Why ecocentrism is the key pathway to sustainability

GR: Attention Biophiliacs (lovers of animals and plants). Here’s an article from the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and Biosphere (MAHB) that deals with the central ideas of nature conservation. The authors argue that the common term ‘biocentrism’ implies a limited view focused on living things alone. They explain that the term ‘ecocentrism’ takes a broader view that includes the non-living elements of the Earth systems, the atmosphere, biosphere, geosphere, and hydrosphere. The argument make sense and adds depth to the fact that homocentrism has failed to develop a sustainable role for humans within nature.

We can expect that acceptance of ecocentrism by our strongly homocentric species will be slow. However, the core concept is rational and merits support. Please consider signing the Ecocentrism Statement. As with any such central idea, ecocentrism spurs a plethora of questions and extensions such as the problems with pro-growth economies.

I’ve been pronouncing MAHB as mob. Is that wrong?

“The Earth’s biodiversity and ecological integrity are being lost at an ever-increasing rate due to human impacts. The traditional, post-enlightenment Western anthropocentric worldview has failed to halt this (and is almost certainly responsible for it). Changing our worldview to ecocentrism however offers hope for solving the environmental crisis.

What is ecocentrism?

“Ecocentrism finds inherent (intrinsic) value in all of nature. It 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. Ecocentrism goes beyond biocentrism (ethics that sees inherent value to 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 the ecological contexts for organisms. Ecocentrism is thus the umbrella that includes biocentrism and zoocentrism, because all three of these worldviews value the nonhuman, with ecocentrism having the widest vision. Given that life relies on geological processes and geomorphology to sustain it, and that ‘geodiversity’ also has intrinsic value, the broader term ‘ecocentrism’ seems most appropriate.

Historical roots of ecocentrism

“Ecocentrism as a worldview has been with humanity since we evolved. Many indigenous cultures around the world speak of lore and (in Australia) ‘law’ that reflects an ecocentric view of the world. Ecologist Aldo Leopold in Sand County Almanac wrote the classic evocation of ecocentrism in ‘The Land Ethic’, which expanded the ‘community’ to include animals, plants and the land itself. Philosopher Arne Naess in 1973 coined the term ‘deep ecology’ for similar sentiments, later articulating the notion in Principle 1 of the Deep Ecology Platform.” –Paul Cryer, Helen Kopnina, John J. Piccolo, Bron Taylor, and Haydn Washington (Why ecocentrism is the key pathway to sustainability | MAHB)

Judi Bari: Revolutionary Ecology and Biocentrism

GR: Judi Bari (1949-1997) wrote clearly and passionately about nature conservation. Her explanation of biocentrism is excellent.

Headwaters Forest Reserve

Biocentrism Definition of Nature Conservation

Judi Bari shows a photo blowup of Headwaters Forest as she speaks at a March 28, 1995 rally for Headwaters at Fisher Gate, near Carlotta CA. Photo (neg. A-22) by Nicholas Wilson, PO Box 943, Mendocino CA 95460.

“Deep ecology, or biocentrism, is the belief that nature does not exist to serve humans. Rather, humans are part of nature, one species among many. All species have a right to exist for their own sake, regardless of their usefulness to humans. And biodiversity is a value in itself, essential for the flourishing of both human and nonhuman life.

“These principles, I believe, are not just another political theory. Biocentrism is a law of nature, that exists independently of whether humans recognize it or not. It doesn’t matter whether we view the world in a human centered way. Nature still operates in a biocentric way. And the failure of modern society to acknowledge this – as we attempt to subordinate all of nature to human use – has led us to the brink of collapse of the earth’s life support systems.” –Judi Bari (Revolutionary Ecology)

Judi Bari read widely and used her knowledge to formulate a working definition of nature conservation. This is what she had to say about Marxist theory:

“According to Marxist theory, profit is stolen from the workers when the capitalists pay them less than the value of what they produce. The portion of the value of the product that the capitalist keeps, rather than pays to the workers, is called surplus value. The amount of surplus value that the capitalist can keep varies with the level of organization of the workers, and with their level of privilege within the world labor pool. But the working class can never be paid the full value of their labor under capitalism, because the capitalist class exists by extracting surplus value from the products of their labor.

“Although I basically agree with this analysis, I think there is one big thing missing. I believe that part of the value of a product comes not just from the labor put into it, but also from the natural resources used to make the product. And I believe that surplus value (i.e., profit) is not just stolen from the workers, but also from the earth itself. A clearcut is the perfect example of a part of the earth from which surplus value has been extracted. If human production and consumption is done within the natural limits of the earth’s fertility, then the supply is indeed endless. But this cannot happen under capitalism, because the capitalist class exists by extracting profit not only from the workers, but also from the earth.

“(Author’s note: At this point, Marxist scholars always object, citing Critique of the Gotha Program to say that Marx did recognize nature, as well as labor, as a source of value. But Marx makes the distinction between use value, which he says comes from nature and labor, and exchange value, which he says comes from labor alone. It is this point with which I am disagreeing. It seems obvious to me that use value, supplied by nature, helps determine exchange value. For example, redwood and fir trees grow side by side in the same forest, and at a similar rate. Yet the same amount of labor applied to cutting and mining a 600-year-old, 6-foot diameter redwood tree will produce more exchange value than if it were applied to cutting a 600-year-old, 6-foot diameter fir tree. The reason redwood is worth more is that it has certain qualities the fir lacks i.e., it is so rot resistant that it can be used for exposed siding or as foundation wood in direct contact with the soil, while the fir cannot. This quality of rot resistance does not come from anything added by human labor. It is a quality supplied by nature. So when I say that value comes from both labor and nature, I am referring to exchange value, not just use value.)” –Judi Bari, Revolutionary Ecology.