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Environmental Ethics

Volume 25, Issue 1, Spring 2003

Andrew R. Murphy
Pages 79-98
DOI: 10.5840/enviroethics200325146

Environmentalism, Antimodernism, and the Recurrent Rhetoric of Decline

I explore the main features and historical pedigree of antimodern environmental declinism, a prominent family of contemporary critiques that ascribes responsibility for environmental ills to the legacy of the Scientific revolution or “modernity” more generally. I argue that each of its three central oppositions (to the human/nature dichotomy, the dominance of scientific method, and industrialism and technology) are part of a long-standing rhetorical tradition, and are neither unique nor unprecedented. I stress the communicative, narrative, persuasive, and political nature of the environmental project, rather than its claims to have arrived at an objective description of unprecedented ecological damage in late modernity. This view is perhaps less convincing to an audience looking for certainty in an age of science, but it is more faithful to the attenuated, mediated ways in which we experience and make sense of the world around us.

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