Why Environmental Science Needs the Humanities

by Emily Segal

In the past, those working to combat environmental problems were generally thought of as natural scientists utilizing technology, economics, and policy to come up with solutions for reducing and preventing climate change. The truth is that humanist thinkers were an integral part of the first phase of the environmental revolution. They were early journalists, philosophers and historians writing and thinking about the environment and its relation to human beings. It seems that over time, these humanities scholars were pushed aside and took a back seat to natural scientists and economists who were at the front of the environmentalist movement. However, in contemporary society, people are still shaped by cultural values and political and religious ideals, each of which is a humanitarian, and not necessarily a scientific, issue. So far, approaching climate change from a purely scientific or economic standpoint has not been successful in changing human behaviors, which is fundamental if we hope to protect the environment. Anthropogenic environmental degradation and climate change are specifically human issues, so we need to learn, think and talk about them from a humanitarian perspective as well as a scientific one. As historian and environmentalist Sverker Sörlin (2012) writes, “After half a century of putting nature first, it may be time to put humans first.” He summarizes the idea that because drastic climate change is caused by humans, it must also be solved by humans, and cannot be solved by nature itself. This is the moment that environmental science depends on the humanities in order to understand how humans think, behave and respond to one another and society as a whole. As Sörlin argues, environmentally relevant knowledge is changing because what environmentalists have found is necessary to save our planet is a better understanding of human behavior, an idea that is at the core of humanitarian studies.

 

Sörlin, S., 2012. Environmental humanities: why should biologists interested in the environment take the humanities seriously. BioScience 62, 9, 788-789.

 

TAGS: Sverker Sörlin, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Environmental Science, Humanities, Environmental Humanities, Climate Change

 

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