Green philosophy in a nutloaf

Although it is a bit more complicated than embracing vegetarianism and hugging trees (hence nutloaf instead of nutshell), it’s not really that complicated. So, from someone who had not really thought that hard about it until this time last year, here’s my distillation of Green philosophy – as stuff everybody could benefit from taking on board… However, please note that this post is not as long as it may appear (i.e. there is a large illustration appended at the bottom). For the record, its about 850 words (is that too many?). Early on in The Politics of the Envrionment (2nd Edition), Neil Carter says, “A key concept in environmental philosophy is value” and, because I think he’s right, I keep going on about it… How we value the natural environment will determine whether and how we interact with it. There are 3 possible ways in which we can view nature; as having instrumental, inherent, or intrinsic value: — Instrumental value – That which something has for someone, solely as a means to a desirable end (e.g. precious metals or money); or — Inherent value – That given to something by someone, without it being a means to an end (e.g. the aesthetic appeal of a beautiful landscape); or — Intrinsic value – That which something has without requiring the presence of valuers (e.g. pre-requisites for a healthy life such as clean air or water). (Adapted from Carter 2007: 14-15) Once you have decided where you stand on the question of the value of nature, the next issue is a question of perspective (i.e. how Green do you want to be?). As in the split between evangelical Christians who see nature as something over which we can and should have control (dominion) and those who see it as something with which we have been entrusted (stewardship), this is often seen as an issue where there are only two options, namely pro-nature (ecocentric) or pro-humans (anthropocentric). Unfortunately, just as the moon is not made of cheese and the Grand Canyon was not cut out of the Colorado Plateau overnight, things just aren’t that simple: Although ecocentrism and anthropocentrism are the opposite ends of the spectrum, there are a lot of possible positions that people may adopt in between. I tackled this issue in my piece on The ecological challenge for Socialism but, in essence, not everyone concerned about the welfare of individual animals need necessarily be concerned about biodiversity! Similarly, people may be concerned about conserving the environment for future human benefit (instrumental value) or preserving it for it own sake (intrinsic value). This has led prominent Green thinkers such as Andrew Dobson to differentiate between: Environmentalism – Instrumental concern to protect the environment for human benefit; – and – Ecologism – Intrinsic concern to protect nature from adverse human impact. The final piece in the jigsaw relates to one’s attitude to potential solutions to what, in 1972, the Club of Rome and Limits to Growth team called ‘The Predicament of Mankind’. Again, where it may be simple to see two opposing positions, in reality, these are opposite ends of a continuum along which it is possible to alight at different points. In this context, the two ends of the spectrum are: — Cornucopians – Named after Cornucopia, the horn of the goat Amalthea in Greek mythology, which Zeus endowed with a supernatural power to provide an unlimited supply of food etc.. As such, Cornucopians have unlimited confidence in the abundant supply of natural resources; the ability of natural systems to absorb pollutants; and their corrective capacity to mitigate human activities (i.e. ecocentric); and — Prometheans – Named after Prometheus, one of the Titans of Greek mythology, who stole fire from Zeus and so vastly increased the human capacity to manipulate the world. As such, Prometheans have unlimited confidence in the ability of technology to overcome environmental problems (i.e. technocentric). Therefore, because Ecologism involves looking at the world – and our place in it – in such a radically different way to that which we have inherited from the scientific and philosophical revolution of the Enlightenment, many would agree with the assertion of the German Green Party that it (Ecologism) is “neither left nor right but out in front”. At its root, it was similar thinking that prompted Arthur Mol to describe the institutionalised destruction of nature as “a structural design fault of modernity”. Although this sort of thing was discussed at length in my mini-series on Ecological Modernisation, I have not tried before to tie it all together and reach a conclusion. A fault I now hope to rectify: Taking all of the above as a coherent set of philosophical and ethical arguments (as opposed to propaganda!), I believe it is possible to place this political ideology of Ecologism (albeit far from monolithic) within the context of other ideologies… A couple of solutions being those offered by Neil Carter on page 78 of The Politics of the Environment (shown below). Although nothing is really so simple (as I seem to keep saying) that it can be completely represented in two dimensions, I would like to think that I have now done enough to explain why I get so annoyed about people (mentioning no names) claiming that all Greens are Socialists in disguise?

Figures 3.1 and 3.2 from The Politics of the Environment by Neil Carter (2007: 78).

Figures 3.1 and 3.2 from The Politics of the Environment by Neil Carter (2007: 78).

While you’re pondering all this, why not listen to some suitable music from Bob Dylan? “Blowin’ in the Wind” (open in a new tab!)


About Rick Altman

Possibly just another 'Climate Cassandra' crying 'Wolf' in cyberspace. However, the moral of the old children's story is that the Wolf eventually turned up!
This entry was posted in Ecological Modernisation, Environment, Ethics, Intergenerational Injustice, Philosophy, Politics, Sustainable development and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Green philosophy in a nutloaf

  1. Pingback: Nature is not your enemy (but it may bite if you are unkind to it) « Anthropocene Reality

  2. Pingback: Nature is not your enemy (but it may bite you if provoked) | Anthropocene Reality

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