A humanist’s perspective on our environment
May 4, 2023
Associate Dean, Research and Graduate Studies
Creative and Critical Studies
Okanagan (Kelowna, BC)
PhD, University of Liverpool
Master of Arts, University of Wales
Bachelor of Arts (Honours), English Literature and Philosophy, University of Wales
“As a literary critic, I feel empowered helping other disciplines understand what they don't know, what they can't know or what they aren't able to see.”
ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES ARE USUALLY CONSIDERED SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNICAL, but they are seldom resolved in these terms alone. With an interest in contributing humanistic perspectives to global issues, Dr. Greg Garrard uses his skills in understanding other viewpoints to help bridge the distance between various disciplines, and help clarify the multiple points of view that can exist within challenging topics.
“Sometimes you need to ask different questions. And that’s the specialty of the humanities. Asking better questions,” explains Dr. Garrard. “I want to get to a place where we can understand what different groups may not be seeing so we can better work together.”
When it comes to climate change, Dr. Garrard notes that the science is known but action is missing, and that an ongoing cultural polarization—the inability to understand or communicate across differences—is a fundamental obstacle preventing that action from taking place.
As someone interested in the complexity of other humans’ perspectives, he doesn’t think of people who don’t believe in climate change as “wrong”—rather, he’s interested in their perspectives and where their opinions originate.
In the broadest sense, Dr. Garrard explores cultures of nature that include literary representations of wilderness, animals, wildfire, climate change and environmental issues. When Dr. Garrard first started in the area of environmental criticism of literature, there was no such field as ecocriticism.
“As a joint honours student of philosophy and English literature, I studied environmental ethics, and I wondered if I might look to literary texts for insight into the quandaries discussed by philosophers,” he says.
Much of Dr. Garrard’s writing is in the realm of environmental literature and ecocriticism, but he is also heavily involved in working with people from other disciplines by contributing those humanistic perspectives. He helps translate between disciplines, pushing people to ask more questions and look at things from a different vantage point.
In addition to his climate change work, he’s also involved in projects like the Living with Wildfire in the BC Southern Interior research cluster with Dr. Mathieu Bourbonnais from the Department of Earth, Environmental and Geographic Sciences. Dr. Garrard feels that he and his students help bring the whole research group together, both organizationally and conceptually.
“It’s really important to be able to develop something so interdisciplinary in the digital and public humanities as a way to be involved in, and make a difference in, an area like fire research,” says Dr. Garrard.
In 2020, Dr. Garrard was awarded Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight funding to support “Kelownafornia”, the next phase in his research trajectory. This ambitious multi-disciplinary study of culture-nature interactions in the United States and Canada—specifically the Okanagan Valley—overlaps with the Living with Wildfire collaboration. Both projects are working with Indigenous partners to consider how culture and nature are interacting with each other in order to help address the ongoing wildfire challenges in the BC Interior.
While scientific aspects of climate change are well understood, this hasn’t yielded the kind of concerted political and social response that scientists might have hoped for. The Okanagan Valley is experiencing immense pressure from property development and agriculture, and this will only intensify as the population grows and the climate warms over the coming decades. The Kelownafornia project aims to improve citizens’ understanding of where they live, and to highlight the gap between the idyll and the biological and climatic reality.
“We hope the project will increase support for measures to enhance the environmental sustainability of our communities here in the valley for the future,” Dr. Garrard says.
In recognition of his ongoing work exploring how culture and nature interact, and his efforts to help people communicate and understand across their differences, Dr. Garrard was named UBC Okanagan’s 2023 Researcher of the Year for the Social Sciences and Humanities.
Bringing clarity to complex situations, he says, is always a great reward.
“As a literary critic, I feel empowered helping other disciplines understand what they don’t know, what they can’t know or what they aren’t able to see.”