Skip to 0 minutes and 12 secondsWhat is the Environmental Humanities? Let me tell you a story about why we might need such a field of study. Not so long ago, I was watching TV. It was one of those current affairs panel shows, and it was about climate change. The panel was made up of two men and a woman-- an Anglican minister, a representative of the coal exporting industry, and a politician. The minister of religion was a passionate "greenie," the captain of industry was a hard-nosed sceptic, and the politician was sitting on the fence. As the opinions raged back and forth, I asked myself the obvious question-- where was the scientist? Or, where were the scientists?

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 secondsSurely, the only experts one should need on such a panel would be scientists. The collection and analysis of climate change data has been going on for decades, at huge expense and across hundreds of institutions and laboratories. The data have been checked using verifiable methods and peer review. Its accuracy is nearly 100%, to the point where scientists have been able to announce-- as did Al Gore in his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth-- that "the science is in." They've announced that the science is in quite a few times, but it seems no one wants to listen, especially as such an assertion implies that "the debate's over, folks-- now just do as we say."

Skip to 1 minute and 33 secondsJust at the point where we should be putting the maximum amount of trust in our scientific institutions, in independent and reliable facts, the confidence evaporates. They forget to invite scientists onto TV panels. The opinion of a minister of religion is just as valid, it seems. Some say it's a question of making scientists communicate better. But we in the Environmental Humanities think the problems are more structural than that. We are interested in how different kinds of knowledge get used, and what kinds of arguments dominate others. It's one thing for scientists to have the data on climate change under control, but they can't say that global warming is a purely scientific issue. It affects all kinds of knowledge.

Skip to 2 minutes and 16 secondsNo amount of science will stop making coal barons nervous about their investments, or affecting voting patterns, or thinking about our human destiny. These things, too, are debatable. The Environmental Humanities generate knowledge about environmental issues. We want to make people more aware about issues like species extinction, waste management, and the politics of energy. We constantly use scientific data, but we add to it the kinds of arguments that are found in anthropology, philosophy, politics, and history. Sound like a lot? Sure. But we make it easier for you by working case by case. It's one of our methods.

Skip to 2 minutes and 56 secondsWe always try to start in the middle of actual experiences, observing what's going on, then moving outwards to connect it to all the kinds of knowledge that will help make sense of the situation.

Introduction to Environmental Humanities

In this video, Stephen Muecke gives insights into what the Environmental Humanities can do, and why we might need such a field of study.

He suggests that responding to environmental concerns is not just about making scientists communicate better, but about bringing together different types of knowledge from many fields, including the humanities.


What is your response to the argument we’ve made so far — that knowledge about environmental issues needs to combine ideas and methods from science, history, politics, philosophy, and other fields? You might want to consider the news article you read in Step 1.3.

In the next few steps, you will see some examples of what research in Environmental Humanities looks like.

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This video is from the free online course:

Environmental Humanities: Remaking Nature

UNSW Sydney

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Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: