Innovation or Retreatism: What should students in environmental studies be learning? (part 1)

Back in July I wrote a piece called Shorter Showers or Pipeline Protests? The Personal Paradox in Teaching Environmental Studies. I was reminded of this post recently during a class discussion when a student expressed frustration with the fact that all of her environmental studies courses critique capitalism yet fail to offer alternatives. More frustrating, my student added, is the failure of her environmental studies professors to acknowledge the fact that she and her peers will graduate and have no choice but to find a way to make a living–and perhaps more importantly, find a way to make life meaningful–within a capitalist system that they’ve been taught to view as the source of the problem.

In Shorter Showers or Pipeline Protests? I explained how a political economy perspective focuses on embedded power relationships, and how this this perspective points to structure over agency as the cause of, and therefore also the solution to, environmental problems. My main point in that post was to argue that an emphasis on structural relations, which can seem impenetrable and even untouchable from the perspective of an individual, does our students a disservice unless we also provide answers to the question of how such powerful structures can be changed. (more…)