The Influence of Language in a Network

What are some of the problems in the environmental movement today? As a species, we continue to evolve and adapt. We learn new things and we implement new technologies; this type of progress can often be described as the polar opposite to the natural-ness of the environment. For some, environmentalism is the constant variable in our ever-evolving world and planet. The argument by some extreme green movement ideologues is: ‘Mother Nature’ will always prevail when faced with the consumption practices of greedy humans; this is backed up by the reality that despite whatever efforts made by humankind to extract whatever resources and damage whatever ecosystem, planet earth will exist long after our species goes extinct; despite whatever degradation occurs, planet earth will still maintain its spot in the solar system, continuing in its orbit and its role relative to the universe, rather than in relation to humankind’s minute impact in the universe. In this view, Environmentalism is thus seen as the opposite to technologization and notions of progress.

This strong binary between progress and nature is often what is cited as the problem in the environmental movement. Scott Pruitt, the controversial new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. explains this in his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) a few weeks back. He stated:

“…I think, when we have a mutually exclusive kind of approach, that if you’re pro environment you’re anti energy, and if you’re pro energy, you’re anti environment, what that means is that we put on Jerseys. We’ve been used for political ends.”

You won’t find an endorsement for Scott Pruitt from me here, but I agree with this statement, (but likely not in the way Pruitt would want me to). He is right to state that protection of the environment has become extremely political and that this binary is not conducive to moving forward. The issue I see that is alluded to in this statement, and he more explicitly states in other part of his speech, is that environmental protection and consideration should only be seen in conjunction with economic growth (pro energy = pro fossil fuels = $$$).

Economic growth is used as the placeholder for a productive nation in good standing. This is seen across the board in government. This therefore means that environmental considerations can only occur if the economy is not negatively impacted, and further, that it must contribute to improving the economy. Hence comes terms like ‘sustainable development’ or the ‘precautionary principle’, which are then politicized and used to serve particular political ends.

The point of this rant is to highlight that words matter. The words that we use to describe processes or improvements in society. They motivate certain processes and mobilize certain groups, and what instead occurs is a battle over definitions and ownership over these definitions, rather than working toward tangible change.

I chose to write about this in my last Network blog post because I find that a key theme in this course is seeing the role of concepts and its effect on its network, and what happens when it is informed by different authorities, disciplines, or experts. As I move forward into my research over the summer, I think understanding this will guide my experience and will lead me to meaningful insights.

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1 Comment

  1. I like how you emphasized the importance of words in a network because I think this is often overlooked. It is interesting how you made the comparison to how there is this assumption (or maybe even stereotype) that if you’re “pro” something you are by default “anti” something else. I think this has an impact on a person’s engagement with a network and unintentionally creates borders on these systems. For example, as we have discussed, I am not the biggest fan of wind turbines (haha see what I did there?). Anyway, I am personally not supporting the implementation of the wind turbines in my home town, however when I have voiced this opinion before in my undergrad, one of my classmates immediately said I am against the environment and “anti-green”. One of the reasons I was against the turbines was because of where the builders were putting them up, which had an impact on my town’s local airport. The aircraft were not able to safely land and take-off, while emergency landing points near the water had also been impacted. So the purpose of my rant (aha) is that I agree with your statement that words matter in these networks because you become categorized and borders are created when in fact I think they should intertwine and allow for a cross-section of discussion.

    Liked by 1 person

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