Environmental studies in the Humanities

Early environmental research began within the Natural Sciences, concentrating on the detrimental impacts of human activity on nature, and it may be said that the main emphasis ever since has been on describing environmental problems within the field of natural phenomena. The approach has been largely a diagnostic one, involving the identification and description of environmental risks and a search for technical remedies.More recently, however, the Humanities and Social Sciences have come into the picture, and the first steps have been taken towards describing and explaining the cultural and social reasons for environmental problems and achieving a deeper understanding of man’s culturally bound relation to nature. It is at this point that people have realized that the Humanities and Social Sciences can play an important part in solving our current environmental problems and in protecting the environment. From a humanistic viewpoint man is a part of the environment.The topics of environmental research within the Humanities to date have included the concepts of nature in different cultures, the values placed on nature, ethical principles related to it and past analyses of the forms of interaction between culture and nature. There have always been environmental risks attached to human activities, even to the point of destroying great civilizations. At the same time, particular attention is being drawn to the reasons for the current environmental crisis. What is wrong with our western attitude towards nature at the present time? A number of interrelated factors have been identified that have brought our relation with nature to this crisis point, including the view, arising out of our modern culture, that nature is no more than a tool at our disposal and a raw material to serve the purposes of economic growth.The humanistic view of nature obliges us to search for rational alternatives to this tradition, alternatives that could guide us towards a more sustainable way of life. This is in effect a search for ecologically valid values on which to base our actions in everyday life and in the spheres of economics and technology. Efforts are also being made to combine the demands of nature conservation with those of the protection of our cultural heritage. Cultural sustainability is looked on as an important aspect of sustainable development and the preservation of cultural diversity is one of its central tenets. In order to create favourable social and cultural conditions for promoting ecological sustainability, it is essential to preserve cultural diversity, the cultural heritage and a cultural identity.It is for these reasons that environmental studies in the Humanities form an important part of the broad-based basic training required by environmental specialists and researchers. The understanding of environmental issues to the point of being able to intervene in them calls for a humanistic view of their multidimensional character. Natural phenomena, social customs, economics, technology, cultural concepts and values are all interrelated, and thus it is justifiable to aim at a sound interdisciplinary foundation and the development of a synthetic way of thinking at an early stage in these studies.