I recently learned of this “Statement of Commitment to Ecocentrism” and thought that some of my current and former students might find it interesting. You can find the website here. You can even add your name in support, if you find yourself agreeing with it. For the purposes of our Zag Environmental Ethics Lab I’ll cut and past their text so we can debate it. But do visit the site too. After reading through it, share your thoughts. What do you think?
Statement of Commitment to Ecocentrism
Developed by Haydn Washington, Bron Taylor, Helen Kopnina, Paul Cryer and John J Piccolo
With editorial input from Patrick Curry, Ian Whyte and Joe Gray
We, the undersigned, hold and advocate an ecocentric worldview that finds intrinsic (inherent) value in all of nature and the ecosphere.
Ecocentrism takes a much wider view of the world than does anthropocentrism, which sees individual humans and the human species as more valuable than all other organisms. Ecocentrism is the broadest of worldviews, but there are related worldviews. However, ecocentrism goes beyond biocentrism (ethics that sees inherent value in all living things) by including environmental systems as wholes and their abiotic aspects. It also goes beyond zoocentrism (seeing value in animals) on account of explicitly including flora and other organisms, as well as their ecological contexts. Given that life relies on geology and geomorphology to sustain it, and that ‘geodiversity’ also has intrinsic value, the broader term ‘ecocentrism’ is the more inclusive concept and value, and hence most appropriate.
We maintain that the ecosphere, including the life it contains, is an inherent good, irrespective of whether humans are the ones valuing it. It is true that (as far as we know) humans are the only species that reflects on and applies moral values. However, we can also understand that elements of the ecosphere have co-evolved to form a wondrous complexity – and contend that nature has value for itself. Ecocentrism recognizes that humans have responsibility towards the ecosphere, moral sentiments that are increasingly expressed in the language of rights. Such ‘rights of nature’ are now enshrined in some national constitutions, and are variously termed Earth jurisprudence, ecocide law or animal law.
Ecocentrism is important for multiple reasons:
In ethical terms: Ecocentrism expands the moral community beyond our own species, to all life, and indeed, to terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems themselves. There is compelling philosophical and scientific justification for extending moral concern to all of the ecosphere, both its biotic and abiotic components.
In evolutionary terms: Ecocentrism reflects the fact that Homo sapiens evolved out of the ecosphere’s rich web of life, which has a legacy stretching back an almost unimaginable 3.5 billion years. Other species literally are our cousins and relatives (close and distant) – a biological kinship that many have recognized as conferring moral responsibilities towards all species.
In spiritual terms: Historical and social scientific analysis demonstrates that many people (and some societies) have developed an ecocentric worldview. There is strong evidence that ecocentric values are increasingly being fused into nature-based, ecocentric spiritualities. With such spiritualties, even people who are entirely naturalistic in their worldviews often speak of the Earth and its ecosystems as sacred, and thus worthy of reverent care and defence.
In ecological terms: Ecocentrism reminds us that the ecosphere and all life is interdependent and that both human and nonhuman organisms are absolutely dependent on the ecosystem processes that nature provides. An anthropocentric conservation ethic alone is wholly inadequate for conserving biodiversity. Ecocentrism is rooted in an evolutionary understanding that reminds us that we are latecomers to what Aldo Leopold evocatively called the “odyssey of evolution”. Ecology teaches humility, as we do not know everything about the world’s ecosystems, and never will. This leads quite naturally to a precautionary approach towards all the systems that constitute the ecosphere, so that where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, a lack of full scientific certainty ought not to be used as a reason for postponing remedial action.
How ecocentrism can lead us to a sustainable future
Although we hold an ecocentric worldview because we believe it is ethically just, we contend that it is also practical because it counters humanity’s relentless drive towards ‘dominion over nature’. Society’s overconsumption and overexploitation of nature has led to global and accelerating degradation of the ecosphere. Ecocentrism encourages us to see the rest of life as our kin, something we should respect for its own sake as well as our own. Those with an ecocentric worldview cannot silently tolerate mass anthropogenic extinctions, nor the suffering that accompanies environmental degradation. Ecocentrism encourages empathy with life, listening to the land and, above all, taking action to protect and heal the planet. Ecocentrism can also help lead to a sustainable future by encouraging a sense of wonder about the world around us. This can help us find the ethics we require if we are to take the difficult actions needed to sustain the ecosphere that supports our society. Whether it involves solving global crises like climate change or mass extinction, or contributing to local initiatives, ecocentrism can help humanity seek sustainable solutions.
Everyone (even academics seeking objectivity) are influenced by their worldview, ethics and values. To date, most Western thought has been rooted in an anthropocentric worldview. Despite great progress on some environmental fronts, it has become increasingly clear that an anthropocentric worldview provides an insufficient basis for preserving ecospheric diversity. We maintain that a transformation towards an ecocentric worldview is a necessary path for the flourishing of life on Earth, including that of our own species.
We, the undersigned, are convinced that the future of our living planet is dependent upon the recognition of the intrinsic value of nature, and strong support for ecocentrism as a worldview. We all have a duty to communicate this whenever possible and to undertake, promote and endeavour to inspire action in accordance with this worldview. ■
Add your name to the signatories
Visit the website to add your name http://www.ecologicalcitizen.net/statement-of-ecocentrism.php