Callicott, 'father' of environmental ethics, to speak on campus

4/27/2011 - By: John Trent

Northern Nevada will engage in a number of Earth Day activities on Sunday, including the annual celebration in Idlewild Park.

On Friday, April 29, however, the University of Nevada, Reno will have the rare opportunity to play host to one of the figures who was there at the beginning of one of the world’s major branches of environmental scholarship.

J. Baird Callicott, who has had an enormous impact on environmental thought and discourse for more than 40 years and who is credited with teaching the world’s first course in environmental ethics in 1971, will appear along with Priscilla Solis Ybarra, a leading specialist in Mexican American environmental thought, at the University in several discussion and lecture settings.

The “New Directions in Environmental Philosophy and Ecocriticism” will include a roundtable discussion featuring Callicott and Ybarra, “New Directions in Environmental Philosophy and Ecocriticism,” from 10-11 a.m. in the William Raggio Building, room 2006; a lecture by Ybarra, “Erasure by U.S. Legislation: Ruiz de Burton’s Nineteenth Century Novels and the Lost Archive of Mexican American Environmental Knowledge,” will occur from 2:30-3:30 p.m. in the Raggio Building, room 2030; and Callicott’s lecture, “The Temporal and Spatial Scales of Global Climate Change and the Limits of Individualistic and Rationalistic Ethics,” will be from 4-5 p.m. in the Raggio Building, room 2030.

Sponsors include the Department of English’s Literature and Environment Program and Public Occasions Committee; the Gender, Race and Identity Program; the Department of Philosophy; and the Guy L. Leonard Memorial Endowment.

Scott Slovic, professor of English and one of the organizers of the events, said Friday’s talks are the culmination two years of work in getting Callicott and Ybarra to campus.

“We’re very excited about Friday’s events,” Slovic said. “These lectures and discussions will be great opportunities for anyone interested in the environment to find out what’s happening in some of the most cutting-edge fields within environmental studies.

“One of the things I especially admire about Baird Callicott’s work is its global scope. Not only has he explored important traditions of environmental thought within western culture, but he has devoted himself to learning about and explaining to western readers the wide range of environmental philosophies and spiritual traditions in far-flung parts of the world.”

Slovic said that in addition to his admiration of Callicott’s career, he takes “special pleasure” in watching Ybarra’s career develop.

He noted that Ybarra has emerged “as a major voice in the study of American multicultural environmental literature. I have known Priscilla since she took a course from me on Ecocriticism and Theory at Rice University in 2001, when I was on sabbatical from the University and she was a beginning doctoral student. She’s doing very exciting and important work in collecting Chicana/o environmental writing that most readers today don’t know about.”

Among the many books, papers, articles and presentations he has produced over the past four decades, Callicott might be best known for a simple phrase that clearly shows his full understanding of his field– and just as importantly, why it is important for others to feel the same way.

There can be no value, Callicott has often stated, without valuers.

It is a theme that has run throughout Callicott’s career, beginning from the time when he was a young professor. Inspired by the first Earth Day in 1970 and the fact that the day was sponsored by Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, Callicott, then a professor in Wisconsin, volunteered to teach the world’s first-ever course in environmental ethics. His work helped lay the groundwork for an environmentally conscious era that made the 1970s the “Environmental Decade.”

He has since amassed a body of work that includes more than a half-dozen books, including Earth’s Insights (1994), In Defense of the Land Ethic (1989) and Beyond the Land Ethic (1999). He is currently a University Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy and formerly Regents Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Texas. He is co-editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy and has authored dozens of journal articles, encyclopedia articles and book chapters in environmental philosophy and ethics.

Callicott has been credited with serving as the leading contemporary exponent of Aldo Leopold’s land ethic contained in Leopold’s classic work, A Sand County Almanac. A Sand County Almanac is considered one of the cornerstones for modern conservation science, policy and ethics. In a variety of forms, Callicott’s work has always managed to appeal to all audiences. In a 2007 journal article entitled, “The Future of Environmental Philosophy,” for example, Callicott references the Dustin Hoffman film, “The Graduate,” global climate change and Al Gore … all within the first three paragraphs.

Although the prospect of global climate change appears daunting, Callicott has said, “I remain optimistic that a new Environmental Century is about to dawn–despite every reason to be pessimistic about that prospect.”

Solis Ybarra is an assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of North Texas. Her current book-in-progress, Medioambientes/Environments: A Literary History of Chicana/o Environmental Writing from 1848 to the Present, is the first study to detail a long-range environmental literary history of Chicana/o writing.


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