Ecocentrism is a worldview in which ecosystems (including their biological and physical constituent parts, as well as the ecological processes that connect the elements in space and time) are considered to have intrinsic value – in other words, having a value of existence in their own right rather than merely through benefits that they confer to humans (Curry, 2011).
Why is ecocentrism important?
Ecocentrism is a concept that allows robust ethical analysis of the impact that humans are having on the community of life on Earth and the physical systems on which all its members are dependent (Curry, 2011). It also provides powerful motivation to lead a reduced-impact lifestyle and for activism in areas such as the preservation of wildlands.
Isn't ecocentrism misanthropic?
The answer is a simple and resounding 'no'. Ecocentrism is not in any way an anti-human worldview. Instead, it provides a broader scope than just humans for that which has inherent value, but this is a scope into which humans very much fit. Furthermore, the solutions promoted by this worldview offer a way to dramatically reduce the suffering of humans over the coming decades that is set to otherwise play out against a background of further population growth and the unchecked exploitation of finite resources.
How 'healthy' are Earth's ecosystems at present?
One way to examine this question is to use biodiversity as a 'health index' for the ecosphere and its ecosystems. Current evidence points to a 'mass extinction' event (defined as the loss of 75% of species in a geologically short interval) having begun, with anthropogenic habitat degradation and loss being the primary driver (Monastersky, 2014). Even if the ability of humans to save iconic species from a premature extinction improves, a flattening of the overall trend will require a broader and deeper approach to addressing ecospheric health.
Aren't mass extinctions just part of the natural cycle of life?
Palaeontologists recognize that, since the beginning of biotic life on Earth over 3.5 billion years ago, there have been at least five mass extinction events. Furthermore, it must be acknowledged that biotically driven ecospheric degradation is not without precedent. Two billion years ago, newly evolved cyanobacteria began to force up the content of oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere, killing off a variety of anaerobes (Sagan and Margulis, 1993). But while the current mass extinction is not a first, there are important elements that make the present situation unique. Firstly, it is being driven by a single species. Secondly, that species has awareness of the probable consequences of its actions and the capacity, if not the inclination, to cease the slaughter. ■
Curry P (2011) Ecological Ethics: An Introduction. Malden, MA, USA: Polity Press, 280 pages.
Monastersky P (2014) Life – a status report. Nature 516: 159–61.
Sagan D and Margulis L (1993) God, Gaia, and biophilia. In: Kellert SR and Wilson EO (editors). The Biophilia Hypothesis. Washington, DC, USA: Island Press, pages 345–64.