Ernst Strüngmann Forum


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Rethinking Environmentalism

Linking Justice, Sustainability, and Diversity

Edited by Sharachchandra Lele,
Eduardo S. Brondizio, John Byrne,
Georgina M. Mace, and Joan Martinez-Alier

Does being an environmentalist mean caring about wild nature? Or is environmentalism synonymous with concern for future human well-being, or about a fair apportionment of access to the earth’s resources and a fair sharing of pollution burdens? Environmental problems are undoubtedly one of the most salient public issues of our time, yet environmental scholarship and action is marked by a fragmentation of ideas and approaches because of the multiple ways in which these environmental problems are “framed.” Diverse framings prioritize different values and explain problems in various ways, thereby suggesting different solutions. Are more inclusive framings possible? Will this enable more socially relevant, impactful research and more concerted action and practice?

This book takes a multidisciplinary look at these questions using examples from forest, water, energy, and urban sectors. It explores how different forms of environmentalism are shaped by different normative and theoretical positions, and attempts to bridge these divides. Individual perspectives are complemented by comprehensive syntheses of the differing framings in each sector. By self-reflectively exploring how researchers study and mobilize evidence about environmental problems, the book opens up the possibility of alternative framings to advance collaborative and integrated understanding of environmental problems and sustainability challenges.

Sharachchandra Lele is Senior Fellow and Convenor of the Centre for Environment and Development at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment. Eduardo S. Brondizio is Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University, Director of the Center for the Analysis of Social-Ecological Landscapes, member of the Ostrom Workshop, and Cochair of the IPBES Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. John Byrne is Professor of Energy and Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy of the University of Delaware, and Chairman of the Foundation for Renewable Energy and Environment in New York. Georgina M. Mace is Professor of Biodiversity and Ecosystems and Head of the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research at University College London. Joan Martinez-Alier is Professor of Economics and Economic History at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

This Forum is supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

The German Research Foundation

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Rethinking Environmentalism:
Justice, Sustainability, and Diversity

June 19–24, 2016

Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Thomas Sikor and Sharachchandra Lele, Chairpersons

Program Advisory Committee

Eduardo Brondizio, Department of Anthropology, Indiana University, Student Building 130, 701 E. Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47405-710, U.S.A.

John Byrne, Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716
Sharachchandra Lele, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bangalore, India
Julia Lupp, Ernst Strüngmann Forum, Ruth-Moufang-Str. 1, 60438 Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Georgina Mace, Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research, Genetics, Evolution and Environment, Medawar Building, University College of London, London, WC1E 6BT, U.K.
Joan Martinez-Alier, Department of Economics and Economic History, ICTA, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
Thomas Sikor, School for International Development, University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, U.K.


  • To understand how differences in framing environmental problems are driven by differences in normative and theoretical positions; and
  • To explore ways in which more inclusive framings might enable more societally relevant and impactful research and more concerted action/practice.
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Over the last seventy years or so, environmental problems have emerged as a major social issue. Concern about these problems, or “environmentalism,” has triggered a large body of research and activism. But progress in translating this thinking and mobilization into societal change has been limited. While the lack of broad-based support for environmental values or existing structures in society that prevent the realization of progressive movements are definitely part of the problem, tensions between environmental thinkers also limit progress.

These tensions within environmental thinking and research originate from the different ways in which environmental problems are “framed” in terms of different underlying values and explanatory theories. The values underpinning environmentalist positions appear to fall into three broad categories: sustainability, justice, and diversity. These broad labels subsume a variety of goals, including resilience and adaptability, equity and fairness, wilderness and inter-species justice, and so on. Differing positions on other social goals (in particular, poverty alleviation and democratic process) further complicate matters. Environmental damaging behavior, as viewed from these different lenses, is then explained or proposed to be solved by variously invoking individual agency or societal structures, technological innovation, or institutional change, and so on. Attempts to craft integrative frameworks and interdisciplinary research programs notwithstanding, the fractiousness in academic discourse appears to have increased over the past few decades. And this fractiousness is apparent in the disconnect between the centers of scholarly expertise and those who actually experience damage on the ground and echoed in the public discourse and social movements around environmental conflicts across the globe.

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To get beyond the current impasse, environmental research and thinking require multidimensional framing of and reengagement with the environment in a manner that transcends divides between disciplines as well as between researchers and activists. This Forum will facilitate a dialogue between researchers and public scholars from various disciplines and perspectives by focusing on four intensely debated environmental arenas:

Group 1: Forests and other high-diversity ecosystems

Group 2: Urban environments

Group 3: Energy and climate change

Group 4: Water

Discourse will consciously range over multiple scales (from local to global) as well as across OECD, BRICS and underdeveloped contexts. Key questions to be addressed include:

  • What are the key underlying causes of environmental degradation, and how has research considered them thus far?
  • What potential does current environmental management intervention, identified in research and practice, hold to protect the environment?
  • What desirable new environmental management interventions can we identify on the basis of ongoing research and current practice, and what types of changes (in research and practice) are required to develop them?
  • What are the primary ethical justifications of existing environmental management, and what changes would be required in support of desirable new interventions?

Groups will work to identify varieties of environmentalism and will consider the need for new interdisciplinary framings. In addition, each group will explore the most significant environmentalisms in their field in practice and research, and identify their ethical underpinnings.

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