Ash’s Paradigm

Tree Journal 9


The Human Exceptionalism Paradigm states that because we humans are the only biological species on this planet to develop an advanced culture, we are, in a way “exempt” from the evolutionary chain that defines the rest of life on earth (Catton & Dunlap 42-43). We have the ability to progress and fix our problems on our own rather than depending on the invisible forces within the environment. With regards to Ash, the tree that stands still on Morgan Field, this paradigm is undeniably applicable.

Lets assume that Ash has been around for 100 years. He has been growing, his trunk gaining girth and his highest branch gaining height. All the while, Ash has stood in the same spot, susceptible to the wind and the rain and the sunshine and the snow. However, in the past 100 years Dickinson College has rapidly evolved right in the trees front yard. Morgan Hall did not even exist when Ash was born. The environment has posed its problems, and we have responded. We started a project to create our own farm, and we have a composting system in our cafeteria that almost completely negates food waste. Ash could not do any of this if he tried.

Socially speaking, Ash is inept. He has no power of what he will one day become. He will take in sunlight and produce chloroplast and drink in the water that rains down on him, and that is all he will ever be able to do. The environment will not affect what I one day become however, for I have the power to be whom I would like to be. That is where I can argue against myself.

Lets use Carlisle as an example. It has become common knowledge, at least within the halls of Dickinson College, that the air we breathe in is of some of the lowest quality in the nation. The cross-country team still practices every day while in season, and breaths deeply into the mess of toxic particles in the air. Even on days when the EPA advises that it is unsafe for anybody to be outdoors, let alone exercise, the cross-country team runs. This isn’t something we can fix. This is something we contribute to, and like all other species are affected by.

The New Environmental Paradigm is the theory that humans are not unique, and not significant. We are part of the greater community that inhabits the earth, and because of our planet’s finite nature, we too have limits to where our growth and development may take us. (Catton & Dunlap 45). So with this paradigm in mind, we are just like Ash. We are no better; we are no worse. However many would argue (myself included) that we are in fact much worse.

Ash may seem helpless and completely vulnerable to what the environment offers while we are not. This New Environmental Paradigm is a long term hypothesis, because as we have recently seen with changing climates, the environment controls us too.



Catton, William R., Jr., and Riley E. Dunlap. “Environmental Sociology: A New Paradigm.” The American Sociologist 13 (1978): 41-49. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

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