Let's Get Deep About Ecology, By James Cousins, Leighton Kessner, Brittney Stuart, and Kayla Witherspoon
The blogs posted over the next several weeks are written by students in my Science in Social Context course that is taking place in Wittenberg, Germany. The blogs are focused on environmental ethics and justice in Germany, the European Union, and the U.S.
Intrinsic Value in the US and GermanyOverview
The United States has pretty interesting views on the value of a person or thing. The U.S. focuses less on the intrinsic value of an item, and more on the extrinsic value, or the value it provides others. For something to be valuable for the majority of Americans, it has to benefit them as a society or individually, instead of having value within itself. For example, we do not do very much to prevent landfills, or make sure the water is safe to drink. Even as human beings, we don’t necessarily see the value in other humans, and many Americans have the attitude that “if they aren’t working, they don’t deserve basic access to food and shelter.” However, this is not the opinion across the board. For example, we have a large amount of land set aside to preserve nature. We also have some social programs to make sure that people have the basic needs to survive, although even these are argued and fought against. In this way, we have some respect for the intrinsic value. Germany however, has us beat. Germany has a very large focus on the intrinsic value of a person, environment, and other nonhuman subjects. The main goal in Germany is to focus less on how someone or something can benefit them and using them in a sense. Rather, the focus remains on the actual value of a person or the subject of interest, also known as intrinsic value. Granted, there are still people in Germany who may practice extrinsic value more so than intrinsic, but the country as a whole works hard to make sure that each member of the community and the environment receives the respect it rightfully deserves. These ideals are in effect throughout the laws that they put into place.
Precautionary PrincipleWhat is this you may ask? It’s part of an attempt in Germany to cut down on the harsh effects of chemicals and other hazardous objects before allowing certain products hit the market. Germany was the first country to implement this idea in the 1970's and started a worldwide motion of safer products and more testing to be done prior to the products hitting the shelves. The United States, after hearing about the new principle, also reacted to this sudden urgency to demonstrate environmental ethics, but refused to switch over entirely to the principle itself. The principle the United States stands with, even to this day, is that a product is safe until it is proven otherwise. This is not to say that the United States does not test products prior to releasing them to the public, but it is much easier to have a product released in the United States rather than Germany because of the shorter process. General requirements for a product to pass inspection and be released in the United States is very simple. Essentially, if a product is thought to have a good basis and low levels of projected problems, the product hits the market unless there becomes a fair amount of negative feedback. The preparation in Germany for a product to be released is very extensive and involves making sure that every aspect of the product, the content and packaging, are not going to be harmful to people or the environment.
Conservation of Land
Conservation areas are defined as: "areas that have been designated in a legally binding manner and in which the special protection of nature and landscape as a whole, or of individual parts thereof, is required for the following reasons:
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Germany, attempting to be as environmentally conscious as possible, is largely particular about recycling. Not only does Germany attempt to recycle a large amount each year, they have also made the choice to separate the types of material they recycle. In their attempt to decrease the 30 million tons of garbage waste each year, they use different bins to collect materials like paper, plastic, composite material, and cans--among others. On average per year, Germany recycles 45% of material, burns 38%, and 17% is composted. On the other hand, the USA is not as environmentally focused on recycling, since every states is not required to recycle, even just starting with plastic. However, 10 states are in full swing of recycling on a daily basis, one example being Michigan. Although not all states have the normality, like Michigan, to recycle at home and in local areas, the United States recycles about 34.3% each year. Imagine what could happen if all 50 states were on board as well!
“The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves. These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.” With the first point of Deep Ecology directly relating to intrinsic value, it is clear that they have a connection to each other and play off each other in certain ideals. Deep ecology in essence is the idea of looking at the long-term effects of an environmental crisis and taking into consideration all life, a “total-field image”. Deep ecology is a movement and nothing more or less. The Norwegian philosopher who coined this movement, Arne Naess, did not make the points to come off as ideals of philosophy. This is because he didn’t want to give off the implication that Deep ecology is a science,philosophy, religion, or at least a fully developed position of some kind”. This movement deals with heavily going directly against Western modes of consciousness. People need to turn to the concept of appreciating life quality, rather than pushing for a higher standard of living. This movement would take a lot of time to adjust to since it is completely rethinking and reshaping our ideals and our way of life, a more “primal” consciousness of spirituality. Deep ecologists agree that all life has value, not just as means to human use, and that all life should be allowed to go through their “evolutionary” unfolding. Deep ecology faces a lot of backlash from other movements, this criticism points out some major holes like feminism and the problems that philosophers have within deep ecology. Before really diving into Deep ecology it’s important to get a grasp of what the eight main points actually are. The platform starts off with basically describing, for lack of a better description, intrinsic value. It is stating the definition of intrinsic value and representing what it all stands for. The richness and diversity of these life forms are also seen as values in themselves. We as humans have no right to reduce this richness or diversity, but if we must it can only be to satisfy vital needs for survival. Deep ecology also promotes a smaller human population, so that it would be easier for the human race to flourish. Human interference with non-human life is rapidly getting worse, and with that it doesn’t look like it will slow down. Deep ecology is focusing on the long run, pointing out that massive economic changes must be made and that all of these ideals must be implemented for us to all succeed in this world in harmony.
Deep Ecology, Capitalism, and Humanity
Deep ecologists view expansive capitalism as highly destructive, and calls on humanity to learn about their place in the world from the nature around them. To deep ecologists, capitalism is the prime example of ‘species selfishness.’ The Earth and nature being treated as extrinsic, nothing more than resources to exploit with no regard for Earth’s sustainability or the welfare of the common person, is considered to be highly immoral and leading to worldwide despoliation. They believe individuals needs to undergo deep personal reflection, and come to a self-realization, that they’re dependent on and empathize with the beings around them in nature. Then, the individual realizes how shallow and greedy modern life is. Deep Ecology has determined the best and only way is to return to the societies of aboriginal and indigenous that live in harmony with nature, yet are currently being threatened with extinction by modern industry. This is the goal of one sect of Deep Ecologists.
ConclusionIntrinsic value and deep ecology appear to go hand in hand, and each can be shown in the a variety of manners. Deep ecologists can get behind the goal of conserving land, recycling, and just generally respecting the intrinsic value of all aspects of life. Deep ecologists stress that we do not have a humanity-centered worldview, but respect the world as a whole. Everything has value and it is up to us to appreciate it all.