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The Need For An Ecological

World-view

The progressive degradation of the biosphere which we are witnessing today cannot be attributed to technical deficiencies in the implementation of our socio-economic policies. It is the policies themselves that by their very nature are causing the destruction. Those policies, what is more, are difficult to reverse for two basic reasons.

The first is that we have all become dependent on the proper functioning of commercial, bureaucratic and political institutions which employ the bulk of us, and which are committed to — and dependent on — the perpetuation of precisely those policies that are causing the destruction. The second reason is that we are imbued with a world-view — the 'world view of modernism' — which rationalises, and hence legitimises, these policies, and thus the destruction which they bring about.

The basic tenet of the world view of modernism is that the world is imperfect: it is random, chaotic, atomised, and aggressive. In fact, to use Lord Tennyson's well known phrase, nature is seen as "red in tooth and claw," while the life of natural man (as opposed to modern man) is seen, in Hobbes's equally famous phrase, as "nasty, brutish and short." In effect, God is thought to have done a bad job. According to conventional wisdom, He produced a lousy world, filled with miserable people — which is why we must reverse His work and must change the world, transforming it as radically as possible. This transformation is to be achieved by means of science, technology, industry and the various institutions of the nation-state, which together wil l supposedly bring about that miraculous process called 'economic development', or 'progress', thus creating a veritable paradise on earth, one that is incomparably superior to any that God or even the evolutionary process could possibly bring about.

This is unquestionably the most pernicious myth ever entertained by man, for it is the policies which it serves to rationalise that are leading to inexorable destruction of the biosphere, which in turn must inevitably spell the eventual extinction of our species. The reason is clear: economic development involves methodically substituting the technosphere — or the surrogate world of human artefacts—for the biosphere—or the real world of living things — from which the former derives its resources and to which i t consigns its ever more voluminous and toxic waste products. In other words, economic development, to which our society is totally committed, inevitably means ecological degradation and economic contraction. The two are inseparable — they are but different sides of the same coin.

Ecological degradation and contraction gives rise to a host of problems, each one of which is interpreted in such a way as to make it appear amenable to a solution that involves further economic development. Such an interpretation is consistent with the world-view of modernism. Thus, we are told, the population explosion is caused by poverty and insecurity in the 'underdevel-

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oped' countries, and the only way to solve it is through further economic development which wil l make the poor rich and secure and wil l thereby give rise to the so-called 'demographic transition', with birth rates falling as material prosperity increases.

Similarly, malnutrition and famine are blamed on primitive agricultural techniques: again, economic development is seen as the solution, by making available tractors, combine harvesters, fertilisers, pesticides and cheap irrigation water.

And so it is for each of the growing problems that face us today and which are, in reality, but the symptoms of the ecological degradation being caused by the very policies that are supposed to solve them.

As a result, the destruction proceeds by positive feedback: we are in effect caught up in a veritable chain reaction in the direction of ever greater biospheric destruction — and eventual human extinction.

Indeed, i f man is to survive on this planet for more than a few decades, then our society must not only be restructured into socio-economic groupings that are capable of sustaining themselves without annihilating the world of living things, but we must also reject the world-view of modernism in all its ramification, replacing it with a world-view that validates these very different socio-economic structures and their ecologically benign policies.

The task of discrediting the world-view of modernism is well under way, but to persuade people to reject i t outright wil l only be possible once we are in possession of a comprehensive and coherent ecological world-view with which to replace it. Different branches of the ecological movement have, in the last twenty years, made various contributions towards the development of such a world-view and several schools of thinking have emerged, such as Arne Ness's 'Deep Ecology', Murray Bookchin's 'Social Ecology' and Henryk Skolimowski's 'Ecophilosophy', to name but three.

Unfortunately, the proponents of the different schools disagree on what they take to be a number of fundamental issues — as wil l be seen by the exchange of views published in this issue of The Ecologist between Grover Foley, Henryk Skolimowski and Arne Ness. It may be, however, that the differences are more superficial than it appears, and that members of these — and other schools — might co-operate to develop a single ecological world-view. We have published two lengthy articles in this issue by Richard Sylvan and myself, both of which seek in different ways to consider what the basic features of such a world-view might be.

Edward Goldsmith

The Ecologist, Vol.18, Nos 4/5, 1988