Hubris and humility in environmental thought

Authored by: Michelle Niemann

The Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities

Print publication date:  January  2017
Online publication date:  January  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138786745
eBook ISBN: 9781315766355
Adobe ISBN: 9781317660194


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This chapter investigates how environmentalists have used the concepts of hubris and humility to define practices both of sustainable living and of conservation. Though hubris and humility arguably do not fit our current environmental situation well, they are still invoked often: what makes these concepts urgent, despite their inadequacies? In the first section, I examine a classic environmentalist debate structured around hubris and humility and, in the second, turn to recent revisions of these concepts, including Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus’s polemics and the Dark Mountain Project’s literary journal and blog. While Shellenberger and Nordhaus’s reclamation of hubris has had positive effects on mainstream environmentalist rhetoric and politics, I argue that the Dark Mountain Project’s eclectic, syncretic efforts to craft new ways of imagining and practicing humility resonate most vitally with the environmental humanities now, at a time when humility seems both impossible and necessary.

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