Reply To: Joachim Radkau – The Era of Ecology

Author Replies # Posted on November 17, 2014 at 17:30

Today Joachim Radkau shared some pretty interesting insights from his book “The Age of Ecology”. I thought it was quite interesting that he had the thesis that environmentalism is best understood as a new enlightenment. I was very intrigued by what exactly he meant by that. My understanding of the age of enlightenment, or the age of reason is that it was a celebration of scientific methods, a more opinionated and educated public, and calls for social reform towards a more egalitarian and utopian society that did not sacrifice individualism. These are all causes taken up by factions of those aligned with the environmental movement. Environmentalism is also less like a social movement as it is not tied to fixed ideas, instead inherent tensions are essential for environmentalism, a condition for the movement to remain in motion. I think Radkau used the phrase “a green chameleon like character adapting to the jungle of environmental problems”.
Radkau also made the point that early environmentalism was very much in an outburst of panic, and that the age of ecology is best understood as the age of fear. Like the enlightenment, environmentalism needs proceeding darkness against which to illuminate.
I find this a fascinating parallel to draw because environmentalism as Joachim Radkau perceives it is so young in comparison with the enlightenment which last some 150 years. What lessons can we learn from the French and American Revolutions that apply to the environmental movement? How can the altruistic and righteous ideals of the environmental movement manifest themselves in violence? How are people being mislead and acting on misinformation because of an unquestioned allegiance to the movement? Can we predict the future direction of environmentalism? How to factor in changes in colonialism and neo-liberalism since the 17th and 18th centuries to our modern world?
In addition, if this is the Age of Ecology, how do we define ecology? I regret that I did not get a chance to read this book as of yet, and I perceive that it will be interesting. Ecology is the study of interactions among organisms and their environment (Wikipedia), but how do we use this term? Arguably, many of us are more interested in the social constructions relating to environment than with the topics of concern to a more traditional ecologist… I wonder very much how fast and loose I can be when using the term ecology. Perhaps a more encompassing word is environment, so should Radkau instead have called his book the Age of Environment? Or is the term ecology undergoing an expansion in relevance and usage?
One last final add on, for those of you who attended the afternoon lecture, what did you think about the question concerning how Radkau uses time in a uni-dimensional rather than a multi-dimensional fashion?