The Big Picture
Rev. Enno K. Limvere
I am going to be writing a series of blogs that is based upon a book, “Politics and the Environment: From Theory to Practice” by James Connelly and Graham Smith. This book was published in 1999 and in England so some of it doesn’t apply for us here in the U.S., however, it does a good job of outlining some of the issues that global climate change and how different groups are working to solve this challenge. I will be pulling quotes, definitions, categories, and paragraphs from this book liberally, I will try to reference page numbers and such and apologize right now for when I don’t.
The chapters are: 1) Environmental philosophy 2) Green ideology 3) Environmental movement 4) Collective action, power and decision making 5) Valuation of the environment 6) Choosing the means 7) International dimensions (chapters 8 & 9 deal with Europe and England so will skip those) and 10 Local democracy and local authorities. Each blog will be taking one chapter and trying to pull out what is the best for us in Aberdeen. One thing I am very much struck with in reading this is the diversity of thought and motivation even within the environmental movement. Just for an example, there is a big split of those who believe in sustainable development, meaning that the world economy continues to expand while doing its best to make sure there are resources for future generations and there are those who believe that our economy must shrink in order to save the planet, any expansion will harm the world and future generations. There are those groups and people, for another example, who believe that those who want to save the planet should not work with the governments and business but create an alternative path for the planet and all people, and those who think we should be as practical as possible.
Three Moral Traditions and the Environment
This philosophy comes mainly from the Judea-Christian view that God is the creator of the world and has tasked human beings to be its caretakers. There is a broad range within this category from those who believe that the world is under human dominion for our pleasure and purpose and those who believe that each form of life in this world is God created and should be protected. The first was basically promoted and stuck in our human mind by Fancis Bacon who argued “human beings stood over and above nature. Nature was there solely for man’s use. Human needs and wants were paramount and nature, in one way or another, existed to satisfy them.” (pg. 11) There is also the addition of the theology that there will be a new heaven and a new earth created at the end of history which may end at any moment so there is no need to protect the planet and its resources for future generations. Those believing in these two philosophies, of earth as separate and disposable, would not have too much interest or stake in caring for the planet and life on it. We humans, are here to have dominion, to multiply and fill the earth.
The other side of this argument is that each time in the opening creation story of Genesis that God sees at the end of each day of creation the beauty of the life created and blesses it. So the world and all life forms have value to God because they are also created by God and proclaimed good. Throughout the Bible there are references and proclamations that the world, the mountains, the birds, the animals, the fish of the sea also praise God. In the second creation story of the Garden of Eden, we are tasked to take care of not just the Garden of Eden, but eventually the whole world. And though God may love and care for humans more than the animals, birds, and fish of the sea, God does value those as well and we are to live in harmony with them, not just value them for what they only can do for us.
“For utilitarianism, actions should be judged by their consequences, not their intrinsic rightness.” (pg. 13). Though this philosophy does leave out God and theology, it can apply not just to humans, but to the animal and plant world as well in “-the promotion of pleasure and avoidance of suffering – and combines it with Bentham’s dictum ‘each to count for one none for more than one.’” (pg. 13). So if animals and plants can feel pleasure and pain, the actions against them such as polluting of the world and creating global climate change which causes suffering and extinction of animals and plants is wrong because the actions have negative consequences.
Significance of Life
“Another possibility might be to ground an ethic on the notion for respect for life, irrespective of sentience, The notion of ‘reverence for life’ is indelibly associated with the life and work of Albert Schweitzer. However, there are problems with such an approach. On what grounds do we have this respect? Where does it come from? It is a feeling natural to all thinking beings able to reflect on the complex subtleties of living organisms?” (pg. 15)
James Lovelock promoted this by the Gaia hypothesis that all life was part of one life. The world and everything in it were parts of one living organism. So if we harm one part or one one organism, we are basically harming ourselves. But it is near impossible to prove this is true.
While not proving Gaia hypothesis, we are learning more and more about the inter-relatedness of all life on the planet. “Transpersonal ecology, as expounded by Warwick Fox (1990) seeks to conprehend this sense by looking at the question of self. We tend to think of self as isolated, opposed to other selves and separate from the rest of the world. But this atomistic understanding is in many ways false, as anyone who feels strongly for another knows when faced with their pain, fear, or struggles… If we can cultivate this wider sense of self by identifying with other human beings, Fox argues that we can extend the boundaries of our self outwards to embrace the larger ecological whole.” (pg. 17)
The Nature of Value and the Value of Nature
“Broadly there is a division between three categories of value: instrumental, inherent, and intrinsic.” (pg. 18). Instrumental is valuing nature solely on what it can do for us mainly focusing on habitat, food, and usable materials. Inherent is looking at the emotional side of nature, watching birds or hiking in the forest, but still focused on what it does for humankind. Intrinsic means that nature, animals, and the world has its own value outside of human society and human needs.
Anthropocentrism is the view that on humans can only value to anything in this world and the only value that counts is what it can do for humans. Anthropogenic is the view that humans assign value but not make decisions “necessarily beneficial to human beings.” (pg. 20).
What is valued?
Holmes Rolston puts forward 10 different areas of value:
Economic: Provider of resources for humans
Life Support:sustains and embraces life
Recreational:recreation, contemplation, and activity
Scientific:the development of scientific inquiry
Aesthetic:enjoyment of beauty, wonder and humility in the face of the sublime
Life:variety of living entities
Stability and Spontaneity:continuity and change
Dialectical:the inter-relatedness of the social and the natural
Sacramental: religious awe
Each of the those values can carry different meanings for each of the categories: instrumental, inherent, and intrinsic. For example, some logging communities have shut down, but the economics of tourism has brought in more money to the local economy.
Duties to the Human World
Now we look at the discussion on how these practices and values impact the human race. We cannot just look at the natural world in this movement, but also have to look on how the green movement impacts humanity and how our current practices do as well.
Global Distributive Justice
“There are great disparities in wealth and income between the world’s nations, and this informs our deliberations about aid, trade, and development an dour concern with famine, poverty, and suffering. But what, if anything does this have to do with environmental issues?… A general answer is that human settlements exploit their environment in various ways, and some patterns of resource use are environmentally damaging whereas others (relatively) are not… Some environmental destruction is the consequence of affluence, for example, carbon dioxide emmisions as a result of car use.” (pg. 22)
It has mainly been the North side of the planet that has benefited from our current global economy and the South has been harmed by the exploitation of the practices that didn’t protect the land or the people while bringing the wealth to the North. The South has also been damaged as the main pollution of the world has come from the North but the effects are global so those in the South are dealing with Global Climate Change as well.
“In his Theory of Justice (1972), John Rawls challenges us to think through the principles of justice we would choose if we did not know what our situation in life was, what we were going to be, and what benefits or burdens we have in life.” So how do we value all human life, countries, and communities that doesn’t allow those with abundance to keep their position in creating a world economy that also values the natural planet and every human being that lives on it. It is almost impossible to make any current or future deals with a blindfold on knowing it may help countries in South America or Africa and hurt ourselves, but would be just and equitable.
Justice and the Future
Inter-generation justice asks the question of what obligations do we have to future generations and how far into the future. How much do we sacrifice in our world today to make sure that future generations have a chance or have a better world than we do right now? We have been in mode of believing that the future will have the knowledge and technology to fix all our mistakes so we don’t have to sacrifice all that much of our economy, comfort, and resources. But we are also unsure of how our actions will benefit or harm our world in the future.
Why do we have an obligations to future generations?
We cannot ignore that we now know that our actions are hurting the planet and will harm those in the future. We no longer live in ignorance that our economy has no impact on our planet and can change the planet itself.
“It is true that we do not know wath the precise tastes of our remote descendants will be, bu tthey are unlikely to include the desire for skin cancer, soil erosion, and inundation of all low-lying ares as a result of the melting of the ice caps. And, other things being equal, the interests of future generations cannot be harmed by our leaving them more choices rather than fewer.” Brian Barry (pp. 29-30)
“Of course, any action we take now may be in vain. Future generations may not simply care, my blieve that different issues are more significant, or develop technologies which make our actions redundant. But we cannot know any of this and hence we should act on the limited knowledge that we have.” (pg. 31)
“We will never secure justice for future generations unless we can act justly towards all members of our own generation.” (pg. 31) We have to take current needs into account (not wants or excess) such as food, shelter, employment, health, transporation, etc. as our top priority. But we have to find a way to do that without reducing the ability of future generations to meet their needs. This is complex and difficult where simple solutions are going to be easy for humanity to enact. We must however work to find solutions taking all these things into consideration.