a new era in human-environment relations

Dale Jamieson

Dale Jamieson is a jack-of-all trades, a Professor of Environmental Studies and Philosophy, an affiliate Professor of Law, and the director of the Environmental Studies Program at the New York University School of Law. Combining his dedication to environmental values and policy with his interest in moral and political philosophy, he gave an engaging lecture for the Altman Lecture Series entitled “Why the struggle to stop climate change failed and what it means for our future.”

He described the environmental crisis and issues surrounding climate change as “the most difficult problem that humanity has ever faced.” Humans are particularly ill-disposed to deal with the problems of the Anthropocene because we, a highly-visual species, are ill-equipped to respond to emissions of “invisible, odorless, tasteless gases” that concentrate in the atmosphere. We are, instead, able to more readily respond to short-term problems that pose an immediate threat. Therefore, in order to fix this dire problem, we need to break from our instincts and tackle the long-term issues ahead of us. While we may not immediately benefit from a reduction of carbon usage now, it will certainly make for a better planet in 500 years. Jamieson also emphasized the importance of not idealizing the past. Instead, we need to focus on current problems and assume personal responsibility. We ultimately need a permissive majority, an activist minority, and political influence.

Along with many of our other guest speakers, Jamieson shared his frustration with the lack of education in the general public concerning environmental problems. He acknowledges that the Anthropocene presents great challenges, especially with the current model within academia that promotes specialization. He went on to discuss the particular divide between the humanities and the sciences–almost as if there are two distinct cultures–and that we need to break down this barrier.