Environmental issues: from policy to political economy
It is a peculiar fact that, while environmental issues have always been central to geography's disciplinary identity, one rarely pauses to consider what is 'environmental' about the issues in question. Where its semantic partner - the signifier 'nature' - has received enormous critical scrutiny in recent years (Soper, 1995; Castree and Braun, 2001), the term 'environment' has an apparent obviousness that has arguably shielded it from closer inspection (though see Harvey, 1995: 117-19). I say obviousness because despite its slippery 'unbounded character' (Eden, 1998: 425), the term 'environment' is routinely taken to mean the 'non-human world' of fauna and flora and, in the case of 'human impact' studies, its reciprocal relationships with those societies which utilize it in all its variety. This physicalist, portmanteau definition is not, in itself, problematical. However, its implications for geography - and indeed for all academic disciplines that at some level consider environmental matters - are, in my view, far more radical than we have been wont to recognize. For it is not simply that 'environmental issues' crosscut most areas of human and physical geography, thus 'evad[ing academic] . . . territorialization' (Eden, 1998). More profoundly, if 'environmental' entities are ontologically promiscuous - if, that is, they are inextricably a part of those things we conventionally call 'economic', 'cultural', 'social' or 'political' entities - then do any of these categories make sense any more (and did they ever)?1 In the present context, what does it mean to write a report on 'environmental issues' when those issues are never simply or only environmental?
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