If you’ve not heard, the world is entering a new epoch unofficially named Anthropocene, the Age of Humans. With that odd moniker has come equally odd and dangerous thinking that puts human greed ahead of conserving nature.
Scientists are arguing whether we now live in Anthropocene, a time in which humans alone have created long-lasting global impacts, or Halocene, the official current epoch that goes back 11,650 calendar years to when the last major ice age ended.
The debate doesn’t much matter to most of us. Let the Einsteins talk it out while the rest of us get on with the basics of living.
What does matter is the anthropocentric thinking promoting what is being called New Conservation Science (NCS). Basically NCS says that parts of the planet already are irreversibly damaged so forget trying to restore them and concentrate on conserving areas important only to humans.
NCS is a bad idea that views everything in nature inferior to humanity. Humans are the most important species so conservation efforts should be limited to things that benefit us. If orangutans don’t benefit large numbers of humans don’t waste time and resources trying to fix whatever is making them go extinct.
And, if opening a national park to mining and strip malls helps the economy, throw open the gates. Humans want and need coal, oil, mega cities and trillions of plastic bottles and bags and human wants and needs are more important than the environment.
The ultimate goal of conservation should be better management of nature for human benefit, say the NCS advocates. That means conservationists should ally with corporations and other economic actors, which is akin to allowing drug addicts management responsibilities in drug stores.
Anthropocentric thinking is not new. It has been used in the past to justify violence against the non-human world.
The danger now is that it is gaining traction in a world governed by more and more authoritarian politicians. These governments, now including the United States, want to alter long-standing conservation thinking and roll back the protections it created.
NCS is arrogant thinking. Humans are only one of millions of species on earth, all connected to each other and all dependent on each other in some way.
Of all species we are the most dominant and most developed, which means it is up to us to find intelligent ways to save the planet.
NCS says our resources are too limited to save everything. So we should save the things that are most important to human interests.
That is wrong headed. We can save the planet and still meet human needs. We have the resources but lack the willingness to accept lifestyle changes that require sacrifices.
Our two main obstacles to saving the planet are overpopulation and rampant consumerism. Overpopulation is recognized and being dealt with to some extent. (Current warlike talk might end up being part of the overpopulation fix).
Consumerism simply for the sake of economic growth is out of control. We need to stop overbuying tons of crap produced to build more profitable stock markets. We need to think sustainability instead of growth for growth’s sake.
Another part of our problem is a declining knowledge of the natural world. We have lost our previous close contact with it. Many of us have an appreciation of nature but few have a deep understanding of it.
Scientist Edward Wilson refers to this in his 2016 book Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life.
“A great majority of people have little awareness of the countless species . . that still envelops our planet. . . . common knowledge of the world-dominant invertebrates, the little things that run the natural world, has dwindled to almost nothing.”
Wilson says our working vocabulary of invertebrates consists of little beyond mosquitoes, butterflies, bedbugs, earthworms and others that affect us personally.
In fact there are millions of other invertebrate species that support world life, including human life, that we simply refer to as critters or bugs.
“Within this black night of ignorance we have suffered a massive failure of education and media attention,” Wilson writes.
We need to better educate ourselves about the natural world so we don’t get bamboozled by off-track movements like New Conservation Science.