Read this article. Note the key points of the approach so you can compare it with the others presented in this unit.


Anthropocentrism means holding humans as the central and most important being in the universe. In debate more often than not if a team is talking about anthropocentrism they are running a critique about some way you try to help or some characterization you have made about non-human animals or the environment. While there are many different links, some of the more general, popular ones include:

Trying to save some particular species – Much of the anthropocentrism literature speaks of humans creating safeguards to protect species as a means to exert control of domination over those species. Think of the justifications you hear to save the rain forest. I'm sure you've heard the argument "you never know if an animal or plant could be the cure cancer". This is a highly anthropocentric viewpoint for the protection of species, an easy link for the negative

Trying to create sustainability – More often than not this will come up when affirmatives have a plan which would make consumption of a fossil fuel more efficient, or regulate a form of pollution (for example, automobile exhaustion) to make it less harmful. While these policies may seem benign, they could be characterized as anthropocentric. A good critique link would argue the only thing these policies are doing is creating an efficient way to damage the environment.

Human-centered technology – many critics of anthropocentrism will argue that much technology places human life above all other forms of life. The industrial revolution is a prime example. Humans felt the need to industrialize and modernize to better their lives, but at the cost of the environment and non-human animal life.

Human rights discourse – much of the human rights discourse assumes that human rights are the highest or most important thing in the world, trumping even non-human rights. More often than not negatives looking to run an anthro K will read your impacts to human rights looking for phrases like "Human rights must come before all else" and run the link arguing your discourse places human rights above non-human animal rights.



As far as the impact, or implication to the critique, most teams argue some sort of extinction through human-centered thinking.

Anthropocentricism results in destruction of the planet

The last mass extinction has not yet been fully explained. Many scientists believe it to have been the result of meteorites whose impact suddenly altered the global climate, but no-one can be sure. In contrast, the cause of the present mass extinction is not in doubt: human expansion. Homo sapiens are gutting the earth of biodiversity.

The lush natural world in which humans evolved is being rapidly transformed into a largely prosthetic environment. Crucially, in any time span that is humanly relevant, this loss of biodiversity is irreversible. True, life on earth recovered its richness after the last great extinction; but only after about 10 million years had passed. Unless something occurs to disrupt the trends underway, all future generations of human beings will live in a world that is more impoverished biologically than it has been for eons.

Given the magnitude of this change, one would expect it to be at the center of public debate. In fact, it is very little discussed. Organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund press on with their invaluable work, and there are occasional reports of the destruction of wilderness; but for the most part, politics and media debates go on as if nothing is happening. There are many reasons for this peculiar state of affairs, including the ingrained human habit of denying danger until its impact is imminent; but the chief reason is that it has become fashionable to deny the reality of overpopulation.

In truth, the root cause of mass extinction is too many people. As Wilson puts it in his book Consilience: "Population growth can justly be called the monster on the land". Yet according to mainstream political parties and most environmental organizations, the despoliation of the environment is mainly the result of flaws in human institutions. If we are entering a desolate world, the reason is not that humans have become too numerous. It is because injustice prevents proper use of the earth's resources. There is no such thing as overpopulation.

Interestingly, this view is not accepted in many of the world's poor countries. China, India, Egypt and Iran all have population programs, as have many other developing nations. Opposition to population control is concentrated in rich parts of the world, notably the US, where the Bush administration pursues a fundamentalist vendetta against international agencies that provide family planning. It is understandable that rich countries should reject the idea of overpopulation. In their use of resources, they are themselves the most overpopulated. Their affluence depends on their appropriating a hugely disproportionate share of the world's non-renewable resources. If they ever face up to that reality, they will have to admit that their affluence is unsustainable.

Another reason for denying the reality of overpopulation is that the growth in human numbers is extremely uneven. In some parts of the world, population is actually declining. This is strikingly true in post-communist Russia. A precipitate fall in public health and living standards has led to a virtually unprecedented population collapse, which is set to accelerate further as an African-style AIDS die-off triggered by the country's enormous numbers of intravenous drug users begins to take hold. In other countries, such as Japan, Italy, and Spain, declining fertility is leading to zero or negative population growth. Such examples have given currency to the silly notion that overpopulation is no longer an issue - that, if anything, it is a slowdown in population growth that we should be worrying about.

But while human numbers are falling in some parts of the world, in others they are exploding. The population of the Gulf States will double in around 20 years - against a background of nearly complete dependency on a single, depleting natural resource. Again, despite China's admirable one-child policy, its population will go on growing for much of this century. Globally, the human population will continue to rise for at least a century - even if worldwide fertility falls to replacement level tomorrow. In 1940, there were around two billion humans on the planet. Today, there are about six billion. Even on conservative projections, there will be nearly eight billion by 2050.

Eight billion people cannot be maintained without desolating the earth. Today, everyone aspires to live after the fashion of the world's affluent minority. That requires worldwide industrialization - as a result of which the human ecological footprint on the earth will be deeper than it has ever been. If the living standards of rich countries can be replicated worldwide, it is only by making further large inroads into the planetary patrimony of biological wealth.

Rainforests are the last great reservoirs of biodiversity, but they will have to be cleared and turned over to human settlement or food production. What is left of wilderness in the world will be made over to green desert. This is a bleak enough prospect, but what's worse is that it is a path from which there is no turning back. If a human population of this size is to be kept in existence, it must exploit the planet's dwindling resources ever more intensively. In effect, humans will turn the planet into an extension of themselves. When they look about the world, they will find nothing but their own detritus.

There are many who claim to be unfazed by this hideous prospect. Marxists and free-market economists never tire of ridiculing the idea that other living things have intrinsic value. In their view, other species are just means to the satisfaction of human wants, and the earth itself is a site for the realization of human ambitions. These self-professed rationalists are prone to the conceit that theirs is a purely secular view of the world; but in thinking this way about the relationship of humans to the earth, they are in the grip of a religious dogma. The belief that the earth belongs to humans is a residue of theism.

For Christians, humans are unique among animals because they alone are created in the image of God. For the same reason, they are uniquely valuable. It follows that humanity can behave as lord of creation, treating the earth's natural wealth and other animals as tools, mere instruments for the achievement of human purposes.

To my mind, such religious beliefs have caused an immense amount of harm, but at least they are coherent. It is perfectly reasonable to think humans are the only source of value in the scheme of things - so long as you retain the theological framework in which they are held to be categorically different from all other animals. But once you have given up theism, this sort of anthropocentrism makes no sense. Outside the Judaeo-Christian tradition, it is practically unknown. The view of things in which we are separate from the rest of nature and can live with minimal concern for the biosphere is not a conclusion of rational inquiry. It is an inheritance from a single, humanly aberrant religious tradition.

The fashionable belief that there is no such thing as overpopulation is part of an anthropocentric world-view that has nothing to do with science. At the same time, there is more than a hint of anthropocentrism in Wilson's suggestion that we are entering an age of solitude. The idea that, unlike any other animal, humans can take the planet into a new evolutionary era assumes that the earth will patiently submit to their inordinate demands. Yet there is already evidence that human activity is altering the balance of the global climate - and in ways that are unlikely to be comfortable for the human population. The long-term effects of global warming cannot be known with any certainty. But in a worst-case scenario that is being taken increasingly seriously, the greenhouse effect could wipe out densely populated coastal countries such as Bangladesh within the present century, while seriously dislocating food production elsewhere in the world.

The result could be a disaster for billions of people. The idea that we are entering an era of solitude makes sense only if it is assumed that such a world would be stable - and hospitable to humans. Yet we know that the closer an ecosystem comes to being a monoculture, the more fragile it becomes. The world's rainforests are part of the earth's self-regulatory system. As James Lovelock has observed, they sweat to keep us cool. With their disappearance, we will be increasingly at risk. A humanly overcrowded world that has been denuded of much of its biodiversity will be extremely fragile - far more vulnerable to large, destabilizing accidents than the complex biosphere we have inherited. Such a world is too delicate to last for long. There are good reasons for thinking that an era of solitude will not come about at all. Lovelock has written that the human species is now so numerous that it constitutes a serious planetary malady. The earth is suffering from disseminated primatemaia - a plague of people. He sees four possible outcomes of the people plague: "destruction of the invading disease organisms; chronic infection; destruction of the host; or symbiosis, a lasting relationship of mutual benefit to the host and the invader".

The last two can be definitely ruled out. Humankind cannot destroy its planetary host. The earth is much older and stronger than humans will ever be. At the same time, humans will never initiate a relationship of mutually beneficial symbiosis with it. The advance of Homo sapiens has always gone with the destruction of other species and ecological devastation. Of the remaining outcomes, the second - in which over-numerous humans colonize the earth at the cost of weakening the biosphere - corresponds most closely to Wilson's bleak vision. But it is the first that is most likely. The present spike in human numbers will not last.


The Alternative

The alternative to the critique is normally a form of deep ecology, or a new form of environmental ethics that places extreme importance on the environment, ecosystems, and non-human animals. Below I have included a list of cites of many deep ecologist authors who write different specific alternatives to move away from anthropocentric thinking.

  • Devall, Bill; Session, George (1985): Deep Ecology. Living as if Nature Mattered. Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books.
  • Devall, Bill (1991): Deep Ecology and Radical Environmentalism. In: Society and Natural Resources, Vol. 4, No. 3, 1991, S. 247-258.
  • Fox, Warwick (1984a): Deep Ecology: A New Philosophy of our Time? In: The Ecologist, Vol. 14, No. 5-6, 1984, S. 194-200.
  • Fox, Warwick (1984b): On Guiding Stars to Deep Ecology. Warwick Fox answers Naess. In: The Ecologist, Vol. 14, No. 5-6, 1984, S. 203-204.
  • Naess, Arne (1984a): Identification as a Source of Deep Ecological Attitudes, In: Tobias, Michael (Ed.) (1984): Deep Ecology. San Marcos, California: Avant Books. S. 256-270.
  • Naess, Arne (1984b): Intuition, Intrinsic Value and Deep Ecology. Arne Naess Replies. In: The Ecologist, Vol. 14, No. 5-6, 1984, S. 201-202.
  • Naess, Arne (1988): Deep Ecology and Ultimate Premises. In: The Ecologist, Vol. 18, Nos. 4/5, 1988, S. 128-131.
  • Naess, Arne (1992): The Encouraging Richness and Diversity of Ultimate Premisses in Environmental Philosophy. In: The Trumpeter, Vol. 9, No. 2, Spring 1992, S. 53-60.
  • Naess, Arne (1993): Spinoza and the Deep Ecology Movement.
  • Session, George (1987): The Deep Ecology Movement: A Review. In: Environmental Review, Vol. 11, No. 2, Summer 1987, S. 105-125.
  • Session, George (1996): Reinventing Nature, The End of Wilderness? A Response to William Cronon's Uncommon Ground. In: The Trumpeter, Vol. 13, No. 1, S. 33-38.
  • Session, George (Ed.)(1995): Deep Ecology for the Twenty First Century. Readings on the Philosophy and Practice of the New Environmentalism. Boston, London: Shambhala.
  • Sessions, George (1988): Deep Ecology. In: Communities; 1988, 75, summer, 30-32.
  • Zimmerman, Michael (1994): Contesting Earth's Future. Radical Ecology and Postmodernity. Berkley: University of California Press.
  • Zimmerman, Michael E. (1987): Feminism, Deep Ecology, and Environmental Ethics. In: Environmental Ethics, Vol. 9, No. 1, Spring 1987, S. 21-44.
  • Zimmerman, Michael E. (1988): Quantum Theory, Intrinsic Value, and Panentheism. In: Environmental Ethics, Vol. 10, No. 1, Spring 1988, S. 3-30.
  • Zimmerman, Michael E. (1993): Rethinking the Heidegger- Deep Ecology Relationship. In: Environmental Ethics, Vol. 15, No. 3, Fall 1993, S. 195-224.


Answering the Anthro Critique

As far as answers to the critique, one of the more successful strategies has been the permutation. Affirmatives will argue rejecting political action to help non-human animals will almost certainly result in a replication of the status quo policies of destruction, the alternative will never move everyone away from an anthropocentric mindset, so it is better to offer what protection we can instead of allowing extinction to occur. Below is a popular permutation card advancing this argument.

Unfortunately, what is elegant in theory can become hopelessly tangled upon contact with reality. And when Dunayer applies her theory to the real world, what began as a clarion call for animal rights degenerates into an attack upon dedicated activists whose campaigns do not meet her standard for ideological purity. A typical example of Dunayer's approach is her criticism of three of the country's most active and effective animal rights organizations-United Poultry Concerns (UPC), Compassion over Killing (COK), and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)-for campaigning on behalf of "welfarist" reforms, including expansion of the Animal Welfare Act and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. "If I were in a Nazi concentration camp", she says, "and someone on the outside asked me, 'Do you want me to work for better living conditions, more-humane deaths in the gas chambers, or the liberation of all concentration camps?' I'd answer 'Liberation'. I'd regard any focus on better living conditions and more-'humane' deaths as immoral". If the focus were only on better living conditions and more humane deaths, I would agree. That would be immoral. But UPC, COK, and PETA carry on vigorous campaigns against all animal exploitation and in support of a vegan society in tandem with their campaigns for humane reforms. It is this two-pronged approach-with its simultaneous, and not entirely consistent, emphases on both liberation and reform-that is critical to success in the real world in which animals are suffering and being killed. Dunayer's Nazi concentration camp illustration is based on the unstated assumption that animal liberation can be achieved within a fairly near time frame. But since it clearly cannot be, refusing to work for better living conditions and less painful and terrifying deaths amounts to a betrayal of the animals whom we are professing to help. We must resist the temptation to sacrifice real-world results on the altar of an ivory-tower consistency because what we are really sacrificing is the animals. (In the interests of full disclosure, Karen Davis of UPC, Paul Shapiro of COK, and Bruce Friedrich of PETA, all of whom Dunayer takes issue with by name, are friends of mine. Their record of dedicated and effective advocacy on behalf of animal rights is, however, well known throughout the animal rights movement and beyond.)

There is also the more offensive approach to the notion of elevating plan and animal life equal to human life. Below is a quote by Bradley Bobertz in his book review of Luc Ferry's "The New Ecological Order" that explains how this logic is what led way to the Holocaust.

"In June 1935 the Reich government of Germany passed a law calling for the protection of plants and animals, "nature monuments", and national parks. 1 According to French philosopher and essayist Luc Ferry, 2 this statute expresses ideas we associate only with recent 8540*354 trends in ecological thinking. He presents the Nazi law as a cautionary tale for environmentalists and animal rights supporters, and more generally for those who proclaim the virtues of diversity or call for a reawakening of communitarian values. Among these groups, Ferry detects a new breed of ideas that form a dangerous political orthodoxy. Today's reigning philosophy of nature - that humans are not fundamentally separate from the biosphere but are merely a part of it - portends darker times ahead, Ferry warns, claiming that a willingness to condemn industrial technology while at the same time glorifying the purity of nature mirrors 1930s-style utopian romanticism, a sentimental yearning for an idealized past that in Ferry's view leads to neo-fascist political models.

It might be tempting to write a polemic equating the holistic norms of environmental philosophy with the mystical, totalizing elements of German fascism. When then-Representative James Inhofe likened the United States Environmental Protection Agency to the Nazi Gestapo, 4 he was speaking the language of the antienvironmental right, a growing segment of the electorate that blames fuzzy-thinking nature lovers and their friends in Washington for undermining individual liberty and threatening American growth. 5 Presumably, a book claiming that what environmentalists profess is just a greener shade of fascism would find a comfortable niche in today's marketplace of ideas".

Here is a list of the more popular cites that advance this argument, including the one above:

  • Bradley Bobertz, "BOOK REVIEW: "Of Nature and Nazis" Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, 1997
  • Peter Staudenmaier, "Fascist Ecology: The "Green Wing" of the Nazi Party and its Historical Antecedents", 1995,
  • Luc Ferry, The New Ecological Order (1995) Translated by Carol Volk, University Of Chicago Press

Another popular attack is to defend that anthropogenic thinking is inevitable, winning this argument would not only make the permutation superior, but make the plan in general seem like a good idea (as opposed to the alternative to the critique).

Source: Bruce Najor
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

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Last modified: Monday, January 11, 2021, 6:33 PM