Earth Day each year brings attention to the environment and the many issues surrounding it. Yet on many college campuses it represents another opportunity to promote radical ideas without balance. Of the top 50 U.S. News & World Report national universities, 43 of them offer coursework in environmental studies and 36 provide a degree in the field.
There is nothing wrong with studying ecology or how the environment works. Thousands of students learn important scientific facts each day, which allows our nation to make technological advances. There is a problem, however, when faculty use theories and propose solutions that are radical and unchallenged by alternative views. Environmental studies coursework often lends itself to this type of unanswered, radical, progressive thought, much like women’s studies, peace studies and postmodern studies.
One such manifestation is the purported connection between feminism and environmentalism called “ecofeminism.” At Duke University, a course in “Feminism and Ecology” teaches students about “??¢â???¬ ¦the evolution of the field of ecofeminism.” Students at Dartmouth College can take “Gender, Space, and the Environment” in which they discuss the “gendered construction of our society, and the ways we have organized our spaces and places??¢â???¬ ¦.” Vassar College offers a seminar in “Feminism and Environmentalism” focusing on “??¢â???¬ ¦feminist scholarship and activism concerning the gendered implications of development policies and practices.”
French philosopher Francois d’Eaubonne coined the term “ecofeminism” in 1974, and it has since caught on around the world. Subscribers to the ecofeminist movement claim that nature is similar to women in that they are both oppressed by men in a “patriarchal society.” The link between feminism and environmentalism creates a movement that is opposed to capitalism and modern industrial society.
Ecofeminism is not simply an academic discipline. Rather, it is a progressive activism movement taking hold on college campuses. Julie Knutson of the University of Wisconsin stated, “Ecofeminism is a relatively new part of the feminist movement, evolving out of political activism over the past three decades. Peace marches, anti-nuclear protests, environmental and animal liberation movements, and world hunger activism have raised the consciousnesses of many.”
Some universities are even beginning to combine art and the environment with an activist mentality. Washington State University’s webpage on “Cultural Environmental Studies” features an endorsement of “??¢â???¬ ¦environmental justice eco-art which takes on issues of race, class, gender and eco-colonialism in the unequal distribution of environmental problems and benefits within the U.S. and around the globe.”
Environmental studies courses often leave out free-market ideas. Arguments based on free markets suggest that generating wealth allows for better environmental protection, and that private property is better maintained than public property. In contrast, outdated arguments for command and control systems or excessive regulation often trump the market-based arguments in the classroom.
Jane Shaw of the Property & Environment Research Center, a free-market environmental organization, said environmental studies departments are “antagonistic to economic thinking and free market ideas,” and that they are “somewhat alarmist” about the state of the environment. Shaw said her organization is rarely contacted to work with environmental studies students or departments. Instead, she works mostly with students in economics.
As Earth Day 2005 comes and goes, universities need to provide students with a wide variety of ideas about the environment. After graduating college, students can begin their adult lives with little knowledge of Western civilization and a scant understanding of United States history that is replaced with a focus on radical ideas. Instead, students should be free to decide for themselves the theories with which they agree and disagree, and to make their own conclusions from a broad base of information.