It’s become quite apparent in the twenty-first century that human needs and desires have been increasingly given more worth above all else. It’s equally undeniable that the needs of the Earth and importance in preserving and protecting it have been slowly stripped away in favor of those treasured human desires. Human greed has manifested itself in new ways, many of which are causing irreparable damage to the environment. This societal shift is anthropocentrism, where humankind is given intrinsic value; or being important merely for existing in and of itself. When human beings make decisions using this mindset, it reduces the world around them to only having instrumental value; or being important only in relation to what it provides or does for humankind. The environment becomes a malleable plaything from which we derive anything and everything we want, with consideration for our needs and desires, and with a lack of concern for the effects and damage it may cause to our generous planet.
How does human greed go beyond what’s in our pockets exactly? One of the ways the environment has suffered at the hands of increased profit, is Brazil’s deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest in favor of providing cheap land to raise cattle, and make profits off of cattle exports. The Brazilian INPE, or National Institute for Space Research has estimated that 65% of the cleared Amazonian land, or 45 million hectares (a whopping number that is only a fraction of the land that has been wiped out) has been utilized for cattle pastures. (It’s worth noting 100% of the cleared land has increased CO2 levels.) (“Cattle Ranching in the Amazon Region”, 2016) Not only that, nearly 200 million cattle occupy that space and the industry appears to be booming. There are numerous incentives behind clearing such an extensive amount of land for cattle ranching. Ranching makes for huge profits. Cattle ranching is relatively low risk in relation to crops, they’re not affected by seasons and require smaller investments that make for quicker returns. Transportation of cattle is cheap and easy in rural Amazonian areas and doesn’t require extensive labor. There are also additional money making benefits involved with the effects, namely the manure that cattle produce that can be easily peddled as fertilizer. (Margulis, 31.) It’s evident that cattle ranching is just a single example of how human greed and anthropocentrism is at the center of very real environmental crises.
Is it going to be a man’s, man’s, man’s world until we destroy it? Hopefully not. While general cultural awareness of environmental issues have increased, theories and ideologies about how to eliminate human greed and restore balance have emerged. Arne Naess’s deep ecology movement radically suggest that we move away from shallow attempts at fighting pollution, resource depletion, etc., and focus on “biospheric egalitarianism”. Naess promotes intrinsic value within all things both human and nonhuman, rather than resorting to instrumentally based arguments about the environment, which are often along the lines of “Let’s save the environment for our grandchildren.” While there is some value to Naess’ perspective in that humankind should focus less on centering themselves and their desires above the balance and safety of our environment, many of the tenets of deep ecology are quite radical and would be unrealistic. Naess’ suggestion that we utilize population control to maintain a smaller population amounts to eugenics and has controversial, moral issues. I don’t believe deep ecology is the answer, but humankind must take a step back and reduce some of its social and cultural emphasis on what benefits humans, their wallets, and that alone.
Margulis, Sergio. Causes of deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon. Vol. 22. World Bank Publications, 2004.
“Cattle Ranching in the Amazon Region”. http://globalforestatlas.yale.edu/amazon/land-use/cattle-ranching. Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies: Global Forest Atlas. 2009.