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Month: April 2020

Statement of Commitment to Ecocentrism

I recently signed the “Statement of Commitment to Ecocentrism” sponsored by The Ecological Citizen , an open-access, peer-reviewed online journal that, according to its mission statement, is “striving to address the central issue of our time: how to halt and reverse our current ecocidal course and create an ecological civilization.”

This statement resonates with me on a number of levels, including its support for the “intrinsic (inherent) value in all of nature and the ecosphere.” While the statement briefly maps out ethical, evolutionary, spiritual, political, and ecological rationales for ecocentrism, I also see important implications for social justice.

Ecocentrism does a better job than the discourse of sustainability of taking into account the profound interrelatedness of all life on Earth. Many of our models of sustainability and almost all ways that we try to implement sustainability reflect the values of human supremacy (aka, anthropocentrism), and will ultimately be self defeating, as Aldo Leopold pointed out in his famous “Land Ethic” essay, which was published in the Sand County Almanac in 1949. Human supremacy as a way of being has been destroying the foundations of our existence for centuries.

Moreover, the ideology and practice of human domination over the natural world in both the past and present is implicated in various systems of hierarchy and domination. I am thinking, for example, of how the African slave trade, which was one of the most brutal of these systems, empowered Europeans to transform and exploit the lifeworlds of the Americas to grow commodity crops such as sugar, tobacco, and cotton, at unaccountable human and ecological costs. But I am also thinking about how global capitalism today distributes both the benefits and harms of industrial production in terribly unequal ways. Thus, some of the most “productive” places within the context of the global economy also have the most polluted air and water. And, some of the poorest communities on the planet will suffer the most because of climate disruption, even as they contributed the least to CO2 emissions.

In other words, although ecocentrism might at first glance seem to replace anthropocentrism with misanthropy, that’s far from true. Overcoming human supremacy is a critical requirement for transforming the various systems of human oppression that continue to hold sway. Thus, as the statement concludes: “a transformation towards an ecocentric worldview is a necessary path for the flourishing of life on Earth, including that of our own species.”

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Earth Day 2020 Talks at UWGB

On April 22, 2020, the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, I was fortunate to participate in a panel discussion with several wonderful UWGB colleagues and Bill Davis from the River Alliance of Wisconsin.

The full video recording from Blackboard Collaborate is available here.

Dr. Kevin Fermanich moderated, with assistance from John Arendt. The topics are briefly summarized here, with approximate times for each part noted in parentheses:

  • Dr. Michael Draney, “My life with Earth Day” (00:30 to 08:30) — I was 2 ½ years old during the first Earth Day in 1970 so Earth Day and I have gone through life together. I want to reflect on how it’s doing as we enter our fifth decade together.
  • Dr. Vicki Medland, “Is nature slipping away? ” (08:30 to 16:30) — Earth Day was in part a response to an environment that the organizers no longer recognized. Today, we are shocked by what seems to be a sudden and massive loss of biodiversity and natural landscapes. Why do we not notice these massive changes to our environment?
  • Dr. David Voelker, “Earth Day 2020 in Perspective” (16:50 to 27:00)– How can we understand the 50th Earth Day and the environmental movement that it helped launch in historical perspective, and in light of the Covid-19 pandemic?
  • Bill Davis, “A New Water Agenda for Wisconsin” (31:50 to 39:20) — What would a system look like that could achieve our human health and ecology goal regarding water?

In my response to a question from Kevin Fermanich (at about 50:00 to 53:00 in the recording), I referred to the shared experience of the Covid-19 pandemic. I do think that the pandemic is affecting just about all Americans and most people around the world, whether directly or indirectly. I’d like to emphasize, however, that the pandemic is not affecting all people equally, or in the same ways. In many U.S. cities, for example, African Americans (especially men) are dying disproportionately, and that’s just one example of how the pandemic reflects and compounds existing social and economic inequalities. (For more on this topic, see this column by Owen Jones at The Guardian.)

For more information, see the UWGB Earth Day event page, and the official Earth Day website.

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