What Have the Humanities Done for the Environment Lately?
For decades we have heard about two seemingly unrelated crises: the global ecological crisis and a "crisis of the humanities." The former has been documented by natural scientists and indexed by global changes from extinction rates to rising average temperatures to habitat loss, unknown body burdens of chemicals and much more. The latter can be observed through the shrinking number of students taking traditional humanities majors, closure of entire faculties or merging of departments, and an overall down-sizing of humanities programs particularly in North America but also abroad. At the same time, scholars from the interpretive, qualitative sciences (humanities) have joined forces to focus on the global challenges of ecological damage: humanities for a livable, just environment. Environmental humanities means scholars and teachers in history, philosophy, literature, languages, geography, anthropology, the fine arts and beyond answering a call to respond not to an internal-facing "crisis" in academic terms, but a public-facing crisis of unsustainable cultures colliding with planetary boundaries that sustain life.
Robert S. Emmett is Visiting Assistant Professor in the Roanoke College Environmental Studies program. He is the author of Cultivating Environmental Justice: A Literary History of US Garden Writing (UMass Press, 2016) and with David E. Nye, The Environmental Humanities: A Critical Introduction (MIT Press, 2017). With Gregg Mitman and Marco Armiero, he edited the recent collection of critical reflections and works of art, Future Remains: A Cabinet of Curiosities for the Anthropocene (U of Chicago Press, 2018). From 2013-2015 he served as Director of Academic Programs at the Rachel Carson Center in Munich, Germany.