Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why should we rethink how we think about environmental constructs

Having spoken with many non-US graduate students in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, it's clear that there are many people hold a different conceptualization of what "the environment" is. Furthermore, the distinction between "Natural Resources" and "Environment" (or "Natural Environment") is rarely clear, either (at least among the Koreans, Chinese, and Taiwanese grad students). Furthermore, I don't think that there is a formal recognition of these different viewpoints that are held across the student body, and (by extension) the population of those working in the field (generally speaking) worldwide.

The terminologies that are used in discussing and (arguably) studying the environment (and natural resources) are culturally defined. And, due to the nature of scientific evolution and the blossoming of environmental movement in the US, many of the terms that we use today (including the concepts and conceptualizations upon which those terms are based) are heavily culturally based. As such, the term "conservation" means a very specific - and cultural - thing in the United States than it does in the United Kingdom (another example of the "two people separated by a common language" meme), and the actions that emerge from these differing conservation mentalities lead to different (each internally logical) directions. These differing definitions of "conservation" do, however, share a lot in common, since they are rooted in shared commonalities of understanding the term itself (which predates the existence of natural resource or environmental conservation) and the two countries share a cultural understanding (although these could also be said to be diverging) of the relationship between the natural world and man. However, what happens when we move wildly outside that close (but diverging) relationship? Where should an American start a discussion of "conservation" with a PRC national is not likely going to share implicit understandings of "nature and man" or even share a shared understanding of the word "conservation" itself, since the meaning is translated and extrapolated from one language to the other?

As we move forward in an evermore-globalized and evermore-urbanized world, understanding what we all mean by "natural resources" and "the environment"; "conservation" and "preservation"; etc. will become evermore important lest we discover that we are talking past each other.

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