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Environmentalism | Examples | Origin & Criticism


Man–Environment relationship is often explained in terms of Environmental Determinism or simply Environmentalism and Possibilism.

Environmentalism is a term which means that it is only the environment (mainly its physical features such as climate, location etc)

which determines the human’s culture, development patterns and decision making. Individual decisions and social conditions have virtually no impact on cultural development. Human is not responsible for determining these factors.

Examples of Environmentalism:

The most common examples given to support the concept of “natural environment affects human activities” are difference between people living in hilly, plain areas and islands. People living in hilly areas are usually tough, hardworking and strong due to the difficulties they face and the lack of facilities in the hilly areas. People living in the plain areas are usually lazy and less hardworking as compared to the people in hilly areas due to the availability of almost everything at ease. People living in islands display different behavior and have different culture especially the Trukese, people living in islands of Pacific Ocean, who do not use any navigation tools while travelling.

Other examples given in context of the climate is the low population density in mountainous areas or places where climate is extreme cold such as Antarctica, Siachin, Himalayas etc.

Roots / Origin of Environmentalism:

Environmentalism is not a recent approach as it was used by various philosophers of the past. Aristotle, Stabo and Plato used it for describing its impact on human behavior. Aristotle gave a climatic classification and explained the reason of success of Greeks on the basis of environmentalism. Al-Jahiz used it to describe the physical characteristics of the people i.e. according to him; environmentalism is responsible for the skin color. Ibn-e-Khaldun held hot climate of sub Saharan Africa responsible for the black skin color of people.

Environmentalism rose to its peak in the late 19th century as Friedrick Ratzel, Huntington and other European and North-American geographers saw the climate of Europe most favorable for development of industry and technology. Friedrick Ratzel’s theory was based on biological evolution. Huntington held the distance of a country from equator responsible for its development and viewed the climate of mountainous regions as the major factor in determining human’s culture.

Criticism on Environmentalism:

Environmentalism started declining in the 20th century around 1920 as most of its claims faced strong criticism and were proven wrong. E.g. Europe’s climate was considered the best for technological and industrial development but the fact is that before Europe, the countries in the region of south east and west asia, North Africa and East Asia were developed. Carl Saur, in 1924, also criticized it and considered it a theory based on illogical and premature generalizations. By 1950, environmentalism was completely replaced by Possibilism (explained in detail in article Possibilism, Man changed Environment, Examples) as people came to know that though environment plays an important role in determining human’s culture or behavior, human is also responsible for all the decisions he makes in his life. Human behavior is too diverse to be determined by environment only.

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