There are many different beliefs surrounding the relationship between humans and the natural environment.
From the anthropocentric side, “the natural world is merely a storehouse of commodities for humans to use without restraint” (Corbett 2006). On the opposite side of the spectrum, ecocentric or biocentric attitudes state “humans are an interdependent, integral part of the biological world but no more or no less important than other portions of it” (Corbett 2006). Because of this vast spectrum full of various perspectives, environmentalism can take form in many different ways.
Ideologies are deeply engrained beliefs we hold about something, which in turn influences the way we interact with that something.
In regards to environmental ideology, this means that our relationship with nature in actuality is a reflection of the personal ideals we embrace about it.
At times, different environmental ideologies can have extremely contrasting views. On one end, some people believe nature has no other worth or value other than to serve and provide indefinitely for humans. This group also tends to think of nature as a separate entity, and at the root of things, is actually intimidated or scared of Nature. In this belief system, called anthropocentricism, people consider themselves more refined and far superior compared to the rest of nature. Lulz.
Environmental thought then shifts towards conservation and preservation. These are both still human-centered in a way, but with more respect and awareness towards nature. Meaning, humans are still better than nature, but nature has resources it can provide for us that are best utilized in a sustainable way. “We like you, so we are going to use you.”
The difference between conservation and preservation is subtle. Conservation makes every effort to use as wisely as possible what nature has made available for us. Preservation takes this same concept but also adds that nature can also be treasured in a number of novel angles including ecological, aesthetic and religious expressions (Corbett 2006).
In a preservationist perspective, nature also has a non-utilitarian value. For instance, we can go for a tranquil stroll within the forest and come back being revitalized. Preservationists differ from conservationists because the former “continue to tap the powerful feelings and rhetoric of the romantic aesthetic to make their case for preserving the natural world” (Corbett 2006).
“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.
It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
Aldo Leopold believed that people have responsibilities in how we interact with nature. These ethics and values-driven environmental ideologies hold that life has an innate value that goes beyond any utilitarian intention. Although humans are still considered to be separate from nature, the hierarchical differences aren’t as easy to detect compared to conservation or preservation.
Some modern day applications of ethics and values-driven environmentalism include ecofeminism, environmental racism, and Global South environmentalism. All three examples comprise of a socio-interdisciplinary aspect in analyzing environmental issues.
Ecofeminism is the embodiment of the parallels between feminism and environmentalism. Cole and Foster claim that “A focus of ‘women’ reveals important features of interconnected systems of human domination.” To elaborate, the history of male-dominated cultures and ideologies can be compared to the constant disrespect and exploitation of nature from civilizations worldwide.
Environmental racism focuses on the social injustices that also result from environmental issues. For example, “more toxic waste plants are built in communities of color, lead paint poisoning is more common among children of color, and the most dangerous uranium mining is done of Native American lands (Cole and Foster).” In the video ‘The Economic Injustice of Plastics”, Van Jones points out how underprivileged people suffer from everybody’s choices. The burning of some plastics is done in poor, developing countries; the people living in this lone region suffer the costs of decisions made by others around the world.
This is very similar to Global South environmentalist beliefs, which state that the exploitation of ‘less-developed’ countries by the ‘over-developed’ counties can, at times, lead to environmental problems.
Environmental ideologies have a wide range of beliefs ranging from the utilitarian anthropocentric views all the way the all-encompassing biocentric values.
Finding the middle ground between these two extremes can be tough, seeing that not everybody is willing give something up to compromise. Although this is a challenge, it’s just a hurdle on the path to unity. The path where all humans acknowledge their humble place in Nature.
Communicating Nature by Julia Corbett
From the Ground Up by Cole and Foster
Photos: Jordan Pletzer