June 23, 2014

5 Steps Toward an Ecological Worldview. ~ Dr. Matthew Wilburn King

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All living beings play a vital role in the evolutionary web of life.

During the 21st century humanity will have to deal with an environmental crisis unprecedented throughout Earth’s history. This crisis, deeply embedded in our worldview, is becoming more apparent through climate change, the loss of biodiversity, deforestation, soil degradation, and water pollution.

It is a crisis deeply embedded in our perceptions and values and has led to a long-standing, and changing pattern of human induced changes in the global environment requiring us to rapidly evolve an ecologically centered worldview if we seek to change our behavior and minimize our future impact.

The notion that humanity is the absolute and objective center of life has been continuously reinforced throughout time.

“It has been conceived both in the West and in many other traditions, not as an illusion of perspective imposed by our starting point, but as an objective fact, and indeed an essential fact, about the whole universe.” [1]

We are now beginning to understand the consequences of this worldview.

A human centered worldview has permitted and driven us to pursue exploitative, destructive and wasteful ways of living because it fails to take into consideration our inter-dependence with the natural environment and the vast array of species existing to sustain the planet’s ecosystems.

Ultimately, this view has perpetuated the variety of human induced changes that all too frequently appear in the news, so much so, that social scientists refer to this emergent epoch as the Anthropocene, a term used to denote humanity’s Earth altering impacts on global ecosystems.

We need an expanded worldview centered on our living, constantly changing world. I have five suggestions for an expanded worldview.

First, we should understand the historical roots of our current perceptions and how they influence and affect our decisions as a species. Knowledge of the past is inextricably linked with understanding the future.

Second, we need to develop an evolutionary perspective. We must begin to understand that our place on this planet is the result of a process that has taken around 4.5 billion years. Until we understand that we are merely one of many highly organized expressions within the bounty of the cosmos we will only perpetuate the belief that the center of all life is humanity.

Third, we must begin to understand that the Earth is an organic whole of functionally interdependent parts.

From this point of view, the interdependency of all life brings forth the reality that all living organisms are sustained because of a high level of natural cooperation that has taken billions of years to evolve.

In a deeper sense, this life-centered worldview recognizes the fundamental interdependence of all phenomena and the fact that, as individuals and societies, we are all embedded in the cyclical processes of nature. We must come to realize that we are eternally bound to them.

Fourth, we must accept that all living organisms are purposeful entities in their own right. An understanding of an organism’s function within the whole persuades us to grasp the particularity of the organism as striving to preserve itself and to realize its own purpose, to live, in its own unique way. We find that each organism is not only fulfilling its natural goal, to live, but also the end of the organic system, as an interrelated entity, striving for eternal expression. With this we can gain a humble awareness of our profound human ignorance and our place in the cosmos.

Finally, we must begin to extend moral consideration to non-human beings.

The idea that every living thing is intrinsically valuable must be recognized in order for us to extend moral consideration.

All living beings play a vital role in the evolutionary web of life. Therefore, each part must be valued for the role that it plays, in and for itself, a role that actually transcends itself to sustain the greater whole, thus sustaining itself, and coming full circle within the cycle of life.

These five steps toward an evolved worldview are only recommended as a starting point for an expanded view and I hope that they will serve to encourage dialogue and understanding among our communities, and for life.



[1] Attfield, R., & Belsey, A. (1994). Index. In Philosophy and the Natural Environment (Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, pp. 247-250). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



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