from The Worldview Literacy Book   copyright 2009            back to worldview theme #25


     Worldviews built on anthropocentrism take a human being centered viewpoint that sees humans as the most important thing in the universe, and assigns value to other things based on their usefulness to humans.  It promotes belief in human exception- alism—the idea that humans are special and stand apart from the rest of nature and the universe.  (This is diametrically opposed to "Belonging to Nature" worldview theme #27 which so called deep ecologists value.)  Some cite humans' extra-ordinary brains and aptitudes to support this belief; others make the claim for religious reasons believing God created man to have dominion over nature ( Figure #25b).

     The Bible suggests this in Genesis: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over every creeping thing that creepth upon the earth."  It also provides related instructions to "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over...every living thing."  (Some dispute this translation and suggest the original Hebrew communicates a gentleness and familiarity that is less subjugation and more like stewardship.)

     Some scholars connect anthropocentrism with Western civilization and link its origins to Christianity.  Most notably UCLA historian Lynn White, Jr. does this in a 1967 paper "The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis."  There he describes a pre-Christian, animist worldview as follows: "[E]very tree, every spring, every stream, every hill had its spirit.  These spirits were accessible to men...Before one cut a tree, mined a mountain, or dammed a brook, it was important to placate the spirit in charge."  By destroying pagan animism and belief that gods were everywhere in nature, "Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects," White contends.  After noting the failure of Saint Francis (patron saint of animals, birds and the environment) to successfully promote "the equality of all creatures, including man" as an alternative to the ingrained teaching that "nature has no reason for existence save to serve man" he concludes, "Both our present science are so tinctured with orthodox Christian arrogance toward nature that no solution for our ecologic crisis can be expected


from them alone."      

     In 1973 deep ecology founder Arne Næss blasted shallow ecology as a "fight against pollution and resource depletion" to promote "the health and affluence of people in the developed countries."  John Passmore responded  with Man's Responsibility for Nature: "[M]an's great memorials: his science, his philosophy, his technology, his architecture, his countryside...all of them founded upon his attempt to understand and subdue nature" show that human transformation of the natural environment "can make the world more fruitful, more diversified, and more beautiful."  Passmore wasn't arguing for continued exploitation of nature and destruction of natural beauty. He recognized "man's utter dependence on nature...and [its] vulnerability to human depredations."  He felt that humans should cooperate with nature and increasingly practice stewardship: responsible, caring management of something (natural resources, a tract of land, etc) that is entrusted to them.  Eventually deep ecologists characterized his proposed solutions to the ecologic crisis as anthropocentrism and utilitarianism.      

     By the late 1970s, a movement was growing that deep ecologists would like a great deal less: the wise use movement. Led by people who felt the government had no right dictating what private landowners could and could not do with their land, this movement overlapped with the "Sagebrush Rebellion" in the western United States.  It grew out of concern over public land management practices and frustration with laws containing environmental restrictions, protecting endangered species, limiting development, etc.  "Wise use" refers to a philosophy about how land should be developed, a philosophy supposedly based on common sense.  There is a strong "Economic Individualism" and "Libertarian" (worldview themes #19 and #50A) undercurrent in this movement.  It values private property rights and regards government challenges to them as threats to individual freedom.  Figure #25c presents a toned down, idealized version of  "Wise Use Movement Articles of Faith."     

     By the first decade of the 21st century, as international efforts calling for nations to reach agreement on limiting greenhouse gas emissions floundered, serious consideration of global climate engineering began.  (See Figure #25a below.)


Figure #25a: Geoengineering: The Ultimate in Human Dominance Over the Earth?


NEWS ITEM: July 27, 2006                                                           ADDING SULFUR CAN EASE GLOBAL WARMING           

[A]ccording to Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen...[he suggests] artificially enhancing earth’s reflective powers would be achieved by carrying sulfur into the stratosphere on balloons, using artillery guns to release it.  The reflective particles could remain... for up to two years.                                                                                           

NEWS ITEM: April 30, 2007 2007                                             USING PLANKTON TO FIGHT GLOBAL WARMING    

[S]imilar to planting forests full of carbon-inhaling trees, but in desolate stretches of ocean...this is organic gardening...iron fertilization...



NEWS ITEM: November 9, 2007                                           SPACE MIRRORS TO SLOW CLIMATE CHANGE

Putting a giant mirror in space to reflect solar radiation and preserve the Greenland ice sheet was among geoengineering ideas considered at a two day meeting in Cambridge, MA.  David Keith, conference organizer and University of Calgary researcher, believes 200 years from now the earth will be "an artifact," a product of human design.

NEWS ITEM: May 26, 2009                                            PAINT ROOFS WHITE TO REFLECT SUNSHINE...          

Says US Energy Secretary Steven Chu at climate change symposium

Figure #25b: The Great Chain of Being 

The Chain of Being, that life on Earth is organized in a hierarchy or ladder, with the lowest, most insignificant creature at the bottom and the highest, most perfect at the top, can be traced back 2500 years to Aristotle. It was later added to by religious scholars to include belief that God's ultimate goal in His creation was Man...

Linnaeus (1707-1789) sought to reveal God's plan by classifying plants and animals—in his 1737 book below... 

Even after Darwin published his theory of evolution in 1859, many persisted in depicting evolution as culminating in Man...




Figure #25c:

Wise Use Movement's Articles of Faith?

1) Humans, like all organisms,    must use natural resources to survive.

2) The Earth and its life are tough and resilient, not fragile and delicate.

3) We only learn about the world through trial and error.

4) Our limitless imaginations can break through natural limits to make earthly goods and carrying capacity virtually infinite.

5) Humanity's reworking of the Earth is revolutionary, problematic and ultimately benevolent.

excerpted from "Overcoming Ideology,"  by Ron Arnold






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