The contemporary challenges arising from global environmental change, such as climate change, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, freshwater scarcity, toxic contamination and energy scarcity, are important issues for scholars from not only the natural and social but also the human sciences. As a result of increasing concerns about global environmental change, over the last decade a new scientific field of research has emerged, the Environmental Humanities (EH). Whereas scholarship on issues of environmental change was formerly dominated by the natural, economic and social sciences — and by technological approaches to problem-solving — this relatively new and rapidly growing field is constituted by the work of scholars from a wide variety of disciplines within the Humanities, including history, literature, philosophy, cultural studies, religion studies, arts, architecture, and linguistics. These scholars are investigating how the human and human agency are to be understood in the age of the Anthropocene –the era in which humans have become a geological force with devastating potential (Croetzen and Stoermer, 2000).
Emergent transdisciplinary fields, such as the environmental humanities and global health, reflect a growing awareness that responses to contemporary environmental dilemmas require the collaborative work of not only diverse scientists, medical practitioners, and engineers, but also more expansive publics, including artists, urban and rural communities, social scientists, and legal fields. Environmental Humanities thus marks an effort to explore and channel the creative synergy that is possible when scholars from the humanities, social sciences, and sciences talk across disciplines about the environment and environmental problems.
Central to our concerns are the unequal access to resources as well as the unequal exposure to risk during a period of widening economic disparity. The readings in this course have been selected to help us discuss questions that span the disciplines and the globe: What does it mean to be human in a time of global environmental change? What should environmental ethics look like? How are political, social, and economic structures—and inequities—intertwined with ecological realities? How has our understanding of the relationship between culture and nature shaped our conservation efforts? How do our concepts of nature and of environmentalism need to change in response to our current situation? Scholars in the environmental humanities ask and seek to answer these questions, and to develop more equitable ecologies.