Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Geography & Environmental Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

D. Scott Slocombe

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


This thesis addresses three critical problems affecting the implementation of “sustainable development”: historical naivety, media limitations, and non-anticipatory governance. Emphasis is placed on North America--primarily the United States complemented with a global perspective towards the latter aspect of the presentation. Foremost (Chapter 2) in the thesis is the focus on contemporary society's lack of appreciation for its environmental past, and the assertion "to be ignorant of history is to repeat it" is corroborated by reviewing many "modern" (circa 1990's) problems of environmental degradation and placing them in a historical North American context. For example, George Perkins Marsh (1801-1882)--the father of ecology–presented detailed discussions of climate change and the potential for chaotic forces, including those human-induced, to affect ecosystem development. Aldo Leopold (1887 1948) anticipated the need to develop both holistic views of conservation, and the logic, views and ethics encoded in ecological economics and sustainable development. John Muir (1838-1914) was more philosophical than either Marsh or Leopold, and his thoughts strongly presaged the motif of the modern deep ecology movement. Remarkably, none of the works of these individuals, or others of similar calibre and background, is included in contemporary campaigns to promote sustainable practices, including the Sustainable Biosphere Initiative of the Ecological Society of America. These limitations are discussed. Cognizance of the environmental past serves little purpose if society is not informed of its environmental present. Thus, the second major focus of the thesis (Chapter 3) is on the media -- a primary source of information and influence on public perceptions—and society’s ill-informed base regarding many, but certainly not all, environmental issues. This view is substantiated based on a review of two prominent media issues, species conservation and solid waste production and management. The mechanisms which drive misinformation as perpetuated via the media are addressed, followed by suggestions to redress this difficulty. The final focus of the thesis (Chapter 4) is directed towards the future, specifically the need to develop anticipatory programs to avoid environmental problems rather than confronting them as society presently does in retrospect. "The smart person solves problems, the genius avoids them." Presently, society is on the low side of smart regarding the environment. It will, however, become increasingly necessary for society to address problems proactively as difficulties of the past compound additional problems of the future. This claim is supported by addressing a global quandary that many predict will bear great havoc as resources decline in the future—environmental degradation and violent conflict. The chapter closes with a proposed solution, an "anticipatory environmental protocol". The thesis concludes (Chapter 5) with the message that current endeavours directed towards environmental problem solving and sustainable practices are palliative and insufficient. If society does not aspire to be properly informed regarding problems of its environmental past, present and future, political decisions will never be inclusive of substantive gestures to maintain the integrity of the ecosphere. To institute a paradigm of sagacious stewardship is, I believe, both attainable and proper.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season