Environmental Change and the World’s Futures: Ecologies, ontologies and mythologies

Edward Perchard reviews Jonathan Paul Marshall and Linda H. Connor's book, Environmental Change and the World’s Futures: Ecologies, ontologies and mythologies.

Environmental Change and the World’s Futures: Ecologies, ontologies and mythologies

Environmental Change and the World’s Futures: Ecologies, ontologies and mythologies

Editors: Jonathan Paul Marshall and Linda H. Connor

Publisher: Routledge

Price: £90 

Resource supplies are running out, the changing climate is threatening our ecosystems and agriculture – surely something must be done on a global scale? Not according to Marshall and Connor, a senior research associate at the University of Technology in Sydney and a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Sydney respectively.

This overarching desire for a solution to ecological problems felt across the diverse world, they say, is just getting us into more trouble. Through essays mainly delivered by professors of anthropology and social science in Australia, the book aims to investigate from a variety of perspectives and locations the changing perceptions of uncertain futures and how the potentially disruptive impact ecological instability could affect human societies.

This article was taken from Issue 82

The book seeks to counter current holistic responses to wide-ranging environmental concerns (e.g. carbon taxes, renewable energy and conservation) which it says ‘risk obscuring forms of social and cultural difference’. When discussing the ‘global issues’ of food security, sustainability and climate change, it argues, we are evoking our specific politics and scientific knowledge, while suppressing other ‘modes of social existence’.

Instead, it says, we should embrace difference and ‘non-holism’. One size will not fit all when addressing both rural Nepal and the industrial regions of Germany, two of the environments studied in the book. Indeed, trying to impose one solution on the many varied communities facing environmental problems could ‘increase the disruptive effects found in local situations’.

Emission reduction subsidies provided to districts in West Nepal by the UN, for example, have caused concerns among villagers due to the harmful intensification of agriculture and unnatural increase in insect populations. While climate change is a distant threat to them, these problems affect their immediate future.

The varied chapters, from studies of Scottish fishermen to Aboriginal tribes in the Western Australian desert, aim to convey the different ways people in many different societies attempt to predict and shape their futures. It results in the conclusion that social scientists must analyse climate within the broader context of environmental and social change and not the other way round.

This book is aimed squarely at students of environmental studies and other social studies, but, as tends to be the case with these books chock full of varied and often obscure case studies, the joy is in the stories as much as the message they all combine to convey.