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Metaphors for Environmental Sustainability

Metaphors for Environmental Sustainability: Redefining Our Relationship with Nature

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Metaphors for Environmental Sustainability
    Book Description:

    Scientists turn to metaphors to formulate and explain scientific concepts, but an ill-considered metaphor can lead to social misunderstandings and counterproductive policies, Brendon Larson observes in this stimulating book. He explores how metaphors can entangle scientific facts with social values and warns that, particularly in the environmental realm, incautious metaphors can reinforce prevailing values that are inconsistent with desirable sustainability outcomes.

    Metaphors for Environmental Sustainabilitydraws on four case studies-two from nineteenth-century evolutionary science, and two from contemporary biodiversity science-to reveal how metaphors may shape the possibility of sustainability. Arguing that scientists must assume greater responsibility for their metaphors, and that the rest of us must become more critically aware of them, the author urges more critical reflection on the social dimensions and implications of metaphors while offering practical suggestions for choosing among alternative scientific metaphors.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15154-1
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. I Metaphor and Sustainability
    (pp. 1-30)

    A cool spring breeze caresses my skin as I wander through a carpet of spring wildflowers beneath towering sugar maple trees (Figure 1). After a long Canadian winter, I yearn for the spring—the growth and flowering of bloodroot and hepatica, and then trilliums and violets—a virtual frenzy of renewed life. At times, I focus on the particulars, on this queen bumblebee buzzing through the understory or a particular shoot of jack-in-the-pulpit as it emerges from the damp earth. At such moments, I feel an intimacy with the natural world. Though knowing the identities of species may impede this...

  6. II Progress: A Web of Science and Society
    (pp. 31-65)

    The metaphor of progress weaves a tangled web of science and society. One scholar has defined progress as the idea that “mankind has advanced in the past—from some aboriginal condition of primitiveness, barbarism, or even nullity—is now advancing, and will continue to advance through the foreseeable future.”¹ This denotative definition places the emphasis on humanculturalprogress, but progress has greater significance as one of the grand metaphysical meta-narratives in contemporary Western societies. As such, it takes on multiple guises that apply in different realms and give it a mythic quality and hence a large role in the...

  7. III Competitive Facts and Capitalist Values
    (pp. 66-92)

    Progress is not the only metaphor that interweaves environmental science and society. Many of our metaphors for nature mirror and reinforce particular social ideals and actions that have profound implications for sustainability. In this chapter, I focus on how we are continually bombarded with images of our basic competitiveness, from our personal urges to the realm of corporate takeovers. Quite often this competitiveness is founded in the natural world: we are competitive because that is the way of nature itself. We may adopt religious or spiritual practices to reduce such base tendencies, but we cannot escape them.

    How did we...

  8. IV Engaging the Metaphoric Web
    (pp. 93-125)

    In previous chapters, we have discovered how the metaphoric web entangles science and society. Recognizing their entanglement, and not just with metaphors, numerous scholars have contended that morality ought to be central to scientific investigation. The historians Robert Young and Anne Harrington proposed a “moral science” and a “compassionate science,” respectively. Feyerabend endorsed ethics as an “overt judge” of scientific truth, and another philosopher, Columbia University’s Philip Kitcher, proposed a “responsible biology” in which ethical considerations are integral. Summarizing the need for a new form of science, the Canadian historian Stephen Bocking recommended that “a more democratic science is necessary...

  9. V When Scientists Promote: DNA Barcoding and Consumerism
    (pp. 126-160)

    Humans share planet Earth with an astounding variety of species. Over the past few decades, we have come to relate to them with a predominant metaphor from the natural sciences, biodiversity, which came to rapid prominence starting in the mid-1980s to communicate the severity of species’ losses.¹ One of the great challenges for conservation biology is to identify and categorize these species in the interests of sustaining them—and by association, maintaining the myriad benefits and services that derive from their presence. The Chilean Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda probably wasn’t thinking of this issue when he penned his poem, yet...

  10. VI Advocating with Fear: At War against Invasive Species
    (pp. 161-193)

    Invasive species are species that humans have introduced to a new geographical location, where they spread and may thus have various ecological and economic effects. They have become a prevalent theme in recent conservation biology. As a biologist, I understand the concerns about them, having spent numerous summers documenting their presence in significant conservation areas around the province of Ontario. I am, however, also skeptical because of how these species have been vilified, in part by scientific discourse. Such discourse is value-laden, and it distracts us from the conversations I think we need to be having. With growing global trade...

  11. VII Seeking Sustainable Metaphors
    (pp. 194-222)

    In previous chapters we have seen some of the challenges presented by feedback metaphors, but we have only touched on what we might do about them. We might wish to cultivate normative language, but how shall we do that? Which method shall we adopt? And which values shall we emphasize? The point is not to find a perfect metaphor, which does not exist, but to demonstrate that when scientists use a metaphor, they are endorsing particular values. I have contested the values associated with the metaphors of DNA barcoding and invasional meltdown, yet the use of such value-laden metaphors might...

  12. VIII Wisdom and Metaphor
    (pp. 223-230)

    Even though sustainability is by no means assured, we nonetheless seek a more enduring relation between ourselves and the world in which we live. Environmental science certainly has a role to play here, but these stories of metaphor have shown it is much more likely to do so by recognizing and engaging with its broader social context. The conscious use of feedback metaphors—and engagement with their values—is one way to enliven a form of science that can better help formulate an alternative future. This form of science is more widely distributed in society, and thus everyday citizens have...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 231-258)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 259-294)
  15. Index
    (pp. 295-301)