Origins of the Environmental Crisis

18 02 2011

In Chapter 2 of his book, The Environment and Christian Ethics, Michael Northcott states that “just as the environmental crisis is complex in its nature, so its causation is also complex and multifactorial.”   However, he proposes that “the roots of the crisis lie in a range of changes and social processes which together” foreshadow the emergence of “a form of human society known as modernity, in which the human relation to nature is radically transformed.”

The comments for this blog represent efforts by class members to express discussion points related to some of the factors contributing to modernity; namely the agricultural revolution, the commodification of nature, influence of science and technology, the climate of modernity, and how modernity and ecology are in conflict.

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5 responses

19 02 2011
Lindsay Jones

In the passage of Northcotts’ book The Environment and Christian Ethics describing “the commodification of nature”, he explains how the anthropocentric view of the environment came about. During the ancient time periods land and natural resources were seen as a commonly shared goods and services, and were produced and exchanged on a local level. Farmers were held responsible by their community for their impacts to the natural world, and if, for example, they caused the local water source to become polluted, they were required to pay a fine. Starting in the Middle Ages, Northcott says, people began to realize that they weren’t using the land to its fullest potential, and that there was money to be made in agriculture. Now, rather than producing food to sustain the local population, more food was produced in addition to meeting local needs to sell outside of the community. This turned food and land, even labor, into a commodity. This was the beginnings of the new anthropocentric perspective of natural resources existing for human benefit. This view was supported by the Christian church, especially Protestant theologians and Martin Luther. Ever since natural resources became a commodity, people have been consumed with consumerism, which Northcott argues is one of the “strongest roots of the environmental crisis which is now upon us” (p. 56).

19 02 2011
Rebekah Jones

In ‘Science, Technology and the Myth of Progress’ Northcott devles into the relationship between environmental thinking and how it was influenced by science, technology and our skewed veiw of progress. He cites a few ideas that have proven to be problems for a wholistic look at the earth. One such idea is the approach to nature in science through a reductionist view that parcels nature up into more simpler mechanical laws that don’t interact with other fields. The focus is only gravity and doesn’t take into account other ‘outside’ factors that do play an important role in the way gravity works. Another idea that has had effects on environmental thinking is the divorce of ethical and moral thinking from scientific work. He roots this in Kants work and says that our scientific and technological advances have grown faster then our moral advances. A third idea that has influenced how we look at the natural world is our view of progress and the role of science in our lives. Northcott says that in our modern world we always view progress as better no matter what kind and that we value modern ideas and things far more then ancient or past ideas. There is also the role of science as savior in our culture, the idea that science can save us from whatever it is that plagues us. We tend to view science as always advancing our livelihood and we have replaced a religious eschaton theory with a scientific one instead. The future will be better because of technology and science instead of God or other divine beings. These ideas all reflect how our trend in the past few decades has been very exploitive of nature and current trends seem to indicate that people are starting to question and reject some of these ideas.

20 02 2011
Jon Becker

From global climate change to the pollution of watersheds, the earth is facing serious environmental challenges. In Chapter 2 of his book The Environment and Christian Ethics, Michael Northcott addresses the factors that have led to this crisis. One of these is the conflict between modernity and ecology.
The progress of time has brought the world from a struggle to survival to a quest for money. Northcott argues that this drive for money has contributed to the destruction of human relations and happiness. Greed has led to the destruction of our environment due to overuse of resources such as soil and fossil fuels. Northcott points to the example of Malaya, where the practice of the Malay peasants was to plant rice once a year and harvest fish and fruit for the survival of their families. This lifestyle resulted in a good deal of free time where the peasants rested and spent time with their families. British missionaries and traders criticized this way of life, and introduced Western capitalistic ideas. Modern Malaysia now operates under the drive for money, resulting in the abuse of natural resources such as fruit, fish and soil. The people now live in polluted, over-populated cities, working six days a week with very little time for leisure.
While I do not think that this should be an excuse for laziness, I agree with Northcott’s assertion that modernity has resulted in an endless cycle of greed and decreased pleasure in life. Along with these detriments to human life, the environment has also suffered greatly. In order for environmental change to occur, the basic attitudes of the people need to be changed from the destructive cycles of greed and covetousness to attitudes of contentment and love for others.

20 02 2011
Heidi Edwards

The Climate of Modernity:
Modernity has done much to add to the environmental crisis. This occurred mostly through the theory of Utilitarianism which tries to quantify happiness by the amount of money that people spend. It also changes our morals from religious beliefs to a person’s likes or dislikes or the presence of happiness or pain in their life. This set of “morals” leads to the idea that the more people consume and the more people spend the happier they will be. However, contrary to this theory, happiness has been observed to decline with an increase in possessions and spending. Through surveys it has been observed that if affluence continues after a certain point where needs are met and security is found, happiness starts to decrease. Rich people and poor people have a similar happiness level and the middle class is the happiest/most satisfied with life. Obviously, we can see if this kind of thinking is allowed to continue in a society the government would need to start to put regulations on consumption because what has previously kept people from over consumption (their morals) are now gone and there is nothing to prohibit them from trying to gain as much as possible without regard to those around them.

2 03 2011
Preston

Northcott’s take on the commodification of nature was fascinating. It is interesting to see how the myriad of different causes that brought about the different effects we see today. He spoke about the traditional lad tenure systems and how they broke apart. I think this is very true, obviously roads and vehicles have had their effects on the environment, but I would not see it as all negative. Also, he could be idolizing the traditional style of living without seeing it for flaws it had as well. The result however, is very telling. Humans and society became removed from dependence on the land and therefore there was a loss of relationship with the land. This is huge, because for so many, out of sight, out of mind. The environment lost its value. It struck very close to home when a huge factor in the demise of environmental responsibility stemmed from protestant teaching or rather misconceptions about the dominion mandate.

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