Hi everyone! I am a graduating senior from the CNRE’s Natural Resources Conservation and Recreation Management program. I’m looking forward to continuing my journey as a Hokie this fall as a graduate student in the Science, Technology, and Society program. My research interests largely fall in line with the premises of this course, and I hope to explore environmental issues at their nexus with sociopolitics, particularly within the context of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I am originally from Oceanside, New York (Go Islanders!), but have found my true home right here in the NRV. Outside of classes, you can usually find me sipping on green tea,watching Avatar: The Last Airbender with my dogs, Atlas (a boxer mix) and Molly (a beagle mix), or playing guitar on my porch.
Kel Drake: I am a junior, majoring in Environmental Policy and Planning and minoring in Spanish; I am also the Treasurer of SPIA Student Society, the undergraduate student society for students majoring in EPP or SSC. I am interested in global sustainability and development and the sociological perspective of climate change adaptation. I am originally from Ft. Lauderdale, FL; however, my current home is in Wilmington, NC. My interest in global sustainability and development was sparked by my time in the U.S. Navy and my own personal travel, including to El Salvador, Honduras, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and more. I am unsure of what my future holds but I aim to continue my research into sociological adaptation to climate change and continue traveling.
Evan Lautato: Hey! I am a graduating senior and double majoring in Political Science with a focus in legal studies and History. I plan on going to law school in Manhattan, hoping for St. John’s Law School. I am also from Long Island, New York, but grew up spending a lot of time in the city so I love the Rangers. I spend my free time with friends and producing music. I can play 10 different instruments and have been playing since I was 4. I am also super interested in sports and hope to make a career as a contact lawyer for a New York sports team. This class had me have a new understanding of environmental politics and legislation and could also see myself entering the environmental law field within the government to help continue the United States environmental plan through the Paris Climate Change agreement.
Luke, Chapter 15: “Reflections from a Damaged Planet: Adorno as Accompaniment to Environmentalism in the Anthropocene”
Luke’s final chapter criticizes the mindset of mitigation over minimization. As a refresher: minimization is a proactive approach to do as little damage as possible to whatever component of “the environment” may be harmed by the proposed activities. Mitigation, however, is a reactive approach to solving problems. The proposed activities include all the potential harm to the environment, but the solutions come after the damage has already been done. While minimizing harm is the ideal way to protect and preserve the environment, it can cut deeply into the profit margins of those seeking to extract natural resources in a destructive manner. Oftentimes, minimization requires extra research and development, as well as extensive engineering to create a more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative, or it completely rules out the activity altogether. For example, the process of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, is detrimental to the environment at every step of the process. It tears up the landscape, injects chemicals into the ground, uses millions of gallons of water, contaminates drinking water, and poses a significant risk of oil spills, natural gas leaks (mostly methane), and even explosions. Finding a way to extract gas without the laundry list of negative impacts is nearly impossible, and the development of such technologies would be extremely expensive. For extraction corporations, shifting towards renewable energy is simply not an option. Rather than attempt to invest in the future wellbeing of the planet, corporations rely on mitigation because it saves them money in development costs and makes them more money because they can extract as much as possible while doing as much harm as necessary to line their pockets. It is cheaper to invest in carbon offsets and habitat restoration once the damage has already been done than it is to prevent the damage altogether.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, mitigation efforts are often far less effective than preventative measures, and we are left to bear the brunt of the environmental consequences from the activities of just a few large corporations. All the while, those same corporations sponsor initiatives that promote personal sustainability (like using a reusable straw in your Dunkin iced coffee) and shame typical household waste when they are the ones responsible for the overwhelming majority of the damage. It is easier for them to blame everyone else than to hold themselves accountable for the destruction they leave in their wake. One article from The Guardian (written in 2010, but still relevant) claims that the top 3,000 corporations would have to pay a third of their profit margins just to compensate for the 2.2 trillion dollars in environmental damage, largely comprised of greenhouse gas emissions.
Understanding a planetary view of the environment means taking into account these types of interrelationships: corporations, the natural environment, the built environment, and the average people. Luke’s critique lies in the fact that mitigation is driven by capitalism and profit margins, not the long term wellbeing of the planet. Mitigation gives capitalists an excuse to exploit the landscape as much as they want to as long as they can greenwash themselves enough to make it seem like they really care about the harm they are directly causing-all while our tax dollars end up being spent to remedy their destruction. Mitigation will never be enough to heal the damage that has already been done, nor will it prevent future damage from being done. Minimization is the only true answer to the gordian knot of sustainability, yet corporations would rather slice through it like Alexander the Great and his sword with mitigation to save themselves some time and money in the short term. If they continue on this path, there will be nothing left to save.
Stubberfield, “Chapter 5: The Greater Sage-grouse in the Global Environment: An Evaluation of the Wyoming Conservation Exchange”
Congruently, Chapter 5 of Stubberfield’s paper explores these dynamics in a particular case study on the Sage-grouse of Wyoming. While the case study is local, it holds global implications; he argues that the Environmental Defense Fund’s efforts to promote the conservation of the greater sage-grouse habitat has been perverted, both within the foundation and outside, and does more harm than good. As lackeys to the capitalistic entities that caused the sage-grouse to become endangered in the first place, EDFs idea of conservation allows for purchase of “habitat mitigation credits” and essentially gives these entities license to destroy the natural habitat of the sage-grouse and, in compensation, construct new suitable habitat. It is important to note that the habitat in which the greater sage-grouse resides, sagebrush, can take up to 50 years to grow properly and the species has no way of knowing that their current residence is subject to industrial development and if there is a suitable replacement habitat.
These credits invariably tie conservation efforts to the offending industrial capitalism in a way that has global implications and inherently counterproductive. The commodification of these environments in the name of conservation effectively commodifies the subject of these conservation efforts. The global implications of this method of conservation sets a dangerous precedent and allows for industrial capitalists to insert themselves into conservation, mitigation, and adaptation efforts without actually contributing to these efforts. Industrial capitalists, driven by profit, will provide little to nothing to true environmentalist movements and agendas; therefore, EDF functioning as a lackey to such capitalistic agendas does little to help the conservation of the Greater sage-grouse and acting as a sellout to industry does more harm than good. As Luke addressed in the previous reading, mitigation efforts are inherently less effective than prevention efforts; therefore, it follows, that these efforts are not only counterproductive, but ignore the most effective option of conservation.
Stubberfield’s dissertation examines how conservation infrastructure can be used by the government to instrumentalize all kinds of production within a region such as commodities, space, subjectivities, and indirectly the production of species. It explores the production of eco-systems and how they meet the economic interests of the governing body with no regards to the environment, while also taking full control of the production of plants and animals within the region. It discusses how the sage-grouse in Wyoming shows how environmental liberalism through its instrumentalization by local, state, and federal conservation creates a fixed market for the production of the habitat. How it is guided by strategies of governance. How the government can drastically alter the environment without the approval of people (and non-humans) within the community for profit while claiming to be conservation efforts, are actually just economic efforts with no care for the environmental implications of their actions. Stubberfield argues that the production of habitat mitigation credits, “displays the power of capital to change and expand within a landscape through economic incentives by linking industrial capital to the production of territory and representations of habitat grounded in technoscientific construction, and management of milieux” (Stubberfield p.179). Environmental governance gives those with the most money and power to completely alter an environmental landscape with no repercussions under the guise of a nonprofit organization. Through geo-engineering the government has allowed for resource extraction enterprises to completely alter the Wyoming sage-grouse, for economic gains and economic gains only.