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Andrew Dobson in his book strongly asserts that environmentalism and ecologism are completely different and that confusing them constitutes to a major intellectual offence. Environmentalism asserts that the environment can be taken care of by proper management without necessarily changing patterns and behavior in consumption and production. Ecologism on the other hand asserts that if the environment is to be adequately sustained then there needs to be a fundamental change in the way humans relate to the environment and in their social and political lives.
Green politics is defined as the political ideology whose objective is to create an environment that is ecologically sustainable through environmentalism and social liberalism (Spretnak, 1985). In Dobson’s book Marien is cited as having claimed that it was possible to incorporate green politics into today’s technological and affluent society. These politics would include the implementation of devices that would help curb environmental pollution such as the fitting of catalytic converters into car exhaust pipes, carbon dioxide scrubbers fitted into industry chimneys and CFC free aerosols.
Dobson claimed that restricting green politics to the environmental guise of producing cleaner technology and affluence in an effort to sustain a clean environment would have us miss out on important issues aside from the environment such as the logic behind mechanistic science (Dobson, 1995). Ecologism basically places the earth as the foundational object and attributes the finite nature of economic growth and the population to the earth’s finite nature. The picture of the earth as a white blue ball suspended in space taken in 1968 by the cameras of Apollo 8 is a constant reminder of the earth’s finitude. Therefore, it is imperative that profound changes in our political and social lives be made. According to political ecologists two points are the basis of their argument. The first is that consumption of commodities in ‘advanced industrial countries’ needs to be reduced. The second that directly follows the first is that continual economic growth does not best satisfy human needs. The greens movement asserts that limiting growth automatically limits consumption. In fact their emphasis on the need to reduce quantitative demand instead of expanding it is the main difference between green politics and conventional politics.
Some greens argue that the sustainable society they advocate for would be more profoundly fulfilling compared to the present consumer society and its providence of material goods for consumption. This fulfillment is perceived to be spiritual which would be far better than physical fulfillment. They advocate for reverence of the earth and an effort to reconnect to it through frugal living and intentional exhortation.
Modern ecologism firmly believes that environmental degradation has become a global problem. The most obvious indicators of this are the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming. Greens believe that human interaction with the environment has not always been wise and this has led to a decreased capacity of the biosphere to absorb degrading human activity which in turn raises concern about the implications on human survival and biosphere integrity which are endangered.
While environmentalism, like ecologism, advocates for management of the environment within the present social and political context, ecologists advocate a complete overhaul of the same in an effort to address the issue of environmental degradation. Environmentalists unlike ecologists do not advocate for limited growth or the dismantling of industrialism, nor do they think that the earth possesses some intrinsic value. Environmentalists believe that problems created by technology are solvable without necessarily doing away with technology and that the earth is well able to accommodate these developments (O’Riordan, 1981).
The main concern that sets the ecologists apart from other political ideologies is their focus on the relationship between human beings and the natural world. In relation to the ecologists’ growth thesis three points come into play. The first concerns technology and asserts that a sustainable environment cannot be brought about by technological solutions. Secondly, the aim and achievement of rapid economic growth by industrialized countries only serves to add to the exponential dangers and over time these dangers could be catastrophic. The third is that growth problems cannot be addressed in isolation; which means that solving one of the problems does not solve the rest and may actually worsen them. In fact they argue that continued rapid growth causes the population to be complacent because it gives a false idea of a safe situation. However, this perceived sense of safety could quickly turn into a dangerous and unsafe situation. Ecologists fear that by the time the population realizes that the situation has gone out of hand it may be too late to save the earth and the human population. Greens warn against the utilization of the earth as a resource instead of a blessing and its usage without future generations in mind. Growth of the economy encourages a materialistic and greedy world according to them and the orientation of a society towards sustainable growth would ensure less greed and the society would be a better place to live in.
The question of extending morals and ethics to nature has been debated for a long time. Anthropocentrism and Ecocentrism are two ways that seek to address the extension of ethics by human beings to nature. Anthropocentrism advocates for a moral responsibility towards the treatment of nature because this treatment directly affects human beings. This approach views nature as a means to an end which has to be taken care of if it is to be of benefit to the human population.
Ecocentrism which stemmed from the influential Aldo Leopold is similar to anthropocentrism in the sense that it also advocates for moral responsibility and an extension of ethics towards nature (Leopold, 1949). Their reason for this however differs from that of anthropocentrism. Ecocentrism advocates for the ethical treatment of nature because they believe nature is intrinsically valuable (Humphrey, 2003). They therefore perceive the earth as deserving of respectful treatment seeing as it possesses intrinsic value just like human beings. However ethics dealing with the relation of humans with the environment are yet to be established.
Global warming, water and air pollution, the extinction of species and land destruction are some of the major environmental crises faced today. They are a direct result of poor treatment of the environment and an indifferent attitude towards the future of the environment. This of course stems from our perception of our relationship with the land. Our perception of the earth can either be as a view of the earth as a resource and property to be used to benefit humans or as having intrinsic value besides benefiting the humans. The environment does tend to many of our survival needs. The question however is, at what point does usage become abuse? In an effort of maximization of gains by the humans it is important to be clear on the extent to which maximizing gains leads to depletion due to overuse.
The extension of ethics to the environment is a debate in itself. An example of conflicting perceptions is whether the extension of morality to include the relation between humans and the environment is based on a moral responsibility or rights bases. That is, do we extend ethics to the environment because it is our responsibility or because the environment possesses intrinsic value and therefore the right to be treated with respect? The difference between the perceptions of the reason to extend ethics to the environment is that the anthropocentric view has humans as the focus while the ecocentric perception has its focus being nature.
Anthropocentrism views humans as the most important form of life and all other life forms are deemed important only in the event that their treatment affects humans. In short they are a means to an end and their ethical treatment is intended to benefit the humans. Ecocentrics on the other hand view the environment and nature as the originators and therefore intrinsically valuable (Nash, 1989). They believe that the environment has more value besides being of use to man. For instance, while the anthropocentric would advocate against cutting trees because they contain ingredients with curative potential the ecocentric would advocate against cutting trees because it would endanger plant and animal species and might lead to their extinction.
It is clear that both schools of thought agree on the need to extend ethics to nature and the environment even if their reasons for doing this differ. Either way nature or the environment will be conserved. Green politics have the conservation and sustainability of the environment as their foundation. They perceive humans as being part of nature besides being dependent on it. Therefore treating nature as an entity as a separate from them and dominating it according to them amounts to dissociating themselves from who they are.
The tragedy of the commons put forward by one Garrett Hardin clearly indicates the danger of allowing free will and self interest to rule freely in a society. Human beings naturally are inclined to act in their own self interest. However, if this is not regulated the results are calamitous. For instance, allowing humans to breed freely without limits or restrictions leads to overpopulation. He asserts that it is therefore important for humans to have agreements and mutual coercion that is agreed upon by the majority of the population. An example of mutual coercion is taxation, where economics and politics regulate individual excesses together.
There have been a couple of suggestions put forward to help make sustainability of the environment the norm. One of them involves making significant changes in our building structures (Irvine, 1988). This is because buildings are responsible for the emission of 35 percent of greenhouse gases. While there have been developments in going green with regards to building especially in British Columbia, this has been the exception and the aim of the greens is to make it the norm (Bahro, 1986). This can be achieved by making it a code to build buildings that improve energy performance, save water and allow for installation of renewable technology such as solar panels and water heating systems.
The buildings also need to be able to solve some of the issues that require excess natural resources to solve. For example, a building could be designed with window shades that can let in heat and light when it is needed and block it out when it is not needed. Ultimately, less fuel will be required to heat the room.
Another way is to encourage the individuals who are greenest so to speak. This creates an incentive for going green and encourages the greens to keep it up. It is also important to show that it is possible to go green now by setting examples. There is need to sensitize individuals on the need to work now and to discouraged the complacency that stems from assuming that these are issues that could be sorted out in the future.