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«Ferrer Montaño, Orlando José Ecology for Whom? Deep Ecology and the Death of Anthropocentrism Opción, vol. 22, núm. 50, 2006, pp. 181-197 ...»

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ISSN: 1012-1587


Universidad del Zulia


Ferrer Montaño, Orlando José

Ecology for Whom? Deep Ecology and the Death of Anthropocentrism

Opción, vol. 22, núm. 50, 2006, pp. 181-197

Universidad del Zulia

Maracaibo, Venezuela

Available in: http://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=31005009

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More information about this article Network of Scientific Journals from Latin America, the Caribbean, Spain and Portugal Journal's homepage in redalyc.org Non-profit academic project, developed under the open access initiative Opción, Año 22, No. 50 (2006): 181 - 197 ISSN 1012-1587 Ecology for Whom? Deep Ecology and the Death of Anthropocentrism Orlando José Ferrer Montaño Universidad del Zulia, Facultad Experimental de Ciencias, Departamento de Biología, Apartado postal 10076, Maracaibo, Estado Zulia, Venezuela.

E-mail: carichuano@hotmail.com Abstract Deep Ecology arises as a new perception to visualize the inexorable changes that humanity currently confronts. This new scientificphilosophical-religious approach claims for a new treatment for the Earth. However, this new eco-centered approach transcends the limit of any particular science of today, and claims that simple reforms are not sufficient. Deep Ecology calls for a reduction of human population and change to our high-energy consumption and profligate resource use. Anthropocentrism should be substituted by ecocentrism; a shift from anthropos, the human, to eco, the Earth. Although I am not an advocated to Deep Ecology, in this paper I present a series of thoughts endorsing some of the Deep Ecology’s claims. I argue that deep ecological thinking and actions, together with a better use of our scientific, economic and natural resources will add for a better and lasting global world.

Key words: Anthropocentrism, ecocentrism, paradigm.

–  –  –

Ecología profunda surge como una nueva percepción para visualizar los cambios inexorables que la humanidad enfrenta actualmente.

Esta nueva percepción científico-filosófico-religiosa clama por un nuevo tratamiento para la tierra. Sin embargo, esta nueva visión eco-centrada trasciende los límites de cualquiera ciencia particular actual, y clama que las simples reformas no son suficientes. Ecología profunda clama por una reducción de la población humana y cambios en nuestro alto consumo energético y derrochador uso de recursos. El antropocentrismo debe ser substituido por el ecocentrismo; un cambio de antropos, lo humano, a eco, la tierra. Aunque no soy un convencido de la ecología profunda, en este trabajo presento una serie de pensamientos que endosan algunos de los postulados que esta proclama. Argumento que el pensamiento y las acciones de la ecología profunda, junto con un mejor uso de nuestros recursos científicos, económicos y naturales ayudarían al sostenimiento de un mejor y más duradero mundo global.

Palabras clave: Antropocentrismo, ecocentrismo, paradigma.



Global change is in the top of the media, although whether this event is natural or not is still a matter of profound controversy. It is a recognized fact, however, that the Earth is constantly changing; earthquakes, volcano eruptions, and tsunamis, to mention just a few, are good natural examples of ways we perceive Earth’s changes. Ozone depletion, increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases, and large-scale pollution as by-products of human activities are also good examples of this global phenomenon.

However, it should be evident to almost every ecological literate or man in the street that the most important, and probable more noxious, global change facing mankind is the fast and inexorable increase in the number of human beings. Putting it simple, the world’s population has Ecology for Whom? Deep Ecology and the Death of Anthropocentrism 183 been predicted to increase 65% by 2050 (Wallace, 2000), meaning that almost 4 billion more people will be subduing the Earth in a very close future. On September 22, 1999 the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA, 1999) released its annual The State of World Population report for 1999, entitled 6 Billion: A time for choices. In this report, October 12, 1999 marked the Day of 6 Billion, when world population reached 6 billion. It took only 39 years to duplicate the population of 1960, whereas it was estimated that the world population was one billion in 1804 and will be seven billion in just 11 more years from now. Simply seen, the only biblical injunction that human beings have practiced very well is …be fruitful and multiply… And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the Earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that move upon the Earth (Genesis 1:28). Of course, overpopulation is not just a problem of the Christian world. For example, the burgeoning population growth of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran, United Arab Emirates, and Oman, to mention just a few of them, will double the population of these non-Christian states in a few years from now, probably bringing in its wake endless social problems.

What kind of challenges this enormous increase in human population will bring with it? Easily predictable, the necessity of more food, more water, more habitable space, more recreational opportunities and, inexorably, more human and ecosystem exploitation. Are we, as human beings, and the Earth as our global nurturing system, prepared to confront this tremendous defy? At the present time, no one can answer this question with confidence and, as a matter of fact, pessimism has permeated, and will continue doing so, thinking on the subject. For example, in 1798 Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) published An essay on the principle of population, as it affects the future improvement of society with remarks on the speculations of Mr. Godwin, M. Condorcet, and other writers as a response to utopian utilitarians who suggested that population growth constituted and unmitigated blessing (The Victorian Web).

In this essay, Malthus explained in simple terms the connection between overpopulation and misery, and predicted that the demand for food inevitably becomes much greater that the supply of it. This prediction is rooted in the idea that population increases geometrically while foodstuffs grow at an arithmetic rate. Malthus recognized that human Orlando José Ferrer Montaño 184 Opción, Año 22, No. 50 (2006): 181 - 197 population have a certain natural condition to grow faster than the power in the Earth to produce subsistence, and since humans do not limit their population size voluntarily (preventive checks in Malthus terminology), positive checks are necessary to limit human population size: famine, disease, poverty, and war.


The history of Ecology has been one of successes and frustrations.

Successes, because after spending the last century and more explaining in exquisite detail the intricacies of life on the Earth, an immense accumulation of knowledge indicates that all things are connected, every living object is necessary, nothing is useless. The scientific discipline of Ecology has revealed a complex web of interdependencies in the biological world, which support the life of individuals, populations, communities, and ecosystems; in plain words, the Earth. Frustrations, because most ecologists believe they have talked to themselves, and the few concerned individuals who have taken a sincere interest have talked to themselves as well. On November 18, 1992, the Union of Concerned Scientists, representing over 1,500 of the world’s leading scientists (including 99 Nobel laureates) issued a Warning to Humanity, that implored all peoples of the world to halt the accelerating damage to mother Earth’s life support systems …The human world is beyond its limits…The present way of doing things is unsustainable…The future, to be viable at all, must be one drawing back, easing down, healing…If correction is not made, a collapse is certain within the lifetimes of many who are alive today (Union of Concerned Scientists, 1992).

How can we perceive the negative effects of uncontrollable human activities? In various ways, of course, but extinction of species is probably one of the most significant. Although at least 90% of all species that have existed from the start of life on Earth 3.5 billion years ago have disappeared, almost all of them have perished by natural processes. However, in the last 50,000 years man has exerted a blatant influence. As a primitive hunter, man was able of occasionally eliminate species; and it is from around 1600 AD that man became able, through advancing technology, to over-hunt animals to extinction in just a few years, and to disrupt extensive environments just as rapidly (Myers, 1984). It is well established that between the years 1600 and 1900 at least 75 well known Ecology for Whom? Deep Ecology and the Death of Anthropocentrism 185 species have been eliminated as a consequence of human activities, and since 1900 another 75 well known species more.

The significance of the ecological and biodiversity crises can be summarized in this paragraph from Edward O. Wilson: Human demographic success has brought the world to this crisis of biodiversity. Human beings -mammals of the 50-kilogram weight class and members of a group, the primates, otherwise noted for scarcity- have become a hundred times more numerous that any other land animal of comparable size in the history of life. By every conceivable measure, humanity is ecologically abnormal. Our species appropriates between 20 and 40 percent of the solar energy captured in organic material by land plants. There is no way we can draw on the resources of the planet to such a degree without drastically reducing the state of most other species (Wilson, 1992).


Science has taught us that our place is not the center of the universe.

We are in the border of a galaxy, not even at the center of our own solar system. Copernicus effectively displaced humanity from the physical center of the universe. A few centuries later Darwin indicated that humanity occupied no biologically privileged position, and finally Freud claimed that one of our more distinctive characteristics, rationality, was nothing else than a fraud (Grey, 1993). But previously, and in the interim of these paramount events, came the churches and proclaimed anthropocentrism. Anthropocentrism means nothing else than human chauvinism, the idea that humans are the crown of creation, the source of all value, and the measure of all things. And it is deeply embedded in our culture and consciousness. The final and more relevant consequence of this attitude is that nature, as we have known it does not exist any more.

In its place is the environment. Every tree and river, large mammals and small fish, now exist in relation to human action, knowledge, commerce, science, technology, governmental decisions to create national parks, international campaigns to save endangered species, and (God help us) leisure lifestyle choices about mountain bikes, off-road vehicles, and sport fishing. Cell phone towers sprout like mushrooms on mountain tops, grizzly bears wear radio collars, genetic engineering produces overweight, arthritic pigs, and the children of Los Angeles slums grow up with stunted lungs because of polluted air. The world’s coral reefs are Orlando José Ferrer Montaño 186 Opción, Año 22, No. 50 (2006): 181 - 197 bleaching a sickly, dead white; all of Japan’s rivers are dammed; and the cod off Nova Scotia have been fished out (Barnhill and Gottlieb, 2001).

The Nature is death, long live the environmental crisis.

We must admit that churches, whatever their theological attitude toward the Earth, were blind to the environmental crisis until it was pointed out to them by others. Many religion leaders were suspicious of science’s claims when they conflicted with scriptural narratives, whereas few were critical of technological advances and the threat they posed. The voices of Thoreau, Husserl, Heidegger and many others were the voices that challenged the dominant Western treatment of nature, not those of ministers, priests, popes, or rabbis (Barnhill and Gottlieb, 2001). The churches have been ready, even eager, to embrace an enormous spectrum of social issues of our time (e.g., poverty, homelessness, women’s rights, minority rights of all kinds), yet on the issue of growing human population and environmental crisis, ones that seem to go to the very heart of the human condition, the church has had very little to say (Train, 1990).

So, what seems to be the solution, what or how will we bring growing human populations into a balance with our natural resources on which we necessarily depend? There is no really a unique answer but, passionate identification with nature, humility and self-consciousness are in the core of the solution. Of course, all these human attributes are not enough. Passion for nature, for example, is not something new;

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