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The Humanist Solution
Center left of the spectrum reside the environmental ideologies akin to socialism. These ideological variants range from environmental marxist/leninism to environmental social democracy. Marxist eco-socialism perceives capitalism as the root cause of environmental destruction and prescribes radical social change as the solution. This conception has been articulated by proponent of the Green Movement in Germany and France. Arguing that capitalism is bad for the environment and socialism is naturally ecological, it suggests that environmental resources owned by all will be shared by all.
Marxist environmentalists are painfully aware, however, of the devastating environmental record of East Europe and the former Soviet Union. They are quick to point out that socialist philosophy should not be held responsible. Marx spoke of material abundance as an aim that would lead to full enjoyment of life and the environment. Marx rejected Malthus's projections because, in his time, the possibilities for production seemed so much greater than the limitations perceived by the later. Deploring the filth of London, Marx implied the need to build clean cities. Resources were in such abundance everything was possible for the collective society.
The mistakes made in the socialist countries reflected ill- advised policies to bring the socialist countries into the modern industrial age. Highest priority was placed on advancing material production. Services and clean-up operations were non productive and retarded material progress. Management was rewarded for its achievement of production goals at least cost. When environmental targets were put into the plan they were given low priority and penalties were much less costly compared to the compensation for achieving production goals. This record has been hard for environmentalists of Marxist persuasion to explain away. There are few of them left today.
Social democratic environmentalism is the prevailing school in this category. It is herein called humanist environmentalism because it extends the idea of environment to embrace the social and cultural conditions influencing individual and community life. While it recognizes the importance of physical environmental conditions, it considers them in the social, political, economic, and cultural conditions of society. It identifies gross socio-economic inequities as the primary environmental problem; erase poverty, develop the underdeveloped societies and civilization will preserve its habitat.
This school believes many values of social democracy. It focuses on social justice and the social costs of technological development. It holds that material inequalities are due to differences in individual advantages and that society's role is to redistribute the wealth. It rejects aggressive individualism, acquisitiveness, and promotes the values of community, low income differentials, participatory involvement and solidarity. It shares with utopian socialists a unifying vision of society where human beings can overcome economic and social problems by drawing upon each other.
Building on a theoretical base provided by utopian socialist moral and religious principles, the ethics of humanist environmentalism are social responsibility and distributive justice. Sustainable development is to be participatory and community based to insure local community control over natural resources and to employ local wisdom and experience. Local community participation is the sine quae non for sustainable development on the national scale. This school agrees with liberal environmentalism that it is possible to persuade people through education, institutional development, and law enforcement to behave in socially desirable ways.
This thinking is prominent in the international community and in environmental thinking in Scandinavian countries. It was suggested in the resolutions adopted by the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Environment and embodied in Agenda 21 of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Its prescriptions reflect those offered by the World Commission on Environment in its report Our Common Future and are articulated in the Hague Report on Sustainable Development issued in March 1992.
Our Common Future contains a blueprint for sustainable development defined as growth which meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The two key ideas of sustainable development are:
1. overriding priority should be given to meeting the essential needs of the world's poor.
2. there are limitations, imposed by the state of technology and social organization, on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs.
Sustainable development is a process of change in which investments, resource use, technological development, and institutional transformations harmonize with human needs and aspirations.
This school advocates a moderate reformist ideology that seeks an environmentally sound economic policy by promoting new patterns of economic growth based on models of sustainable development. According to the Hague Report, these models focus on people as their primary concern, feature ecologically friendly technology in investment planning, and propose a price system that reflects the scarcity value of environmental resources in decision-making. It subscribes to mixed-economic institutions and many remedial policy tools suggested by the liberal school described above.
Basic to sustainability are changes in access to resources and in distribution of costs and benefits. Even physical sustainability implies a concern for social equity in the present and in the future - and the satisfaction of human needs and aspirations is the major objective of development. Living standards above basic minimum needs are sustainable if consumption standards everywhere consider long term viability. Consumption standards are therefore to be held within the bounds of available resources. In other words, while liberal environmentalism is concerned with reversing destructive trends affecting the physical environment, the focus of humanist environmentalism is on the social consequences of environmental policies.
The international community, developing and promoting this ideology recognizes that present material wealth models of the North cannot be replicated in the South, rejects dualistic models of development for the North and the South, and implies that there be a major shift in resources from the North to the South. It stresses the need to accord different priorities to environmental problems of the North and the South. The problems of the South, the basic issues of human survival, concern land and water. While materialism is the greatest threat to the environment in the North, its counterpart in the South is poverty.
What distinguishes this ideology from liberal environmentalism is its confrontation of the dilemma posed for society and the environment by the situation of the Third World. The earth could not possibly supply the resources needed to replicate the development levels of the north in the south. Yet, on what moral grounds could the deny such aspirations in the south? Thus, this school gives
priority to the amelioration of social economic conditions as the key to resolving environmental problems. Ideologically, it recasts the agenda of the dependencia school and of the programs of the New International Economic Order of the 1970s into a program for a new international environmental order. It recognizes that to obtain the third world's participation in addressing global environmental problems it must deal with underdevelopment as an environmental problem.
The Radical Solution
Farther left on the spectrum are a cluster of environmental ideologies variously identified as anarcho-environmentalism, radical revolutionary environmentalism, or fundamental environmentalism. They include major factions of the Green movement, the Gaia persuasion, spiritual creationism, deep ecology, eco-feminism, and a number of other splinter sects. Together, they embrace a bewildering range of theories and prescriptions, expressing varying degrees of radicalism. Some profess to be violently revolutionary, others subscribe to a Gandhi-type political activism. Some have embellished their prescriptions by subscribing to the objectives of a number of other movements including feminism, libertarianism, utopian socialism, anarchism and holism. Their ecocentrism promotes grassroots democracy, equality between the sexes, an end to patriarchal societies, respect for diversity, and personal and social responsibility. The paragraphs below broadly generalize beliefs held to varying extends by the different groups adhering to this pluralistic ideology.
It is argued that radical environmentalism is the only genuine environment ideology because it embraces a unique set of concepts that explain the world. It begins with the relationship between humankind and nature. It separates itself from other environmental philosophies by its denial of anthropocentrism. Characterizing the environmental ideologies to their right as anthropocentric, radical environmentalism is rooted in deep ecology, that is, the belief that humans are not separate but inherent parts of nature with a value equal to other parts. This belief is called ecocentrism and it requires that nature is to be revered for the spiritual experience it provides and should be preserved for its own sake, not simply for economic use. Therefore humans must interact with nature with sensitivity and deep reverence for all benign forms of life and nonlife including the landscape, the rivers and valleys. Adherence to economic policies that stress material growth and related technological progress must give way to this anti-acquisitive philosophy.
Radical environmentalism shares ideas associated with anarchism and utopian socialism. Its economic ideology waxes between anarcho-capitalism and collectivism. It emphasizes that socio-economic Darwinism has been the cause of human poverty and the impoverishment of the environment. Eco-centered societies are ideally egalitarian and its peoples should practice humility, moderation, and gentleness.
Ecocentrism leads naturally to the building of cooperative societies since the valuing of all life includes human life as well. Anarcho-communist and scientist, Kropotkin, whose philosophy is encapsuled in Mutual Aid written in 1897, suggests that the principal reason for the survival of the human species is its capacity for mutual assistance. In other words, people are naturally motivated toward cooperation on the basis of mutual respect, by moral incentives such as desire to contribute to the common good, sympathy, and a sense of responsibility to other human beings and nature. That people are innately socially responsible was also said earlier by Jean Jacques Rousseau and David Hume.
Looking for symbols and links with the past, some radical environmentalists have resurrected the mythical Green Man of yore expressed variously in paintings and sculptures over centuries. The Green Man, a composite of leaves and a man's head, symbolizes the unity of man and the vegetable world. He is the repository of the secrets of nature. To believers "unity may now be expressing itself in a new form, as the child of Gaia by the sun, he is the living face of the earth and he has to utter." His utterances are a warning and an offer to help. He embodies the union that ought to be maintained between nature and humanity. As a symbol of hope he affirms that the wisdom of man can be allied to the instinctive and emotional forces of nature. Beyond ecology he leads these environmentalists to the great task of discovering the nature of consciousness.
Some radical environmentalists find prescriptions for self-fulfillment and survival in the purity and humanity of the noble savage. Like Montaigne, they try to promote understanding and appreciation of native cultures. Real riches are to be found in the beauty of the these natives' natural habitats and the ecological wisdom of their traditions and philosophies. For this reason many radical environmentalists extol the life and traditions of American Indians.
Strong religious and mythical overtones are attached to some expressions of radical environmentalism. Many have been attracted to ancient cosmic myths and eastern religions that give expression to ecological wisdom and a way of life that encourages compassion for fellow human beings, other species and the natural world. Others express humanist and pantheistic beliefs. The earth embodies God's power; man's moral duty is to act in harmony with nature. Jonathan Poritt, former Director of Friends of the Earth, suggests that humans must come to see themselves as "God's stewards on Earth."
As an ideology, radical environmentalism has developed since the late 1960's through accretion. A number of published works described new/old forms of political and social organization amenable to the notion that man must live in harmony with the universe in a steady state. Among them is A Blueprint For Survival. Edited by Edward Goldsmith, Blueprint expressed the collective prescriptions of a group of ecologists, supported by a number of eminent chemists, zoologists, medical scientists, microbiologists, botanists, an archeologist and an economist. Blueprint pointed to the need for sound economic management of the commons and for a radical solution envisaging decentralization of societies. Utopia would consist of small village-type settlements of about 500 people, forming part of larger communities of around 50,000 in regions of half a million or so. These human scale communities would create awareness of social responsibility and cooperative opportunity. Nationalism would be replaced by a combination of community loyalty and global awareness.
Life in radical environmental utopia-land was envisioned by Ernest Callenbach in his novel, Ecotopia published in 1979. Callenbach offered a positive vision of an ecologically sustainable planetary habitat. The fictional Ecotopia was created by agreement between Northern California, Oregon and Washington which have seceded from the union to create a steady-state ecosystem. Twenty years after the country was established, a visiting reporter discerned a land that had resolved nagging social inequities and environmental problems by adopting many radical social and environment programs including employee owned business, a 25 hour work-weeks, programmed education, female dominated governments, self-sufficient micro-cities and so forth. Environmentalist, Ralph Nader has described this vision as being in the realm of the feasible.
In the 1980's, the radical movement was enriched by an increased awareness of the uniqueness of the planet. The introduction of the Gaia hypothesis was a major influence on the development of radical ideology. The Gaia hypothesis of James Lovelock, that the earth is a living being, evoked a reverence and pride in mother earth and has developed into an ecological ideology that preached respect for the beauty and health of the planet. First put forward in the mid-1960's, Gaia postulated that the biosphere is a self-regulating entity with the capacity to keep itself healthy by natural control of chemical and physical balances. Humankind's ultimate well being resided in recognizing its instinctive kinship with all living things. This perspective doomed to failure the rationalization of humankind's domination of the biosphere.
In the mid 1980's, Arne Naess, drawing in part on these earlier works, conceptualized the overall philosophy of deep ecology that expresses the ethos of radical environmentalism. Naess's deep ecology established the earth and the diversity of all forms of life and non-life as the primary value of society. Individual freedom is circumscribed by the notion that humankind has no right to reduce the richness and diversity of the earth except to satisfy vital needs. Population growth should be controlled to allow the flourishing of non-human life. The prosperity of all forms of life and the preservation of the environment require radical changes in basic economic, technological, and political structures and thinking away from aspirations for high standards of living to the appreciation of life quality.
Central to the deep ecology philosophy is its notion about human nature and the need to redirect thinking. While other ideologies assume that human nature is either intrinsically selfish and atomistic, or fearful and dependent on society, or inherently selfless and communal, deep ecology takes a different tack. Humankind is an integral part of nature and has a value equivalent to every other part, but has not yet discovered its real self-hood. Deep ecology is convinced that Self-realization is the key to sustainable environment.
Self-realization is the basic norm of the deep ecology system. it denies 'the self for the Self', and reveals human life woven as threads in the rich tapestry of nature. Through Self-realization, humans will identify their intrinsic value in the greater Life and must by definition perceive the vital needs of ecosystems and other species as their own needs. With Self-realization neither law nor ethics will be necessary to protect the environment. Self-realization implies many things among which:
- deep seated respect to the point of veneration for all ways and forms of life.
- the notion that all life has an equal claim to live and to blossom. Life includes biological life and all forms of earth life including rivers, landscapes, ecosystems, and cultures.
- rejection of man's dominion over the earth or what is termed anthropocentrism.
Deep ecology offers political prescriptions for a sustainable world. The ideal organization of civilization consists in a vast network of local communities wherein people share belongingness and instinctively reject bigness associated with today's industrialized societies. While remaining in the nation state, these self-reliant democratic communities would base their daily life on primary production, the development of soft technology, and the pursuit of arts and intellectual activities. Larger communities and the nation state would provide collective services such as health and research.
Deep ecology calls for revolutionary change, but only in small stages. Politically, it moves towards non-violent anarchism in utopian societies but in the interim, it recognizes the need to maintain strong central political institutions to handle the problems created by the pressure of human populations and political instability. To this extent it is in synch with conservative ideology.
A major criticism levied against the radical movement targets the impracticality of its political/economic prescriptions. Many radical environmentalists share the belief that only revolutionary reforms in human thinking and the political ethos can save the commons. The ultimate answer to the spiralling downward destruction of the commons is sustainable development through the breakdown and decentralization of socio/political structures into relatively small self-sufficient communities. In the interim strong government control must be imposed on the behavior of individuals who have not Self-realized. Thus some radicals propose, for the near-term, political policies akin to conservative environmentalism. Fear must then motivate behavior and will inevitably induce conflict. The violent behavior of some radicals lend credence to this observation.
The question may be raised whether there is an ideal size community for harmony with the environment. It could be argued that the smaller the political unit the less it would be inclined to contribute to helping the planet. The contribution of small communities to such large problems as global warming are so infinitesimally small that no one would have the clear incentive to change their behavior to deal with the problem. Communal interest will work if the effects are visible and local and seen to be of local origin. Thus, to deal with the major less invisible global problems there may be no escape from world government. Without such direction the free rider problem writ small or nation large will bring to naught the best efforts of the most concerned communities.
Radical environmentalism overlooks the problems of poverty and the aspirations of billions of people for at least minimal material comforts. For this reason radical environmentalists tend to be less welcome in intergovernmental environmental conferences and remain on the periphery of national and international policy making on major environmental issues.
The extremism of some radical beliefs and its political activism, however, has been a major positive factor in attracting public awareness to the problems of the environment and has given credibility to moderate reform programs.
III Conclusion : an Alternative Solution
Environmentalism in all its manifestations is bound by the concept of a physically limited planet - Space Ship Earth - and, in this frame, has a strong materialist dimension that is intrinsically pessimistic. There is an ongoing battle to save the planet that can be characterized as a competition for power between different manifestations of materialist beliefs. One side is the promotion of acquisitiveness and ever increasing levels of economic production and growth, thus transforming earth's material molecules into different utilities, objects, and shapes. On the other side environmentalism, also fundamentally materialistic and motivated by fear or moral responsibility tries to restrain or redirect the destructive activities to preserve the integrity of the perceptible substance of the earth and its biosphere.
There is something missing in this picture. The future is relatively bleak, even grim and claustrophobic. There are no exciting visions, new frontiers, nor promises of adventure. Freedom is circumscribed by a prevailing sense of fear and limitation that breeds conflict and competition for power. From now on human life will seem to be in a perpetual holding pattern. Recently, and some would claim, from the beginning, the driving purpose of existence has been the accumulation of power and wealth to satisfy material needs and desires that are inherently insatiable. Now confronting the limitations of this objective, environmentalism offers sobering alternatives: self-restraint, self-denial, communalism, and/or identification as an equal with all other parts of nature to be pursued in the confines of earth's diminishing living space. One may, however, argue that environmentalism thus far has not dealt with what must be the basic root of the problem: human thinking.
Needed is a new or renewed purpose inciting hope and positive expectations for satisfaction and fulfillment. It may be that an optimistic and promising frontier lies in a quest to understand life, the universe, and to harmonize with it. Once engaged in this quest individuals will not sacrifice but drop as, irrelevant and ignoble, the materialist drives that have recently fueled their existence.
The quest for such meaning begins in the world of science. Using its tools one can gain a totally different vision of the planet and the universe. First, one has to penetrate the material facade that projects the illusion of the earth to the naked eye -- Spaceship Earth. By dematerializing this vision of the biosphere, the planet, and its inhabitants, one may discover that metaphysically the substance of the universe is a vast complex of ideas and thought forces. The attainment of this perspective can be gained through acquaintance with the electronic theory of matter, theories of relativity, or higher mathematics. Travelling on a trajectory through the universe of the atom, through that of the quark, and onward in this odyssey to smaller and smaller particles, one discovers energy itself seeming to disappear. Finally, one stands on the frontier of science and religion and gains a glimpse of the eternal cosmos, perhaps, an infinite light perceptible to human intellect only through mathematical abstractions, revelation, and inspiration. Physicists reveal this universe as one of cosmic order and infinite freedom. Human thoughts returning to these roots find harmony, nobility, and purpose. Einstein earlier defined a similar experience as cosmic religious feeling.
For humanity experiencing the futility of material aims, desires, or necessities the sublimity and order that reveal themselves both in nature and the world of thought offer infinite strength, possibilities, and purpose. Einstein found the beginnings of the cosmic religious feeling in Judeo/Christian teachings, in particular in the Psalms, and much stronger elements in Buddhism. This feeling can lead human thinking out of the depressing sense of limitation imposed by acceptance of physical confinement in a material environment whether anthropocentric or ecocentric. It distinguishes itself from the material bias and anthropocentrism found in religious and environmentalist beliefs constructed on ethics of fear and morality. It has no dogma and no God in man's image. Cosmic religious feeling according to Einstein:
takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection. This feeling is the guiding principle of life and work, in so far as individuals succeed in keeping themselves from the shackles of selfish desire. It is beyond question closely akin to that which has possessed the religious geniuses of all ages.
Einstein suggests that it is the function of art and science to awaken this feeling and to keep it alive in those receptive to it. Under its force ethical behavior would be based effectually on sympathy, education, social ties and the satisfaction of social needs. Thus, it suggests a life with aspirations more mentally enriching than those seeking better material life styles or identification with temporal nature. Life becomes a never ending quest for enlightenment, for opportunities to develop and express particular talents, and for the appreciation of beauty one's vision perceives in nature.
Satisfaction is also to be gained by guiding others in the direction of these objectives. In considering his cosmic religious feeling, Einstein offers that it is the high destiny of the individual to serve rather than to rule, or to impose himself in any other way. The physicist, Freeman Dyson, postulated that "in everything we undertake either in earth or in the sky we have a choice of two styles, the grey and the green." An editorial writer commented that the grey suggests a selfish, negative, taking approach; the green, a generous approach that enriches society rather than depletes it. Such an approach promises satisfaction and fulfillment.
Einstein has found cosmic religious feeling the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research:
Only those who realize the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion without which pioneer and theoretical science cannot be achieved are able to grasp the strength of the emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue. ..... Those whose acquaintance with scientific research is derived chiefly from its practical results easily develop a completely false notion of the mentality of the men who surrounded by a skeptical world, have shown the way to kindred spirits scattered wide through the world and the centuries. Only one who has devoted his life to similar ends can have a vivid realization of what has inspired these men and given them the strength to remain true to their purpose in spite of countless failures. It is cosmic religious feeling that imparts such strength. A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people.
Inspired politicians have also identified with this feeling and infused its meaning into this dimension of human interrelations.
Genuine politics, according to Vaclav Havel, consists in service to others. Its roots are noble because it is a "higher" responsibility to the whole that emerges; out of a conscious or subconscious certainty that our death ends nothing, because everything is forever being recorded and evaluated somewhere else, somewhere "above us" in...the "memory of Being" an integral aspect of the secret order of the cosmos, of nature, of life, which believers call God...
Writer D.H. Lawrence has also glimpsed this feeling and interpreted what might be the effect of its absence in the relationship between man and animal. The following quotation is drawn from a the reflections of the owner of a stallion, named St. Mawr:
..But, now, where is the flame of dangerous, forward pressing nobility in man? Dead, dead, guttering out in a stink of self sacrifice whose feeble light is a light of exhaustion and laissez-faire.
And the horse, is he to go on carrying man forward into this? - this gutter?
No! Man wisely invents motor cars and other machines, automobile and locomotive. The horse is superannuated, for man....
She knew that the horse, born to serve nobly, had waited in vain for someone noble to serve. His spirit knew that nobility had gone out of men. And this left him high and dry, in a sort of despair...
Translating from a cosmic point of view to a more earthly view, the environment can be envisaged as a projection of human thought, whose repair begins in the environment of the human mind. Detoxification, waste removal, recycling, conservation most effectively begin with the clearing out of minds cluttered with pollutants or net negative social behaviors expressed as greed, slothfulness, selfishness, lust for power, fear, addictions and dependencies, dishonesty and futility; these and other examples of negative thinking are objectified in the visible state of the environment. These social pollutants can be overcome by mutuality embodied in a notion of res publica and a noble life purpose and style generated by receptivity to cosmic feelings.
To what extent do present day prescriptions for the environment share this perspective? Conservative and liberal environmentalism would hold back or retard the tides of greed and acquisitiveness. Humanism adds another dimension - concern, caring, and sharing. Radical environmentalism promotes the necessary humility, simple material satisfactions, and the expression of artistic and intellectual pleasures.
Radical environmentalism goes the farthest in the metaphysical direction, notably in Arne Naess's philosophy of deep ecology and Self-realization. Some radicals have also been attracted to ancient cosmic myths and eastern religions that give expression to ecological wisdom and a way of life that encourages compassion for fellow human beings, other species, and the natural world.
In essence environmentalism is focussed on the tangible evidences of planetary destruction and how the world can improve this scene to avoid a final tragedy. Its prescriptions fail to ennoble human life, offer it inspiration and meaningful objectives, instead they offer negative incentives for change. Self-sacrifice as is required, with few promised rewards and guarded optimism for the future, promises limited fulfillment and will probably require coercion to achieve.
The environment issue heightens a general awareness of the precariousness of the material world. The scarcity of resources and the fragility of life can lead either to a world where individual freedom is finally forsaken out of fear for material survival or to a world where more secure freedom ensues from a willingness to love and to learn. Such a society naturally expresses responsibility and mutual cooperation. Our right choice will depend on expanding awareness of the substantial practical effect of the human mind itself and its key role in environmental issues.
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