By: Tiffany Cousins, M.S.
The first law of ecology is “everything is connected to everything else” and Tobler’s first law of geography is “everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things.” The first definition mentioned relates to the physical environment and the second relates to the spatial environment. But in the end, they basically say the same thing – the world operates on interactions, relationships, and systems. Environmental governance can be described as the system of environmental management and environmental planning.
Environmental management is the way of controlling human-environment interaction that aimed to protect and enhance human health and welfare and environmental quality. This is achieved by the relationship(s) of the State, Market, and Civil Society. Management reflects the society’s culture, values, and ethics. Environmental Planning is the application of the field of planning to environmental problem-solving. This can be achieved by land use planning, environmental evaluation, or GIS. Therefore, environmental governance is the process is which manage and plan for the environment. It deals with governing bodies doing “good governance” to protect the environment.
While this is occurring on a city, state, and national scale, environmental governance can be applied to the personal scale. Common personal “environment” quotes are “You cannot heal in the same environment that made you sick” or “You are product of your environment.” This acknowledges that there is a relationship or deep connection between a person and their surroundings (environment). Individually we practice environmental management when we manage our social media time or manage the people we choose to be around or keep our spaces in a tidy order. We harmonize our interaction with the world around us.
We individually practice environmental planning when we actively remove ourselves or things from environments that make us sick. From a personal example, I manage my environments when I shift between my Virginia home to my New York City home. What is it in each location? What things are there to help me be productive? What is the overall quality of my home in these two different places? When planning these environments, I think of physical layout of the space. Where do I want my couch relative to the TV but the TV relative to the kitchen? Most times you are given a space with certain boundaries that you cannot move. For example, a wall maybe in place that prevents you from creating your open concept in a home. You can either tear down the wall, hoping that it is not a load baring wall, or you can keep it and work around it. And in case it is a load baring wall, how will you mitigate the risk of collapse if you really want to take the wall down?
For me, I am not allowed to change the backsplash of the kitchen (policies), however I can buy vinyl peel and stick tiles to the give the appearance of a subway tile – balancing policies with my own desires. In planning and managing for this environmental change or in my case renovations, there is also economics – budgeting for renovations and politics and law – dealing with governing body (Mother) and having a say in decision-making and policies.
The question I pose is, what if we governed the natural environment with the same care as we govern our personal environment? If we all acknowledge that our personal environments have an effect on our well-being, why would the natural environment be any different? The unfortunate reality with the natural environment is that consequences are not seen immediately. It usually years or decades. Whereas the consequences in your personal environment can be seen in a matter of minutes, hour, or days. For example, if my mom wanted to create an open concept with her kitchen and it was a loading baring wall, you will know immediately when things start to crumble. Governing environments is a daily practice. Daily practices build habits and habit build a lifestyle. As John Randolph noted, how the environment is handled is a reflection of societal values, cultures, and ethics. If we value our personal environment and it is also reflected in our lifestyle, imagine what the natural environment would be like if we did the same on global scale.