropo-ecological awareness, and just get back to it.
Johnston, Ron. "Critical Review: Geography (or geographers) and earth system science," Geoforum, 37 (2006): 7-11.