Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Morality and Ecosystems

I'm not the only "crazy" one linking morality and ethics to nature and landscapes (I've known this for some time, though). I just finished Rambunctious Garden by Emma Marris, and while I spent most of the book pissed off both by some things she was saying and how she was saying them, by the time I got toward the end I realized we had similar goals. It doesn't hurt that she uses Aldo Leopold to get her point across more than once.

"In the late 1940s conservation icon Aldo Leopold called the recognition of the inherent value of an ecosystem a land ethic. The land ethic extends to 'soils, waters, plants and animals' the same moral obligations we currently have to members of our human communities.... In modern terms, the land ethic espouses a biocentric view of life, which gives other species and ecosystems moral status."

She goes on to discuss deep ecology and philosopher Arne Naess. Shallow ecology is looking after the earth as an extension of looking after the self. But in deep ecology all living things have value simply because they are. Humans are not especially priveleged but are nodes in a complex web. Taking care of ourselves means taking care of the environment. Deep ecology sounds a lot like taking care of those you love, and those you don't know who are less fortunate, except we now extend this to other lives beyond our own species. I'm not sure why this is so hard to grasp or practice.

Leopold and deep ecology are things I've studied, but so long ago I let them slip away. Suddenly, in a few lines, Marris shows me that these writings had a profound effect on how I view the world and define my work.

"Rich westerners, especially, must quit tapping into nature at such a furious pace to satisfy the frivolous desires of their consumer society. Human beings must reduce their population so that we can live more lightly on the Earth. These are all moral obligations to the natural world, not mere choices."

"We are used to the idea that individual lives are fundamentally valuable; it is the basis of the sense that murder is wrong. It is harder to set values for morphous collectons like 'ecosystems' or 'the land' or for nonliving entities like 'the soil' or a stream. Some ethicists, however, certainly hold that these entities have their own intrinsic value. Some even propose that the entire Earth itself holds value as a single human does...."

She goes on to say losing native plants and ecosystems is like losing a language, a culture. Yup. Hell yup. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've heard that if families kept it to one child, the world's population would drop below 2 billion by century's end.


Thought you might enjoy these videos, one about caring for other humans, one about caring for other species: