This blog will, I hope, help people to understand what Environmental geography is and why it is an important way of looking at the world.
I am a Principal Lecturer in Geography at the University of Portsmouth and in 2009 I, with my colleagues, started an undergraduate degree course in BSc and BA in Environmental Geography. Three of us, myself, Brian Baily and Julia Brown, researched the market and felt that what we believed to be the important aspects of environmental geography were not being taught in other courses of the same name (or if they were it wasn’t immediately clear from course outlines). We feel that environmental geography should encompass both physical and human geography and act as a means of integrating and melding the two substantive fields of traditional geography. I could go on about how environmental geography provides an interface, a means of bridging the arts and sciences, but really this view of geography has been a key focus of the geography since it developed as a university level subject back in the 1887 with Halford Mackinder at Oxford (date of his ‘On the scope and methods of geography’ paper delivered at the Royal Geographical Society, RGS. He was appointed Reader in Geography at Oxford within six months of this paper).
Aside from the academic pursuit of the subject, we feel that taking an informed ‘environmental’ perspective on the various issues and problems confronting people on a global and local basis can help in understanding the context of these problems, how they are themselves constructed and, dare we believe, even provide possible solutions to these issues. The last suggestion may be a forlorn hope but at least if you appreciate why an issue is so complex it may help in trying to understand how different interests have such difficulty trying to solve a problem. All three of us have a particular view or stance on environmental issues; we are not politically neutral and would be wary of any one who claims otherwise. This does not mean, however, that we do not try to comprehend why others approach, understand or even identify environmental issues differently from ourselves – this is all part of environmental geography.
We feel that it is important to understand both the physical and human processes that underlie environmental geography, that drive environmental change and stability but it is not enough just to understand each part in isolation. The two must be brought together and the difficulties and complexities of that assimilation of different knowledges recognised. Above all understanding the environment is as much about politics as it is about science – a key element we felt was not explicitly developed or at the forefront in the course outlines we saw. You can collect all the data about climate change that you want, you can validate the science but if no-one acts upon it then ‘scientific objectivity’ means very little. Understanding how different systems of knowledge merge and interact is a key feature of understanding the production of environmental geography.
The blog will cover a whole range of topics and I hope to upload new content on a fairly regular basis – once a week at least – or two if work interferes! I will divide the blog, initially at least, into History of Environmental Thought, Monitoring the Environment, Environmental Hazards, Environment and Society, Environmental News. I do not, however want to be too rigid in how the blog develops – feedback is welcome and essential for me to gauge if there is anyone out there reading this and, if so, what really interests them.
This blog will, I hope, build up into a useful resource for students undertaking geography GCSE, A level and undergraduates as well as informing anyone who is interested in environmental issues in general. The geographic perspective may provide something new to your thinking or it may not, but at least I hope it is useful.