Environmental Management is a very important component of sustainable living. The interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary nature of Environmental Management enables it to solve the complex environmental problems (pollution, erosion, flooding, deforestation, desertification, just to name but a few) that essentially characterize our landscape at the local regional and global scale. To better understand these problems, the discipline draws on a wealth of expertise in both concepts and approaches from the natural or physical and social sciences to develop this interdisciplinary. This essay seeks to explore the nature of environmental management and in particular, attention is drawn on the interdisciplinary and transdisciplinarity of environmental management.
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The environmental problems we face today are many and varied. From pollution, erosion, flooding, deforestation, desertification, to climate change- all present themselves in very practical terms and as such environmental management is more important than ever before. However, the field has been the subject of wide criticism. For instance Bryant and Wilson (1998) criticized the field as a result of the limitations in the understanding of root causes-political, economic or cultural issues.
There is no generally acceptable definition of the subject environmental management. This is partly due to its’ broad scope and in part of the diversity of specialism (Barrow, 1999). However, attempts have been made by several authors to define environmental management. For example, Riordan (1995); Barrow (1999); Wilson and Bryant (1997); Bryant and Geoff (2009), have all made substantial effort to define Environmental Management. Environmental management has been defined as both a process and a field of study (Wilson and Bryant 1997). In his book, Barrow (1999 p. 5) presented an overview of some definitions of Environmental Management. Like Environmental Management, definitions and interpretations of interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity abound in literature. For instance, Klein, 2004; Tress and Tress, 2001; Tress et al., 2005; Jones and Macdonald, 2007; Evans and Randalls, 2008; and Wesselink, 2009. In its simplest sense interdisciplinarity is an integrative research approach that transects many disciplinary boundaries with a common goal and the aim of production of new knowledge and theory (Tress et al., 2005).
As a process, Environmental Management, according to (Wilson and Bryant, 1997 p.7) can be defined ‘
“as a multi-layered process associated with the interaction of state and non-state environmental managers with the environment and with each other. Environmental Managers are those whose livelihood is primarily dependent on the application of skill in the active and self conscious, direct or indirect, manipulation of the environment with the aim of enhancing predictability in a context of social and environmental uncertainty…. ”
While the term ‘state’ will include state officials such as Department of the Environment, DoE, and Department of Environment Food and Rural Agriculture, DEFRA, just to name a few, ‘non-state’, on the other hand includes environmental NGOs, farmers, transnational corporations(TNCs), hunter-gatherers. In this light, environmental management is a process not exclusive only to large national and international environmental actors but inclusive to a range of predominantly local level environmental actors (Wilson and Bryant, 1997).
On the other hand, Environmental management, as a field of study, evolved with the growing concern about environmental degradation in the late 1960s and early 1970 (Bryant and Geoff, 2009; Wilson and Bryant, 1997) after post industrialization. According to Barrow (2006: 24-26) Environmental Management as a field can be subdivided into the following:
“sustainable development issues; environmental assessment, modeling, forecasting and hindcasting;corporate environmental management; pollution recognition and control; environmental economics;environmental enforcement and legislation; environment and development institutions and ethics; environmental management systems and quality issues; environmental planning and management; assessment of stakeholders involved in environmental management; environmental perceptions and education; community participation for environmental management/sustainability; institution building for environmental management/sustainable development; biodiversity conservation; natural resources management; environmental rehabilitation/restoration; environmental politics; environmental aid and institution building”.
While the list is not exhaustive, partly because Environmental Management is relatively a nascent discipline (Barrow, 2006) and is still evolving, its broad scope is readily appreciated at a glance, as it tends to techno-centric problem solving approach rather than reactive approach. Table 1 highlights some distinguishing features of traditional environmental management as it were during its early evolution and at present.
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Referring to interdisciplinarity, the interdisciplinary nature of environmental management is more than just integration. It is essentially a modern way of thinking that involves identification, definition as well as interpretation of studies with the view of proffering practical oriented solutions to environmental problems (O’Riordan, 1995). Again, Transdisciplinary studies according to Tress et al. (2005) involves the integration of both academic and non-academic participant (stakeholders) to research a common goal with the creation of new knowledge and theory. It is explicit from the definitions above that interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity are both integrative, in that new knowledge and theory is created. However, a distinguishing element is that ‘transdisciplinary research combines interdisciplinarity with a participatory approach (Tress et al., 2005)
Traditional Environmental Management Modern Environmental Management
- Largely ‘top-down approach’ ‘Bottom-up’ approach
- Management was authoritarian participatory and much more integrative
- Short term plan Long term plan and therefore sustainable
- Exploitational in approach Emphasizes stewardship rather than exploitation.
- Tends to be reactive Tends to be proactive and participatory
- Disciplinary, at best multidisciplinary Interdisciplinary, or even holistic in approach
- State centric Non state factors involved in the process of EM
- Influence of natural science discipline Shift from the natural science to social science
Tress and Tress (2001) introduced a transdisciplinary landscape concept. The transdisciplinary landscape concept, according to Tress and Tress (2001) is based on five dimensions: the spatial entity, the mental entity, the temporal dimension, the nexus of nature and culture, and the systemic properties of landscape. The significance of collaboration in interdisciplinary and trandisciplinary research in the understanding of human-environment interaction cannot be overemphasized. Although environmental management takes its root from the natural science, however there seems to be a shift from the natural science to social science (Bryant and Wilson, 1998). Figure 1 as shown in the appendix depicts the profound influence from the social sciences and again, in the words of Wilsons and Bryant (1997, p 17) ‘Environmental Management operates at the intersection of a range of disciplines and subdisciplines’.
From the foregoing, It is obvious that Environmental Management is increasingly becoming interdisciplinary and applying a great deal of transdisciplinarity approaches. For example, Wesselink (2008) and Potschin and Haines-Young (2005) have emphasized the importance of applying transdisciplinarity in their studies of land use planning and landscape ecology respectively..
While the environmental problems we face today are many and varied both in scope and complexity, no one discipline can effectively provide the knowledge adequate enough to fully understand nor solve them (Tress and Tress, 2001). Modern approaches of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinarity in Environmental Management can be a panacea of all local to global environmental ills. This notwithstanding, more powerful and robust tools are needed for dealing with the problems of scaling and uncertainty which are crucial in the human-environment interaction at all scale. It is the position of this essay, therefore, that while the search for a strong and robust tools continues in order to mitigate, control and prevent environmental problems, active consultation and collaboration with local communities is a necessary ingredient for sustainable solution.
- Barrow, C. J 1999. Environmental Management: Principles and Practice. Routledge, London.
- Barrow, C. J. 2006. Environmental Management for Sustainable Development. 2nd edition. Routledge, London.
- Bryant R.L and Wilson G.A 1998. Rethinking Environmental Management. Progress in Human Geography 22(3) pp 321-343
- Evans, J. and Randalls, S. 2008 Geography and Paratactical Interdisciplinarity: Views from the ESRC-NERC PhD studentship programme. Geoforum 39 pp 581-592
- Jones, P. and Macdonald, N. 2007. Getting it wrong first time: building on interdisciplinary research relationship. Area 39(4) pp 490-498.
- O’Riordan, T. ed 1995 Environmental Science for Environmental Management Longman Scientific & Technical, England.
- Potschin, M and Haines-Young, R. 2006. ”Rio+10”, Sustainability Science and Landscape Ecology. Landscape and urban planning. 75, 162-74.
- Phillipson, J. and Lowe, P. 2009 Barriers to Research Collaboration across disciplines: scientific paradigms and institutional practices. Environment and Planning 41, pp 1171-1184
- Klein, J. T. 2004 Prospects for Transdisciplinarity. Futures 36 pp 515-526
- Tress, B and Tress, G 2001 Capitalising on Multiplicity: A Transdisciplinary Systems Approach to Landscape Research. Landscape and Urban Planning 57, pp 143-157
- Tress, B., Tress, G.,Fry, G. and Opdam, P. 2005 eds. From Landscape Research to Landscape Planning: Aspects of Integration, Education and Application. Springer, Netherland.
- Wesselink, A 2009. The Emergence of interdisciplinary Knowledge in Problem-focussed Research. Area 41 (4) pp. 404-413.
- Wilson, G. A and Bryant, R.L 1997. Environmental Management: New Directions fot the Twenty-First Century.UCL, London
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