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Here's a state of things
Local Ecologies
Grand Histories
Modern Predicaments
What next?

Local Ecologies
Grand Histories
Modern Predicaments
What Next?

Essay Assignments for Unit 4 Modern Predicaments

Due electronically to the instructor at 5:00 p.m. on Monday, May 23

Write on one of the following topics:

A) Much of the field of environmental history has been based on the premise that environmental degradation in recent centuries stems from the profit motive in capitalism, which compels resource extractors and manufacturers to carry out their activities in the most profitable way, and thus requires them to cut costs wherever possible, making it impossible to guard resources or the environment. Examples are legion.

Judith Shapiro's Mao's War Against Nature, along with much of the evidence we go over in the last half of the class, challenges this view. Clearly state socialism in the 20th century was just as destructive to the environment as was capitalism, though perhaps in different ways. You should consider the question of whether socialist environment-trashing and capitalist environment-trashing are identical results of high modernism, or if they are inevitable results of industry under any kind of ideology or political system, or if they each have their own unique characteristics dictated by the political and economic features of their respective systems. In doing so, it would probably help greatly to refer to James Scott's ideas (1998) about high modernism.

B) James Scott states, on pages 94-95 of Seeing Like a State, that "This belief that it was man's destiny to tame nature to suit his interests and preserve his safety is perhaps the keystone of high modernism." Using examples covered in this course (readings, lectures, slides, etc), and if you want adding other examples you know about, consider

  • Whether or not this "keystone" in itself is sufficient to explain any of the environmental problems caused directly or indirectly by revolutionist or developmentalist policies of the PRC state since 1949, without referring to specifically socialist or Marxist beliefs, or to turn the question around, how much of the problem lay with socialism
  • Whether the Chinese state's recent attention to environmental protection and environmental cleanup in policy and practice indicates a move away from high modernism and toward some sort of post-High modernism or even post-modernism

C) Take a look at Dimitra Kaika and Efthimios Zervas's review of The Environmental Kuznets Curve and argue either for or against the idea that China will experience an EKC, i.e. that its environment will begin to improve. If you argue in favor of the idea, state your reasons why and also state when you think the improvement will start to happen, and why. If you argue against the idea, state your reasons why you think improvement will not come soon. In either case, make sure you look separately at separate environmental issues, including pollution, GHG emissions, resource degradation, and biodiversity. Both Tilt's and Hathaway's books ought to help you with this assignment, along with other readings.