The Humanities and the Sciences Squabble for Sustainability’s Soul: First Thoughts

by Liam Heneghan

Chicago Wilderness is an environmental consortium with a mission to restore biodiversity and improve the quality of life for people living in the Greater Chicago area.  Their vision is to include one third of Chicago and the surrounding areas in an interconnected network of lands and waterways in order to provide a healthy and sustainable region for people and nature.  Although the sustainability goal of the consortium is focused on environmental outcomes, nonetheless there is recognition of the need to integrate this goal with the economic and social developmental plans for the region. Therefore the 260 member institutions of this sustainability oriented organization includes local, state and federal agencies, large conservation organizations, cultural and education institutions, volunteer groups, municipalities, corporations, and faith-based groups.  Together these organizations commit to four key initiatives: restore nature to health, protect green infrastructure, mitigate climate change, and leave no child inside.  Projects are undertaken through four teams:  education, natural resources, science and a sustainability team.  Representation in team leadership and in working groups are drawn from a range of professions: land managers, research social scientists, ecologists, conservation biologists, planners and so forth.  Many, though not all of course, are scientific in nature.  Few, in contrast, are drawn from humanities.  That is not to say that there are no individuals in the consortium with training in humanistic disciplines; indeed many may have.  Rather what I am contending here is that these individuals are not engaged in the work of Chicago Wilderness in their role as humanists, not, at least, in the way that the scientists are engaged in project work qua scientists.

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