What is Environmentality?

An environmentality is a strategy of environmental governance, but government is not the only contributor to environmentality. Corporations, communities, political and social movements, and more can show an environmentality. An environmentality positive or negative. An example of a negative environmentality is oil companies hiding the truth about recycling plastics. In the 1970s, people were becoming concerned about plastic pollution. Big oil companies like Exxon and BP started recycling campaigns in order to keep selling plastics. It is easier and cheaper to make new plastics out of oil rather than recycled plastics, so selling plastics keeps oil companies in business. These companies have known for years that most plastics cannot be recycled and that plastics are ending up in the ocean or in landfills. This misinformation campaign led to environmental ramifications while people don’t feel bad about buying plastic because they think it is being recycled. These companies are utilizing a governing strategy in relation to the environment in a negative way. You can listen to the full story here. 

So, does environmentality really begin with you?

Luke: The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change & Society: “Environmentality”

Environmentality is used by Luke to understand the reasons for climate change and GHG, but also applies to governmentality. The relation between these two concepts is how the sustainable use of government can be utilized with these focuses from environmentality. As Foucault explains governmentality, the population that the government rules is aware of what it wants and needs but is ignorant to what is done by the government (2). With the concept of environmentality being applied to this governmentality, the power switches over to what needs to be done and how it can be accomplished. Luke addresses the “social adaptations” to climate issues and the environmental effects to governance (3). Environmentality can be expressed in policies and laws created such as the Clean Air Act. This act enforces air emissions by applying research of pollutants and how they affect the governing body and population. This is one of the many forms of environmentality in action, many others are research that affect us, as humans, everyday. Luke uses this concept to point out the “figure” of the user and results each user has on Earth, but also how “green experts” solve and manage the needs of the users by taking a greener approach (3). Environmentalities are strategies of management through the environment. 

In a broader aspect, environmentally faces a main challenge of climate change. Climate change is a challenge for governments, so governments need to recognize climate change with environmentalities. Branching off from this, greenhouse gases, pollutants, and other environmental effects on society are what environmentality addresses. Climate models are an ongoing form of change created by technology that can be used in many other fields such as chemistry, biology, ecosystems, and more (4). A quote by Foucault helps understand the use of climate models and how they are useful in environmentality: “one can see the formations of power/knowledge ‘which shows how man in his being, can be concerned with the things he knows, and know the things that, in positivity, determine his mode of being’ (Foucault 1994: 354).” Analyzing this quote further, the power man has from knowledge is what brings conclusion to the matter. Therefore, with environmentality operations, man is driven to the knowledge and understanding by what is known, which therefore determines how a situation will be addressed. These forms of climate models and knowledge create power. 

Breaking this down analytically, data and models are used within environmentalities. This concept is used in climate conferences and meetings to break down what is known and how it can be addressed. Another quote explains the reason for environmentality in operation: “environmentality seeks to reconfigure the endemic form.” This “endemic form” is the pollution caused that is affecting everyday life. Society is being underwritten by fossil fuels and the products derived from fossil fuels. Drinking from a reusable plastic water bottle or wearing clothes made out of nylon or polyester just further fuels the oil industry. Our everyday lives are filled with fossil fuels because they are native to social and political organization. When environmentality is used in concept, the broader reasoning is to solve this “endemic” that we and corporations have created (5). This is a counter-environmentality to corporate fossil fuel environmentality. We as analysts can identify environmentality by statistics from ecological footprints based on consumption of goods and services (7). As climate change branches off into more specific environmental factors, analysts choose an area to focus on and use these technological advances to their advantage. Informational and technical advances further inform the management of “the environment,” running from local to global scales. 

The environmentality operations are made up of complex systems that analysts layout to create a step by step approach to the environmental factor being proposed. We want to be able to identify these to better understand the complex systems the environment makes up but also relating to the government and everyday needs. This concept teaches how the government can be selfish but incorporates environmental ideas to better the earth and humans, but Luke argues that “bettering” is incidental to increasing power through environmental construction. It questions today’s infrastructure and applies how climate change plays a role in life. It also uses ‘sustainable development’ which will continue to be used in the years to come (12). Sustainable development is used to trick people into thinking that the fossil fuel industry is “sustainable.” This is seen in the recycling of plastic where as fossil fuel companies have tricked people into believing that recycling is helping make our world more “ecofriendly” or “sustainable.”

Discourses of the Environment by Darrier

Chapter 5: Ecological Modernization and Environmental Risk

         Chapter 5, Ecological Modernization and Environmental Risk of “Discourses of the Environment by Darier,” has the primary goal, as stated by Rutherford, “to understand the connection between ecological problems and the broader processes of societal modernization and the ways in which the social relations with nature are influenced by the link between power and knowledge in modern society” (95). Rutherford further explains his systems of environment by stating, “Given that systems can respond only in accordance with their own particular structures or codes, ecological risks can be perceived by society only as exclusively internal phenomena. Physical and biological ‘objective facts’ have no social effect (resonance) unless they are the subject of communication.” (Rutherford 108).  

This chapter of the book focuses on contemporary social relations to nature. Historically, there has been a dramatic increase in labor and society taking more control over the environment. For example, Foucalt had a description of biopower or anatomo-politics of the human body, which states that power begins to emerge as the human body being the center of governmental concern.  “Modernity, in other words, is characterized by the regulative capacity to ‘intervene like total institutions in the life context of every single individual in order to make him a conforming member of society through discipline and control, manipulation and drilling” (98). As industrialization and manufacturing boomed, the idea of the environment was not taken into consideration, and for years people had no care for protecting our source of life. Philosophers and scholars all over the world argued for either the environment or industrialization. There is evidence of people being worried about the environmental impacts of industrialization, such as the smog in London in the 1890s and how it made the aesthetics of London worse. However, this smog was then sold to nature lovers as making sunsets more beautiful.

  Industrialization continued, and eventually led to modernization, which has to do with the introduction of large-scale technologies. This led to the displacement of local economies and their incorporation into “national economies.”  In the 1960s-1980s, the American public started to notice that their economic activity was negatively impacting the environment. This ranged from wildlife and water quality, to the quality of human life. This realization caused new sciences to be incorporated with governing economies related to the health of human and non-human populations. There were then specific regulatory practices that introduced ecological modernization which means that non-human populations are seen as objects of governance, or as things that can be controlled through the new science of ecology. Moreover, ecological modernization is about the use of ecology to guide the production of a new social space. This space includes non-human, who are now subject to this new realization. “These ‘institutional transformations’ are seen as resulting in significant changes both in investment patterns and production techniques (particularly in manufacturing and energy production) and in the relationship between the state, industrial interests and environmental groups” (109). 

Overall, with an increase in wanting to make changes regarding society and the environment, the l980s allowed for this combination to take place and there has been much more regulation through “the environment.” Because of modernity and its dependence on relational-instrumental reason, and scientific knowledge, there can be a self-destructive social relation to “Nature” as it is incorporated into industrial social organization. Industrial social organization is reliant on extracting materials to continue the circulation of commodities through its social environments and these environments are underwritten by a continued extraction of “the natural.” This means that we live in hybrid worlds composed of “the Natural” and “the Social” through environmentality as a governing strategy concerned with how human and non-human populations relate to one another. It is, in principle, possible then that a system dependent on depleting “Nature” because it holds it distinct from “Society” is eroding its own foundation and may self-destruct if it continues its extractive practices because “the social” rests on the bedrock of “the natural.” Therefore, we cannot hold “the Natural” as a distinct sphere from “the Social” as they are unified in the governing locus of environmentality in operation.

Luke – “Searching for Alternatives: Postmodern Populism and Ecology”

In chapter 6, Luke starts by discussing the Populist Movement of the 1890s. There was a radical transition in the US from buying from small-town, local tradespeople to buying mass manufactured goods. The Second Industrial Revolution caused growth in the supply of goods because of mass marketing and mass production through Fordism. This caused small businesses to go out of commission and those workers would have to work for the monopolies that were mass producing. This shift caused American workers to revolt against the new system. Taylorism and Fordism colonized the American work week which prior to these ideas, people worked four days a week and relaxed the other three. However, instead of control over work rules and company time, and with monopolies taking over the artisan – small-town workers – people were losing their freedom to independently produce. Mass marketing and producing was displacing local economies. “The artisan economy was not perfect, but in many ways it was more humane, democratic, and accessible than the corporate order for maximizing choice and productivity” (Luke 119). Ecological modernization refers to our role in the environment as we modernize. We must make sure our new forms of practice, and how we take from the earth, does not devastate our environment. Luke believes that this can be done by passing legislation, as well as generating more social awareness when it comes to our impact individually on the environment. 

The populist movement began, the wealth gap started to increase, and work conditions started to change. As a result of the growth of manufacturing, we are now a consumer-driven country, but we cannot all consume the same amount as those living in the Los Angeles suburbs. Luke says that if everyone in China consumed the same as Los Angeles suburban people did, “the world would choke on smog” (121). If everyone lived lavishly, basically, our planet would die. Since this is the case, there will always be inequality or else everyone must lower their standards of living and live more modestly, but it is not likely for this to happen. Consumer capitalism has been extremely destructive to the environment as well as the working class. 

This section of the book reminded me of the movie Parasite in that in capitalistic and manufacturer driven countries, the poor stay poor, and the rich get richer. The rich are the real parasites in the movie, just as in this section of the book, corporations are parasites. This scene encapsulates the drastic inequalities the characters in the movie face, and we even got a meme of the scene. The rich people are planning a lavish party for their son while the poor just had their house flooded with sewage water and are living in a gymnasium. The rich are not doing any of their own work for the party and are making the impoverished, sewage covered people do the work.

Postmodern populism is more about how Americans can do better than we have been for at least a hundred years…you know… “Make America Great Again.”

Postmodern populism has changed a bit from the original populist movement, as the idea is now connected to industrial democracy, which Luke says is a myth, and keeping the myth of industrial democracy alive would result in the ransacking of the biosphere (Luke 131). Luke describes populism in the 1880s-1930s as, “a wide range of people still directly tied to their land and their craft. Individual producership tied families and communities to the environment in ways unlike those in today’s welfare state economies” (120). The populist dream is basically impossible because everything, including nature, is a megamachine. This would make it seem that Trump’s supporters are somewhat in favor of populism while Trump himself is not really a populist according to Luke’s definition. 

While populists today may be caught in the system, they still have the same roots as the populists in the 1890s. Postmodern populism was born from industrialism, but it is not necessarily for industrialism. “As in the 1890s, postmodern populists in the 1990s are about finding alternatives to serve more people more fairly and more locally” (Luke 134). Both postmodern and 1890s populism have the idea to give power back to workers, with 1890s populism being more focused on independent producership and postmodern populist focused on “undoing” the society of bureaucratically controlled consumption. President Trump and his supporters have claimed that they are the working people of America who are against large corporations controlling their lives, but Trump gave tax breaks to corporations. Even so, many of his supporters really are working people who do want to be treated fairly and give power to local economies. Trump really did win votes from American workers. The 1890s idea of independent producership could help protect biodiversity, but they must be ecologically informed, as ecologically informed independent producers can undo the last century of consumerism problems we face today. 

Luke also discusses the issues with federalism. When thinking about federalism, it is common to think about Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, James Madison, and the Federalist Papers. However, federalism in the 1890s, during the populist movement, was far different than what had been imagined by the authors of the Federalist Papers. Federalism in the 1890s was working with and against corporate capitalism to construct an industrial democracy that Americanizes immigrants, disciplines workers to accept the commercialization of products, and uses political disempowerment. Moreover, federalism since the 1970s has made it so we local economies are not really local economies but are actually producing for the global economy. This is an issue because the GDP and the GNP that we seem to pay a great deal of attention to only increase the power of mass consumption.  Luke suggests that we move away from conversations about society and focus on community. In Luke’s eyes, it should be so that our local economies drive our communities rather than the global economy driving our society.

So, what else can be done? Well, basically, we need to combine urban and rural communities into “rurban” communities and ecoethnics should emerge in populist communities. Rurbanism is the idea that we bring the art, commerce, society, and letters from “urban” places, into balance with  the craft, culture, customs, and community from “rural” places (Luke 138). Ecotechnics is important to the populist movement because it has the ability to take power away from corporations by using simple, easy to use, easy to fix technology. Luke states, “ecoethnics would produce goods to satisfy needs on a materially comfortable level – habitat-centered shelters, biome-based nutrition, environmentally suitable apparel, renewable resource use and durable artifacts” (137). It is also important that labor is centered around utility, quality, and management is democratic. Rurbanized living and ecoethnics would create a world where workers have fair and humane working conditions, and also a world were ecosystems and the biosphere are protected. 

Helen Salko:

  • I’m a Sophomore majoring in Water: Resources, Policy, and Management and minoring in Green Engineering and Cinema. Water Quality is my main interest in how it relates to society and water access in communities. Currently I am working as an Undergraduate CEE Research Lab Assistant for a PhD student in Mark Edward’s Lab at Virginia Tech. In the future I see myself working globally and locally to insure safe drinking water in areas affected by water contamination. 

Bailey Atkinson

  • I am a Sophomore triple majoring in: Humanities For Public Service, Political Science, and Religion and Culture. After graduation I plan on working for Child Protective Service for a few years prior to law school. I hope to work and attend a law school in California because of the wide selection of law schools. My biggest goal in life is to help other people, and with that being said my field of interest will be either environmental law or Family law.

Noor Hunt:

-I am a Sophomore double majoring in: Political Science and Religion and Culture. During my time in undergrad I plan to study abroad. After undergrad I plan to go to law school. After law school, I would like to practice law for a bit and then either become a judge or move into politics. 

Sydney Schake:

  • I am a Junior majoring in Environmental Science and minoring in Environmental Policy and Planning. After I graduate, I plan on moving to some place far away, such as South Korea, New Zealand, or Australia and do research in environmental science. After that, I plan on going to Law School back in the US and then focus on fighting environmental injustice and environmental racism.