To protect nature is as important as protecting the values. What kind of world will we leave behind?

Dawid Czeczelewski, University of Dundee

The current situation requires a new nomenclature to describe times we are living in. Scientists have come up with Anthropocene, which is to become the new geological epoch putting the question of its dating under international dispute. Although the proposed time scale ranging from the start of the Agricultural Revolution to the mid-20th century, there is a firm agreement about the main message standing behind the term Anthropocene. The human impact of these days will be visible on geological, climatic and stratigraphic markers in the future. However, these theoretical disputes seem to be trivial in the face of the seriousness of the situation. 

 

The questions we should raise are - what values will we leave behind to future generations having in mind our input in leading the destruction of nature? And, is there a correlation between protecting nature and protecting our values? 

 

A new chapter

For thousands of years, humans lived in symbiosis with nature embracing the values closely related to its forces. Pagan beliefs saw humanity completely enmeshed within nature, with us standing among other creatures, living in harmony. However, these values were about to shrink with an increasingly stronger relation of power and dominance ruling our lives and the world.

 

The Industrial Revolution introduced a hierarchical relation between human and nature. Examples of natural degradation, such as mass deforestation, had used to be common throughout the history of our civilisation, yet societal and technological changes of the 18th century have unprecedentedly influenced values represented by the human race. Trees logging no longer only aimed at individual needs but became perceived as a money source. Capitalism has made it easier to expand and to exploit both the individuals and the environment. It has awakened the range of human behaviours related to perceiving ourselves as superior over the human and nonhuman universe. The rapid change has sown anti-values seen as a set of conduct including dominance, exclusivity, envy, and greediness. Although the idea that capitalism has brought our civilisation and planet down is increasingly repeated, it seems particularly relevant to stress probably the most essential factor. Namely, the unequal development between technology and our attitudes towards humanity and the environment.

 

The inseparability of humanity and nature

With the historical background in mind, it is safe to say that protecting nature and protecting values goes side by side with each other. Our care of nature aligns with the primmest values known for human beings. To protect nature means to protect the weaker, to feel empathy to the other creature, to respect others. As we take steps to transform the world to be more sustainable, we provide us with a much more precious set of values conducting our lives. Analogously, the degradation of our planet undermines our humanity and opens the path for further destruction. These correlations were also argued by two prominent environmental philosophers, George Sessions and Arne Naess, who articulated the principles of the new Deep Ecology Movement. Key points of their work concerned the excessiveness of present human interference within the nonhuman world and the fact that richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realisation of these values and also value in themselves.

 

Humanity and nature are not separate, and that is the thought we ought to bring back to our civilisation. However, there are places where consumerism and environmental expansion have not seized people’s attitudes. Bhutan is one of two countries known to absorb more carbon dioxide than they emit. That achievement is a consequence of sustainable governance at the grass-root level through acts like enshrining ecological resilience into the constitution and keeping as obligatory that more than 60% of the nation needs to be forested. These actions are described by NGOs as a propaganda tool to hide the abuse of human rights, and cover the problem of poverty. Yet it does line out a path of the human and environmental well-being prioritisation rather than one of economic growth. Shouldn’t we ask the question, how much of nature is destroyed per 1 dollar of global economic growth? Then, what is the imbalance between corporations’ profit and the diminishing world of future generations?

 

Irrational rationality

Notwithstanding hereinabove argument emphasising the need for implementation of pro-environmental global policies, sceptics unveil some hypocrisy hidden behind the strive for a rapid change. Universalistic thoughts embraced in this article may not be as universalistic as they seem, rather being oriented in the Western time-frame perspective. Environmental well-being is a term coined by people of the developed world. Through the greed for power, our Eurocentric civilisation has spread an omnipresent system of dominance seen as a pattern of human behaviour. However, the ones being favourable to libertarianism and capitalism brought to the discussion of important concern, closely related to post-colonialism [Read more here]. Is there ethical and rational plea to impose top-down climate initiatives on the undeveloped states whereas our wealth has been gained from the plunder of natural resources and lingering for centuries colonialism? 

Unfortunately, the developed countries often exploit resources of the undeveloped as well as undermine their sovereignty. Take, as an example land-grabbing and carbon offsets. The case from 2014 portrays how it works on the real ground. Norwegian companies’ quest to purchase and protect Ugandan and Tanzanian forests to use as carbon offsets resulted in forced evictions and strengthening of food scarcity in these countries. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s prime minister, as the first one used the term ‘neo-colonialism’ to describe actions of rich countries which continue to exert control over the Global South. Rather than directly running other countries, neo-colonial domination is accomplished through levers of political and economic leverage. It seems that the developed world aims to be an authority to show others a wise and rational way to establish sustainable societies, yet in practice compounds global inequalities through a set of irrational and selfish measurements. 

One thing is clear. Anthropocene leaves behind the world we will never know again. Plastic has peacefully begun to melt into nature and creates new kinds of rocks. Some of its molecules become suspended in the air. Taking a beach stroll at sunset will never be the same with a mixture of sand and plastic debris we dig into our feet with every step. Besides the foul physical memory of our times, we still have the power to leave the positive change in our attitudes. Modern history proves that education and raising public awareness may transform societies in a short time of a generation. Roots of change need to be taken to give a new lease to a healthy and respectful human-nature relationship. 

 

However, the current situation requires rational steps with a strong emphasis put on help for the ones falling behind with the transformation. Following above-mentioned values of mutual respect and empathy, it is essential to make sure the undeveloped countries will be supported with tools essential to enhance living standards of their citizens along with sustainable development based on environmental well-being standards. Yet the ground for the change lies in us, in our behaviour and values we believe in. Dominance needs to give way to harmony between humans, and between us and the Earth. As we will reintroduce the good values we will get a chance to leave behind a possibility for our children to fix it. To fix what is being destroyed.