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The Land Ethic, Biosphere Ethics, Climate Change and the Envisioned One Health Paradigm

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GRF One Health Summit 2012, Davos: Presentation by Prof. Bron Taylor - Professor - Religion and Environmental Ethics - University of Florida / Carson Fellow - Rachel Carson Center for Environment and …

GRF One Health Summit 2012, Davos: Presentation by Prof. Bron Taylor - Professor - Religion and Environmental Ethics - University of Florida / Carson Fellow - Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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  • I wish to thank the organizers of this conference and the series it is a part of it for their visionary work promoting a holistic approach to the global health challenge. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to share some reflections on dimensions that may not be fully integrated in contemporary efforts toward a holistic health paradigm. Such efforts, in my view, must nest human health concerns within that of the environmental systems we belong to and depend upon.
  •   No one recognized this better than Aldo Leopold, whom many consider to be the foremost environmental philosopher of the 20 th century, due largely to A Sand County Almanac , which was published in 1949, a year after his untimely death a year earlier. ~~~
  • Leopold wrote some of the most poignant aphorisms ever, including humorous but strong criticisms of disciplinary isolation, and the separation of our affective, emotional, and spiritual lives, from what we know scientifically. As he put it, a scientist   . . . may pluck the strings of his own instrument, but never that of another, and if he listens for music he must never admit it to his fellows. For all are restrained by an ironbound taboo which decrees that the construction of instruments is the domain of science, while the detection of harmony is the domain of poets. ~~~~~~~~~ . . . A professor may pluck the strings of his own instrument, but never that of another, and if he listens for music he must never admit it to his fellows or to his students. For all are restrained by an ironbound taboo which decrees that the construction of instruments is the domain of science, while the detection of harmony is the domain of poets. ~ Aldo Leopold Similarly: there is a conventionthat science and religion are, in the worlds of Steven J. Gould, ‘NON-OVERLAPPING MAGESTERIA’, which leaves them both unchallengeable from the perspectives of the others
  • Leopold would be glad to see that this taboo about integrating our minds and hearts might be eroding, for as he once wrote:   No important change in human conduct is ever accomplished without an internal change in our intellectual emphases, our loyalties, our affections, and our convictions. The proof that conservation has not yet touched these foundations of conduct lies in the fact that philosophy, ethics, and religion have not yet heard of it.   The same might be said for the One Health initiative. [2:00]   My presentation today is dedicated to Leopold and his ‘land ethic’, because no one has more brilliantly expressed the foundations of a holistic environmental and social ethic than Leopold. It seems to me that Leopold could provide significant inspiration for those involved in the One Health / One Planet / One Future initiative. Leopold set up his land ethic with this insight. ~~~~~~
  • "All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts.”   Then he turned this general ethic yet deeper:   ~~~~~~~~~ 02/22/12
  • The Land ethic “enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land”   Note: ‘the land’ = all organisms and the living systems they participate in and belong to.   A land-use decision “is right when it tends to preserve the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”   I argue today that a One Health paradigm, to be a one health paradigm , must be premised on at least three key understandings: evolutionary, ecological, and post-colonial, each of which I think Leopold expressed more than 60 years ago.   1) An evolutionary understanding is critical to a One Health paradigm because through it we will recognize that we all share a common evolutionary history, a common ancestor, and that we are, literally, kin. This generally produces a sense of responsibility for the well being of all our relatives. It is true that many people have recognized their kinship with other organisms before and without evolutionary science. Yet the evolutionary narrative, because all humans and other life forms belong to it, and because understanding it relies on our senses and tools and not on religious perceptions, holds unique, cross-cultural, and global potential to drive home our deep relatedness with all other organisms.   2) An ecological understanding is critical to a one health paradigm because with it we will recognize we are nested in webs of relationships in which our flourishing as individual animals, and as a species, is mutually dependent on other living species, as well as on the environmental and social systems they participate in and constitute. The environmental sciences, at their best, also teach humility about what we can know, given the complexity of environmental systems, and from such knowledge we should surmise that a prudent approach is to insure the diversity of all species and the vitality and diversity of all ecosystem types. [5:00] Evolutionary and ecological understandings often and naturally lead to feelings of belonging and connection to nature. So does recognition of ethical obligations to all living things, as well as the need for a moral commitment, especially, to defend what little of the earth’s environmental systems have yet to be expropriated and transformed for human purposes. This point raises the third understanding.   3) A post-colonial understanding is critical to a one health paradigm because, at long last, most humans recognize that it is wrong for one group of people to go to a place inhabited by other people and without their consent, and take plants, animals, minerals, or waters. I wish to emphasize and explain why I did not say, with regard to exploited peoples, that it is wrong for colonialists to take their plants, animals, and so on, because this terminology assumes that it is the exploited people who “own” all animate and inanimate things in the regions they inhabit. Nor did I label the expropriated plants, animals, and natural elements natural resources . Language assuming human “ownership” of “natural resources” involves a kind of cognitive distancing, a distancing of ourselves from the living world we inhabit. Indeed, it even reveals a remnant, colonial logic. Such language reflects and reinforces longstanding human beliefs that non-human beings and things exist just for us, waiting to be taken, even though there is no compelling evidence for such a view, and lots of counter-evidence, as the Scottish/American environmentalist John Muir sardonically pointed out after getting Malaria in Florida well over a century ago.   Make no mistake about it, whoever the human owners of nature happen to be, the logic of ownership is imperial. And with this logic the question is not whether humans will pursue empire but which humans will become the masters, over other humans, as well as over all other living things. And even if a utopia of human equity is achieved, the dominant logic of human domination over nature would remain.   This view that the world is mere resource for humans who have an ownership right to it can only be overcome through ways of thinking and feeling that promote respect and healthy, synergistic, relationships, among species.   Let met return briefly to Leopold because I think he had tremendous insights into all three of the understandings I am stressing today.   With regard to the ethical payoff from evolutionary understandings, ~~~~~~~~~   With regard to the ethical payoff from evolutionary understandings,
  • 02/22/12 Leopold stressed that “the land ethic as a product of social evolution and it is an intellectual as well as emotional process.”   And an understanding of evolution directly promotes humility and feelings of ‘kinship’ with non-human organisms, Leopold thought, taking his inspiration for this insight expressed by Darwin himself: ~~~~~~~~~~
  • 02/22/12 "It is a century now since Darwin gave us the first glimpse of the origin of species. We know now what was unknown to all the preceding caravan of generations: that men are only fellow-voyagers with other creatures in the odyssey of evolution. This new knowledge should have given us . . . a sense of kinship with fellow-creatures; a wish to live and let live; a sense of wonder over the magnitude and duration of the biotic enterprise.”   This evolutionary understanding, along with understandings of ecological interdependence, undergirded Leopold’s Land Ethic. And a deep humility, even despite our scientific genius, inheres to this evolutionary | ecological worldview, and it enjoins the preservation of biodiversity. In another famous passage, Leopold wrote ~~~~~~~~~~~~
  • 02/22/12 “ If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog in the wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”   In my view, Leopold also contributed to post-colonial thinking by extending critiques of the human exploitation of humans to the human domination of nature. The exploitation of humans and non-humans by some humans is rooted in human conceits about superiority and ownership rights. Leopold put it simply:   ~~~~~~~~~~~~
  • “ We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” [An aside: How often do we hear people speak of love in our various intellectual silos, today?]   And Leopold also urged us to change from being the “conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.”   Put simply, there is a huge difference between believing the world belongs to us, and believing we belong to the world. The former view offers an impoverished future, the latter view provides hope for the future.   What are the implications of this for the One Health initiative? What would we do were we to cultivate much more then we do now our emotional bonds to each other and the rest of life?   Building on the Visionary Aspects of the One Health Paradigm involves integrating self-consciously both scientific and the best of human moral experience and learning. It is also important to recognize that there are many ethical principles and practices that can be surmised from the laws of nature, as understood through human observation, including with sophisticated scientific methodologies.   A true, One Health paradigm shift would require we rethink nearly everything, and it will affect our rhetoric, education, policies, laws, livelihoods, everyday practices. Here are some of the implications: ~~~~~~~~~~
  • 02/22/12 First,   … . rhetoric matters, So many of the facts presented in this conference (such as the ways diseases cross species boundaries) underscore, scientifically, our relatedness, kinship, and mutual dependence, with other life forms; we should not obscure these relationships by the ways we talk and the categories we establish.   So, why don’t we agree to stop contrasting “humans” and “animals” and instead speak, for example, of “humans and other animals.” We should, in the way we speak, reinforce rather than obscure that we belong to the animal kingdom and the entire community of life.   Similarly, we should not speak about “natural resources” but in other ways about our earthly co-inhabitants. Some of our abbreviations, even if convenient, obscure our kinship with non-human organisms. For example, in the One Health Initiative, we should not only modify the categories so as to not obscure the fact that humans are animals, we should add a category for plants and not subsume them into the environmental category, unless we nest all organisms in the biosphere’s living systems.    The quicker we put humans in their rightful place, as belonging to the world rather than as entitled Lords of the world, the sooner we will create rich cultural soil for the growth for kinship ethics, and perhaps even what Albert Schweitzer called a reverence for life. Second   . . . Populations matter to the resilience of all species. Fewer humans and their domesticated animals would improve the health of all animals, domestic, and wild, as well as the diversity, fecundity, and resilience of environmental systems.   A holistic and real world One Health movement would make this clear and pursue short, medium, and long term changes, political, cultural, and ecological, toward this recalibration of populations in a way that fosters health and resilience.   And when we think of biodiversity, we should remember that it has to do with the genetic variety within species, that greater diversity is positively correlated with resilience and so, declining species and gene sharing within them is an important part of the global health crisis. So, without careful attention to population dynamics and the protection of biodiversity there will be no truly ecological One Health initiative. Despite this reality, everywhere people gather to address our eco/social challenges, this critical area is grievously neglected   To emphasize: Nothing is more important to the long term health of humans and other organisms, and of environmental systems as a whole, than the reduction of human numbers and their domesticates, whether food or companion animals. This will necessarily require collective and individual decisions by our own species to consume fewer food calories from animals, per capita, than we do currently. This would, moreover, have a significant mitigating influence on climate change.   As importantly , we must not allow any taboo, or fear of controversy, to from keeping us speaking strongly about this this imperative.   Third,   . . . symbols, values, and emotions matter. Just as there are keystone species that can tell us a lot about the health of ecosystems, so there are species that are bellweathers that tell us about the health of human social systems, and their moral progress. In this later area, predators are a noteworthy bellweather for social change and evolution. Can we care enough for our fellow predators, the wolf, the lion, the tiger, the shark, to leave for them the habitats they need to survive? Can we even find a place for them where we once exterminated them? I think social values are evolving in such directions, but will it be rapid enough to prevent more extirpations and extinctions? ~~~~~ 
  • I have spent a good deal of my scholarly life studying human cultures, and their affective and religious dimensions, looking for signs of the kind of social evolution that Leopold called for. While while there are many obstacles there are some positive signs. Both the obstacles and possibilities are analyzed in the encyclopedia of religion and nature, which I edited, and the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, which I founded and have been editing the past six years. There is also a scholarly society devoted to such study. I invite any of you with such interests to join us. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I’ve worked for a long time to understand, through diverse disciplinary lenses, the complex relationships between environmental and cultural systems, paying close attention to the ‘religion variable.’ Toward that end I’ve tried to facilitate the emerging religion and nature field in various ways, by editing an encyclopedia, and starting an international society, and the quarterly, interdisciplinary, JSRNC. In these works we examine the evolutionary and other roots of religious perception and action, as well as the role religion plays in fostering, variously, environmentally and socially maladaptive, and adaptive, behaviors and social systems. Part of that work examines longstanding claims that the world’s predominant religions are obstacles to environmental concern and action, as well as more recent arguments that these religions, or some of them, are becoming more environmentally friendly. I call such claims the “Greening of Religion Hypothesis,” and would like to invite anyone interested in these sorts of questions to contact me about a collaborative project now underway. I also want to invite everyone to the sixth international meeting of the ISSRNC meeting, this time in August 2012 in Malibu California, with the theme “Nature & the Popular Imagination.” ~~~~~~~~
  • Many of the transformations scholars and activists concerned with environmental and human health have been calling for are in fact emerging rapidly and globally, presaging possibilities that we may not be able to see clearly through our individual experiences and disciplines. I wrote about these trends, which are significant, global, and hopeful in Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future .   On this and the next slide are some of the elements that are typical of what I am calling dark green religion. I expect they will sound familiar, for they are common in the global environmental milieu.   (Generally speaking) such spirituality involves perceptions that: Nature is Sacred All living things have intrinsic value (“deep ecological” or “biocentric” ethics) and deserve respect and reverence. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ While by green religion I mean all religions that believe in some way that environmental protection is a religious duty, by dark green religion I refer to spiritualities or worldviews characterized by six main things: First, beliefs and practices in which nature itself is considered sacred . . . . SACRED PLACES, in general, ARE PLACES OF EXTRAORDINARY TRANSFORMATIVE POWER, INCLUDING FOR SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION AND PHYSICAL HEALING. THEY ARE PLACES WERE PEOPLE LEARN IMPORTANT THINGS ABOUT THEIR PLACE IN THE UNIVERSE. 2) All living things have intrinsic value and deserve respect and reverence. ~~~~~~~~~
  •   3) All life forms life share a common ancestor and thus are kin, with corresponding moral responsibilities. 4) Ecology-based metaphysics of interconnection and mutual dependence 5) Feelings of belonging & connection to nature 6) Humility . . . we’re not ‘all that’ . . . we’re just part of the whole; a qualification if not rejection of human exceptionalism.   Today is not the time to review this work or the evidence it relies on, but I do think if we were all more aware of the common themes emerging within the global environmental milieu, we might all be less timid when we try to promote much more rapid, and dramatic, cultural change, that takes seriously ecological interdependence and kinship with all life forms.   If there is a healthy future for this planet, I think this sort of social evolution will have to involve spiritualities of belonging and connection to nature that foster changed values, lifeways, and livelihoods. If that is correct, then an integrative strategy for planetary and human health will have to get a lot more serious the cultural prerequisites of sustainability, and thus, about the emotional, spiritual, and ethical aspects of biocultural evolution.   This is, I think, an essential aspect of the one health and sustainability revolution. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ In my recent book I contend that, when comparing “green religion” and “dark green religion”, it is the dark green forms that are most likely to precipitate lives devoted to environmental causes, and the most likely as well to generate even high risk forms of direct action resistance to environmental destruction. Indeed, there is one chapter in this book that focuses on radical environmentalism as an exemplar of dark green religion.
  • 02/22/12
  • Leopold was also a social/cultural critic: He was WAS GREATLY CONCERNED ABOUT THE LACK OF ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS IN HIS OWN MID-20 TH CENTURY AMERICAN CULTURE AND . . . LIKE THOREAU NEARLY A CENTURY BEFORE,LEOPOLD CONSIDERED THE PREVALENT RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY RESPONSIBLE SOMETIMES, he specifically blamed ‘ABRAHAMIC RELIGIONS’, asserting that m isguided religion and philosophy work against the emotional ties, felt kinship, and the sense of loyalty to the land his ethic demands. SEE, FOR EXAMPLE, THIS QUOTE: "Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. “ AND ALSO THE NEXT ONE…. [next slide]
  • Transcript

    • 1. The ‘Land Ethic’, Biosphere Ethics, Climate Change, and the One Health Paradigm Bron Taylor The University of Florida & the Rachel Carson Center, Munich www.brontaylor.com
    • 2.
          • Aldo Leopold (1887-1948)
          • “ Land Ethic” Visionary; holistic, interdisciplinary thinker; taboo breaker; pragmatist, and subversive.
      A Sand County Almanac (1949)
    • 3. . . . A scientist “may pluck the strings of his own instrument, but never that of another, and if he listens for music he must never admit it to his fellows or to his students. For all are restrained by an ironbound taboo which decrees that the construction of instruments is the domain of science, while the detection of harmony is the domain of poets.” ~ Aldo Leopold
    • 4. No important change in human conduct is ever accomplished without an internal change in our intellectual emphases, our loyalties, our affections, and our convictions. The proof that conservation has not yet touched these foundations of conduct lies in the fact that philosophy, ethics, and religion have not yet heard of it. ~ Aldo Leopold
    • 5. Leopold ’s Land Ethic
        • "All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. ”
    • 6.
      • Precursors:
        • Baruch Spinoza
        • Henry David Thoreau
        • John Muir
      • The Land ethic “enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land”
      • Note: ‘the land’ = all organisms and the living systems they participate in and belong to.
      • Therefore, with a land ethic:
      • A land-use decision “is right when it tends to preserve the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
      ~ Aldo Leopold
    • 7. ETHICS CAN AND SHOULD EVOLVE. In Leopold ’s words: “ I have presented the land ethic as a product of social evolution . . . The evolution of a land ethic is an intellectual as well as emotional process. ” As ethics evolve they naturally change our aesthetics and our emotional connections
    • 8. Leopold ’s promoted humility and feelings of ‘kinship’ with non-human organisms. In this, he was inspired by Charles Darwin. "It is a century now since Darwin gave us the first glimpse of the origin of species. We know now what was unknown to all the preceding caravan of generations: that men are only fellow-voyagers with other creatures in the odyssey of evolution. This new knowledge should have given us . . . a sense of kinship with fellow-creatures; a wish to live and let live; a sense of wonder over the magnitude and duration of the biotic enterprise. ”
    • 9.
      • “ If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts?
      • To keep every cog in the wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering. ”
      ~ Aldo Leopold
    • 10. “ We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” ~ Aldo Leopold In contrast, The Land Ethic, "changes the role of Homo Sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the [land-] community as such.”
    • 11.
      • Rhetoric matters
      • 2) Populations matter
      • 3) Symbol, values, and emotions matter
    • 12. For information, see www.religionandnature.com
    • 13. Dark Green Religion
        • Nature is Sacred
        • All living things have intrinsic value ( “deep ecological” or “biocentric” ethics) and deserve respect and reverence.
    • 14.
        • Nature is Sacred
        • All living things have intrinsic value ( “deep ecological” or “biocentric” ethics) and deserve respect and reverence.
        • All life forms life share a common ancestor and thus are kin, with corresponding moral responsibilities.
        • Ecology-based metaphysics of interconnection and mutual dependence
        • Feelings of belonging & connection to nature
        • Humility . . . we ’re not ‘all that’ . . . we’re just part of the whole.
      For more information: www.brontaylor.com
    • 15.  
    • 16. With Darwinian lenses: the good requires respect for all organisms, for they all came to be here through the same struggle for existence. Our ability to do so is rooted in empathy, itself a virtue bred in us through evolution (which is itself a good)
      • With ecological lenses: in general, the flourishing of human and other organisms is mutually dependent.
    • 17. . . . And Leopold singled out Abrahamic religions: "Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. ”