Biodiversity

“Biodiversity” was coined by E. O. Wilson in 1988 to describe all living organisms on the planet (Wilson 1988); it is a condensation of “biological diversity.” It is more commonly used to describe all species other than humans; this creates an unfortunate dichotomy between the voting and nonvoting species! Economic, aesthetic, and health benefits that biodiversity contribute to the human economy are termed “ecosystem services” (Daily et al. 1997; Daily et al. 2000). We are only just beginning to quantify these and are rapidly realizing how dependent the quality of human life and economic well-being is upon biodiversity. Ironically, the current increasing rates of species extinction may provide the sharpest way to quantify human dependence upon biodiversity.

Biodiversity’s greatest strength is its diversity; it includes huge organisms such as whales, and giant redwoods that live for centuries. At the opposite end of the spectrum are …

Culture

The popular understanding of culture in mid-twentieth-century America and Europe was arguably the symphony orchestra, the ballet, the art museum, and a “national” white, elite etiquette dictating, and explaining, how people should behave. Since the mid-1960s, we have witnessed the production and recognition of a proliferation of “cultures” and “multiculturalisms” within popular culture and informal political and economic institutions. Current usage is replete with compound cultures: counterculture; pop culture; office culture; indigenous culture; urban culture; peasant culture; global culture; “mainstream” culture; and “other-cultures.”

The biological and agricultural roots of the word have also expanded, as illustrated by frequent references to “lab culture” (a living bacterial or fungal assemblage produced by humans in a laboratory); and living “micro-cultures” purposely fostered in yogurt, sourdough, tofu, and other living foods. The latter sense of the word is by no means irrelevant to the prior “social” sense; they are all about the terms of …

Education

The twenty-first-century planetary challenge orbits around three integrated Earth system trends—species extinction and threats to biodiversity, rapidly changing biospheric circulations, and altered biogeochemical cycles. These patterns are the template for the proliferation of natural resource extraction, accelerating consumer demand, and the challenges of global wealth distribution. Meanwhile, the extraordinary synergistic advances of global communications networks, computerization, miniaturization, and instrumentation provide humanity with the daunting prospect of simultaneously exacerbating these challenges while offering the means to solve them.

Since the late 1960s, and to some extent before then, environmental education has taken on this challenge, assuming that by expanding awareness of ecological relationships, natural history, and the human impact on natural systems, it would better equip people to perceive, understand, and manage these issues. Implicit in this assumption is the sense of grandeur and wonder that accompanies this awareness. With greater appreciation of the magnificence of the biosphere, people would be …

Environment

The first decade of the twenty-first century has been marked by several environmental disasters and debates about global climate change, which have compelled academics, policy makers, and grassroots organizations to reexamine the relationship between environment and development. But what exactly do these varied stakeholders mean when they use the term “environment”? For students and specialists alike, “environment” carries as much of a “complex and contradictory symbolic load” as “nature” (Soper 1995, 2). An overview of the etymology of “environment” brings some clarity and is a useful place to start if we are to understand the contrary ideologies and symbolic load the term carries.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) traces “environment” to the word “environs,” from Middle French. Ironically, in contrast to twentieth- and twenty-first-century perceptions of environment as wide open natural spaces, early moderns understood “environment” as a noun—“the state of being encompassed or surrounded”—or a …

Place

Our understanding of the environment is first and foremost informed by our experience of place—the geographic location where we live, work, and interact with nature and people. Our identity, culture, history, and politics are bound up in a sense of place. Though intuitively place may seem inherently conservative, a reading of place as a site of progressive politics allows us to understand more concretely how environment is linked to culture through relations of power, agency, and responsibility to human and nonhuman environments (Harcourt and Escobar 2005).

My reading of place follows Doreen Massey’s definition of place as inevitably inflected by the global (Massey 2002, 2004). Understanding place as “a meeting-place” enables us to theorize place as within networks of relations and forms of power that stretch beyond specific places. I explore place with reference to my own engagement in place as a feminist political ecologist (…

Queer Ecology

The term “queer ecology” refers to a loose, interdisciplinary constellation of practices that aim, in different ways, to disrupt prevailing heterosexist discursive and institutional articulations of sexuality and nature, and also to reimagine evolutionary processes, ecological interactions, and environmental politics in light of queer theory. Drawing from traditions as diverse as evolutionary biology, LGBTTIQQ2SA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, intersex, queer, questioning, two-spirited, and allies) movements, and queer geography and history, feminist science studies, ecofeminism, and environmental justice, queer ecology currently highlights the complexity of contemporary biopolitics, draws important connections between the material and cultural dimensions of environmental issues, and insists on an articulatory practice in which sex and nature are understood in light of multiple trajectories of power and matter.

In The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault lays the groundwork for much contemporary queer ecological scholarship in his observation that, beginning in the nineteenth century, modern regimes of …

Religion

Religions can be understood in their largest sense as a means whereby humans, recognizing the limitations of phenomenal reality, undertake specific practices to effect self-transformation and community cohesion within cosmological and natural contexts. Religions refer to those cosmological stories, symbol systems, ritual practices, ethical norms, historical processes, and institutional structures that transmit a view of the human as embedded in a world of meaning and responsibility, transformation and celebration. Religions connect humans with a divine presence or numinous force. They bond human communities, and they assist in forging intimate relations with the broader Earth community. In summary, religions link humans to the larger cultural, biological, and material matrices of life.

Most definitions of religion are based on concepts from Western Abrahamic religions of God and salvation. These concepts are presented as universal, but generally do not take into account the varied kinds of religious sensibilities in the world religions, especially …

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