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The environment

Watch Gaia Vince describe how we might begin to solve some of the envionmental challenges we face

Gaia Vince is an environmental journalist, broadcaster, and author. Her book Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made was published in 2015.

‘Although denying that we have a special position in the natural world might seem becomingly modest in the eye of eternity, it might also be used as an excuse for evading our responsibilities. The fact is that no species has ever had such wholesale control over everything on earth, living or dead, as we now have. That lays upon us, whether we like it or not, an awesome responsibility. In our hands now lies not only our own future, but that of all other living creatures with whom we share the earth.’
David Attenborough, humanist, broadcaster and natural historian

Humanists do not believe that human beings were given dominion over the Earth. However, many will argue that the clear evidence of the impact our species is having on the planet means we have a responsibility to take care of it. After all, help is not going to come from anywhere else.

Humanist motivations to protect the environment stem from a number of sources. There is the evidence that the consequences on humanity of doing nothing will potentially be catastrophic. Our natural sense of empathy for other human beings, including those not born yet, can provide a motivation to act. Future generations should also have the same human rights we guarantee today, to food, to homes, and to health. Many humanists will speak of their empathy also encompassing other sentient animals, and they believe they too should be included in our circle of moral concern. Additionally, the natural world can be a source of great beauty, inspiration, and solace to us. When the former President of the British Humanist Association, Sir Hermann Bondi, was asked why he cared about conservation, he replied, ‘Because I want my grandchildren to be able to see elephants.’

Some conservationists place the blame for the environmental challenges we face today on an insatiable human hunger for scientific and technological progress. However, this rarely draws humanists to the conclusion that science and technology themselves are inherently bad. The positive or negative impact of our scientific knowledge is for human beings to decide. Indeed, it is scientists (mainly biologists and ecologists) who have been responsible for uncovering and monitoring many of our environmental problems. Scientists and engineers will also play an important role in finding new sources of energy and in finding ways to clean up our planet.

Question: Should the natural environment be protected because of its value to human beings or because it has any inherent value in itself?

This article is from the free online

Humanist Lives, with Alice Roberts

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