Open the Door: Environmental Philosophy

I just finished this week’s journal entry for philosophy day’s last class, Environmental Philosophy. Env Phil is an interesting mix of people, both of interests (biology, environmental studies, undetermined, and political science, as I’m the only anthro major) and age (first years through seniors). Each week, the class follows a specific routine: Tuesdays feature a student presentation on some hot button issue, followed by lecture or discussion on weekend readings, and Thursdays are always discussions of readings and a followup on Tuesday’s discussion. Field trips intersperse among discussion weeks – our next trip is next week (to the Luther Gardens)!

While we’ve covered a lot of ground, from industrial globalization (Vandana Shiva) to energy (tour of Luther energy sources) to food choices (Peter Singer, tour of dairy) to the Precautionary Principle, class is now finishing a selection of essays from Aldo Leopold. This week’s presentation focused on off-shore oil drilling. Semester-long projects to change something on campus wrapped up as students, my group included, presented on our results. Wilderness as a legal designation and wilderness on campus took up the rest of the week. As a guide for canoe trips into state and federally owned forests and landscapes, I am invested in maintaining and “preserving” wilderness areas, but unbeknownst to me, the areas where I guide are not “de jure” wilderness. Leopold advocated for less of a preservation ethic and more of a sustainable-use ethic, so our culture believes that at least 1 million acres (50% of which are in Alaska) should be absolutely untouched after the year that land was legislated as wilderness, regardless of the level of human action before that legal label.

In contrast to S&CC, where we focus on one book at a time, Env Phil dabbles in several books over the course of the semester. This week we dipped back into James Farrell’s The Nature of College, in which a St. Olaf College professor envisions and critiques college culture as a microcosm of American mainstream society. Keeping in the theme of wilderness, this week’s chapter analyzed wild parties, defined as social gatherings that encourage alcoholic and drug imbibing, “spontaneous” actions, (hopefully unsuccessful) hookups, and mangling of building/house furniture, decorations, and each other. Farrell (patronizingly) postulated that students, and by reflection, adults, want to escape from meaningless lives by pursuing fun at all costs (physical, emotional, social, externalized, etc). Though I am an American college student coming from a similar college, I have never seen anything like that outside from media. Luther has a different party culture, but the red flags Farrell saw underlying partying are applicable to my peers’ experiences as well. In binge drinking, a common college concern, partakers exhibit a level of regard for their bodies and their environment that concerned Farrell. Referencing Thoreau and “flow” psychologists, Farrell advocated for reveling in fun that might happen in any activity, regardless of whether that activity ostensibly is work or leisure.

My weekend plans include wilderness (bouldering, slacklining, frisbeeing, and kite flying at Decorah’s Pulpit Rock with friends). Do yours?


About landje03

A passionate outdoor educator, I hold a degree in anthropology. While not a salaried academic, I pursue various thoughts stemming from my experiences and their intersections with others' experiences. I also love to start conversations, so comment if anything tickles your fancy.
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2 Responses to Open the Door: Environmental Philosophy

  1. Pingback: Open the Door: Ropes Certification | Nouns, Stories, and Relationships

  2. Pingback: The Wilderness of Thought | Nouns, Stories, and Relationships

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