Sistema económico ecocéntrico
El ecocentrismo es un concepto basado en una visión global del mundo que rechaza el enfoque reduccionista de la ciencia moderna y el antropocentrismo: «Según esta concepción de la realidad, el mundo es una red intrínsecamente dinámica e interconectada de relaciones en la que no hay entidades separadas ni líneas divisorias entre lo vivo y lo que carece de vida» (Eckersley, 1992).
El ecocentrismo trata de ir más allá del preservacionismo, ya que lo que quiere es proteger las especies, las poblaciones, los hábitats y losecosistemas dondequiera que estén situados e independientemente de su valor para la especie humana. El ecocentrismo hace hincapié en las interrelaciones entre organismos y su entorno, y se basa en el conocimiento y la aceptación de los límites naturales al crecimiento económico.
El ecocentrismo ha constituido la base intelectual de la «ecología profunda» y de actividades de protección forestal de grupos como Earth First! («La tierra primero») que se han lanzado al sabotaje ecológico de la maquinaria de extracción de madera para proteger los bosques primarios en los estados de Oregón y Washington en los Estados Unidos de América. Lo que importa es reducir el consumo de productos madereros, proteger los bosques (en particular los bosques primarios) y administrarlos sobre la base de «una nueva relación con el bosque: una relación basada en el respeto y la humanidad... Primero, amar el bosque...; segundo, proteger todas las partes del bosque utilizándolo al mismo tiempo prudentemente; tercero, comerciar, por venta o trueque, con los productos excedentes del bosque» (Hammond, 1992). El pensamiento ecocéntrico, que valora muy poco o incluso se opone al desarrollo económico, ha suscitado controversias en muchos casos.
Sustainable Development: the Ecocentric Point of View.
In order to determine the field of investigation, let us now concentrate our attention on the relationships between the human species and the natural environment. Let us ignore, for the time being, the interior problems of the human species. This means that we shall consider the human species as a community of individuals (a population), whose forms of life cause alterations to the ecosystems which, without human influence, would be capable of self-regulation. In point of fact, from its original African niche, in which it differentiated from the other anthropomorphic monkeys about six million years ago, homo sapiens emigrated to all the continents overtaking, thanks to its reproductive capacity, all the other living species. It has been calculated that at the end of the Neolithic period, at the dawn of the so called agricultural revolution, the Earth was inhabited by less than 4 million individuals. In just 12 thousand years, the world population has exceeded 6 billion. The main problem of sustainable development consists, first of all, in the modification of human behaviour in order to make it possible for ecosystems to self-regulate. It is not biologically possible that in such a limited amount of time (the times of biological evolution are calculated in thousands if not millions of years) ecosystems can adapt. If human development does not become sustainable, the life of many species will be threatened and the fundamental equilibrium that regulates life in the biosphere will be altered.
Human history has hence reached a dramatic turn. Humankind will have a future only on condition that it accepts responsibility to preserve life on the Planet. Humankind has conquered the power to destroy life, but it does not have, and will never have, the power to create it (to manipulate cells does not mean to create life). We must therefore accept the task of adapting our behaviour to the new situation, modifying the habits we inherited from the past. The Earth has become a great natural park the survival of which is assigned to the homo sapiens species.
Human development is sustainable if life on the Planet is not threatened of extinction. In this definition, human development is subordinate to an overriding objective: the continuation of biological life on the Planet. It is therefore possible to avoid the danger of the concept of sustainable development becoming diluted in the subjective and historically conditioned horizon of human needs. For example, when one talks about sustainable societies or about sustainable social development the reference is to a situation in which there are no dramatic disparities in the way in which the resources are distributed among the different social groups and among individuals. An unsustainable social development is characterised by irreparable social divisions, which may cause uprisings or revolutions. In these cases, the problems of the relationships between the human species and the environment are not taken into consideration.
Environmental sustainability concerns the definition of some limits and the identification of the means necessary for them to be respected, when human activities threaten other living species in the biosphere. As some ecologists have rightly stated, “sustainability is an objective concept to the extent that natural science is objective”. Cooperation among scientists is therefore essential for an accurate definition of limits to sustainability, even though it is impossible to deny that a “human” factor is implicit in the definition put forward here, because it is practically impossible to define the conditions for the biological survival of the human species without considering its level of cultural, economic and political evolution, on which the feasibility of sustainable policies depends. It is impossible for humankind to trace a definite boundary between biological and cultural life. It is hence necessary to admit that the ecocentric point of view represents a polarity, opposed to the anthropocentric one. Between these two poles, several other concepts of sustainable development are possible. On the basis of the ecocentric approach we can claim that a certain human activity, such as fishing, is sustainable if it allows for reproduction of the species fished on an unchanged scale. We can say that the activity of logging in a forest is sustainable if at the same time reforestation is carried out and there is no threat of extinction to the animals that live there. An activity that is based on the exploitation of non-renewable energies is not sustainable. Industrial activities must therefore be based on technologies that exploit renewable sources of energy. Certain industrial activities that bring about greenhouse gases will not be sustainable until their quantity is reduced to a level that does not threaten to increase the average Planet temperature. Consequently, in order to assess these effects efficaciously, it is necessary to implement a proper system of environmental accounting in physical terms (for clean water, for the threatened species, for logging, for the purity of the air, etc.). In this sense, on the other hand, the UN is already urging governments to develop, together with national economic accounting, a satellite accounting for the so called ecological or natural capital.
The fact that there is an attempt to define with objective (physical) terms the limits that human development should not go beyond makes the objectives of sustainability more precise, but it certainly does not solve all the problems concerning the implementation of the necessary policies. It is obvious that each of these limitations will collide with important “human” needs, which should, in theory, be sacrificed to safeguard ecological objectives. Defiance, as the current political situation testifies, may be considerable. In fact, the historical tendency which has modelled human behaviour since the far away origins of our species must be changed. Humankind has colonised the entire world struggling against a hostile nature. It had to learn to survive in regions with very cold, very hot, very damp or very dry temperatures. It had to fight against very dangerous predators. The diaspora of the original minuscule population of homo sapiens to the various continents finally divided the species into many gangs, tribes, villages, states, etc. which considered each other as enemies. To pursue a common objective, that of saving the Earth, requires a deep change in behaviour; some would say in “human nature” (which, obviously, would be unchangeable during the lifetime of a few generations if human traits were determined only biologically). For this reason, it would be advisable to define the goal of sustainable development in objective terms, in order to concentrate thoughts and actions on the development of effective policies.
At the basis of political thinking, there is an ethical commitment. If we consider ecology, the new ethics is founded on the responsibility of the human species for the preservation of life on Earth. One could object that it is untimely to talk about ethics. Actually, human responsibility for the preservation of life coincides with its own interest, because the human species is threatened by an irreversible environmental degradation, as are the other living species. Nonetheless, this consideration does not at all exclude ecological ethics founded on responsibility. A residue of utilitarianism can be discerned in each moral tenet. The principle “do not kill” points out an ideal of the community in which everybody’s life, even that of the preacher of moral tenets, is safer. Despite that, thousands of years of religious teaching and the juridical application of the law against killing fellowmen has not prevented murderers and criminals from existing. The freedom of an individual is revealed in the opportunity of choosing among different options in life, not necessarily directed to the preservation of the human species (if the opposite hypothesis were valid, it would not be worth the effort to search for sustainable development).
In short, the principle of a blanket responsibility of the human species for nature needs to be translated into an effective policy. For this reason, the more general aspect of a policy for sustainable development consists in fulfilling the right to life on Earth. If the notion of sustainable development is to become a new form of behaviour, embraced by the citizens of the world, sustainable policies need to be transformed into a series of rights and duties. Modern civilisation, as far as the relationships between individuals and the duties of human beings towards other living species are concerned, must be founded on rules and regulations solemnly sanctioned by a Constitution.
Let us now see how it can be possible to guarantee the right to life on Earth by reforming the old economic and political institutions, in order to fix limits to the exploitation of nature.