Even though I am an environmental science major, the subject of environmental philosophy is not one that I am terribly familiar with me.  Professor Keith Peterson’s talk “The Anthropocentrism of the Anthropocene” covered a lot of ground, and at times went fast enough to be somewhat difficult to follow.  At the end of the hour, however, he summed up the talk with the conclusion “If we take [ecofeminist philosopher] Plumwood’s model of anthropocentrism as central to environmentalism, we have to conclude that Anthropocenists are no more environmentalists than Francis Bacon or Rene Descartes.”  Val Plumwood’s model had been brought up earlier in the talk.  It codifies the tendency of some to equate masculinity with the mind, rationalism, and technology, and femininity with the body, intuition, and nature.  This is a similar idea to one I remember reading about in Freud.  He also saw a tendency to categorize many adjectival dichotomies such as strong/weak in terms of gender.[1]

In addition to this dichotomous interpretation leading to the misogynistic tendencies of some to objectify women, and to assume that men are more suited to positions of authority, Plumwood also sees its shadow in our tendency to value technology over nature.  For instance, humans’ ever-expanding population has encroached on much of the natural world.  Some ecologists see the world as being in the period of the sixth major extinction (driven this time by humans), and even those who are not willing to declare the effect quite that disastrous are willing to say that the extinction rate is higher because of humans than it would otherwise be.  Currently, 8,700 species go extinct per year, more than 7,000 times the background rate.[2]

One other aspect of Peterson’s talk which I would like to touch on is the question of animal rights.  Part of anti-anthropocentrism is considering what is best for domestic animals, which is decidedly not being crammed into tiny pens, overfed, and then slaughtered.  Personally, I am a vegetarian because I do not want to cause animals’ deaths when I can easily get plant-based foods or ones that incorporate milk or eggs.  Some people do not find even that sufficient, and eat a vegan diet.  Others eat meat, but sparingly and from animals they know were treated well.

Peterson argues that the suggestion that we name this current period of geologic history the Anthropocene is part of our problem, because it encourages the continuation of the anthropomorphism that led to our current predicament.  Frankly, I do not think that we will ever entirely lose an anthropomorphic viewpoint – we are humans; it is impossible to entirely avoid looking at the environment from the point of view of how it interacts with us.  But I agree that humans ought to sometimes see ourselves as something other than the center of the universe, and work on seriously attempting to salvage the environment.  The outcome of the upcoming Paris climate talks will hopefully prove favorable to this goal.


[1] Freud, Sigmund. An Outline of Psychoanalysis, page 89. Trans. James Strachey. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1949. Print.

[2] Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, as reported in an ES271 (Ecology) lecture by Professor Bill McDowell on 10/14/15