A2 Government and Politics - Ecologism Part One

Revision summary for EDEXCEL A2 Government and Politics Ecologism

  • Created by: Alex
  • Created on: 26-05-11 13:35

Provide the three main beliefs of Ecologism

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1. Opposition to Anthropocentrism - Ecologism starts from an examination of the interrelationships that bind humans to all living organisms and the web of life. Traditional ideologies are viewed as anthropocentric or human centred - humans are seen as the centrepiece of existence. Instead of preserving and respecting the earth and the diverse species on it, humans have tried to become in the words of John Locke 'the masters and possessors of nature'. Anthropocentrism therefore has been identified as the root cause of the ecological crisis, pushing the biosphere far from its natural state.

2. Belief in Ecology / ecosystems - Homeostasis refers to the fact that all ecosystems tend toward a state of hamony or equilibrium through a system of self regulation. Food or other resources are recycled and population size adjusts naturally to available food supply. The natural world is made up of a complex web of ecosystems, the largest of which is the global ecosystem. Individual ecosystems are not closed or entirely self sustaining, each interacts with other ecosystems.

3. Ecocentrism - Ecologists adopt an ecocentric perspective that accords priority to nature or the planet. Humankind no longer occupies centre stage but is regarded as an inseperable part of nature. Ecologism represents a new style of politics, whose central vision is of nature as an interconnected whole, a network of precious but fragile relationships between living species, including humans and the natural environment.

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Identify and briefly explain three differences bet




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Weak Ecocentrism / Enlightened Anthropocentrism - Still sees the needs of humans as being of overriding importance, nature needs to be conserved and protected for human benefit.

VS. Strong Ecocentrism - Rejects any notion of anthropocentrism and the fact that humans are in any way superior to other species, priority is to maintain ecological balance.

Sustainable development - This supports sustainable human growth. Maintaining economic and technological growth but at a slower pace and in a more sustainable way.

VS. Strong sustainability - Antigrowth as far as human society is concerned.

Conservation - All of nature may not be equal but it needs to be protected and conserved.

VS. Biocentric Equality - The belief that all nature has an equal right to flourish and prosper.

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Identify the next three differences between Shallo

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Nature has instrumental (use) value - Based on the view that nature has value because it is of use to humans and it therefore needs to be sustained for human benefit.

VS. Nature has intrinsic value - Based on the assumption that nature is important to preserve as it has value in itself regardless of the interests and concerns of humans.

Weak holism - The acceptance that there are consequences of linked behaviour and impacts on parts of the earth and ecosystems.

VS. Radical holism - The belief that there is a more important 'bigger picture' and that ecological issues can only be resolved by addressing all relationships.

Personal development - This accepts the importance of ecological awareness but only in the context of more general personal development.

VS. Ecological Consciousness - This focusses on the need to improve human consciousness of ecological issues as a major priority.

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Give the definition for 'holism' and an example.

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Holism - The world can only be understood as a whole and not through examination of its individual parts. Science commits the sin of reductionism; it reduced everything to its seperate parts and tries to understand each part in itself.

Example - James Lovelock 'Gaia Theory' - The Gaia theory suggests that the health of the planet matters more than that of any individual species presently living in it. Human beings must act to conserve its health, beauty and resources.

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What is a mechanistic world view and why do ecolog

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Mechanistic World View - The development of the scientific method enabled remarkable advances to be made in human knowledge providing the basis for the development of modern industry and technology. So impressive were the fruits of science that all forms of knwoledge in the modern world became dominated by scientism, the belief that the scientific method was the only value-free and objective means for establishing truth.

Ecologists reason for rejection - Times have changed since the beginnings of scientism which has left it outdated. Large parts of ecologism base everything on mechanism. Conventional scientism or what Capra calls the Cartesian Newtonian Paradigm argues that this is the philosophical basis of the modern environmental crisis, and needs to be overthrown and replaced with a new paradigm.

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Give the first alternative to scientism + an examp

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1. The New Physics - Although many ecologists criticise science, some suggest modern science offers a new paradigm for human thought. Fritjof Capra argues that the Cartesian-Newtonian Paradigm based on mechanistic and reductionist view of the world has been superseded. Albert Einstein's 'theory of relativity' challenged traditional concepts of time and space, whilst Verner Heisenburg developed the 'Uncertainty Principle' that objective knowledge is impossible.

Example - Fritjof Capra - Capra developed a 'systems view of life' which focuses on principles of organisation within ecosystems and the way its functioning is influenced by human interventions 'we can never talk about nature without talking about ourselves'

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Give the second alternative to scientism + an exam

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Eastern Religion - Eastern mysticism provides a philosophy of ecological wisdom and advocates a sustainable way of life that encourages compassion for fellow human beings, other species and the natural world. Some see ecological principles in monotheist religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam which regard humankind and nature as God's stewards on earth.

Example - Buddhism, particularly zen buddhism have long preached the unity or oneness of all things, a discovery that western science only made in the twentieth century.

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Give the third alternative to 'Scientism' + an exa

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Primitive mysticism - Modern Greens have looked back to pre-Christian spiritual and mystical ideas. Primitive religions often drew no distinction between human and other forms of life, and little distinction between living and non-living objects. All things are viewed as alive - stones, rivers, mountains and even earth itself. Idea of an 'earth mother' articulates a new relationship.

Example - New Age - 'Council of All Beings' - 'Humankind has not woven the web of life we are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to to the web we do to ourselves'.

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Summarise the three alternatives to 'Scientism' +

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1. The New Physics - Some suggest modern science offers a new paradigm for modern thought. This was seen from Einstein, and Heisenburg's 'Uncertainty principle'.

Example - Fritjof Capra - 'A systems view of life' whch focuses on principles of organisation within ecosystems, and argued that the mechanistic and reductionist view of the world has been superseded.

2. Eastern Religion - Provides a philosophy of ecological wisdom and advocates a sustainable way of life that encourages compassion for human beings.

Example - Buddhism - Preached the unity or oneness of all things, a discovery that Western science only made in 20th century.

3. Primitive Mysticism - Primitive religions drew no distinction between human and other forms of life.

Example - New Age - 'Council of All Beings' - 'Humankind has not woven the web of life, we are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves'.

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Outline the Ecologist Theory of Sustainability + d

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Rejection of Industrialism - Ecologists argue that the ingrained assumption of conventional ideologies and most mainstream 'grey parties' is that human life has unlimited possibilities for material growth and prosperity. 'Industrialism' relates to a super ideology that encompasses capitalism and socialism, left wing and right wing thought. It is characterised by large scale production, the accumulation of capital and relentless growth. It is dedicated to materialism, utilitarian values, absolute faith in science and worship of technology. Many ecologists thus see industrialisation as the problem.

Boulding 'Spaceship Earth' - In 'economics and the coming of spaceship earth' Kenneth Boulding argues that humans fail to understand that they live within the constraints of a closed ecosystem. An open ecosystem receives energy from outside and is a source of boundless reneweable energy. This creates a 'cowboy economy', an economy with unlimited resources encouraging 'reckless, exploitative and violent behaviour'. The earth itself is a closed ecosystem which shows evidence of entropy, a tendency to decay or disintegrate because they are not sustained by external inputs. Boulding argues that we need a spaceman economy.

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Outline 'the tragedy of the commons' and 'small is

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Garrett Hardin - 'The tragedy of the Commons' - Garrett Hardin suggested that humans are 'over-using' the resources of the planet. Natural resources are vulnerable because people have used common land in 'self interested ways', common land or common fishery stocks encourage individuals to act in rationally self interested ways, each exploiting resources to satisfy their individual and family needs. The collective impact is that everything will become depleted and rational individual behaviour results in irrational ends. Highlights individual countries act in self-interested ways.

Schumacher 'Small is Beautiful' - E.F Schumacher believes that mainstream economics makes the mistake of viewing natural resources as 'an income' , that is being constantly topped up, rather than as natural capital that they are forced to live off. This approach has meant that these reosurces are being used up too fast at a time when these finite fuel resources are close to depletion. As we get close to the end of the fossil fuel age it approaches disintegration because there are no sources to compensate for the loss of coal, oil and gas.

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Outline an Ecologists belief in sustainability

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Belief in sustainability - Ecologists argue that entropy can be slowed down considerably if everyone respects ecological principles. Ecologists argue that humans will only survivie if they recognise that they are merely one element of a complex biosphere and only a healthy, balanced biosphere will sustain human life. Policies and actions must therefore be judged by the principle of sustainability, the capacity of a system to maintain its health and continue in existence over a period of time. It sets clear limits on human ambitions and material dreams as it requires broad production to do as little damage as possible.

Example - A sustainable energy policy based on dramatic reduction in use of fossil fuels.

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Outline the differences between shallow and deep e

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Shallow Ecology 'Sustainable development' - Moderate/ reformist Ecologists take a light green approach belieiving in a form of sustainable development. It is based on the belief that material prosperity can be balanced against environmental costs, developing but at a slower and more sustainable rate. The Britland Report of the UN 1987 defines sustainable development as 'meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'.

Example - Market Based Incentives: Green Capitalism / Carbon trading - Green taxes to penalise and discourage pollution to reduce the use of finite resources.

Deep Ecology 'Strong sustainability' - Deep ecologists and most social ecologists take a dark green approach. Sustainable development is not radical enough, it allows human beings to carry on as if nothing is wrong and does not solve the crisis. The origin of the crisis is seen to lie with materialism and consumerism and a fixation with economic growth, the solution relies on zero growth and construction of a post-industrial age.

Examples - 'Fundis' back to nature approach (Post-Industrialism' - The origin of the crisis is seen to lie with materialism and consumerism and a fixation with economic gravity, the solution relies on zero growth and possibly a more simple localised existence with people living in small, rural communities.

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Outline the two areas of Contemporary Liberal Ethi


1. Utilitarianism. 2. Human Rights

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1. Rejection of Utilitarianism / Nature as Instrumental Value - Ecologists argue that conventional ethical systems are anthropocentric based around human pleasure, needs and interests. The non-human world consequently only has value to the extent that it satisfies human ends. Ecologists have developed a form of environmental ethics which extends traditional boundaries of ethics from solely humans to including the non-human world.

2. Rejection of Human Rights Theory - Excluding Nature Rights - If we are merely one small part of a wider 'web of life' and we have no greater priority than any other species then we should adapt our views about human rights. Not to do so would make us guilty of specieism, assigning different values or rights to beings on the basics of their species membership. For some ecologists specieism is as damaging as racism as it amounts to widespread discrimination against other species.

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Outline the two Shallow Ecology solutions to Envir

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1. Intergenerational Justice / Futurity - Ecologists are foced to extend ethical rights to present and future generations, the living and those yet to be born. Such futurity can be justified in many different ways. For example eco-Conservatives focus on tradition and continuity, present generations are merely custodians of the wealth that has been generated by past generations and so should conserve it for future generations. Eco-socialists focus on the notion of a common-humanity and the capacity for compassion and love which is merely extended through time.

Example - Edmund Burke - Tradition involves a partnership between those who are living, those who are dead and those who are to be born. Marcel Wissenburg - A contract with a restraint principle 'compensation should be provided'.

2. Animal/ Nature Rights - Many ecologists extend ethical rights to non-human species based on the principle of equal consideration of interests. Animals also have an interest in avoiding physical pain and human interests should not be placed above those of animals. All animals therefore have inherent rights and any action should be judged on how it effects human and animal life equally. This argument is used by advocates of vego-anarchism.

Example - Peter Singer Advocates an altruistic concern for other species because as sentient beings they are capable of suffering. His argument does not apply to non-sentient beings.

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Outline the Deep Ecology solution to Environmental

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Biocentric Equality - Biocentric Equality can be seen as the natural consequence of environmental ethics followed by deep ecologists. Nature has intrinsic value (value in itself) independent of the needs or appreciation of humans. Nature is viewed as an ethical community where humans have no more rights than any other community member. The selfish use of other life by humans is unacceptable as it assumes that human needs are more important than those of other life forms. View was raised by Aldo LeoPold in 'Sand County Almanac'.

Example - Eastern Religion - Theories of biocentric equality can be found in Eastern Religions. Hinduism and Jainism stress the importance of all Brahma's creation and preservation of all living creatures. Aldo LeoPold - 'preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of biotic community'.

Example - Arne Naess - A more philosophical view is expressed by deep ecologist Arne Naess 'All things - ecosystems life and landscapes have an intrinsic right to exist so we should embrace rather than conquer the world.'

Example - James Lovelock - Other deep ecologists take a different view believing that the earth, not a particular species possess the intrinsic right to exist. 'It is the health of the planet that matters the most, not that of some individual species'.

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Outline the Ecological critique of consumerism / m

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Ecologism rejects Western Industrial notions of individual, personal fulfilment and self worth which promotes human self-interestedness (egoism) and material greed. -  Material scarcity creates selfish and materialist attitudes. Widespread poverty = Individuals concerned with post material 'quality of life issues'eg: morality justice, gender equality, world peace, racial harmony, animal rights etc.

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Outline the Ecological belief in Self-Actualisatio

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Ecologists believe in self actualisation - a term coined by psychologist Abraham Manslow to describe the ongoing process of fully developing your personal potential. Ecologists relate self-actualisation to the transcendence of egoism and materialism, seeing it as a form of personal fulfilment focussed on 'being' not 'having'.

Example - Erich Fromm  argues that the person always feels threatened about losing everything. Being is a humane life, existence isnt based on material wealth. Self actualisation based on what you achieve.

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Outline the Ecologists belief in Personal developm

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Personal development - All ecologists believe human develoment needs refocussing. We have massive know how but little know why, the wisdom to question whether these ambitions are sensible or sustainable. Personal development need no longer be linked with consumption of material goods.

Example: EF Schumacher - 'Man is now too clever to survive without wisdom' - we need to rethink our view of personal satisfaction.

Spiritual Development - Many greens embrace Eastern world views that offer a more ecological perspective than the individualism of the west. Religious views of self-actualisation are often shaped by buddhism, an ecological philosophy in its own right. The spiritual element of self-actualisation is not universally accepted, many shallow and social ecologists are sceptical of religious mysticism.

Example: Eastern Religion - Central to buddhism is the idea of no-self which rejects the individual ego as a delusion that doesn't exist. This involves transcending the self.

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Outline the view of the Ecological Self / Transper

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Transpersonal Ecologism - The ecological self is distinguished from the egotistic self. The self is the 'individual self' which concerns most humans includes a persons ego. The Self is the ecological self - 'the wider self' through which every living being is intimately connected. Warwick Fox claims to go beyond their embracing transpersonal ecology is the realisation that things are, that all entities are part of a single unfolding reality.

Example - Arne Naess - Self realisation is attained through a broader and deeper understanding of the ecological self and the realisation of the 'interconnectedness of nature'.

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Outline the differences between shallow ecology an

Hint: Slight change contrasted to a radical change

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Shallow Ecology - Personal Development (A slight change in eco-friendly outlook) - Moderate views of self actualisation. Moderate shift of focus towards more sustainable attitude, rejection of need for spiritual growth.

Deep Ecology - Paradigm Shift / Ecosophy (A radical change in our relation to humanity) - Deep Ecologists favour a paradigm shift forming a new ideology with concepts of the self not tainted with the anthropocentrism of traditional ideologies, most recognise a spiritual side to views.

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Provide a definition for shallow ecology and name

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Shallow Ecology - The belief that environmental problems can be solved within existing political and economic structures without radically re-structuring society.

1st Sub-branch - Liberal Environmentalism

2nd Sub-branch - Eco Conservatism

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Outline the two key theries + two strategies and a

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Key theories:

Enlightened Anthropocentrism - Weak ecocentrism concern for environment centred upon human interests.

Faith in idustrialisation and science - Industry, science and technology are the solution not the problem.

Key strategies:

Sustainable development / Weak sustainability - The desire for material prosperity can be balanced against environmental costs.

Environmental ethics (adapt Liberal Utilitarianism and Rights) - Based on ideas of futurity, conservation and animal welfare.

Theorist Peter Singer - Argues that the interests of all sentient beings including non-human ones affected by an action should be taken equally into consideration.

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Outline the two key theries + two strategies and a

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Key Theories

Shallow Ecology / Weak Holism - Wish to harness the lessons of ecology to human ends and needs.

Conservative belief in tradition / preservation - Conservation of nature linked to the defence of traditional values and institutions. Conservative reaction against enlightenment, science, industrialism and romantic pastoralism.

Key strategies

Green Capitalism - Business will adopt to ecologically aware customers by producing ecologically sound goods.

Conservation - Attempts to protect the natural heritage, woodlands, forrests and so on.

Theorist/ Group - Countryside Alliance - Belief in preserving the rural environment, architecture, heritage and way of life threatened by urban existence.

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Provide a definition for social ecology and name i

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Social Ecology - A range of ideas that recognise that the destruction of the environment is caused by / linked to existing social structure: the advance of ecological principles requires a process of radical revolutionary social change.

1st Sub-branch - Eco-Socialism

2nd Sub-branch - Eco-Anarchism

3rd Sub-branch - Eco-Feminism

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Thomas Dalton


Alex is awesome we really like these resources! They're so helpful.

Thanks, Tom Dalton and Will Mellor.



Honestly so useful- thank you!!! 

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