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What is Environmental Studies?
The term the environment comes from the French word environ and means everything that surrounds us. Under such a broad umbrella, there is a host of ways in which environmental studies can be understood. The Faculty of Environmental Studies defines it as the study of a range of environments, from the bodies we live, to the physical structures, institutions and industries we build, to the politics, languages and cultural practices we use to communicate, and to the earth and its complex multitude of animals, flora and bio-physical elements and processes. The Faculty also adopts an inter-disciplinary approach to environmental studies where the social sciences, humanities, arts and natural sciences meet and inform each other. The Faculty encourages the use of different theoretical approaches and disciplinary and interdisciplinary ideas to explore environmental issues and options in their historical, comparative and current contexts, considering ecological, political and economic constraints and possibilities. We encourage exploration of how theoretical and practical matters intersect, and how reflexive, rigorous, critical and creative thinking can inform interpretations and policies in the wider society.
From such a definition of environmental studies flows the view that culture and nature are deeply integrated and inseparable. Such seemingly artificial areas as downtown Toronto and the York University campus are as profoundly natural as apparently wild places as Algonquin Park in northern Ontario and Clayoquot Sound in British Columbia are cultural. Another set of questions addresses environmental justice and social and political equity. Who defines what constitutes environmental issues? Who is included and excluded from environmental concerns? Who benefits and pays for environmental reform? Who suffers from environmental degradation? And what is the role of non-human natures in environmental experience and change? The roles and skills of environmental professionals are important but not sufficient in asking such questions. The Faculty thus seeks additional answers in the knowledge and views expressed by environmental groups, citizens, First Nations, and marginalized groups whose voices are often unheard in conventional deliberations.