Introduction ecocentric and anthropocentric approaches in political ecology

The issue for a political theology of nature is how to give an account of the content of the ecological relations operative in this world of creatures. The opening narratives in Genesis offer us, at a minimum, an account of the creation as a sequence of forms which culminates in a world of creatures. These are narratives of creation: the world of creatures emerges as a 'consequence' of divine action. However, holding to creation is not the same as articulating in theological form how the human creature is related to other creatures. Christianity knows, I think, of the deep and intimate relations that govern this world: the contingency and dependence of creatures on their God. The matter is to develop a rich Trinitarian ontology in ways that draw strength from, and clarify and correct, the situatedness ofthe human: a social creature in a common realm, oriented towards the triune God.

In the previous chapter, the tendencies ofpersonalism and naturalism in ecological discourse were noted. The categories of existence and historico-natural emergence that I proposed are designed to move the present inquiry beyond the practical and theoretical differences within these tendencies. Such a move is by way of a critical yet dynamic articulation ofChristian theology with various political ecologies. In this chapter, then, attention shifts to the political discourse of deep ecology which has sought a hearing in the last thirty years or so. This discourse articulates, it claims, a fresh understanding ofthe place ofhumanity in nature. (Although some argue that these ways are not so new as some of their proponents would have us believe.) The aim of this chapter is to attend to the ways in which deep ecology understands nature in order to develop and sharpen the account of un/natural relations already presented. To test, in other words, these theological commitments and seek their development and clarification.

There are two dominant tendencies, I have said, in the consideration of nature. Both are reductionist: one seeks to reduce humanity to nature, the second reduces nature to a function of humanity. These two tendencies strongly inform the politics of nature. The first moves in an ecocentric direction; the second is anthropocentric.1 It is, of course, possible to offer a rather more differentiated typology. John Rodman, for example, offers four sensibilities which can be identified in the environmental movement. These in turn can be divided into two unequal lists: 'resource conservation', 'wilderness preservation' and 'moral ex-tensionism' are, as Rodman points out, to a greater or lesser extent anthropocentric. Only the fourth type, 'ecological sensibility', makes a full break with anthropocentrism.2 In a similar and exhaustive analysis, Warwick Fox suggests that the litmus test is anthropocentric versus non-anthropocentric views. This anthropocentric/non-anthropocentric or ecocentric binary schema structures the debate in political ecology.3 We are returned to the fundamental division between the tendencies of personalism and naturalism.

Ecocentric tendencies, as Richard Sylvan points out, locate value, good and worth in nature.4 Thus nature, in which humanity is placed, is regarded as primary: it is the locus of the emergence of human beings, of intrinsic value (that is, has value in its own right) and embodies a pattern of wisdom which humans are obliged to respect (or suffer the consequences). Consequently, the promotion of difference between humanity and the rest of nature is regarded with suspicion. Although such ecological wisdom is not always held to be older than the mainstream Western religions, it is superior. Such ecocentric positions are also deeply critical of the mechanistic view of the cosmos promoted by 'Enlightenment science'.

Anthropocentric approaches, in contrast, resist the ascription of worth, value and good to nature. Here the search for wisdom tends to focus on the

1. Here I am drawing on the typologies offered by David Pepper in his Modern

Environmentalism: An Introduction (London: Routledge, 1996), pp. 34f.

2. John Rodman, 'Four Forms of Ecological Consciousness Reconsidered', in George

Sessions (ed.), Deep Ecology for the 21st Century: Readings on the Philosophy and Practice oftheNew

Environmentalism (Boston and London: Shambhala, 1995), pp. 121-30.

3. WarwickFox, Toward a TranspersonalEcology (Dartington: Resurgence, 1995), pp. 22f.

4. Richard Sylvan, 'A Critique of Deep Ecology,' partI, Radical Philosophy 40 (1985), 2-12.

relations within humanity which affect or constitute relations between humanity and the non-human world. Such views may, in a liberal extension of the legal concepts of'rights' and 'interests',5 be prepared to grant rights to nature or accept that nature 'enjoys' certain interests. However, these moves are 'legal fictions' framed for the purpose of bringing to human attention the importance of habitat or environment for human survival. John Rodman calls this view 'moral extensionism': 'humans have duties not only concerning but also directly to (some) nonhuman natural entities, and these duties derive from rights possessed by the natural entities, and . . . are grounded in the possession by the natural entities of an intrinsically valuable quality such as intelligence, sentience or consciousness'.6 On epistemological grounds, valuing is considered to be solely a human act. Nevertheless, although the ascription of value, worth and goodness of nature is always an act of human measurement and judgment, it is important to extend the range of human sympathies to include some aspects of nature. By such a procedure, important issues about the alienated and exploitative character of human social life are brought into sharper relief and thereby highlighted. This view has its critics: John Rodman notes that 'all the variants of this position are open to the criticism that they merely "extend"... conventional anthropocentric ethics'.7 Such an extension, Val Plumwood notes, has a particular rationalistic, abstract form: 'the extension of... abstract moral rules to nature itself.8 There is also a further sub-set of political theories which, although acknowledging certain environmental difficulties, remains strongly anthropocentric. Such views encompass those of free-market political parties and the like who argue that the innovations ofthe market will secure unending growth or that through careful negotiation the worst effects of environmental degradation can be mitigated (and maybe avoided altogether). David Pepper calls such views 'technocentric', Arne Naess suggests the term 'shallow', Rodman prefers 'resource conservation'. In a discussion of this 'technocentric' environmental politics in Europe, Pepper argues that faith is placed in the management of environmental demands or salvation by science or market forces. According to opinion poll evidence he reports, such a technocentric view is held by at least 65 per cent of the European

5. See Thomas Birch, 'The Incarceration of Wildness: Wilderness Areas as Prisons', in

Sessions (ed.), Deep Ecology for the 21st Century, pp. 339-55 (p. 340); Michaels. Northcott, The

Environment and ChristianEthics (Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 97I

6. Rodman, 'Four Forms of Ecological Consciousness Reconsidered', p. 124.

8. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, p. 170.

population.9 In other words, this 'technocentric' view will be the position held - implicitly - by many of the readers of this book.

The focus of this chapter, however, is on deep ecology, an avowedly and self-consciously ecocentric approach. What is deep ecology and what does a political theology of nature have to learn from it.?

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