Case Study Analysis: The Culture Basis for Our Environmental Crisis

As we close the sixth week of the Chesapeake semester and enter the seventh in which we will embark on our second journey, I find it necessary to reflect on what we learned and experienced on our first journey. As we travelled from Jamestown due North all the way to Baltimore the wonders of human ingenuity seemed to be endless in complexity and efficiency. From the humble beginnings of the new world we gathered that technological innovation was a major force behind human development and expansion. However, I could not help but consider the consequences of the resource exploitation and habitat destruction that occurred as a byproduct of said growth. Further, I needed to know how such an aggressive attitude towards nature became a social norm. So, I looked back on one of the first readings assigned to us by Professor McCabe entitled The Culture Basis for the Environmental Crisis by Lewis W. Moncrief. In this essay I learned of the contributing factors that led to the current environmental condition, so I saw fit that it would be my first Case Study Analysis stalking assignment of the semester.

In Lewis Moncrief’s writing on the how cultural influences of the past have led to a present environmental crisis, he explores how the complex relationship between mankind and the natural world has been shaped through religious traditions, manifest destiny, industrialization, technological innovation, increasing individual wealth, and democracy. In his essay, Moncrief elaborates on the causes of the overall exploitative attitude humans have toward the vulnerable bounty of the Earth, and how the wonders of nature have slowly but surely gone from being valued intrinsically to being commodified and valued instrumentally. The purpose of this case analysis is to find the reality of the issues Moncrief presents, to give an understanding of the facts that solidify his argument, and to explore possible solutions.

One of many reasons for the environmental crisis is Judeo Christian tradition which states that man is superior to all other creations and that the world was created for his use and enjoyment. This long-standing belief in superiority is the benefactor of manifest destiny, the notion that land and resources are there for the taking because you are alive in the present and death is eminent. Spiritual determinism is similar in the fact that it is focused on the recognition of God and of the world God has given to mankind. Although religion has without a doubt played a huge role in contributing to the environmental crisis, it is not the sole contributor. The beginnings of widespread democratization and increasing individual wealth started with the French Revolution and a Revolution in England between the 18th and 19th centuries.

The French revolution that happened between 1789-1799, consisted of a redistribution of labor and resources to enhance the production process. This made wealth much more accessible and a consumer culture began to rise from the amount of disposable income at the hands of the individual. Similarly in the English revolution that was going on the last half of the 18th Century, production was increased through industrialization and on a commercial scale. From the democratic and technological advancements, wealth became more evenly distributed and workers were needed in factories. This demand for labor brought folks from the country to the city, and widespread urbanization began to take place with the industrial revolution in full swing.

With an increasingly large portion of the human population becoming more affluent, the demand for goods and services went up, which called for a larger supply of goods and services. This led to larger production industries that over time became more efficient but still remained harmful to the environment. With increasing population, production, industrialization and urbanization, the disposal of waste in became a serious problem and the environment paid the ultimate price.

Much of this exploitation and commercialization in America can be attributed to Thomas Jefferson for making private ownership of land and resources possible for citizens. This principle was necessary for the founding of the nation to be successful but with the immense modern population the notion is overwhelming and dangerous. Private ownership was slow to come in Europe, where the Roman Catholic Church bestowed property and resources to vassals who pledged loyalty to sovereign authorities. This democracy in ownership in North America is characterized not by a lords and nobles who own land but by millions of owners of natural resources to use and abuse at their convenience. That being said, although owners can abuse their right to own property and resources, in many respects it makes the owner value their property more so than if the land or resource belonged to no one at all. Case in point, the tragedy of the commons. If the commons of a grassland for grazing sheep are open to everyone, there is no regulating or stopping anyone from bringing more and more sheep until the commons are exhausted, there is no grass left, and tragically the sheep die out. If there is private ownership however, this tragedy can be avoided if the owner is considerate of the longevity of their land and resources.

Through Moncrief’s essay I was able to gather insight on my questions about the consequences of innovation and exploitation. I found that it is important to recognize that advancements of technology, that have made many people very wealthy but have been so destructive, are merely a means to an end and not an end in itself. That is, to appreciate and value technology is something completely different than viewing it as a savior from our selves because man-made destruction cannot be remedied through more man-made influences. With all the factors contributing to the environmental crisis snowballing downhill, I am unsure whether the breaking point will lead us to our demise, or enable us to rise from the ashes. I intend to gain a more full understanding of our current situation when we attend the Chesapeake Watershed Alliance Conference in West Virginia, to take the knowledge I gain and move forward to develop a sense of where we stand and how to progressively move forward to a brighter tomorrow.

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