Some Leaderly Measures for Eco-lnstrumentalism
In anthropocentric societies, hyper-instrumental expressions dominate situations, and anthropocentric expansion is contesting eco-instrumentalism in societies where it dominates. What kinds of leaderly measures may be identified that would transform hyper-instrumental situations into eco-instrumental ones and maintain eco-instrumental expressions from human-centered contestation? I focus here on broad policies (which, as we’ll show, also apply for fostering/maintaining the other ecocentric expressions). The most important measure would be an intensive, sustained mass education campaign - perhaps we may also employ the word “re-education” here, for, even though it harbors negative connotations associated with authoritarian regimes, I think its power captures the profoundly sweeping nature of the proposed program. Before proceeding to describe this measure, we quickly note the dynamic between education and behavior. McLaughlin succinctly highlights how we “live within a cognitive world and act on the basis of our ideas” (1993: 5), so, to the extent that education generates or shapes ideas, then we may begin to perceive the crucial correlation between pedagogy and praxis. Now, all members of society - across every age, class, ethnicity, etc. - would receive ongoing ecocentric instruction. All major social institutions - from the education sector (kindergartens, schools, technical colleges, universities, etc.) to the mass media (television, the Internet, newspapers, etc.) - would be mobilized to teach citizens about Earth-centeredness. Eco-pedagogy would be a crucial action, especially in anthropocentric societies: human supremacism is even more ingrained and pervasive than other forms of supremacism (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.), so we require sustained “re-conditioning” in order to become environmental egalitarians.
One of the major subjects, of course, would be instrumentalization and its two fundamental and fundamentally conflicting modes. Pedagogy would evolve around the following basic themes: utilization is necessary for meeting reasonable human ends; anthropocentrism profoundly reduces things to their instrumental dimension, thus driving hyper-instrumental practices; Earthcentered eco-instrumentalism recognizes the various dimensions of entities, so what is required is minimizing our utilization of the non-human, in terms of both number and frequency. The education campaign would need to be bold and brave, for its very goal would be to contribute to the radical transformation of our mindsets and, by extension, our practices. (What becomes apparent as the chapter unfolds is that bold policies are characteristic of genuine environmental leadership.)
The notion of radical eco-education and related topics is a major theme in some of the thinkers recalled in the present work. This is especially the case with Meyer-Abich. From the very beginning of Revolution for Nature, he foregrounds pedagogy as a/the way to raise and inform ecological awareness. He specifically refers to the idea of mass eco-education: “Working against the degeneration of the senses by returning to forgotten realms of life also requires teaching and information, environmental education in the widest sense” (1993: 14). Meyer-Abich incisively notes that this does not mean a focus on children, for “change cannot begin with children, because they are educated by adults. The new consciousness must have its roots in these adults, so that they can pass it on to the children” (1993: 14-15). Many other scholars have also begun exploring the question of eco-education (e.g., Evans 2012; Hovardas 2011, 2012; Cocks and Simpson 2015; Kopnina 2013; Kopnina and Gjerris 2015; Smith and Gough 2015; Smith 2017).
Another way that ecocentric leadership may minimize the instrumental-ization of non-humans is to implement/intensify mechanisms that stabilize human population levels because there is a correlation between the number of humans and the number of non-humans we instrumentalize, i.e., more humans equals more utilization. Straightaway, I recognize that the subject of demographic stabilization may/will appear to be profoundly controversial for some readers. I’m deeply aware that the notions of “over-population” and “population control” are highly provocative and even “taboo” (Singer and Kissling 2017; Kissling, Musinguzi and Singer 2018; Lawton 2019; Thornett 2019), though thankfully the population question is gaining more attention, even/especially in the public domain (e.g., Attenborough 2011, 2018). In any case, we shall proceed here with even greater caution and tentativeness than usual. Ideally, I would have preferred offering a lengthy discussion in order to proffer a stronger argument, but the study’s limits dictate a more abbreviated exposition.
We may first quickly recount the brute fact of unbridled population growth. The most dramatic index is the global one. Since the advent of agriculture, the world’s population has grown 1,860 times, from approximately four million people to almost eight billion (Roser, Ritchie and Ortiz-Ospina 2013/2019). World population growth accelerated during the twentieth century, increasing from 1.6 billion in 1900 to over 6 billion by the end of the century, with its greatest acceleration occurring in the second half of the century (Roser, Ritchie and Ortiz-Ospina 2013/2019; UN DESA 2019: 2). While the growth rate has slowed down since the peak period, we are still experiencing significant increases: the UN forecasts almost 10 billion people by 2050, and over 11 billion by 2100 (UN DESA 2019: 2-3). At the national level, China and India are approaching the 1.5 billion mark (UN DESA 2019: 26).
The eco-problematic nature of these alarming figures is most vividly observed at the level of over-crowded mega-cities, which often experience severe air pollution. Of course, the environmental impacts of population growth are numerous, continually multiplying and intensifying. In 1994, fifty-eight of the world’s scientific academies united to craft a “Statement on Population Growth,” which asserts that “there is no doubt that the threat to the ecosystem is linked to population size and resource use” (IAP 1994). The Statement goes on to list some of the ecological issues associated with human population pressures: “increasing greenhouse gas emissions, ozone depletion and acid rain, loss of biodiversity, deforestation and loss of topsoil, shortage of water, food and fuel,” with the effect that “the natural systems are being pushed ever closer to their limits” (IAP 1994).
Now, the way I approach the population question likely differs in some respects from more conventional approaches. First of all, as I very briefly noted at the beginning of this discussion on population, the ecocentric argument is tied to the equation that more humans means more instrumentalization of nonhumans; the present argument relies on the self-evident fact that we humans utilize non-human entities for the satisfaction of ends, so greater population stabilization means lower levels and intensities of utilization. The argument here does not depend on empirically calculating what might constitute “overpopulation” or the amount of people the Earth can sustain, which are more complex questions than might initially appear to us environmentalists (Dryzek 1987; McLaughlin 1993; Angus and Butler 2011). After all, apart from patently over-crowded cities, it is difficult to quantify such purported phenomena: when does the Earth reach a human population “limit”? I think some of the earlier overpopulation literature was well-intentioned but is quite rightly exposed to charges of alarmism (e.g., Malthus 1798; Ehrlich 1968; Hardin 1968; Meadows and others 1972; Ophuls 1977; Cohen 1995; Wilson 2002; this tendency to alarmism is sometimes displayed by some of the key thinkers cited in this study, e.g., White 1978: 108; Worster 1980: 47; Callicott 1989: 27). Now, I’m certainly not dismissing the possibility of overpopulation at the global scale. But, as I say, my argument is based on simple “arithmetical” grounds, i.e., utilization is linked to population, so less human beings means less non-human utilization. Because this argument is rather “obvious,” I think it’s prone to being missed by the population debate.
How, then, would ecocentric leadership pursue the goal of population stabilization? What specific measures would be implemented to obtain stable demographic levels? Obviously, I am not implying mass murder, genocide, eugenics, or any other kind of evil program: the Earth-centered goal is the prevention of sky-rocketing population growth - not the eradication of human beings. A number of options avail themselves to ecocentric leadership in this regard, ranging from the more indirect to the more radical. Eckersley admirably discusses this range of options: she refers to “ecological education campaigns” that would “explain, inter alia, the impact of human population growth on ecosystems and the need to reduce the size of families to one or two children” (1992: 131), and she also cites the population-curbing effects of the feminist and contraceptive movements (1992: 131). Let’s first briefly turn to the more indirect measures before discussing the radical smaller-families set of policies.
To begin with, not only would eco-leadership support and galvanize gender equality because it is good and true (Wollstonecraft 1845; de Beauvoir 1989; Greer 1970; Daly 1978; etc.) but also because it positively influences population levels in terms of stabilizing them. Much research has shown how more educated and financially independent females tend to be less procreative (Caldwell 1980;
Weinberger 1987; Martin 1995; McCrary and Royer 2011; Roser 2014/2017), thereby contributing to population stabilization. The feminist cause may thus be leveraged toward this aim (Gladwin, Kennelly and Krause 1995: 891). Next, the contraceptive revolution is another phenomenon that appears to contribute to demographic stability: the pill, prophylactics, legalized abortion, and other birth control mechanisms became increasingly normalized in the second half of the twentieth century (Hill, Stycos and Back 1959; Westoff and Ryder 1977; Benagiano, Bastianelli and Farris 2007). There appears to be relatively little research on the relation between these progressive movements and population regulation (an unsurprising situation, given the stigma associated with both these subjects-practices), so it’s edifying to note that brave scholars occasionally raise this issue (e.g., Anderson 2019). As with the feminist movement, ecocentric leadership would sustain and intensify the contraceptive revolution (via comprehensive education campaigns, legislative methods, etc.), not only because it’s basically good and true (some aspects to it require refinement) but also because it may be used as another lever for addressing population growth.
Obviously, the most controversial mechanism for population stabilization involves restricting the number of children that individuals/couples are allowed to beget, historically typically limited to one child or two. The most “infamous” example is the Chinese implementation of this measure (Scharping 2003), although it also operates in Vietnam (Goodkind 1995). China initially launched the program as a two-child policy in the late 1960s, then shifted to the one-child policy in 1979, and switched back in 2016 (Vietnam also has a two-child policy). While various aspects of the Chinese policy may be prob-lematized and criticized (Whyte, Wang and Cai 2015), it has certainly stabilized demographic growth (Myers, Wu and Fu 2019). China remains grossly populated, so we shudder to think how worse it would have been ecologically and socially if a population policy was not instigated.
Of course, serious social problems have arisen due to the one-child measure. Tragically, females were aborted or abandoned due to traditional sexism favoring males (Greenhalgh 2008). This has led to disproportionate gender numbers. One also notes how the practice deprives children of siblings (Hatton 2013). While I do not downplay these tragic consequences, I propose that this particular policy has also been excessively stigmatized in the West due to its origins in communist countries, where the ruling political ideology is very offensive to many Westerners. Given the deeply biased climate, it is impressive to note that brave philosophers like Sarah Conly (2016) have revisited the one-child question, rigorously advocating it, together with a reasonable set of regulations and incentives (cf. Cripps 2015, 2017). This rethinking rebalances the question. Ecocentric leadership would calmly and objectively assess both sides of the argument, unswayed by ideological biases. My speculation is that Earth-centered leadership would advance something like a nuanced two-/ three-child policy, taking account of factors such as geographical variations and child mortality. Once again, education would be key. In this regard, we note how countries like Iran and Singapore launched campaigns urging their citizens to voluntarily have smaller families (Youngblood 1987; Larsen 2003).
Now, despite the fairness of an Earth-centered family-planning policy, I anticipate that it would still be rejected by many Westerners. How come? Likely the most decisive reason why we Westerners tend to find enforced birth regulation offensive is that it undermines our cherished right to freely procreate. After all, shouldn’t individuals and couples be allowed to produce as many offspring as they desire? Were forced to address this question in some length, not only because the particular issue of procreation is quite a complex one but also because it will become increasingly evident (if not already) that the kind of ecocentric leading developed here might be misconstrued as something that opposes freedom, given its rather “intrusive” measures.
We commence our response with the following point: the freedom to procreate is part of a suite of inalienable liberties (sexual, religious, etc.) that I strongly endorse and advance. This endorsement and advancement are abundantly evident in the present work, both in terms of privileging the maximpractice ofletting-be - which essentially means letting-be-/ree — and the shortly discussed expression of eco-liberation (i.e., freedom for colonized non-human things), which is the radical contrary of homocentric eco-colonization (the large-scale oppression of non-humans). (My high estimation of freedom is also evidenced in Following Reason, where I cite it as one of the fundamental rational attitudes-acts [2019: 3].) So how do I reconcile my love for freedom with population regulation measures? Quite easily: I’m not presenting a choice between procreation and its abolition but rather a choice between unlimited procreation and a restricted procreation generating all kinds of benefits, including ecological ones, such as lowering the levels of instrumentalization.
Another broader argument may be offered here regarding tempering the unthought demand for total procreational - or any other kind of - freedom, such that it dogmatically blocks even the possibility of considering population control measures. I recall here leadership theorist James MacGregor Burns, who explains in Leadership how two of our greatest values - liberty and equality - sometimes conflict, so there may be occasions when we’re required to choose between them (1978: 389, 426, 431-432). In the West, freedom is often privileged. (Burns inclines himself toward that direction.) Which value does ecocentrism value more - freedom or equality? We’ve already noted how its ethos ofletting-be is somewhat commensurate with freedom; however, it is not fundamentally a question of crudely choosing one over the other. In the case of family planning, eco-centeredness does not deny the freedom to have children; it would merely limit it to a reasonable, environmentally sustainable number. But given the global population pressures, there’s a certain compulsion to choose in this regard: given that ecocentrism is a radical egalitarianism (i.e., there’s a certain commensurability between the human and non-human, which may be based on the common denominator of existence), then equality might be said to be the “more equal” of the two. When our respect and responsibility are expanded to include the non-human and the human then some of our cherished freedoms - such as the liberty to procreate endlessly - will be modified or limited. Some liberties may even be suspended. (The suspension of certain “liberties” may be considered “extreme,” but it applies to a number of practices, such as “recreational hunting,” which is discussed later.) If/whenever Earth-centered leadership would be required to choose between freedom and equality, then eco-equality outweighs individualistic freedoms like having bigger families.
One could protest that our consideration of the smaller-family policy testifies to ecocentrism’s “misanthropy,” as it appears to want less humans on the Earth. But it’s not a policy of reduction but of prevention (i.e., preventing numbers from increasing), which is beneficial for both humanity and the world. Lest it needs to be stated again: Earth-centeredness is the most philanthropic of all philosophies; it’s the worldview that recognizes how humankind’s flourishing is dependent on the world’s flourishing, both its natural and artifactual dimensions. While one certainly has the right to question past motives for contentious measures like restricted procreation (e.g., economic pressures rather than environmental concerns), I have aimed to show how ecocentrism offers sound arguments for reconsidering this radical measure: begetting less children means less people using non-human implements for achieving reasonable ends, so working out ways to prevent unbridled population growth makes sense from an eco-instrumental perspective.
A further indicator of ecocentrism’s anti-misanthropism is its ardent recognition that the imperative for demographic regulation does not exclusively apply to humans. Leopold astutely recognizes that some animals, when their number are left unchecked, do untold damage to the land: he provides the example of the eradication of wolf numbers due to human hunting led to increased numbers of deer decimating the mountain ecology, so deer numbers would also need to be controlled (1989: 130-132). White makes a similar eco-nuanced point regarding excessive non-human populations: “When locusts breed so prolifically that they swarm by the millions, devastating not only the farmers’ planted fields but also green areas essential to other kinds of being, people have a right to kill locusts, but not to try to exterminate locusts [as a species]” (1978: 107; incisively, White immediately reminds us that we humans are the greater swarmers). A properly ecocentric ethic/ethos does not promote unrestricted letting-be: as emphasized in the previous chapter, there are times when we humans should/must intervene in various ways for the sake of the broader environment. Hence, consistent Earth-centered leadership would attempt to address problematic population growth across species, human, and otherwise. With characteristic style (albeit with a lingering discursive gender-exclusiveness that’s not altogether inaccurate), White perfectly captures the imperative for sustainable populations, human and otherwise: “men must not crowd coyotes, or coyotes men” (1978: 107).