The Study of Environment and Ecology at MGSHSS

As climate change and global warming affect our world and threaten the possibility of the very existence of many life forms in the short run and in the long run, academics around the world and in all major fields of study have made it a point to address the various aspects of environment and ecology, and not just from the point of view of reversing global warming; in fact, they have incorporated relevant discourses into their own areas of teaching and research in a multitude of fascinating ways. Development economists, social scientists, scholars of religion, literary and cultural critics—experts in various fields have developed courses to teach students about the history, the impact, and the future of environment. Entire monographs, collected chapters, and special journal issues have been devoted to it. We asked two faculty members from our own school to write something about the work that they do in this area. Saba Pirzadeh (Assistant Professor, HSS) and Sanval Nasim (Assistant Professor, Economics) write on their courses and their publications that deal with the study of environment and ecology.

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Ecocritical Pedagogy and Research

Dr. Saba Pirzadeh

I teach introductory and advanced level courses on ecocriticism which “is the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment” (Glotfelty). My 200-level course (Thinking like a Mountain: Literature and the Environment) introduces students to the major texts and concepts in ecocriticism. To this end, I use a wide variety of literary texts—picaresque novel, memoir, poetry, children’s literature, postcolonial novel, and dystopian fiction—along with documentaries and critical theory to introduce students to different conceptions and treatments of the natural world. Additionally, the course encourages students to explore how environmental literature complicates our notions of human-ness, race, class, gender, colonialism, nationalism, and neoliberalism. In doing so, the class draws attention to the ways that nature in fact really exists and how nature is always culturally constructed (Gerrard). My 300-level course (End of Nature: Disaster and Geopolitics in Environmental Fiction) uses western and postcolonial fiction to explore the ways in which the violent exploitation of the natural world generates every day and epochal crises. By focusing on the visual, material, and allegorical aspects of texts, the course generates critical discussions on forms of ecocrises—including natural calamities, toxic bodies, climatic extremities, and ravaged landscapes. The course also examines how environmental crises are caused by privileging of the human race (‘anthropocentrism,’ ‘human racism’), and advocates a reorientation towards ethical biocentrism (Sessions). In doing so, the course debates the degree(s) to which nature is ending and questions the role of human agency in mitigating ecological crises. Overall, by initiating and immersing students within ecocriticism, I hope to inspire students towards ecological thought and action outside the confines of the classroom. My teaching is also informed by my research in the field of ecocriticism. In this regard, I have published three articles in peer-reviewed, international journals. My first article, “Children of Ravaged Worlds: Exploring Environmentalism in Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker and Cameron Stracher’s The Water Wars,” was published in ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment. This article analyses how eco-dystopian Young Adult literature depicts issues of natural degradation, ecopolitics, racism, and militarism to generate environmental consciousness and to highlight agency as necessary radical action during times of ecological crises. My second article, “Persecution vs. Protection: Examining the Pernicious Politics of Environmental Conservation in The Hungry Tide,” was published in South Asian Review. This article argues that Ghosh’s novel offers a de-essentialised representation of the Sundarban islands to emphasise a non-hierarchical conception of nature and that the novel critiques the neo-colonial premise of Western environmental protectionism to draw attention to issues of socioenvironmental justice in the global South. My third co-authored article, “Arthurian Eco-conquest in Geoffrey of Monmouth, Wace, and Laȝamon,” was published in Parergon. This article tracks King Arthur’s use and conquest of the land to ensure the expansion of the British empire. Additionally, the article argues that while Geoffrey and Wace depict the land as territory to be conquered, Laȝamon instead represents the land as leode—a fusion of people, territory, and nation— thereby highlighting how land transforms into a political ecosystem.

 

Environmental Economics

Dr. Sanval Nasim

I first offered Introduction to Environmental Economics in Fall 2016. My colleague Dr. Saher Asad had already taught an advanced course in environmental economics the year before and we thought that offering an introductory-level course would be an important step in generating students’ interest in the field and in creating an environmental stream within the department. The course allows students to explore the environment through an economic lens, an opportunity to apply the principles, concepts, and methodologies that they pick up in their core courses to a wide range of environmental problems. From the perspective of an economist, albeit one trained in the neoliberal school of thought, the absence of markets for environmental goods and services— think clean air, forests, fisheries, and water resources—leads to their overexploitation.  The course enables students to conceptualise hypothetical markets for the environment and to recognise how price-based instruments such as charges and tradable permits can create such markets, leading to a more desirable provision of environmental goods and services. Most US and European economics programs now regularly offer an introductory-level environmental economics course, which has become a popular elective for undergrads.  Instructors also have the luxury to choose from a number of wellstructured textbooks to supplement their teaching. Professor Tom Tietenberg’s Environmental and Natural Resource Economics, now in its 11th edition, is the most widely used textbook on the subject, and the one that I read when I took Professor Tietenberg’s class my sophomore year at Colby College.  However, I teach from the equally excellent Environmental Economics: An Introduction by Martha Field and Barry Field—this is by no means a rebuff to Professor Tietenberg, who was an exceptional mentor and teacher, but a consequence of the fact that I grew accustomed to the Field book after assisting my supervisor, Professor Ariel Dinar, in teaching the same course in graduate school. Besides select chapters from the textbook, we also cover readings from The Economist, which often carries brief expositions on salient environmental themes. Students particularly enjoy “Decommissioning Dams,” a cogent case for removing dams to protect vulnerable species; “Taxes for a Greener Plant,” a note on how a tax on carbon can provide governments an alternative source of revenue while incentivising firms to emit less; and “Never the Twain Shall Meet,” an essay on how economists and environmentalists can never see eye to eye on issues common to both. To break the monotony of lectures, we turn to a few documentaries in class, including Before the Flood—a grim reminder of the realities of climate change, narrated by a pensive Leonardo DiCaprio—and the visually stunning Chasing Ice. As the environmental economics courses start gaining traction, I hope to see some of the broader lessons get translated into civic action on campus. It’s disappointing and embarrassing to observe the lack of basic civic responsibility among the LUMS community—consider for instance the appearance of heaps of trash near the canteens and on the grounds once the janitorial staff retires for the evening. Discarding trash in bins, recycling waste, printing less paper, and conserving water are a few simple steps that we can collectively take to make our campus more sustainable and to assume greater ownership of our space.