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Environmental studies and environmental science today: inevitable mission creep and integration in action-oriented transdisciplinary areas of inquiry, training and practice

Abstract

Since the 1970s when the first “named” environmental studies (ENST) and environmental science (ENSC) training programs emerged to tackle the growing crises facing the natural world and humanity, those two areas of inquiry and practice have remained rather distinct. However, as the complexity of environmental problems grows, it is apparent that transdisciplinary perspectives and teams represent the only means to identify and implement effective solutions. Despite the fact that ENST and ENSC programs often exist at the same institution, they tend to be housed in different faculties (i.e. ENST is often in humanities and social sciences, whereas ENSC is often in science). We argue that, as the demand for broadly trained highly qualified personnel able to work in all aspects of problem identification and solutions increases, neither ENST nor ENSC on their own is sufficient to achieve desirable policy and management outcomes. Those in ENST increasingly are expected to be competent in evidence assimilation and analysis, while those in ENSC are expected to recognize the value of the human dimension and embrace their role as knowledge brokers well versed in policy and management. The days of distinct ENST and ENSC programs are numbered as we re-envision how we think about, teach and practice ENST and ENSC. Failure to integrate these areas of inquiry will retard their collective ability to achieve the outcomes that are so needed in the face of dramatic human-induced rapid environmental change. The inherent overlap of ENST and ENSC must be embraced which means modulating our thinking, training and practice related to the environment.

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Acknowledgments

Cooke and Vermaire are supported by Carleton University. Cooke is further supported by NSERC and the Canada Research Chairs Program. We thank our students and colleagues in ENST and ENSC for helping to shape our vision. Jon Midwood and Vivian Nguyen kindly provided comments on a draft version of this manuscript, and Maja Cvetkovic assisted with manuscript formatting.

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Correspondence to Steven J. Cooke.

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Cooke, S.J., Vermaire, J.C. Environmental studies and environmental science today: inevitable mission creep and integration in action-oriented transdisciplinary areas of inquiry, training and practice. J Environ Stud Sci 5, 70–78 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-014-0220-x

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-014-0220-x

Keywords

  • Environmental studies
  • Environmental science
  • Transdisciplinary
  • Integration