By now, it’s clear the earth has been irreversibly damaged by human activity—and people are starting to speak up. Every day, the climate movement becomes a little bit stronger, and we see more support for the likes of Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement and Extinction Rebellion. These organizations advocate for an approach to climate change that recognizes the structural basis of the issue, pushing for a reorganization of the systems we currently operate within to produce real change. If we don’t take this route, we’ll simply run out of time. We can only do so much within the narrow confines mankind has set up for itself.
A first—and crucial—step often overlooked in attempts to promote global systemic change to curb climate change is overcoming the misconception that humans are the key actors in the story. Anthropocentrism is a philosophical viewpoint which describes the human being as superior to and more important than other living things. This idea has been engrained in the fabric of society for most of humanity, and has only become more extreme over time. The anthropocentric perspective on human life has normalized notions of perpetual growth, unlimited exploitation, and, until recently, zero consequences.
“However, there’s one antidote—biocentrism, a movement which removes humans as the main character in the story by entwining their existence with other livings things.”
Until we let go of this perspective, it’s unlikely we’ll significantly improve the condition of the earth. However, there’s one antidote—biocentrism, a movement which removes humans as the main character in the story by entwining their existence with other livings things.
It’s easy for us to chip away at the natural resources of the world if we believe we’re entitled to them. What’s more, it’s easy for us to keep on in this way because nature isn’t able to fight back. For this reason, multiple environmental movements have been advocating for “rights for Mother Earth.” Much like Dr. Seuss’s story of The Lorax, people are seeking legal rights for the planet on the basis that it is unjust for us to exploit natural resources with very little pushback.
Biocentrism lends a lot from Indigenous modes of thought and living. Compared to Abrahamic religions, like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, Indigenous creation stories place humans as simply another link in the chain of beings. Animism, a very important cultural belief for many Indigenous groups, attributes a soul to inanimate and animate objects alike. These beliefs and practices emphasize a greater respect for nature, and the formation of a stronger bond between humans and other living things. This demonstrates how Indigenous rights and environmental protection are so intrinsically connected—something to consider given the pipeline disputes currently occurring in British Columbia.
The process of adopting a bio-centric viewpoint as a society starts with the individual. Many environmental activists are still blinded by the notion that the main concern of fighting climate change is the preservation of the human race. In the grand scheme of things, humans have only been a blip (albeit, one which has managed to wreak havoc on the planet in a relatively small amount of time).
“While switching to a bamboo toothbrush and buying metal straws makes a small difference, these actions are still grounded in the consumerist roots of the problem.”
Biocentrism promotes equality among humans and other living things by recognizing how we can appreciate and connect to the earth’s resources. While switching to a bamboo toothbrush and buying metal straws makes a small difference, these actions are still grounded in the consumerist roots of the problem. In order to truly drive ideological change, it’s important for us to learn about nature—not only by reading and studying it, but by spending time outside and taking a closer look at our relationship with the earth. Go for a hike. Do your schoolwork outside. Cook with fresh vegetables. If we establish a more balanced relationship with the earth on the individual level, we can push for the collective ideological change that’s necessary to save the planet.
I’m writing this article amid the shock of COVID-19, acknowledging it’s going to be harder for us to go outside right now. Despite all of the fear and uncertainty, I urge you to take some of this time to reflect on your relationship with the natural world around you and rethink the systems we live in. It’s still possible to practice biocentrism. We can still recognize about how important nature is to us by noticing how much we miss the little things, like the walk to campus. We can learn and engage with different forms of art and knowledge centered on nature—I just finished reading (and highly recommend) The Overstory by Richard Powers, a book that made me completely rethink my relationship with trees. We can practice consuming less, given the reduced need for consumption that comes along with social distancing. Finally, we can acknowledge the limits of mankind as a central actor, given the chaos that has erupted across the globe at the hands of a microscopic agent.