Environmental Ontology

The idea that humans have no right to interfere with nature for any reason is not a new one by any means for Deep Ecological thought. It was and still is a pervasive thought among environmentalists whose belief is that that more for the natural environment by doing nothing given our poor track record for large scale intervention. Deep Ecology has held tightly to this principle since the early stages of the movement tying it very closing to Naess (1973, p96) who argues that an appropriate relationship with nature is “relational” adding that each life-form has “the equal right to live and blossom”. This idea is not without merit and many of the reasons for thinking this do resonate to this day with many people, even those not familiar with the intellectual origins of this thought. It derives from the idea that humans have a long history of being incredibly destructive towards nature and any intervention particularly on a large scale is likely to have unforeseeable consequences because according to many thinkers on this topic nature is far more complex then we can ever comprehend and that doing nothing would be better (for whom it is not clear) for nature given our track record of environmental interventions which have had dire consequences for non-human and human life. As a result, a deep skepticism for environmental intervention has emerged in response to this issue. One that as we have already suggested is not without merit. However, there was at the time a school of thought within Deep Ecology that begun to recognize the incoherencies of this formulation and even before Bookchin (1988) launched his scathing attack on Deep Ecology the issue of precisely what Deep Ecologists meant by “Biospherical Egalitarianism” which up to this point had been largely viewed as an ethical and moral issue. Richard Watson (1983, p252) in response to this growing movement of Deep Ecologists continuing to leave open the fundamental epistemic flaws in holistic environmental ethics specifically concerning notions of “non-anthropocentrism” and “ecocentrism”.

“…the posing of man against nature in any way is anthropocentric. Man is a part of nature. Human ways-human culture-and human actions are as natural as are the ways in which any other species of animals behaves. But if we view the state of nature of Nature as being natural, undisturbed, and unperturbed only when human beings are not present, or only when human beings are curbing their natural behavior, then we are assuming that human beings are apart from, separate from, different from, removed from, or above nature. It is obvious that the ecosophy described above (Naess, Sessions and Rodman) is based on this position of setting man apart from or above nature (Do I mean even “sordid” and “perverted” human behavior? Yes, that is natural, too.)”

It is through this mindset that claims to non-intervention begins to break down as “setting man apart” from nature – which Watson rightfully pointed out is a direct result of the “rejection of the man-in-environment image” (Naess 1973, p95). Later this contention was taken up by Murray Bookchin (1988), arguing if we have no right to intervene in nature because intervention means that we are not allowing ecosystems to “live and blossom”, then what right do we have to prevent serious diseases such as Smallpox whose concept of “live and blossom” means that infecting and killing of human hosts (Bookchin 1988, p12-13). Naess was no fool and added the cavoite “in principle” as an anticipation of just this kind of objection, particularly in the later formulation of Deep Ecologies “eight points” (Naess & Sessions 1984). So, one must consider in the modern context with the redirection of Deep Ecology towards an aesthetically derived ontology what biological egalitarianism means and how these principles should be regarded in determining the appropriate relationship between humans and nature.

The focus of Deep Ecology remained fixed on biocentric ethics well into the 1990s before the study of Deep Ecological Philosophy all but disappeared from academic discourse (Keller 2009). However, that has been something of a re-emergence of Deep Ecological thinking and philosophy – through Avery (2004), Baard (2015) and Lynch & Norris (2016) each sympathetic to Deep Ecological thought in their own way have sought to direct the conversation surrounding Deep Ecology towards a conceptual framework aimed at creating an ontological shift in human consciousness that no longer views humanity as an entity separate and distinct from nature. It is from this perspective that Deep Ecology if it is serious must shed all ties with holistic ethics and direct its focus on the perspective just put forward specifically its decades long association with holistic ethics. The “eight-point platform” (Naess & Sessions 1984) for modern Deep Ecologists represents an ontological world view needed to create the kind of ecological consciousness that is hoped will allow us to begin to think beyond our short term human needs and desires and allow us to seriously evaluate the impact of our behavior on the natural worth for all affected parties. Not just for humans and non-humans but for the generations to come who will have to pay for our inability to mitigate our own destructive tendencies (Baard 2016). When it comes to environmental and ecological issues, however, there are still important discussions to have surrounding many commonly help Deep Ecological beliefs and values that need to be re-evaluated. In this case we will be directing our focus towards what an appropriate relationship with nature looks like from the perspective of this revised version of Deep Ecology. Specifically, we will focus on notions of intervention in nature and what role if any humans should play in managing ecosystems. It is clear the large-scale intervention, the kind that is commonly rejected in early versions of Deep Ecology is problematic for all the reasons listed above. But what about veterinary assistance for injured wild animals? Or, the eradication of diseases and illness devastating an endangered native species? What about the provision of food for starving wild animals? What about the removal of invasive species for a local ecosystem? How about the reintroduction of native species to an area decade after being eradicated as pests? What about cloning and the de-extinction of species? All these things and many more put pressure on notions of non-intervention and challenge the kind of relationship we have (or should have) with nature.

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