Reading Rousseau in the Anthropocene

March 17, 2017

Danielle DiNovelli-Lang

I’m a critical environmental anthropologist, which means I make my living by having serious doubts about every term in this aspirational self-description. Writing and teaching under such a sign has always been hard, but it’s gotten even harder lately, for painfully obvious reasons. For example, this semester, for the second time, I am teaching a midlevel course for undergraduates called “Theories of Human Nature.” As with so many anthropology courses at my university, the title is deceptive: instead of theories of human nature, my innocent charges are stuck with a relentless series of stories demonstrating that there is no such thing as human nature and that any effort to appeal to it inevitably entails the denigration of many would-be humans and the degradation of what is left of nature in the name of some dubious onto-political cause or other (see Haraway 2007; Soper 1995). By the end of the semester, I would normally hope my students would have become as suspicious of the word “human” as they are of the word “nature,” and downright outraged to hear them juxtaposed in an argument.

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Why Won’t “Overpopulation” (Finally) Go Away?

April 19, 2016

Robert Fletcher

This post is presented in this week’s series recognizing Earth Day, Friday, April 22.

The age-old specter of “overpopulation,” it seems, is back in vogue among environmentalists once more. “Our population,” writes celebrity biologist E.O. Wilson on the first page of his new book Half-Earth, “is too large for safety and comfort.” Celebrity economist Jeffrey Sachs agrees, arguing in his own new book on sustainable development that “our starting point is our crowded planet.” Meanwhile, in Life on the Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation, an eclectic collection of writers come together to “reignite a robust discussion of population issues among environmentalists, environmental studies scholars, policymakers, and the general public.” At the same time, the Foundation for Deep Ecology has launched a campaign called Global Population Speak Out, supported by a collection of evocative photographs, to explore “connections between the size and growth of the human population and key sustainability issues.” This focus has been reinforced by recent projections that the global population may reach nearly ten billion by 2050, revising previous assertions of an imminent level-off at nine billion or less. Despite decades of debate and concerted efforts to point out the problems in its framing, “overpopulation,” it seems, is squarely back on the environmental agenda yet again.
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