April 20, 2022
Drew Hubbell, associate professor of English at Susquehanna, recently published the textbook Introduction to the Environmental Humanities, an emerging interdisciplinary field that employs the methods and theories of the humanities to address the environmental problems our civilization faces.
From global warming to energy crises, these problems, Hubbell said, are at their root cultural and connected to how individuals “imagine the good life.”
“In the West that means we’re all wanting a big house with a picket fence, a pool, several cars, 2.5 children, a dog, a cat and cheap, plentiful energy to run it all,” said Hubbell, who leads Susquehanna’s environmental studies program. “Then we make choices, individually and as a society, to create the systems that will give us the good life we imagine.”
Different humanities disciplines have studied environmental issues for quite some time — since the 19th century for history and philosophy, and since the mid-20th century for literature, religion, arts, music, theater, film. Introduction to the Environmental Humanities provides an overview of this evolution.
“As scientists began to realize that environmental problems were not going to be solved simply by publishing more data on the problems, they recognized that the actual source of the problems was not in the environment, but in society,” Hubbell said. “We need the arts and humanities to give us a better vision of the good life than the one we’ve been sold by fossilized interests, and to help us understand why our current imagination of the good life is dependent on others living an impoverished life.”
The text also includes more recent debates over climate change, sustainability, energy policy and habitat degradation while introducing students to seminal writings, artworks, campaigns, and movements that demystify important terms such as environmental justice, nature, ecosystem, ecology and more. Emerging theoretical areas such as critical animal and plant studies, gender and queer studies, Indigenous studies and energy studies are also presented.
“An ecosystem does not degrade because it’s a faulty ecosystem; it degrades because humans make choices based on a faulty value system,” Hubbell said. “Students can use the environmental and cultural literacy they gain through this text to make changes wherever they are — on their campus, local community or their careers. Some may even devote themselves to transforming this civilization at the right scale to address global warming, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, extinction and the self-interested groups that continue to resist sensible change.”