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Climate Education Series: The Rights of Humans, The Rights of Nature

Anthropocentrism Anthropocentrism, is the idea that human beings are the most important entity. This philosophy is a human centered only perspective. This philosophy primarily considers the point of view of humans, and their needs. Human beings are considered separate from nature in this case. Furthermore, human life and human needs, are considered above those of other life forms, including plants and animals. In this case, humans can rightfully use and exploit nature for their own benefit. In this module, you will consider human rights and nature's rights. Do human rights prevail above nature's rights?

Human Rights and Behavior Let's start with humans and our rights when it comes to using nature for our own needs and well-being. Human society seems to be built around the idea that we are superior to nature, and we can exploit nature for our gain. We use trees for furniture and for paper. We also deforest to expand our cities. We push animals out of their habitats for development, and sell them for profits as objects. We pollute the oceans to the point that they are inhabitable due to plastic waste. The oceans are becoming too acidic as they absorb carbon dioxide, threatening the coral reefs, and let's not forget all of the oil spills. When you think about it, humans can be very destructive, even though we are part of nature. We aren't the totality of all species. We are just 1 species among many, on a planet, among endless other planets.

The Impact of our Development Activities Building communities allows people to find new homes, and raise their families. But we need to think carefully about how we design our communities. That is, where are we building? And how we might disrupt the ecosystem, when we start development activities. To stay healthy ourselves, we need to ensure that nature is also in balance and a key part of our communities. While development and consumption are important, we have to ask, what is the cost? Take a closer look in your own cities, at air pollution, water pollution, even flooding, the waste being generated, the traffic and congestion as we keep building, and how weather patterns are drastically changing in your area. It is apparent that there is a problem. We need to think about our behavior and impact as humans.

The Rights of Nature What rights does nature have, to thrive and maintain its balance? Nature is made of plants, animals, microorganisms, fungi, and natural resources. These elements of nature, are all engaging in their own processes to survive, and enable us to survive. Think about the role that each of these elements in nature, plays in your own life everyday. Nature's processes support food production, our health, and regenerate the resources we use everyday.

Perhaps we need to keep reminding ourselves what nature shares with, and provides us. We need to leave nature alone, to complete these processes, and to maintain the biodiversity of the Earth. If we think about it, we have yet to fully discover all of the treasures within nature, including our forests, oceans, and inside the Earth itself. We will never completely understand the role that nature plays in our lives, if we continue to be destructive. Our existence needs to be alongside nature. Even our cities need to be designed to incorporate green spaces.

How Nature Nurtures Humans Food security is necessary for our survival. As the world's population grows from 8 billion today to 9.7 billion in 2050, farmers will need to learn how to feed the world's population, while protecting our natural resources. Food producers will use regenerative agriculture, crop rotation, plant biodiversity, fewer chemicals, and better water management to grow our food, whilst managing soil conditions.

Nature also nurtures us in other ways. Think about how you feel when you are in nature. We feel happier in nature, and can connect to something larger than ourselves. We can exercise, and even connect with others socially in nature. Across every generation, from young children to older adults, nature supports our physical, mental, and cognitive health. Do we have the right to destroy nature for our needs, without considering the long-term consequences?

Learning from Nature and Eco-Centrism There are so many hidden treasures to be found in nature. Nature is a source of medicines. Did you know that plants and animals can teach us about communicating and collaborating with each other? Animals can also provide us with many clues about designing our own products; from solar cells, to medical devices, to finding new materials, to flying and designing our transportation systems, to designing better buildings. Given all that nature provides, should we not seek to protect nature and its right to thrive? Human beings need to be the caretakers of nature, just as nature provides for us. In this case, our rights and the rights of nature are equivalent. Eco-centrism instead suggests that our ecosystems, including the atmosphere, water, land, and all life forms, have value and should be protected.

Assignment 6: Anthropocentrism versus Eco-Centrism

Students should conduct a comparative analysis of the terms anthropocentrism versus eco-centrism. How do these systems of values, differ from one another? What may be the differential impact, of these two systems of values, on our environment? Guiding questions include:

What is the philosophy behind anthropocentrism and eco-centrism?

Does nature have the same rights as humans?

Does nature need humans? Do humans need nature?

What are our ethical obligations to nature?

Group students into two teams; one that advocates for anthropocentrism, and the other for eco-centrism. Each team should create an infographic, outlining the various aspects of each philosophy, their merits, and likely long-term outcomes from following each philosophy. The infographics can be used as visual props, as part of a class presentation, or debate style discussion, of the two philosophies.

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