I feel that if humanity continues on its current course, our connection to nature still wont be severed. Despite the fact we continue to grow without taking extreme measures to consider that our world is a closed system of finite resources, the increasing scarcity of those resources within nature will continually be our wake-up call that our lifestyles are unsustainable. Even though it seems we might not be taking the hint now, I think that our society continues to grow more environmentally conscious as major issues arise and pose threats to our lifestyles.
Capitalism and environmental policies can surely exist together, but under different terms. We have to consider whether or not we are capable of having a form of capitalism without mass consumption; a steady state economy (as proposed by Herman Daly). We must be able to separate our sustainable advances from consumerism, as “green marketing” is only adding to our current issue by using consumers to build a business rather than solutions. There must also be recognition that our economy needs to develop, not grow. Growth currently is under the pressure of raising productivity and demand, where development would better focus on changing our systems, ideals, increasing the quality of things we do produce, and sustainably enhancing the resources we already have.
There is no doubt, especially with many people being deeply rooted in their spirituality, that religions would persist if a new economic system were presented. However, extreme measures will surely have to be taken (and soon) if we are to somehow begin the switch from a completely consumptive to developmentally sustainable society, and this may mean working together to come to commonly accepted ideas of how the environment can be better respected and managed.
I feel that people will always have a difficult time in defining the value of a life and what kind of lives we should defend because of differing worldviews. When you look back to history, we’ve even been through times when we didn’t value every human as an equal- for example when there was still black and white segregation in the US. We as humans seem to like to differentiate things, not simply view and value something as simply being another life contributing to the world (no matter how big or small the contribution). To answer the question, I think our inability to define a common value because of all these differentiations is directly playing a role in forming an animal rights ethic.
Optimally, we would define the importance of an animal’s life by simply having consciousness and being a life. I feel that, in valuing something simply for it’s existence, we allow ourselves to truly live by the Golden Rule. In other words, by living in a manner where we are treating every conscious thing the way we would want to be treated, everything is fair game. This may or may not change the way animals are seen and treated, but I feel like if we can value some animals as our pets and family, why can this not be extended to other animals, and then nature in itself?
Lastly, the way I like to look at things is that if I don’t take care of and maintain things in my house, the house is going to be non-functioning and awful. Earth is our only true home, and if we abuse it and don’t take responsibility for our actions, it’s going to backfire and stop functioning in the same way. I feel that if everyone took this idea into mind, it would naturally change how we value things, animals included.
I feel that our connection with Earth is solely based on our individual life experiences, and how we view it is dependent on what those experiences consisted of. For example, it is no doubt that those who have spent more time outdoors have a greater appreciation and concern for land and its inhabitants, and those who have not have appreciation for other things like technology. Religion cannot be the biggest factor in shaping someone’s connection with the earth, since despite whatever religion they hold, we have seen tribal and Pacific societies generally holding a higher value for scarce resources and the land they live on because they all had to live within their means in order to survive, (unlike many technologically advanced societies today). In saying this, I feel that we are not well connected to the earth because of our extreme advancement over the past century. While it has seemed to cause a disconnect in conditioning most to act out of self-benefit and not ecological benefit, there are also areas we can be ethically sensitive to, like hunting.
Recently for another class, I had to survey five people on their views of hunting. None of these people hunted or were educated within wildlife ecology/resource management, and I found that they generally had the same answer- that it is not right to hunt for sport. The only time it is acceptable to hunt is if it is for food and survival. From an environmentalist/ecological perspective, hunting (when regulated) can have great benefits for specific areas, like preventing a key species from dying out from predation, controlling an invasive species, or keeping one from overpopulating and causing competition for other species. Sometimes hunting is done simply to protect surrounding communities or prevent wildlife-human conflict. Without being educated on this topic, the average person would not recognize these benefits. It takes education to make people more aware about what is occurring in our world on a daily basis, and I do feel that humans can change the pace of climate change through education. If more people were educated about ecological issues and the importance of managing them properly, it is no doubt that misguided viewpoints (like those of hunting) would no longer be an issue of ethics and we could work together to make well-rounded decisions.
While I do not believe we can ever fully adopt a lifestyle that would be in line with Leopold’s “Land Ethic,” I do think (with major changes and adjustments) we can make improvements towards a more sustainable way of living. To change our role from a “conqueror of the land to a member of it” would require us to become less dependent on current technologies and more self-reliant, with a better ability to distinguish wants from needs. The ability of technology to mass produce our food, make it easily available, and offer it in many forms has led us to normalize overproduction as well as overconsumption. It seems a bit ridiculous to be offered the same product by multiple producers. I believe that if we start living well in our places, it could lead to much more sustainable practices where we produce only enough for current need in the local area. For places that cannot support agriculture, it would be understandable to have food imported, however, alternative farming methods could be used, such as hydroponics. Other places could be separated into regions where agriculture is bought and sold solely for that region, and there could be a greater use of community supported agriculture. This would give farmers a greater importance in the area, help keep food more affordable by avoiding shipping and the middle-man, and help us become a society less dependent on mass production, especially if we were required to individually order foods and products that are not offered in the area. It would encourage the community to be more involved in local food production, aid crop diversity, be more knowledgeable of the land, and be more appreciative of what is available at the present moment.
However, I do recognize there could be faults with this idea of localized production and consumption. For example, if a disease killed a crop that many were depending on, it could possibly cripple part of the system and force us to ship in food from elsewhere (also putting pressure on communities elsewhere). To prevent disease and pest issues, we could use current biotechnology with genetically modified crops, however, organic farming is an alternative. Although labor intensive, organic farming can be almost waste-free and completely sustainable when planned right.
It would be extremely difficult for our current society to adopt the “Land Ethic,” but with extreme changes in our food production, we can come closer to living a more connected lifestyle with the land.
I do not think we have reached our carrying capacity, but definitely feel we are approaching it. A stable human population for the planet would seem to be one where there is general equality in food and fresh water accessibility for every individual along with little to no strain on other natural resources, and we have far surpassed the point where this could be possible despite our advancements. Humans, whether we recognize it or not, are simply another species in the biosphere. What ultimately distinguishes us from others is technology, which has allowed us to live longer lifespans and have higher standards of living. Advancements in technology have undoubtedly played a role in constantly altering our carrying capacity.
Despite how far humans have come, I feel there is a possibility we may become extinct- not in the next 100 years, but perhaps within 500 years. We can already see actions that are precursors of societal collapse, like those exemplified with the Mayan civilization and Easter Island. The Mayans relied on corn as their major food crop, and deforested much of the land to grow it. We already rely on a few major food crops, most now being genetically modified because we need a larger supply to feed society. Easter Island inhabitants were also wiped out from deforestation and overconsumption of resources. All over the planet we are seeing cases of overconsumption, deforestation, inequality in lifestyles and accessibility to certain necessities of life. History tells us we may be headed in the wrong direction, and if we aren’t careful, may experience a crash like many human civilizations before us.