Environmental Ethics: Does Your Ego Get in the Way of the Eco?

Imagine an island in the ocean, growing exponentially, and prior to the human decision to use plastic this island never existed. Trash islands are just one example of growing environmental challenges that are human introduced and justified through certain ethical world views that favor human convenience. Ethics are a personal set of morals that guide our decision making processes; this article will highlight the four primary mindsets that alter one’s behavior towards the environment: egocentric, anthropocentric, partnership and ecocentric. These may unveil your own biased perspective and hopefully provide inspiration to reconsider how you position yourself in relation to others and the environment. Our social and cultural surroundings are our greatest influence along with our personal experiences. During my interview with Ken Worthy he stated, “The kind of individualism, mechanism and atomism that’s a characteristic of western philosophy since early modernity is really most sharply expressed in conservative political philosophy. The idea of the self as this kind of atomonist actor whose interest is separate from everybody else”. Atomism reflects the concept that everything is made of parts that are manipulatable without affecting the whole; it also references the fact that matter is all made of atoms therefore we are undeniably connected to everything at the most microscopic level. As society has modernized and developed an ego/anthropocentric mindset to meet the demands of economy, earth has been reframed to be divisible. Ultimately, and we have lost our sense of being part of the whole.

1. Egocentric Mindset

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An egocentric mindset allows us as individuals to prosper without considering the cost to others. In its most rudimentary form, this is a survival tactic, but it has evolved to foster greed, personal collection and monetary gain. This ideology originated from Thomas Hobbes and John Locke who emphasised self-interest and competition. Unfortunately, believing that everyone working on themselves will collectively create good often disregards the cost to non-human organisms and inanimate systems of the biosphere. For example people working hard to be able to afford a bigger home with a yard has lead to urban sprawl which comes at the cost of building over the natural landscape, distributing native species and increasing individual carbon footprint. This narrowing perspective aligns with capitalism, consumerism and Laissez Faire theory. The effects of centering decisions on yourself is that often the earth is viewed from a utilitarian perspective which allows it to be abused for its resources out of convenience and for economy.

2. Anthropocentric Mindset

The concept of anthropocentric thinking is an extension to the egocentric self, in which the conservation of the earth is only relevant since it sustains human society. A word I want to highlight is conservation in contrast to preservation; conservation is reserving natural resources for human use in the future, while preservation works to protect nature for its intrinsic value, not for profit. Anthropocentric thinking considers the right action to be the one that benefits the most people for the longest period of time by maximizing resources. This justifies managing nature as a commodity with the purpose to serve us. In addition, the society driven concept of progress often doesn’t account for the costs of degradation to the ecosystem. For example, progress is measured in gross domestic profit but tells nothing of the environment impacts associated with the accumulation of money.

3. Partnership Mindset

Partnership ethics is a concept of acknowledging interdependence and fostering equity between human and non-human beings. Stressed in this mindset is equity over equality which acknowledges that the distribution of goods and decisions will disproportionately affect those with the least power and the most agency to sustain life such as women. This promotes anti-oppression and acceptance of difference. Carol Merchant emphasised “The greatest good for human and nonhuman communities is in their mutual living interdependence”, where humans and all other biodiversity can equally flourish This ethical mindset reminds us that to take must also require us to give and to have ethical consideration and accountability for those that are easy to objectify and utilize.

“Unlimited expectations of nature and the quest for surplus accumulation and growth don’t fit into a ecological framework… there are real problems here with capitalism and free market…look at the intensity of our environmental problems and the way they threaten the survival of society. Either we change the capital economy to something that is more congruent with ecology and partnership ethics or the changes in nature will result in changes to the capital system” stated by Professor Ken Worthy. This quotes emphasises the choice for people to take responsibility and act now to ensure a hospitable habitat for society and other biodiversity or to remain comfortable in our current destruction until the environment forces social change and reform for survival.

4. Ecocentric Mindset

The ecocentric ideology, the most mutually beneficial, is to consider yourself as equal value to plants, animals and land. The term coined ecocentric references ecology and the holistic view that each part of earth is inseparable and maintains intrinsic value no matter its monetary value for human use. The relationship between humans and their surroundings is enough evidence that the choices of an individual cause a ripple to the whole. An easy way to identify if you are eco or egocentric is to position yourself among other organisms and determine whether you consider human beings to be at the top of an organism pyramid (ego) or equally distributed among other species (eco).

In conclusion, I ask you to consider which ethical mindset guides you. Do your decisions come at a cost others? Recognizing the importance and interdependence of the environment and ourselves is a win-win situation; there is no long-term loss for anyone to preserve the environment.

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