Table of Contents:

Ecocide

The fifth and most radical, devastating expression of anthropocentrism is “ecocide”: the term is used here to denote acts involving the widespread elimination of the non-human. Leading environmental philosopher J. Baird Callicott refers to “biocide” - “abrupt, massive, wholesale anthropogenic species extinction” (1989: 40) but “ecocide” encompasses everything non-human.

Obviously, there are parallels here with genocide (on their comparison, refer to, e.g., Crook, Short and South 2018); while genocide may be more decidedly an intentional act, ecocide is real - indeed, it’s expanding and intensifying. The Earth is said to be experiencing a geological period where human activity is impacting the world to such an extent that it is now being classified as “the Anthropocene” (Crutzen and Stoermer 2000; Zalasiewicz and others 2010; Fernando 2016; cf. Marsh 1864; Lankester 1913). So we already have geological authorization that we are significantly impacting the ecosphere. Likewise, scientists and theorists are also claiming that we’re entering/have entered a “Sixth Mass Extinction,” akin to the five previous mass extinctions in the past half-a-billion years which are attributed to events such as volcanic eruptions and meteorites, but this time the driving factor for the mass extinction is purported to be human action (Diamond 1989; Broswimmer 2002; Higgins 2010; Kolbert 2014; Ceballos and others 2015; Brannen 2017).

Now, after reviewing a representative body of the relevant literature (e.g., Wilson 2002; Monastersky 2014; de Vos and others 2015; Pearce 2015; WWF n.d.), one could surmise the following: while it appears that the rate of extinction of species has risen due to human activity over the past few centuries, it might be problematic at this stage to dogmatically describe it as a period of mass species extinction, especially when comparing it with the previous mass extinctions. This is not to suggest that we aren’t entering such a phase, but -and this is the point we should be focusing on - we are annihilating species. We humans are committing ecocide in its most literal biocentric sense (the annihilation of species).

What is significantly easier to confirm at this point in time is that ecocide is also occurring in terms of the anthropogenically induced decline in the numbers of creatures. For instance, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that vertebrate animal populations have decreased by an astonishing 60% since 1970 (2018: 4, 7). We have purportedly killed off 83% of freshwater species (WWF 2018: 7), and the same staggering 83% rate also appears to apply to wild mammals (Bar-On, Phillips and Milo 2018). In the USA alone, nine billion chickens, over one hundred million pigs, and around forty million cattle are slaughtered per year (Keim 2018). According to the data, there’s no doubt that anthropogenic ecocide is occurring in terms of the eradication of vast numbers of organisms. So, in many cases, the whole species might not be wiped out by human activity but large numbers of the species are being annihilated. In the same way that we describe acts as “genocidal” even when the whole ethnic group is not eliminated (not all Jews, Romani/Gypsies, Rwanda’s Tutsis, etc., were killed during sustained genocidal activity), the perpetrator’s intention is to eradicate the ethnic group or at least as large a portion as possible. Similarly, we humans are ecocidally killing off large portions of species.

What is also undisputed is that we humans are committing ecocide in terms of eradicating massive numbers of fauna. The most striking and well-known example in this regard is what is euphemistically known as “deforestation,” a term that obscures the severity and expansiveness of this practice. Roughly half the world’s trees have been lost since we humans started felling them in concert with the rise of agriculture, and an estimated fifteen billion trees are cut down each year (Crowther and others 2015). Almost twenty million acres of forest are eradicated each year. According to terms that simultaneously visualize and downplay the horror of deforestation, one football/soccer pitch per second is being destroyed (Carrington and others 2017), and, since the 1990s, we’ve apparently razed forest areas equaling the size of India (Watson and others 2016). As strange as the terminology may be used that is to describe it, what we have here is a clear case of the “ecocide of forests.” (We parenthetically note how some researchers also refer to forest ecocide in the context of war, e.g., Weisberg 1970; Zierler 2011.) We also observe how the ecocide of forests has disastrous flow-on effects for other entities living in nourishing forest ecosystems (Barlow and others 2016), given that forests house more than 80% of terrestrial species of plants and animals (WWF 2018: 50). One form of ecocide compounds another; ecocide begets ecocide.

Another group of entities included in our ecocentrically expanded sense of ecocide are the built environments constructed by non-humans and humans alike. In other words, “ecocide” here also signifies the destruction of things such as termite mounds, bird nests, and spider webs, but also humanly constructed things, such as buildings, bridges, and roads. As explained in the next chapter, while we typically construe human-built environments as “artificial” or artifactual, they (also) count as part of the oikos. Hence, since human and non-human artifacts should be ultimately considered “natural” or at least a part of the oikos, then the human destruction of these things ecocentrically counts here as one of the meanings of “ecocide.” Accordingly, we recognize the eco-cidal dimension of a human activity like “redevelopment”: existing built environments are incessantly demolished to make way for shiny, new, and profitable environments (housing estates, shopping centers, etc.). Thus, ecocide does not just include phenomena like species extinction and deforestation but also the demolition of existing human and non-human structures. The same site may therefore endure several ecocides: first, the erasure of the original habitat and inhabitants to make way for human developments (farms, ski resorts, etc.), and then continual cycles of “redevelopmental ecocide.” The relatively scant research addressing issues related to this form of eco-destruction (e.g., Lele 1991; Alvares 1992; Linkenbach 1994; Shrivastava 2012; Sayan 2016) reflects the fact that we rarely construe development and redevelopment in ecocidal terms - precisely because we think and act anthropocentrically.

Having considered ecocide here according to its various dimensions, how is it related to the other homocentric phenomena described earlier? While one may identify various relations, what is perhaps most noteworthy is the asymmetry between, on the one hand, the first four anthropocentric expressions, and ecocide, on the other hand: while we humans might find some non-human things valuable insofar as they might be utilizable, consumable, parts of the production process, or exploitable, ecocide finds no worth in the thing whatsoever. The non-human thing is considered more valuable dead/non-existing than alive/existing. To be sure, various “logics” might be at play -such as the profit motive - but these logics can ultimately only be justified according to the illogic of human supremacism. While human genocide is both relatively uncommon and almost universally decried, the annihilation of the non-human is far more common and even vindicated - precisely because we are anthropocentrists.

On Our Way to Ecocentrism

What I’ve sought to achieve in this chapter is to provide an outline of human chauvinism and its various key expressions so that we familiarize ourselves with this force and the ways in which it constitutes or marks so many (especially Western) situations. Anthropocentrism is deeply entrenched, pervasive, and expanding (both within and beyond the West). We can already intuit that Earth-centered leadership would constitute a radically decisive break from the status quo, given that it challenges the very essence of agrarian-civilizational society - but we are getting ahead of ourselves here: before extrapolating the nature and actions of ecocentric leadership, we must first comprehensively understand eco-centeredness as such, which is the subject of the next chapter.

 
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