The Fallacy of Environmental Studies? Critiques of Canadian interdisciplinary programs

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This essay examines the evolving trends in Canada's academic "environmental studies" programs as a means for questioning the nature of interdisciplinarity in curriculum and research. In bringing together a survey of forty-four English-language program websites, program documents and critical research on aca-demic environmental education and interdisciplinarity, I highlight some signifi-cant patterns that echo the concerns John Livingston raised three decades ago about the narrowing of environmental thought in his seminal analysis The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation. This is not to say the issues are exactly the same, for in the academic context of this essay the dominant concern is with the influence of disciplinary, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary ways of coming to knowledge. A number of trends are highlighted that sug-gest environmental studies curricula can be challenged by the influence of disciplinary traditions, the university's institutional pre-dispositions and broader political economic forces. After considering these trends and their potential challenges, the essay concludes with an analysis of some common visions on the nature of a broad interdisciplinary curriculum for environmental studies.

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... This paper focuses on sustainability in postsecondary institutions (also known as higher education institutions) across Canada. A small body of literature exists that examines environment and sustainability (herein environment/sustainability) governance in Canadian postsecondary education institutions (Leduc, 2010;Moore, 2005;Wright, 2003Wright, , 2004Wright, , 2006. To date, however, neither overviews of existing high-level environment/sustainability policies in Canadian PSE institutions nor examinations of how such policies might be associated with other sustainability initiatives on campuses have been produced. ...
Koichiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, asserts that education is one of the most effective instruments that society can employ in the effort to adopt sustainable development. This paper is a first effort to explore the degree to which Canadian institutions of higher education, including colleges and universities, have embraced this assertion. It includes the first census of the existing environment/sustainability policies and/or plans of Canadian postsecondary institutions (n = 220), and an examination of the relationships between the existence of an environment/sustainability policy/plan and the presence of other sustainability initiatives on campus. The focus on policies and plans is timely because in public institutions like colleges and universities, actions and practices are determined by policy. The results reveal a number of patterns and insights, including, for example, the influence of provincial legislation on the uptake of policies.
... This may be especially true in the context of natural and social scientists working together to address controversial questions. Prior literature on interdisciplinary environmental research is replete with personal observations, experiences, and opinions (e.g., Naiman 1999, Bruhn 2000, Fry 2001, Brown 2002, Campbell 2005, Graybill et al. 2006), discussions about disciplinary approaches and epistemology (e.g., Pickett et al. 1999, MacMynowski 2007, Miller et al. 2008, and qualitative investigations of cultural and institutional barriers that can prevent successful interdisciplinary endeavors (e.g., Golde and Gallagher 1999, Wear 1999, Pohl 2005, Rhoten and Pfirman 2006, Jacobs and Frickel 2009, Leduc 2010. In several empirical studies, the experiences of those engaged in interdisciplinary environmental research have been investigated (e.g., Hersch and Moss 2004, Marzano et al. 2006, Vincent and Focht 2009, 2011. ...
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Environmental challenges are complex and require expertise from multiple disciplines. Consequently, there is growing interest in interdisciplinary environmental research that integrates natural and social science, an often arduous undertaking. We surveyed researchers interested and experienced in research at the human—environment interface to assess perspectives on interdisciplinary research. Integrative interdisciplinary research has eluded many of our respondents, whose efforts are better described as additive multidisciplinary research. The respondents identified many advantages and rewards of interdisciplinary research, including the creation of more-relevant knowledge. However, they also reported significant challenges and obstacles, including tension with departments (49%) or institutions (61%), communication difficulties, and differing disciplinary approaches, as well as institutional barriers (e.g., a lack of credit in promotion and tenure). Most (52%) believed that developing interdisciplinary breadth should begin as early as the undergraduate level. We apply our results to recommendations for successful interdisciplinary endeavors.
While much of the literature on urban sustainability tends to focus on the importance of protecting natural systems and determining engineering and technical solutions, many of the central challenges to envisioning and delivering appropriate and meaningful sustainability lie within social, cultural, and political structures. This paper draws on the insights related to the development and implementation of the undergraduate program in Environmental and Urban Sustainability (EUS) at Ryerson University (Toronto). The conceptual framework of the program reflects the need for a broad foundation of sustainability education which spans disciplinary boundaries. EUS has blended new and existing teaching configurations, and has embraced both cross-disciplinary and disciplinary content and academic structures in its curriculum development and course offerings. The key to success has been the merging of existing course offerings from fourteen disciplinary areas as part of the core of the EUS program structure. Since the program operates concurrent with existing academic departments and schools (each of which has at least one of its own programs), developing cooperation and collaboration, while vital to program success, has been an enduring challenge. Within this context, the paper discusses the motivations and processes of ongoing program and curriculum development.
Although considering questions of wisdom and humility in relation to climate change may seem like a soft theoretical topic for an issue that needs hard and clear responses, there is an increasing literature that suggests the global inability to agree on the nature of climate change and what a response entails may be grounded in modern ways of thinking and being—ways that have long marginalized such inquiries. The increasing power of science and computer modeling has not only give us new ways of thinking about our relation to climate, but also represents our entry into a new sense of being where we are aware of humanity's interconnection with an ever-changing climate system. Research with indigenous views of climate change and paleoclimatology are revealing historic insights on the evolving relation between the human mind and cycles of climate change. While such research can help situate our present realizations about human embeddedness within a longer history of human–climate relations, it is also necessary to recognize the unique dimensions of our current situation. This includes the increasing power of industrial humanity to destabilize global climate–human systems through greenhouse gas emissions; to technologically monitor those changes; and to promote changes in behavior that can be ethically responsive to global, not simply regional, climate–human relations. This article considers climate change as a challenge to modern ways of thinking and being, and concludes by contemplating some implications of returning to an older humility and wisdom. Conflict of interest: The authors have declared no conflicts of interest for this article. For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.
This paper presents a campus tour assignment in a first-year undergraduate environmental studies course at York University, Toronto, Canada. As a pedagogical tool, the assignment enables students to interrogate the dominant narratives of a university’s immediate physical spaces and to apply broader theoretical and practical concepts to their meanings and understandings. An exploration of three sites on the tour is offered as illustrations: a storm water pond, a woodlot, and a native species garden. Complicating the histories of these sites provides entry points for a variety of conversations and debates in reference to environmental sustainability, social justice, and civic engagement. The main objective of the campus tour is to prompt students to move beyond description to analysis and to raise questions about campus features by making connections to historical choices, policy alternatives and self-reflexivity. Many of the ideas presented could be modified for use on other campuses and could invite a larger discursive discussion on social and sustainability issues.
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With the recent debates concerning the UNESCO's proposals of Education for sustainable development (1992, 1988) or Education for a sustainable future (1997), environmental education is confronted with the necessity of restating its aim and establishing its niche in a global educational project, whose foundations have to be reconstructed in light of of the development of responsible soci-eties. This article presents an analysis of the epistemological, ethical and pedagogical basis of the UNESCO's recent propos-als, so as to verify their offer of an appropriate integrative framework for environmental education, and other dimensions of contemporary education, that aim at the reconstruction of the person-society-environment web of relationships. This analysis is based on the referential framework of modernity and post-modernity.
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This paper articulates a view of interdisciplinary derived from actual practice. Based on a distinction between different types of interdisciplinary temperament, the paper proposes five characteristic of ‘issue-driven interdisciplinarity’ in the sustainability field: being problem-based, integration, interactivity and emergence, reflexivity, and strong forms of collaboration and partnership. Each of these characteristics is illustrated by examples drawn from a series of interdisciplinary projects undertaken over the past decade. The paper concludes with some views on how best to institutionalize issue-driven interdisciplinarity in the dominantly disciplinary culture of universities.
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The UNESCO-UNEP International Environmental Education Program (1975-1995) provided impetus for developing, legitimizing, and institutionalizing environmental education. More recently, UNESCO was mandated by the United Nations to carry out a worldwide shift towards education for sus-tainable development. As international organizations' recommendations and guidelines often act as beacons for the conception and implementation of national formal and nonformal education programs, it is necessary to critically appraise their content. Our hermeneutical analysis of United Nations documents concerning environmental education, which is now sub-sumed to sustainable development, highlights an instrumental view of edu-cation, a resourcist conception of the environment, and an economicist view of development. Such a worldview needs to be discussed. Résumé De 1975 à 1995, les activités et productions de l'UNESCO-PNUE dans le cadre du Programme international d'éducation relative à l'environnement (1975-1995) ont contribué à légitimer, à institutionnaliser et à développer ce champ d'intervention éducative. Plus récemment, l'UNESCO a été mandatée par l'Organisation des Nations Unies (ONU) pour opérer un virage vers une éducation pour le développement durable. En raison de l'influence souvent déterminante des recommandations et lignes directrices des organisations internationales sur les politiques et programmes nationaux et locaux, tant en milieu d'éducation formelle que non formelle, il importe d'en faire un examen critique. Notre analyse permet de mettre en lumière les conceptions de base véhiculées par les discours élaborés dans la « filière » ONU : l'édu-cation y apparaît comme un instrument au service d'un programme poli-tique, l'environnement est conçu comme un ensemble de ressources à exploiter et le développement correspond à la croissance économique. Une telle vision du monde doit être discutée et mise à distance critique, histori-cisée et déconstruite.
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Interdisciplinary research is fashionable, but also controversial; yet it is far from agreed what is meant by the term. This paper analyses some central issues concerning interdisciplinary research, both in general and with particular reference to the field of environment and development. It draws on earlier literature, especially Becher (1989) and on experience from universities in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, U.S.A and Britain. The paper includes an analysis of how disciplines interact, focussing on economics, ecology and anthropology. It also addresses two ‘great divides’. The first is that between the ‘two cultures’: a gap which is indeed important, although it does not lie precisely between the natural sciences on the one hand and the social sciences and humanities on the other. The second is the gap between research and application; research that is usable by policy-makers, it is argued, is typically, and necessarily, not of high quality judged in academic terms.
Interdisciplinary Canadian Studies emerged in two distinct phases. The first was launched with the birth of the Instititute of Canadian Studies at Carleton University in 1957, and provided a bridge from the age of the metanarrative and the canon to phase two, originating with the first issue of the Journal of Canadian Studies in 1966, and encountering the discourses of the postmodern and the post-colonial. As we begin the new millennium the second phase is beginning to give way to a third. This paper investigates phase two, particularly the interval 1966 to 1975. During these years the idea of diversity was institutionalized as a resistance to the meta narrative. The period is characterized by the liberation of a multiplicity of voices. Throughout its brief life, interdisiciplinary Canadian Studies has consistently favoured the collaboration of the disciplines in a spirit of widening intellectual boundaries. In phase two it proved to be uncomfortable with the fragmentation of imported critical theory, in its very nature conflicted by an intellectual commitment to the nation state and to notions of community and citizenship. Throughout phase two there has been a tension between interdisciplinarity and theory. Phase three might, it is suggested be characterized by a renewed collaboration of the disciplines, and a conversation of the voices, in defence of the relationship that makes them possible.
This paper seeks to clarify some aspects of terminology in discussions of interdisciplinarity. It shows how different terms may imply distinct taken-for-granted value assumptions, leading to possible conflicts regarding methodology and the goals of interdisciplinary research projects. Acknowledging these different expectations, the paper considers the problems and opportunities of providing an integrative, holistic synthesis of the multifarious perspectives which emerge in interdisciplinary settings. Finally, an example is offered to an integrative framework developed for the 'Ecowise' project, based at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, where over 30 investigators are collaborating on a three-year study of the sustainability of the Hamilton Harbour Ecosystem.
"With clarity and grace, Stephen Bocking tackles the complicated question of the role of scientific expertise in environmental policy making. Nature's Experts is a timely and important book."-David H. Guston, author of Between Politics and Science: Assuring the Integrity and Productivity of Research "This book by Stephen Bocking is as much about deliberative democracy as it is about science and the environment. Stephen Bocking's treatment is deep, perceptive, and profoundly wise. He has caught the heart of present and future environmental science, politics, and democratic governance."-C. S. Holling, The Resilience Alliance and emeritus professor, Arthur R. Marshall Jr. Chair in Ecological Sciences at the University of Florida "If knowledge is power, how should expert advice be deployed by a would-be democratic society? This perennial question is newly illuminated by this timely and wide-ranging review of the role played by science in the making of environmental policy."-William C. Clark, Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy, and Human Development, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government It seems self-evident that science plays a central role in environmental affairs. Regulatory agencies, businesses, and public interest groups all draw on scientific research to support their claims. Some critics, however, describe science not as the solution to environmental problems, but as their source. Moreover, the science itself is often controversial, as debates over global warming and environmental health risks have shown. Nature's Experts explores the contributions and challenges presented when scientific authority enters the realm of environmental affairs. Stephen Bocking focuses on four major areas of environmental politics: the formation of environmental values and attitudes, management of natural resources such as forests and fish, efforts to address international environmental issues such as climate change, and decisions relating to environmental and health risks. In each area, practical examples and case studies illustrate that science must fulfill two functions if it is to contribute to resolving environmental controversies. First, science must be relevant and credible, and second, it must be democratic, where everyone has access to the information they need to present and defend their views.
The California fisheries provide an excellent case for testing the ability of Hardin's model to explain the origin and essential nature of resource problems. The waters off the California coast are the best-studied of any oceanic ecosystem in the world. The records of the region's climate date from the beginning of United States occupation in the 1840s. It is possible thus to reconstruct the ecological history of the region's fisheries to understand why fishery problems came into public view when they did, and to analyze the impact of human responses to those problems. The extant records permit comparison of that history with what people thought was happening and how their perceptions influenced their actions. -Author
First published in 1949 and praised in The New York Times Book Review as "a trenchant book, full of vigor and bite," A Sand County Almanac combines some of the finest nature writing since Thoreau with an outspoken and highly ethical regard for America's relationship to the land. Written with an unparalleled understanding of the ways of nature, the book includes a section on the monthly changes of the Wisconsin countryside; another part that gathers informal pieces written by Leopold over a forty-year period as he traveled through the woodlands of Wisconsin, Iowa, Arizona, Sonora, Oregon, Manitoba, and elsewhere; and a final section in which Leopold addresses the philosophical issues involved in wildlife conservation. As the forerunner of such important books as Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek , Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire , and Robert Finch's The Primal Place , this classic work remains as relevant today as it was forty years ago.
The history of environmental education reveals a close connection between changing concerns about the environment and its associated problems and the way in which environmental education is defined and promoted. In the 1990s, mounting concern over environment and development problems has meant greater support for an educational approach, which not only considers immediate environmental improvement as an actual goal, but also addresses educating for ‘sustainability’ in the long term. Although some education literature has embraced this new focus of environmental education for sustainability (EEFS), it has failed to outline the essence of this approach and has neglected questions about how it differs from the environmental education of the 1980s. No document exists to date which translates the goals of EEFS into guiding principles for its development in schools. Essentially, EEFS needs further definition. This paper is an attempt to engage the debate about what constitutes this new focus of environmental education and how it may differ from conventional approaches to environmental education.
This paper presents the results of a detailed survey into the reasons for the spate of mergers between Geography and Environment Studies that took place in Australian universities from 1989 to 1999. The results, from a 1998 survey, suggest that the development of a symbiotic relationship between the two areas of study is merely a veneer masking a complexity of underlying factors. These include financial reasons, internal university politics, staff changes and mobility, and only in some cases, a genuine academic rationale for a merger. The paper concludes that the superficial appearance of a symbiosis between Geography and Environment Studies generally masks an opportunistic pragmatism which is very site specific in its complexity. The result has been a series of departmental mergers which, although providing a firmer financial footing, raise questions about the academic implications for the development of both study areas as we move into the third millennium.
As we enter the next century of geographical research, trends are converging which will place the discipline of geography at the forefront of knowledge creation. First, the problems of global environmental change will force more interdisciplinary and synthesis- based research, while advancing research on the coupling between human and natural systems. We face significant new global-scale research challenges at the beginning of the 21st century, including rapid climate and ecological change, the degradation of freshwater resources, the globalization of disease, the threat of biological and chemical warfare and terrorism, and the more complicated question of long-term environmental security. The footprint of human activity continues to expand to the point that it is having a significant impact on nearly all of Earth's environmental systems, and on the planet as a whole. We are participating in and increasingly becoming designers and managers of the complex relationships among people, ecosystems, and the biosphere. Many of the most pressing environmental issues go beyond current disciplinary research and educational frameworks and will require new funding and institutional approaches. While the important disciplinary work must continue to be strengthened, present and future challenges focus on connecting across disciplines and scales, supporting synthesis studies and activities, more tightly linking science, technology, and decision making, and achieving predictive capability where possible. Geography is placed at the center of this emerging new transdisciplinary science. One characteristic of the new method is the analysis of environmental change over very large regions yet at very fine spatial resolution and scale. The idiosyncratic local-place is being merged with the study of regions in a new kind of place-based research agenda which is simultaneously local and global, and the ability to resolve the local in the context of the global will be catalyzed by new advances in earth observing systems and geospatial information technologies. Second, advances in earth observing systems, geospatial information technologies, and analytical modalities focused on measurements and models at very fine spatial scales over extremely large areas will drive new concepts and theories of place-based science, expanding to continental or global scales the geographical boundaries of the "places" we study. Moreover, with consistent observations obtained simultaneously globally over long periods of time, exciting opportunities are emerging for multi-place analyses and comparative case studies in a global framework. Advances in geospatial information technology, such as high-resolution space-borne imagers, are rapidly and continuously improving environmental monitoring over large areas at fine spatial and temporal scales.
Obra en la que se trata de repensar la educación para encaminar al individuo a entender que el medio ambiente tiene un propósito ligado a su existencia. No se insiste en enseñar únicamente los cuidados ambientales sino incluirlos como una práctica educativa de valor dentro del hombre y dentro de la supervivencia del mismo.
In this volume, Julie Klein provides the first comprehensive study of the modern concept of interdisciplinarity, supplementing her discussion with the most complete bibliography yet compiled on the subject. Spanning the social sciences, natural sciences, humanities, and professions, her study is a synthesis of existing scholarship on interdisciplinary research, education and health care. Klein argues that any interdisciplinary activity embodies a complex network of historical, social, psychological, political, economic, philosophical, and intellectual factors. Whether the context is a short-ranged instrumentality or a long-range reconceptualization of the way we know and learn, the concept of interdisciplinarity is an important means of solving problems and answering questions that cannot be satisfactorily addressed using singular methods or approaches.
Global Environmental Politics 5.2 (2005) 118-119 While virtually all environmental issues involve substantial elements of science, the way in which science affects policy is always complex and always involves values and judgments that go far beyond science itself. In Nature's Experts, Stephen Bocking provides a superb introduction to the complexity of these interactions. He illuminates these issues from the multiple and overlapping perspectives of scientists, institutions, interest groups, and citizens. The book evolved from a course Bocking teaches to science and non- science undergraduate students at Trent University, Ontario. The course is designed to show non-scientists how science works, to show scientists the complexity of real-world environmental decision-making, and to help both groups understand why scientific conclusions so often play disappointingly small roles in real life decisions. His approach is deeply embedded in the "democratic" approach to science characteristic of the US, Canada and other open societies. Ideally, in these societies information used in the policy process would be relevant, technically credible, and politically legitimate. The strength of the book is its clear explanations of how and why failure frequently occurs, and its suggestions of how to do better. From an intellectual point of view, one might assert that how much knowledge is necessary for an informed decision depends on the complexity of the science, the consequences of the decision and societal decisions about how much any of this matters. From a practical point of view things can look quite different. For illustrative purposes I'll focus on one area: research. There's an old saying in the policy community: "He who controls the agenda controls the outcome." It's a bit of an overstatement, but contains much truth. Methodological choices affect outcomes. If research agendas can be controlled, then certain types of information won't be obtained. Sensitive subjects may be downplayed or even kept off the table entirely. Choices of research methodology always require making decisions favoring one set of values relative to another. For example, individuals concerned about the intrinsic value of eagles may well feel that a study of windmills formulated in pure benefit/cost terms overemphasizes monitization at the expense of species and intergenerational equity. A research agenda designed to look only at the effects of individual chemicals will systematically exclude synergistic effects. Bocking provides numerous examples, ranging from valuation of ecosystems to decisions over siting of hazardous facilities in places where minorities live. The fact that outcomes can be influenced by research agendas means that science can be a significant tool for maintaining social power. Bocking explores this theme from many dimensions, one which is the question of whether objectivity is achieved if scientists are required to disclose funding sources (no disclosure is desirable but is not sufficient). Bocking uses a broad range of examples, among them management of natural resources, international environmental disputes including global climate change, and environmental health risks. His focus is not on the science itself, but on how science is developed and used. Extensive references make it easy for the interested reader to learn about the actual science relevant to the cases examined. Nature's Experts provides an excellent introduction to the kinds of questions non-scientists should ask of scientists, and the questions that scientists need to ask themselves when their work touches the policy world. The material should be a part of every environmental science curriculum. This book offers a good way to get it there.
Conventional graduate training related to tropical conservation and development has typically separated the two fields, with students focusing on either conservation from the perspective of the biophysical sciences or development as an extension of the social sciences. On entering the workforce, however graduates find they are required to work beyond disciplinary boundaries to address the complex interconnectivity between biological conservation and human well-being. We devised a framework for graduate education that broadens students' skill sets to learn outside their immediate disciplines and think in terms of linked socioecological systems, work in teams, communicate in nonacademic formats, and reflect critically on their own perspectives and actions. The University of Florida's Tropical Conservation and Development program has adopted a learning and action platform that blends theory, skills, and praxis to create an intellectual, social, and professionally safe space where students, faculty, and other participants can creatively address the complex challenges of tropical conservation and development. This platform operates within a nondegree-granting program and includes core courses that are taught by a team of biophysical and social scientists. It incorporates a range of alternative learning spaces such as student-led workshops, retreats, visiting professionals, practitioner experiences, and a weekly student-led seminar that collectively encourage students and faculty to enhance their skills and systematically and thoroughly reflect on program activities. Challenges to the described approach include increased service demands on faculty, a redefinition of research excellence to include effective and equitable collaboration with host-country partners, and the trade-offs and uncertainties inherent in more collaborative, interdisciplinary research. Despite these challenges, growing interdisciplinary programs, coupled with adaptive educational approaches that emphasize learning and action networks of students, faculty, and field partners, provide the best hope for responding to the emerging challenges of tropical conservation and development.
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