Monday, 11 November 2019

Frustration, schizophrenia and a touch of sneakiness: insights in the process of doing ethnographic research

By Michelle van Weeren, Université Paris Dauphine

Winner of the inaugural Best Paper Award at the 2019 CSEAR International Congress

This summer, I participated for the first time in the Emerging Scholar Colloquium and the International Congress on Social and Environmental Accounting Research hosted by the University of St. Andrews from the 25th to 29th of August. I was quite positively surprised as I discovered the approachability of the senior researchers, it was clear that this was an open community willing to help and encourage future members. I was even more surprised as it turned out that my co-author Clarence Bluntz and me had been awarded with a prize for the best paper of the conference for our article “It’s not about manipulating the results, it’s about refining the methodology”- creative friction in the production of sustainability ratings. I was actually just about to sneak away to my room in the Agnes Blackadder Hall to practice this paper’s presentation that I was supposed to hold for the next day as Michelle Rodrigue stopped me and summoned me back to the conference room, where the award ceremony was just going to start. I was flabbergasted to hear we had won (to be honest, I wasn’t really aware of the existence of this ceremony that was organized for the first time this year) and unable to say a word, but luckily for me, this was not required for my picture being taken (it would have been better to keep my eyes open, though). All this did not exactly lower my level of tension for the next day’s presentation, but I am of course very grateful and happy with CSEAR’s recognition of our work.

The paper was, in the words of inaugural Best Paper Award Committee member Matias Laine, “not the most polished paper”, but the result of an “innovative approach in an area that needs more research”. For this blogpost, I thought it might be interesting to write a few words about this innovative approach.

The article is the result of an ethnography I conducted in the young sustainability rating agency where I used to work as an analyst for a period of three years. Just like most of my colleagues, I started working there with the firm conviction that sustainability ratings could help to bring ethics to the financial sector, thus making it a powerful lever for conducting a positive change in the world. This idea was reflected in the features of the agency’s rating methodology, that was based on strong sustainability principles but at the same time relied on the analysts’ capacity to ask the right questions rather than on quantitative and standardized checklists. This qualitative approach to evaluation worked out fine within the borders of our organisation but was, as it turned out as the agency matured and confronted its products to the market, not quite understood by the companies we rated. The result was a non-linear standardisation process of the rating methodology, with the analysts struggling with the tension between an internal pressure to make sense of sustainability performance while sticking to a case-by-case and common sense-based form of judgment, and an external pressure to communicate their ratings on sustainability performance in a way that was acceptable for external parties. This process was full of paradoxical situations and moments of bricolage where analysts had to make arbitrations between these two types of pressure.

Of course, the above-described analysis did not occur to me as precisely as I now write it down while I was still working there. The starting point of the project was rather one of general wonder about what was going on. Fascinated with the struggles my colleagues and I were going through but also fairly frustrated with the concessions we had to make to comply with external expectations, I started to keep a diary about one and a half year after my hiring. As my colleagues and me were working in an open space with all doors and walls made of glass and my screen was facing the hall where everybody continuously passed to grab a coffee in the kitchen, I had to be very careful with the Google Doc I used. I also had to be careful with What’s App that was installed on my desktop and that I used to talk to my friend Clarence Bluntz, who was in the second year of his Ph.D. at the time and with whom I shared my observations.

As my notes piled up and thanks to discussions with Clarence, who came to the company twice to conduct interviews with my colleagues (this part of the data collection was thus fully uncovered), I was more and more able to see the events at the agency from a distance. At the same time, I still was one of the analysts and had to complete my ratings and attend meetings just like all of my colleagues. When something occurred at the company everyone was upset about (this happened quite frequently), I at first felt just as troubled as everyone else, but quite quickly I was also able to analyse the events from a greater distance, thanks to Clarence and to the observing approach I had taken and that had become natural. The result was a sort of schizophrenic state of being, switching back and forth from playing the role of a devoted employee to being a kind of undercover agent. This was not always easy and more than once I felt scared or guilty about my sneaky behaviour.

It is now more than a year ago since I left the company and started my Ph.D., which can be regarded as the continuation of this ethnographic work. Because I wondered whether the tensions my colleagues and I experienced are shared more widely in the field, I have been doing interviews with analysts and other actors from the French sector for responsible investment during the past year. Thanks to these discussions and to my readings, I now understand that the company I used to work actually was an exception in the field, sticking to a strongly ethically-driven approach to sustainability analysis in a sector where this type of analysis is more and more instrumentalised to better identify financially material risks and opportunities. This does not mean that tensions are not felt by analysts in other organizations, but generally, they do not get the same degree of autonomy from their managers to develop and refine their own methodologies, that are often highly formalized. In other words: if we wanted to attract mainstream investors, who are used to quantitative reports and data, we did not have any other choice than to adapt ourselves, and it is rather praiseworthy that our employer gave us the freedom to carry out this adaptation process as we wished, thus leaving room for our own interpretation of the compromise between ethics and efficiency.

The frustration that led to this inquiry at the start has thus made place for a more nuanced view on my period as a sustainability analyst. The schizophrenia has disappeared, as I am now a full-time academic. The guilt about the sneakiness that my covert participatory observation implied stayed, as I never disclosed my full intentions and the detail of the data collection process to my former employer (the project would not have been possible if I had). The odds are low that he will ever read this blogpost, but if one day he would, I can only hope that he will be able to appreciate the honesty of this confession.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Teaching Management Control for Sustainability

By Delphine Gibassier, Audencia Business School

Next Tuesday I will have my class on management controls for sustainability. Many colleagues, who normally teach environmental and social accounting classes tell me, they do not teach management control, because they would not know how to. As of today, no excuse, here is how I teach it!

The content of the course is as follows:

1/ I teach a definition of it (that you can find in Crutzen et al. 2017)

2/ I first use a classic classification of management control tools by Schaltegger et al. 2000 (Schaltegger, S. and Burritt, R., 2000, Contemporary Environmental Accounting. Issues, Concepts and Practice, Greenleaf, Sheffield.), that exists in French (Antheaume, 2013) and has been also used in Burritt et al. 2011 with carbon as an example.

3/ I introduce Simons' controls (1995) and the example of them being used by Arjaliès and Mundy (2013) in the French CAC 40 companies.

4/ I then introduce further the "integration" of sustainability through management control systems, with the paper by Gond et al. 2012

5/ Last but not least, I finish through the "package" view of Malmi and Brown 2008, used in Crutzen et al. 2017 and the Michelin case study (Baker et al. 2018).

(do not reuse without authorization, Gibassier, 2018)

6/ I introduce the notion of management controls beyond the company (you need to for sustainability) using the figure 1 in the paper "Environmental Management Accounting: The Missing Link to Sustainability?" (2018).

7/ I explain what are "controls for sustainability using the different tables of the same paper (Gibassier and Alcouffe, 2018)

This table is used in our SEAJ special issue intro and Baker et al. 2018. If you use it, cite it!

8/ I present a few tools such as "green capex" (you can use Vesty et al. 2015, or examples using Finance for the Futures Case study of SHE)

9/ Finally I introduce the notion of "sustainability management controller". You can use both Renaud (2014)'s paper (available in French & English) and our report on sustainability CFOs.

I have them read the Michelin Case Study (2018) and then we do an exercice (same as Michelin) to look for controls and put them in the "package" way, +reflect on their sustainability orientation. I am using in French the last L'Oréal report, but any (short) report will do.

You can use our case study on Danone which talks about many of those items available in French and English at the CCMP website.
(this class is part of my "societal impact class where I teach 15 hours, 3 hours on management controls, and the rest on natural capital, social capital and multi-capitals).

More resources here:

More papers here:

  • Bartolomeo, M., Bennett, M., Bouma, J.J., Heydkamp, P., James, P., and T.Wolters. 2000. “Environmental management accounting in Europe: current practice and future potential. “ European Accounting Review 9: 31–52.
  • Guenther, E., Endrikat, J., and T.W. Guenther. 2016. “Environmental management control systems: a conceptualization and a review of the empirical evidence.” Journal of Cleaner Production. 
  • Lisi, I.E., 2015. “Translating environmental motivations into performance: The role of environmental performance measurement systems.” Management Accounting Research 29: 27–44. 
  • Milne, M.J. 1996. “On sustainability ; the environment and management accounting.” Management Accounting Research 7: 135–161.
  • Norris, G., and B. O'Dwyer. 2004. “Motivating socially responsive decision making: the operation of management controls in a socially responsive organisation.” The British Accounting Review 36: 173–196.
  • Rodrigue, M., Magnan, M., and E. Boulianne. 2013. “Stakeholders’ influence on environmental strategy and performance indicators: A managerial perspective.” Management Accounting Research.
  • Schaltegger, S., and D.Zvezdov. 2015. “Gatekeepers of sustainability information: exploring the roles of accountants.” Journal of Accounting and Organizational Change 11: 333–361.
  • Songini, L., and A. Pistoni. 2012. “Accounting, auditing and control for sustainability.” Management Accounting Research 23: 202–204.

See SEAJ 2018 special issue on this, and the 2013 MAR special issue.
Look for papers in AAAJ and SAMPJ recently (from 2012 to now), and papers by Leanne Johnstone as well.
Check out the EMAN group books, and Stefan Schaltegger's work (as well as Roger Burritt's work).

Editor's note: this blog article was originally published on Delphine Gibassier's own blog in October 2019, and is republished here with permission.

Monday, 21 October 2019

6th Emerging Scholar Colloquium and the 31st International Congress on Social and Environmental Accounting Research, 2019: Insights and thoughts from an emerging scholar

By Miriam Corrado

From the 25th to 29th August, the University of St. Andrews hosted the 6th Emerging Scholar Colloquium and the 31st International Congress on Social and Environmental Accounting Research, joining together several emerging scholars, experienced researchers and professors from all around the world.

It was the first time I have participated in the Emerging Scholar Colloquium, and the desire to meet with the academics who, through their journal contributions, are at the basis of my academic training and knowledge, was very strong. Indeed, when I received the letter of acceptance for the Emerging Scholar Colloquium, I felt honoured but at the same time hesitant, to present and talk about my research in an international context such as CSEAR.

Thanks to the generous support from the sponsors (many thanks to Robin Roberts, Pegasus Professor and Al and Nancy Burnett Eminent Scholar Chair in The Kenneth G. Dixon School of Accounting at the University of Central Florida, USA, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants and Charles Cho, Professor of Accounting and the Erivan K. Haub Chair in Business & Sustainability in the Schulich School of Business at York University, Canada), CSEAR has been able to offer bursaries to selected emerging scholars, providing us an opportunity to present our research projects to a cohort of distinguished international faculty and to be introduced into the social and environmental accounting research community.

As soon as I was welcomed at the Agnes Blackadder Hall on Sunday 25th August, I suddenly perceived the friendly and comfortable environment which the CSEAR community enjoy. That impression was confirmed the next morning when Lori Leigh Davis warmly welcomed all the emerging scholars in the Gateway Building, making us feel like we have always been part of that community. The colloquium proved to be useful and constructive, as well as the following days during the CSEAR UK Congress, especially for creating a lively and engaged forum for discussion and reflections on emerging issues in social and environmental accounting research.

I would like to thank the organising committee and the Faculty members (in particular Jesse Dillard, Ericka Costa, Matias Laine, Den Patten, Shona Russell, Ian Thomson, Giovanna Michelon and Carmen Correa) for the opportunity given to share our ideas, to learn through their constructive feedback and, in particular, to give suggestions for our academic career such as the guide for the publication process.

I would strongly recommend to all early researchers and PhD student, to catch the opportunity like the one offered by CSEAR for two main reasons: first, the comparison with other researchers and PhD students from all around the world, allow you to open up your mind, to know about different practice existing in academia and build a strong network; second, the discussion with the Faculty members allow to expand your own research insights thanks to the different backgrounds, research traditions and expertise of various theoretical and methodological approaches of each member.

Many thanks,

Friday, 20 September 2019

Climate Emergency, Climate Action and Accounting Education?

By Ian Thomson, University of Birmingham Business School and CSEAR Executive Council Convenor

Today, the 20th September 2019, children in the UK and around the world are participating in mass demonstrations stressing the need for global action on climate change. Climate scientists warnings are more urgent,  nations are waking up to this climate emergency, some financial institutions are divesting of fossil fuel investments levels, some businesses are reducing their carbon footprint and a growing number of committed individuals are struggling to live low carbon lives. Despite an awareness of how to resolve this, where change is happening it appears too slow to make a difference.

Despite this crisis, many universities and business schools continue to teach accounting and finance, with its hidden carbon curriculum, as if they were climate change deniers. The need for carbon literate graduates has never been greater, yet with a few notable exceptions accounting and finance programmes across the world are largely ignoring this global challenge. Carbon accounting and finance needs to become the new normal for our students.

Of all the social and environment accounting topics this is perhaps the easiest to assimilate into professional practice and is broadly supported by professional accountancy bodies. Carbon intensity disclosures are part of UK corporate reporting and in many other countries. There are standards, protocols, taxes, techniques to measure carbon in ways that can be appropriated into organisational decision processes and reporting.

However, we must ask ourselves how competent are graduates from your programme in understanding drivers of climate change, deciding which carbon accounting method to use,  applying carbon accounting methods and making meaningful and impactful recommendations as to the lowest carbon course of action. Even though I have been teaching this topic for over 25 years I only reach a percentage of our students. These students are aware of the topic, but far from competent in doing carbon accounting.

So why it is it that in 2019, climate literacy and carbon accounting are not core parts of our degrees?

  • Why do we not teach our students to become carbon literate and provide them with the accounting skills to contribute to the meaningful application of carbon accounting to real world problems?
  • Why do we teaching management accounting students to resolve problems with labour or machine capacity constraints, but not with carbon constraints?
  • Why to do teach students about asset impairment standards, but not taking into account unburnable fossil fuels or stranded assets? 
  • Why do we not teach students to take into account carbon emissions as a material risk in audits? 
  • Why is possible exposure to future regulations on carbon, not a factor in corporate valuations or setting cost of capital? 

The list of whys could go on and on. Before you get too annoyed with me – I know many of you are doing wonderful things in this space, and members of the CSEAR community are at the frontiers of practices. But we need every graduate in every institution to have some level of capacity in climate literacy and effective carbon accounting.

This is a challenge CSEAR should take the lead on. I would like us to share our best practice, create learning resources that are translated into different languages. We also need greater accountability and transparency on how climate change is integrated into global accountancy education programmes.

This will not solve climate change on its own, but is a necessary first step, and at least may mitigate the worst consequences of the production of carbon illiterate accounting and finance graduates. This is not a trivial task, but we have the expertise, knowledge, ability and motivation to change what we teach in our programmes. Let us not be bystanders as the world burns.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Can Accountants Save the World? Incorporating Sustainability in Accounting Courses and Curricula

By Charles Cho and Hannele Mäkelä

The new academic year is about to start, turning our minds back into teaching. How tempting it would be to take the slides from the prior year(s) and do what we know best. However, recent changes in global governance and accounting standard setters’ agenda encourage (force?) us to step outside our comfort zone and think: “how can we incorporate sustainability into accounting courses and curricula?”

While many of us have successfully been doing this for years, and even more of us regularly experiment with novel ideas in their teaching, it is time that we, as a community, start carrying responsibility and take action towards a better – and more formal – alignment between accounting and sustainability. Pursuing sustainable development and mitigation of climate change require new understandings of corporate accountability and measuring corporate performance. How companies manage sustainability is crucial for their long-term success. It is no longer enough to measure organisational success by financial measures only. The role of accounting is acknowledged central in achieving sustainability, as strongly emphasized by high-profile speakers at the recent World Congress of Accountants – including former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales and Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England.

For instance, recent developments for non-financial reporting require new understandings of social and environmental value, and how to account and measure for such value. Carbon accounting and disclosure, water accounting, and human capital accounting are just a few examples of the types of non-financial information that companies are now required to disclose. Consequently, and in parallel, business schools are globally and increasingly expected to commit to sustainability education. How can we as academics, researchers and teachers, equip future accounting professionals to better deal with the challenges (and possibilities?) associated with sustainability issues?

Both of us have recently attended workshops, panel discussions and other related events with valuable opportunities to learn and share thoughts around accounting and sustainability with experts from different backgrounds. One of us is part of a group of eight Canadian academics who (still) call for an “integration of sustainability into the CPA Canada curriculum” as follows:
It is our responsibility – as accounting educators and researchers – to contribute to the sustainable development of the profession. This academic commitment to accounting is also an engagement that will ensure the prosperity of future generations. We live in turbulent times where the natural resources of the planet are compromising economic growth, where fiduciary duty requires the inclusion of environmental, social and governance issues and where the ethics of economic actors has become essential to the conduct of business. The integration of sustainability into the CPA Canada curriculum is crucial to the building of a successful, inclusive and leading accounting profession that could pursue an ideal of good business.
We firmly believe that besides the new tools and accounting-related ideas and theories we teach at our business schools – and perhaps as a driver for change –  the accounting profession, via its professional orders, associations and/or societies (e.g., ACCA, AICPA, CA ANZ, CPA Canada, ICAEW), must lead and take action to make concrete changes by including sustainability as a core competency in their examinations and certification/licensing requirements. Unfortunately, we have only seen much discourse without much action so far—a ‘déjà vu’ (?).

Moving forward and “on the ground”, we need new methodologies and new ways of approaching accounting education. Many of the key ideas and concepts in accounting need to be thoroughly and fundamentally re-considered when applied to the sustainability arena. In this process, multidisciplinary thinking is the key. We need to build and educate students with strong core competencies in accounting, but it is equally important to critically analyse the role of accounting-related ideas, tools, and information in the bigger picture of the ecosystem we live in and its sustainable development. What are the critical accounting concepts, theories and tools that we need to master? What is the sustainability-related information that we need, how and from where do we get it? How and what do we conceive of value? What is the time-span to be considered? And so on.

In addition to a critical analysis of these pressing questions, we also need the ability to collaborate in multidisciplinary settings and with different actors in society. This should be reflected in how we teach at business schools. Businesses, governments, NGOs and all other societal actors could (should) be involved, and we could experiment with? new kinds of participatory methods. Then again, sustainability could be easily included even in introductory courses through case studies, for instance. As often mentioned, the question is not only about what you teach but how you teach; that is, teaching methods that foster critical analysis, collaborative skills and problem-solving should be in use throughout curriculum.

This blog aims to stimulate debate around how we should teach accounting to advance and improve sustainability. It constitutes a call for action from us – the community of accounting educators – to change our accounting courses and curricula to integrate sustainability issues, a response for the challenge posed for accountants to save the world.

Editor's note: this blog article was originally published on the EAA-ARC blog on 8 August 2019, and is republished here with permission.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

How The World Thinks

By Dr Jack Christian

How The World Thinks is the title of a recent (2018) book by Julian Baggini. It probably overstates what the book has to offer because whilst it is a good introduction to the major cultures of the Northern Hemisphere it has little to say about the indigenous cultures and religions of Africa, Australia and South America.  Nevertheless it is a valuable book offering insights into why other cultures might see things differently, something which is overlooked all too frequently in the Western world.

From a personal perspective it fleshed out my knowledge of Buddhist and Chinese thought, widened my knowledge of Hinduism and Islam and spoke to me of Shintoism for the first time in 50 years.  It made plain the interdependence of religion and philosophy in all these cultures and contrasted this (in my eyes) with the analytic atomism of the Western world which had led to their separation.  That however is not to say that religion and philosophy do not underwrite today’s culture in the Western world, they are just studied separately (again in my eyes).

The book is organized into four parts and a short conclusion.  In the first two parts Baggini discusses the epistemology and ontology of the Islamic world and the various cultures across Asia.  In part three he focusses on the nature of self as seen by these cultures.  (As a follower of deep ecology I found this section particularly fascinating.  Baggini speaks of no-self, relational self and atomised self; I believe it is in our understanding of self that causes us to identify with deep or shallow ecology).  Part four considers how the different cultures live, delving into their different ethical choices and positions.  The concluding section is only 19 pages long, I guess Baggini would prefer the reader to form his/her own conclusions.

Interesting lessons for me included the Japanese attitude to technology as an extension of Nature introduced on p140.  Humans are part of Nature, hence so it their technology.  This interplay of human ingenuity and Nature is discussed at some length and it left me wondering if it left any room at all for Nature to express herself, or whether she was just seen as some sort of poor relative who should welcome the changes being thrust on her.  I need to find out more about this.

Another lesson from a Japanese setting on p298 is the understanding that life is transient and thinking about (focusing on) the now is just as important as making rational (logical) deductions that will affect the future or analyse the past.  This underwrites an understanding that feelings are as important as rational thought and allows us to bypass Hume’s is/ought logical fallacy.  Thus we can take something we observe and allow it to influence how we act (naturalism).

This Western subordination of feeling to logic goes a long way to explaining something Baggini discusses earlier on p79, science for science sake.  Only in the west is science and intellectual development valued for its own sake, elsewhere it exists to serve human flourishing.

It might also explain the search for impartial ethical rules or guidelines such as Kant’s imperative or Bentham’s utilitarianism in the West.  This compares with the focus on virtue that can be found in most of the rest of the world.  Chapters 25 and 21 respectively discuss and exemplify these points in detail.

I suspect this critique of science, and logic and language would chime with many post-modern philosophers although I am not sure where they would stand on human flourishing.

Another lesson, this time from a Chinese setting on p224, is the difference between harmony and unity.  By definition to create harmony there must be more than one input, ie there cannot be unity!  This insight is further developed by Baggini on p315 to illustrate how cultures could mix in what he describes as moral pluralism.  I like this idea but I would talk in terms of agonistic pluralism; I suspect we mean the same thing though, a world where we live with different ideas but find ways make space for each other’s ideas.

However I would also heed his warning on p314 that ideas are part of living ecosytems and must be transplanted carefully or they can wither and die.  This reminded me of his earlier comments on p214 about relational versus atomistic selves and how the Western focus on individuality has lost sight of belonging and community.  This has led, he suggests, to considerable misunderstanding and disenchantment amongst many of its citizens.  Disenchantment that, I feel, has led to an antipathy towards other cultures that are perceived, rightly or wrongly, as receiving more attention.

In the final chapter, on p338, he returns to pluralism as part of a world seen through a multitude of perspectives.  This undoubtedly chimes with my view of the world.  We are all on the Way (Dao) but each of us sees it from a different vantage point.  If we can accept this it may help us build a better world.

Monday, 21 January 2019

Dark Green Religion: A Muse

By Dr Jack Christian

Dark Green Religion:  Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future is a book by Professor Bron Taylor published in 2010.  I found myself re-reading it this week as I was preparing a talk I am giving at my old school in December.  As well as the talk it turned out to be very relevant to my own thoughts on the environment, and biodiversity in particular; the threats to the latter having been in the news quite a lot over the last two weeks.  Further, and more specifically, it was very relevant to a poem I started last week about a walk I had taken in Sherwood Forest.   During this walk I felt a deep spiritual link to nature; the book helped in my reflections on this walk.  In this muse I simply share some of what I see as key points in the book and how I feel about them.

Taylor defines religion very broadly relying on the word’s etymological base which leads to ‘belonging or bound to’, in this case, shared beliefs.  The shared beliefs of dark green religion (DGR), he posits, are the intrinsic value of nature and the interconnectedness of nature (of which humans are a part).  He also offers a framework of analysis between animism and holism on the one hand, and naturalism and spiritualism on the other.  Animism is almost an idiographic approach where value is placed in individual creatures, plants, and even non-living things, holism refers to systems as the object of value, for example Earth or Gaia.  Naturalism sees either of these things as material with their own value and integrity which should be respected and from which we can learn and with which we could even, perhaps learn to communicate with.  Spirituality adds an immaterial element to our relationship with them in the way some people believe we can communicate with God (holism) or Spirits (animism).

Throughout his book he refers to many environmentalists and other scientists, artists and philosophers and notes how difficult is to isolate most of them into just one of these categories.  For example Charles Darwin was a scientist who was meticulous in trying to record his data objectively but at the same time he professed a deep affinity, connectedness even, with animals of all kinds.  Further he was a Christian and believed in God.  From personal experience I would say this was a pretty hard circle to square.

Taylor devotes chapters to DGR in North America; Radical Environmentalism; Surfing Spirituality; Globalization with Predators and Moving Pictures; Globalization in Arts, Sciences and Letters; Terrapolitan Earth Religion and finally DGR and the Planetary Future.  In the first of these he draws on the work of Whitman, Emerson, Muir and Thoreau amongst others.  Here I offer a few quotes from these giants as cited by Taylor.

“This is what you shall do:  love the earth and sun and animals” (Whitman)
“The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable.  I am not alone and unacknowledged.  They nod to me, and I to them” (Emerson)
"Plants are credited with but dim and uncertain sensation, and minerals with positively none at all.  But why may not even a mineral arrangement of matter be endowed with sensation of a kind that we in our blind exclusive perfection can have no manner of communication with?” (Muir)

It seems to me that Walt Whitman is echoing St Francis of Assissi and Emerson and Muir are drawing attention to somethings philosophers, psychologists and even neuro-scientists still argue over – what is the mind, and the mind/matter conundrum.      

Thoreau offered 8 themes that Taylor suggests might be common to a universal DGR:

  1. The value of simple, natural and undomesticated (free) life.
  2. The wisdom of nature
  3. A religion of nature
  4. The laws of nature and justice
  5. An ecocentric moral philosophy
  6. Loyalty to and the interconnectedness of nature
  7. Moral evolution; the necessity of human moral/spiritual/scientific growth
  8. Ambivalence and enigma
I repeat these here to show the complexity of DGR – it isn’t just about loving Nature.

This complexity is emphasised in the chapter on radical environmentalism where he lists various approaches to environmentalism by numerous different authors.  There are philosophers including Baird Callicott and my own hero Arne Naess, environmental historians, native American scholars, scientists and conservationists such as David Ehrenfeld, anarchists and social ecologists, critics of technology, ecofemnists such as Vandana Shiva, anthropologists and ecopsychologists such as Paul Shepherd and Warwick Fox.

Taylor reflects on the work of a variety of individuals including William C Rogers who committed suicide after being arrested for destroying offices and premises belonging to companies that were expanding into areas critical for wildlife protection.  Aware he would be in prison for life he chose suicide and wrote the following:

“Certain human cultures have been waging war against the Earth for millenia.  I chose to fight on the side of the bears, mountain lions, skunks, bats, saguaros, cliff rose and all things wild.  I am just the most recent casualty in that war.  But tonight I have made my jailbreak – I am returning home, to the Earth, to the place of my origins”

Taylor finishes the chapter with a quotation from Paul Watson, founder of Greenpeace.  This starts,

“What we need  if we are to survive is a new story, a new myth, and a new religion.  We need to replace anthropocentrism with biocentrism.  We need to construct a religion that incorporates all species and establishes nature as sacred and deserving of respect.
Christians have denounced this idea as worshipping the creation and not the Creator.  Yet in the name of the Creator they have advocated the destruction of the creation….”

Watson is not the first or the only person to lay the blame for environmental destruction on the Christian faith.  Sadly this antipathy towards (primarily monotheistic) religions, and vice-versa, is a major impediment in protecting the Earth and her inhabitants.  Taylor returns to this in his concluding chapter on the planetary future.

The chapters on globalization note the attention paid to Nature in movies from Bambi to Lion King and Pocahontas (Colours of the Wind is my favourite song of all time).  He also notes the interest generated by people such as Steve Irwin and David Attenborough.  Under the banner of Arts, Sciences and Letters he notes that Ernst Haeckel, the zoologist who coined the word ecology was overtly spiritual about Nature.  He draws on a wide range of writers from David Ehrenfeld, a scientist, to Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple and even Mikhail Gorbachov’s article Nature is My God.  He notes the dark green tone of the 1988 UNESCO publication of Man Belongs to the Earth.  Oh and he does an excellent deconstruction of Richard Dawkins anti-religious arguments en route.

In the penultimate chapter he wonders about the possibility of a worldwide DGR.  In doing so he notes the Marxist and Feuerbach critiques of religion (as a means of obfuscating oppression) and postmodern critiques alert to hegemonic narratives.  However his main focus is on the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002  and the diverse views that were to be found there.

The concluding chapter on DGR and the planetary future starts by noting some relevant factors:
  1. Evolutionary change has precipitated profound changes in most religious thought.
  2. The diversity in DRG thought and the spread of nature spirituality in the last 150 years has, in historical terms, been breathtakingly rapid.
  3. Whilst social change is not normally rapid, it can be; Taylor cites the Copernican revolution as an example.
  4. Social change is often driven by what are perceived as grave threats.
Again Taylor discusses the work of various scholars the most well know of whom is Baird Callicot.  He draws on the Earth Charter, a product of the 2002 World Summit, as a potential guide to a global DGR and he discusses how it might ‘catch on’.  However there is potential opposition noted in the form of established religions and modernist thinkers for whom religion is simply unacceptable.

All in all a serious book.  Of course things have moved on since 2010 and personally I am not at all sure if the world is greener or not.  For those who find these issues interesting Taylor is actually the editor of The Journal for the Study of Nature Religion and Culture which he founded in 2007.

On a personal note, as I said at the start of this muse I felt a spiritual connection whilst walking in Sherwood Forest recently and I am glad to find I am walking with any number of great thinkers from the past.  Like them I am, at times, uncertain of this connection.  The sceptic in me finds more academically acceptable reasons for my thoughts and feelings; for example am I really just reflecting preconceived notions that are the real me in an Heideggerian sense, or am connected to them through some infinite net of relationships such as the Buddhist Net of Indra.  Every day my belief in the latter becomes stronger, simply through my own experiences of the world, but it is hard to shake off the humanist education of the Modern world.