Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Cultural capital - valuing nature a little differently?

Arguably in a post-industrial society we have moved towards 'valuing' the environment very differently to how we used to perceive it; an economic resource to be exploited under the guise of such paradigms like industrialisation, modernisation or globalisation. According to Kuznets would the West place itself in an era of increasing environmental awareness and decreasing degradation?

Since Carson's Silent Spring and the emergence of radical environmentalism in the 1970s &1980s, the environment has become an issue of common parlance and to put it simply, the environment matters. Today the environment should be (and to some extent is) viewed as as a holistic concept (economic, biodiversity, social-cultural etc etc) as UNESCO outlines in it's definition & mission statement. Clearly though, the latter developments have meant that from an economic perspective whilst economists still see value in the environment, it is fundamentally a different type of value to the one in the industrial period (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17448634).

The new paradigm of the environmental movement of the 1990s and new millennium was Sustainable Development, and as the environment became an issue of national (and international) security, politicians and academics started to see the need not only to protect but also to preserve the more subtle cultural and often spiritual connections organisms  had to the environment. It appeared that the cries of deep ecologists to revert back to pre-industrial times had been answered (well not really!) - alas though, the the environment is and always has been/will be a contested category providing that the human population conitue4s to grow and expand and nations continue to industrialise. Thus, with the Advent of the new Rio Summit there are cries (as there were in 1992) to improve our level of protection and romantic platitudes of a return to some modified form of a pristine wilderness...!(Just look at the BBCs recent programming over the past 5 years to increase our environmental awareness).


I would argue though that on the hand yes, protection is paramount, but from my time researching in Honduras, i would caution outright protection as often the Western model of a core and buffer zone can alienate the local people from the land and cut the connections which make that particular environment so diverse - just look at Ayres Rock (or Uluru) to see how poor management can lead to severe conflict...Israel, Palestine and the West Bank water security issues is another example.

Q: To what extent do different cultural attitudes to the environment make conflict inevitable?

Discussion: Is there such a thing as a pristine wilderness as Humboldt asserted or not? Discuss.