A quote that I particularly enjoy goes as follows: “The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, to whom it occurred to say this is mine, and found people sufficiently simple to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders, how many miseries and horrors Mankind would have been spared by him who, pulling up the stakes or filling in the ditch, had cried out to his kind: Beware of listening to this impostor; You are lost if you forget that the fruits are everyone’s and the Earth no-one’s” –Jean Jacques Rousseau
In this evening’s lecture, we learned about environmental philosophy from Keith Peterson. He described three elements of anthropocentrism: cosmic, axiological and epistemic. These three principles articulate that humans view themselves as the center of the universe, human interest trumps all, and having a human perspective is inevitable. I do believe that this is true but I do not think that it is necessarily part of human nature. In Bill Cronin’s book, Changes in the Land, he describes how Native American communities exploited the seasonal diversity of their environment by practicing mobility. Their houses were portable, and they owned only belongings that were essential since virtually everything had to be portable. When colonization occurred, there was a dramatic shift in the relationship with the land. Westerners brought with them the idea of property. The idea that one has a claim and the right to do what they will to a piece of land is a societal construct. It was because of this idea of property that the colonists strove to improve a piece of land for permeant settlement. With permanent settling, more forests were eradicated to make room for large fields to grow crops in. Also, colonists had many more domesticated animals and livestock. Livestock requires a lot of land to live on. This idea of a ‘civilized’ society is still visible today. Humans change the land to accommodate demonstrated need. For example, we build houses, stores and many other things because it is how our society views progress. This idea of property, like Rousseau says has caused many a conflict between humans.
In today’s society, the idea of ownership is still very relevant. Humans exploit natural resources for business, recreation and economic development. With new technology, we are now able to go farther than we have ever before. There is little thought about the impacts our actions may have on the environment. Also, we cannot predict every consequence our actions may have. With the rise in awareness of climate change, governments and people have started to realize that what we are doing to the earth has extreme consequences. It is accurate that humans have become a global force. Humans now move more sediment and rock than all other natural processes such as erosion and rivers. It is in the name of ‘progress’ that countries develop and modernize.
In order for the earth not to be completely used up, humans must realize that the world is finite.