Environment and Public Action

The environment matters. In advocacy and policy and scholarship today, the environment has become a potent site of meaning and action. Within CAPA, the initiative on the Environment and Public Action encourages students to engage more directly with local and national environmental issues, from installing LED lights in North Bennington to measuring (and lowering) the carbon footprint of the college, to work-shopping radical solutions to water crises from California to the Middle East to our own region. Through ongoing collaborations with the EPA and the local government, students get hands-on experience with issues of green design, energy efficiency, and sustainability. This initiative also reflects more pointedly on the relationship between the environment and public action; it seeks to foster critical and comparative scholarship on the historical formation of the environment (which remains a surprisingly recent domain of science, politics, and ethics). Topics explored in conferences and courses include: the outsized role disasters often play in giving ‘the environment’ empirical outline; the distinct publics that cohere around ‘the environment’ in different places; the ideals and practices of social change enabled by ‘the environment;’ and the democratic action that is sometimes sidelined by the technical and legal constitution of ‘the environment.’ CAPA’s investments in public action are uniquely poised to allow students to mobilize the strengths of a Bennington education toward a more nuanced understanding of the environment, as well as toward a more effective confrontation with and equitable solution to environmental problems today. Current program areas in this initiative address food systems, energy systems, and water systems.