Anthropocentrism – The Human Supremacy Myth
Anthropocentrism refers to a human-centred, or ‘anthropocentric’ viewpoint. In philosophical terms, anthropocentrism is often used to label the belief that humans are the only, or primary, species of importance and high moral standing.
Destructive human activities such as deforestation, trawling and mining are examples of how this belief can lead to a negative impact on our natural environment. While past human behaviours could be attributed to ignorance, present day access to education and scientific facts mean that these actions are no longer either practically or morally justifiable.
Around 10,000 years ago, with the development of agriculture, people began to believe that they could move away from the ‘hunter gatherer’ narrative and meet human needs by managing their own ecosystems. They developed ways to manage land and water, such as fishing, growing crops, farming animals and gathering construction materials for housing and fuel. In this way, humans relied on their innate intelligence for survival – to the detriment of man’s harmonious relationship with the natural world.
“We depict animals as savage, vicious and violent, and humans as civilised, intelligent and compassionate. If animals were the tellers of this tale, it would be a very different story.” Colleen Patrick-Goudreau
Ultimately, humans began to bypass the ecological laws which had been established through thousands of years of evolution.
The industrial revolution of the eighteenth-century began the process of mankind almost divorcing itself from nature entirely, creating urban landscapes which were not conducive to a healthy relationship with the natural world. Man had entered an era which would witness the development of the greatest inventions in history, designed to run factories, increase food production, heat homes and transport people across great distances. This led to urbanisation and the destruction of natural habitat, as well as increasing levels of pollution, in particular the harmful emissions produced by burning coal which was, by this time, being mined across the world to power buildings and industrial machinery.
A growing human population also led to greater food consumption, particularly meat. Humans had come to believe in their superiority over other species (known as ‘speciesism’), neglecting (or refusing) to consider the intelligence and emotions of animals. This anthropocentric arrogance allowed people to justify the way animals were treated, through intensive food production and the emergence of animal ‘entertainment’ such as blood sports.
This dichotomy between humans and nature is why many believe that mankind still maintains a dominance over the earth.
“Does anyone really still believe that we have ‘Dominion over the fish of the sea and the fowl of the air and every living thing that moveth on the planet’?” Yan Vana – Author of The Message
The new scientific name for the period of history when humanity presents as the dominant species on the planet is known as the ‘Anthropocene’. The word, coined in the 1980s, comes from the Greek terms for human (‘anthropo’) and new (‘cene’).
While some argue that humans began changing the global environment around 50,000 years ago, many date it to the emergence of agriculture, around 10,000 years ago.
From an archaeological point of view, we can see that humans have been altering ecosystems for around 50,000 years. And a recent study by ecologist Erle Ellis of the University of Maryland, suggests that for at least 3,000 years our hunting, farming and burning activities have shaped most of the current landscapes on our planet.
It is also thought that the introduction of plastic could be a key marker of the Anthropocene period. As an exclusively man-made and (mostly) non-biodegradeable material, plastic can be found in every corner of the earth. There is even evidence that plastic is being deposited into the planet’s fossil record.
The Earth may be 4.5 Billion years old, but modern humans have only existed for a mere 200,000 years. During this time, man’s behaviours have impacted the physical, chemical and biological systems of our planet in enormous and irreversible ways. In the past 60 years alone (a period sometimes known as the ‘Great Acceleration’), the impact of carbon dioxide emissions, global warming, habitat destruction, animal extinction and natural resource extraction are all signs that humans have altered the planet in ways that may be potentially disastrous for our future survival.
There is no doubt that our climate is becoming less stable and a lot warmer, with extreme weather events occurring ever more frequently and more violently.
“We talk about saving the planet for mankind. Shouldn’t we be talking about saving the planet from mankind?” Yan Vana – Author of The Message
Few scientists now disagree that human impact, rather than natural process, is the primary cause of accelerated climate change, brought about by activities that are uniquely human including agriculture, urbanisation, deforestation and pollution.
But what many scientists, governments and policy makers still refuse to publicly admit, is that human overpopulation is a problem that needs to be urgently addressed. Further growth in the human population, expected to surpass 8 Billion in November 2022, will lead to an even greater demand for natural resources and living space, a demand which can only accelerate the global emergency that we are threatened with today.
Submitted by Friends of Retha