These articles, written in her own words, are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the sake of brevity.
Emily Huddart Kennedy’s research shows that everyone cares about the environment. The University of British Columbia professor’s recent book Ecological types helps us understand five ways to relate to the natural world and invites us to approach each other from a place of compassion and respect.
Tell us about the book.
Based on personal interviews with 63 people from all walks of life and a large survey, I compare the strength of the connection people feel with nature, the degree to which they believe we are facing a catastrophic collapse, how strongly It is the moral imperative they feel to act and whether they believe they can effect change. The results reveal that everyone has a loving relationship with the natural world.
There are some striking similarities between the people that allowed me to group them into five connection types. Those I call “Eco Committed” experience a fragile planet that needs protection from human destruction and contempt. They firmly believe that, as individuals, we all have a moral obligation to make environmentally friendly decisions and this is important. Those I called “Self Effacing” share this concern and admire the “Eco Engaged”, but doubt their own effectiveness. “Optimists” believe they live on a planet that is so strong and resilient that humans are largely inconsequential. “Fatalists” worry about environmental degradation and are angry at what they perceive as corporate abuse of the natural world, but they do not trust the government or companies to do what is needed. They consider individual efforts, even those made collectively, to be insignificant in light of this power. Finally, the “indifferent” love the natural world but do not consider it their job to be informed or to act to protect it.
In the book, I invite the reader to put themselves in the shoes of the people in each category. Much of our attitudes are determined by our past education and our current social groups. I believe that those who express disdain for others who do care, but in ways we may not recognize as valid, fuel today’s polarized debates. If we want to keep our planet habitable, we need civil society to be united. This is entirely possible even if we love the Earth differently.
In the 1970s, despite these differences, very important legislation was passed that reflected a social consensus in favor of conservation and love of the natural world. We haven’t changed our relationship with the environment, but we have changed what we think others feel.
My research revealed that the eco-committed and modest are accorded higher social status than the optimists. Those at the top of the hierarchy are often cocky and dismissive, leaving optimists resentful and angry. The climate crisis requires us to find a way to listen to everyone. If we can learn to do this with other “ecotypes,” perhaps we can also break down the hierarchies formed around issues such as race, gender, sexual identity, immigration status, and economic inequality.
How did this idea interest you?
A University of British Columbia professor’s recent book “Eco-Types” helps us understand five ways to relate to the natural world.
I grew up on the West Coast and was always in awe of the beauty of the natural world around me.
I studied forest conservation at UBC and volunteered in environmental advocacy groups. During the school year, I was immersed in a culture that looked down on forestry workers for their apparent ignorance and selfishness. But I spent summers working with forestry workers who had a deep love of nature but who felt belittled by urban environmentalists, who were despised for assuming they understood what really happens in forests and for seeming to care more about the trees. than for the people. I could see that both groups shared my love for the natural world, but could only see each other as enemies. He wanted to participate in building a bridge that they could both cross.
What was difficult about writing your book?
Conservative politicians had doubts that anyone from a university would really listen respectfully, so it was difficult to get them to talk. Sometimes when I was told scientifically inaccurate things, I had trouble staying curious. But I reminded myself that it was an act of bravery and caring for them to talk to me. Similarly, when environmentally-minded people smeared conservative ecotypes, I had to bite my tongue.
What do you see if we do it well?
Civil society will be in a better position to act as a force for an ambitious environmental protection policy.
What would you like to say to other young people?
Things can and do change. People are working everywhere in the world and in every part of our society to make things better. You will find more hope and inspiration by interacting with them than by distracting yourself, giving up, or immersing yourself in the worst catastrophic forecasts. Ask your teachers and mentors to tell you about solutions that are being implemented around us but can be difficult to see if you don’t know where to look.
What about older readers?
I have a lot of admiration for older people working to protect the next generation. A powerful alliance is being built between the young and the old.