Background

The Roots of the Environmental Crisis This class, a Core requirement for Goshen College students, is intended to explore some of the “big picture” forces and events that have contributed to many of the world’s mounting ecological issues. Although environmental science-based, the course also works to incorporate ideas and techniques from other fields. As you might guess, there is no shortage of potential problem spots to choose from in this realm, but at the root of many of them lies a fundamental disconnection between humans and the rest of the natural world, our home. Whether that disconnection occurs at the individual level, in our lack of familiarity with the native creatures that share our habitats, or at the level of the global economy, which is built around assumptions of economic value that give little weight to many natural products and processes, it has had the net effect of driving people farther from the land of which they are a part.

If many of our environmental problems are related to a general rootlessness, becoming more fully connected to our home landscapes may offer one of the best ways to begin healing environmental wounds. And indeed, at the local and regional levels it is often not hard to find many examples of individuals and organizations making great strides in various areas. But one step that is often missing and yet might catalyze even more rapid change in all of these interconnected problem areas is to explicitly recognize shared concepts and ideas, which could in turn lead to more effective shared work.

A number of attempts have been made to illustrate relationships between the many ideas that can be connected to sustainability, including the framework from Reliable Prosperity seen below. Our hope is that this class project will help to more fully flesh out a framework like this for the Goshen region by profiling a variety of groups working in this area. This pool includes groups that might more traditionally be described as businesses, social justice organizations and environmental conservation groups. But we hope looking at their individual and joint work with a focus on ideas will draw out the relationships that do or could exist between these groups, thus making the network that ties them less hierarchical (tied together through the three E’s and sustainability) and more like a living and dynamic ecosystem.