Environmental Identity

Clayton, Susan. Environmental Identity: University Press Essays. The MIT Press (Redwood Audiobooks), 2003.

Reviewed by Alexis Ence.

Susan Clayton describes environmental identity as part of getting to know part of our “self.” She says that even those people who do not wish to be grouped with the “environmentalists” must admit that some part of them is related to the environment. She gives specific examples of personal and social life such as people buying homes with a view, creating gardens, owning pets, hiking, and driving to enjoy the scenery. People, not just environmentalists, are always trying to connect with nature.

environmental id

She describes environmental identity as two-fold: The first part of our identity is a collection of beliefs about our natural environment, which is gained through interaction with the natural world. The second part mainly deals with our social constructions of the natural world. Clayton argues that identities begin in our social environment and give meaning to our constructed identity with nature. She describes how nature has positive cognitive effects on humans when they retire to it and utilize it as a “restorative setting.” The natural environment, in turn, Clayton argues, does not respond to human behavior. This enables us to gain a “self knowledge” and “self-actualization” from nature, because nature does not react to our moods and emotions. The key to recognizing the part of our self that is related to the environment is viewing ourselves as part of the environment, instead of viewing self and environment as separate entities.

I liked Clayton’s argument for humans having an “environmental identity” because her view that environmental politics and identity politics are the same is convincing; she also argues that understanding our “environmental identity” will bridge gaps between environmentalists and counter groups. The more people focus on realizing their “environmental identity,” the more they will find in common with those in other groups around them.