When analyzing the relationship between man and the earth there are numerous factors that need to be considered. The first experience of mankind on earth is based on questioning oneself about what his place on this planet is. Seeing the way this place was structured, man was forced to ponder upon whether the Earth is working towards the benefit of mankind or is simply a place of suffering. While Earth gave life to mana, it also inflicts pain and causes death which is not anyone’s control. This clearly reflects the love hate relationship of man with Earth.
The second experience of mankind is based on survival, or you might call it evolving to make a place for themselves. Evolution itself is a lengthy process; consisting of first general evolution when a species is in search of a suitable niche to inhabit. Then comes the human evolution which constitutes the individual transcending into that niche, fitting into that environment was a challenge indeed. Lastly the cultural evolution took place when once living in a certain environment man began to understand about the Earth’s dynamics.
Man was sent to earth and in the process of making it his home the relationship went through various stages. Mother Earth gave man life and nurtured him, providing him with means of survival. This parent-child relationship was the first encounter between man and earth. He realized that life exists all around and was able to draw a distinction that this world is built in a way that two major genders exist: male and female. The ability to give life was the reason why mother earth was looked upon as being female. When it rained, and crops grew in the fields, man saw these qualities as feminine. Other natural occurrences such as thunderstorms, lightening and earthquakes that appeared to be destructive were looked upon as male. In the same way the Greek goddesses reflect these very characteristics. With Zeus controlling lightening and being the most superior of all Gods. Over time man gained knowledge about all this earth can provide, he developed a purpose of life far beyond survival. This brings us towards the second stage of this relationship, where man is the conqueror. He discovered materials provided by mother earth and through research found the best way to use each substance to cater to human needs. The third stage is an ongoing process where man feels a sense of responsibility towards the world they live in. This gives them the title of Earth’s protector. However, it should be now considered that all the damaged caused to the environment Is due to the actions of humans, and so is the label of protector appropriate for them?
Once again, the chain of questioning continues when man starts to reflect on what species have rights over others, and exactly what determines this degree of rights. Ethical behavior is thus the major focus of this debate over which species has greater rights. Ecology is thus primarily a problem of ethics and secondarily that of the scientific discipline. Since the beginning of time humans have considered themselves the most superior of all beings because of having the greatest cognitive abilities. Therefore, the question arises over whether then humans have the right to deem a species expendable. And who has the authority to answer these questions of life and death? Another factor often ignored is that if humans have considered themselves as having maximum control over the planet, and thus the ethical responsibility falls on their shoulders as well. Previously the environment was used as a means of benefit for human beings, this clearly shows the intrinsic value of ecology in the eyes of man. This falls under the Anthropocentric ecological world view. Humans have come to realize ecological importance very late, after thought provoking views such as the of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 which initiated a change in beliefs. This brought about a change in approach to the environment.
The significance of environmental resources for humans, dates to the linkage between religion and the environment which was emphasized by Lynn White in an article. It claimed Christian anthropocentricism, the idea of the existence of environmental resources to sustain human beings, being the root cause of the crisis. The work caused many controversies and reexamination of Christian beliefs and the environment. Thus, White seemed to have the created the “Theology of Ecology”. To recreate an intrinsic value of nature, White called to return to the thinking of the medieval world which allowed a belief of spirit in nature to give it meaning. The Western man’s world post Christianity encouraged an attitude of “indifference to the feelings of natural objects”. White advised to return to Saint Francis of Assisi’s medieval world which had the belief that since all things revered by God should also be respected by man. Therefore, he called for respect toward all creations. This would from a religious perspective influence human to be more sustainable.
John Cobb established intrinsic criteria to judge creatures in the ecosphere, setting a relative value upon them. He suggests, experiential status (sensitivity, abstract reasoning, creativity) establish hierarchy of worth. On this scale, which is not completely accurate, humans seem to be at the top which gives them more power over the environment. Through the scale humans seem to have more rights but this is not a fact and cannot be the ethical way to conclude. The idea of establishing a hierarchy has drawn criticisms with the belief that a hierarchy and the changes occurring are only made to benefit humans and are for the betterment of future human beings. All species and their existence would then be valued only by how beneficial they are to humans.
Aldo Leopold points out that there is no ethic dealing with man’s relation to land, animals and plants. This relation is strictly entailing economic privileges but not obligations. There can be no ethic dealing until there is an understanding of the relations between man and the environment rather than just looking at humans as the sole controllers. When humans are given more power, they tend to abuse the control as seen by post industrialization behaviour.
Humans aware of the interrelatedness between themselves and nature (plants and animals). Looking at similarities in genes, bones, behaviour and feelings have led to accepted coexistence. With progressing evolution man moves further and further away from recognizing the similarities, wanting to maintain a superior feeling over their characteristics but grudgingly come to the acceptance that there are similarities. Evolution created these distances from familiarity as humans continued to deviate from their natural norm whilst other species evolved much more slowly. From a perspective of other animals humans are killers and meant to be feared since early on humans learned to hunt and kill. This hunting was for food but also spread to being for pleasure and this ability of humans gives them element of being ultimate by giving power over life and death.
Not long ago, human sacrifice was practiced in most religions. However, it came to an end with substitutes found in animals. In religious history Abraham sacrificing Isaac who was then replaced by an animal then originated the ransom system. This is replacing all sacrificial practices of humans with animals. It recognizes the significance of a human sacrifice and then replaces it with what seems to be an easier sacrifice of animals.
Humans anthropomorphize all our animal kin. In order to relate to animals we project human feelings and experiences onto them. In cartoons for example, there are human feelings and stories. We don’t have any other understandings which we may project upon animals, otherwise there is a distance. We want to relate to animals and other species and this is the only way we know how to relate rather than looking at similarities in biology.
It is easy for humans to feel lonely and alienated in a crowd and a world in which one is so deeply related. We may never realize the existence of multitudinous tie lines that connect us to the world. This factor of intimidation may not allow us to see the significant part, but only a part, that we play in the vast majority of the environment.
When we are considering the future in regards to philosophy the environment is in many ways connected. The reason is that the future of human beings is highly dependent on the natural environment and how dynamically it changes. Over the course of time the environment has gone through various transitions. Initially there was only basic mineral extraction and usage of materials for humans. However, the resources are now increasingly exhausted with the growing population and extreme weather conditions.
In discussing the situation of the environment there are two approaches, the practical approach and the theoretical approach. The difference is in time. The practical approach is where only the short-range views are considered. In it only the immediate requires of mankind and concerns are given importance. The theoretical view is a long-term perspective looking at how the future conditions will be either beneficial or harmful for future generations to come. Thus, the topic of future consists of a number of mixed opinions.
Studying the future was not as popular in the past however, with a growing number of environmental disasters such as earthquakes and droughts, there has been more research in the area. Organizations are set up which are forecasting such future events. The US has set up various research centers for this purpose. The change has only come once the effects of the environment harmed the existence of humans. Therefore, the provoking factor was still safety and sustenance of human life, but the change came about nonetheless. Constructing the framework used to analyze and predict the future needs to be reconstructed because those used in the past are no longer as relevant. No matter what opinion is held by a particular philosopher or environmentalist this is something of common agreement.
There are two common arguments in the debate. These are of the futurists and the realists. The futurist vision depends on specialists of personal feelings of optimism or pessimism about actions of human nature. It can have short range or long-range vision. Long range futurists tend to be more optimistic. They look at the environment as what impact it may have on the future and how it will develop in the future. Popular futurists vocalists are Alvin Toffler and Arthur C. Clarke. Realists have objective assessment of historical facts. It depends on whether we trust human initiative or not. It can be optimistic or pessimistic. Known popular realist vocalists are Sir Fred Hoyle and Edward O. Wilson.
When looking at these two opposing arguments we consider whether there is hope. The answer is that there are certain philosophers which consider that while it is important to look at the facts we need to adapt a more positive approach. Optimism and pessimism are opposites, referring to contrasting sets of expectations. Being a realist and hopeful are not opposites. One can be aware of all concerns but still be hopeful that humans can bring about a change. This is due to the fact humans are the ones who have bought about these changes and they are the ones capable of making technology that can bring about change needed to go back.
Thus, we can see how humans play a significant role in the environment seeing as how they have the vast knowledge to bring about drastic change, that also leaves us with a certain responsibility which is not on other species since they are not deviating from their natural norm. The responsibility however, does not mean the environment owes us something since we are the ones responsible for harming the existing environment and perhaps for an optimistic approach to looking at the future, we owe something to the environment and ourselves to bring it back to an equilibrium by righting our mistakes.