The Amazon is Dying
Since Brazil’s election of the right-wing populist, Jair Bolsonaro, in 2018, the condition of the Amazon rainforest has worsened.
According to some estimates, 17% of the Amazon has been lost by 2018. In 2019, the National Institute for Space Research (NISR) estimated that 3,769 square miles had been destroyed in one year ‒ a 30 percent increase from 2018. In 2020, these figures went up by 50 percent in the first three months alone.
So, should we lose hope for the Amazon?
In this blog post, I will briefly analyze Brazil’s deforestation of the Amazon rainforest with a focus on recent years. First, I will explore how deep ecologists would defend stopping deforestation of the Amazonia.
Then I will analyze an ecofeminist approach and show why ecofeminists focus on the liberty of individuals, particularly women, when combating climate change.
Lastly, I will look at any potential problems that both deep ecology and ecofeminist theories of environmentalism pose to liberty/human rights. In my view, both views are important; however, ecofeminism is better equipped to protect human rights.
There are many different reasons for deforestation, ranging from cattle ranching to small-scale agriculture, logging, but also to natural causes such as fires that arise due to agricultural practices. I will not discuss each of them here. Instead, I want to focus on deforestation as a whole and how deep ecology and ecofeminist theorists may address deforestation practices on the Amazon rainforest.
In order to have a well-reasoned view on environmentalism, we must establish under what grounds we ought to approach environmental questions.
In the words of the Canadian entomologist, G.C. Ullyett, we must discard our “attitude of human superiority” over nature. Deep ecologists strongly agree with this line of reasoning, also known as biocentrism.
Deep ecology is a view of environmentalism where “things” possess value “separate from conscious valuers.”
Deep ecologists argue that
- diversity is central to the intrinsic goodness of the environment,
- our reduction of this diversity is unjustified,
- our contemporary exploitation of the environment is overt and “excessive,” and
- we must make policy-change to address these issues.
For deep ecologists, sustainable development is largely a myth. Clearly, deep ecologists would find many problems with the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon rainforest is a vast source of diversity, carrying most of the world’s exotic flora and fauna species.
Therefore, deep ecologists would argue that any exploitation of the Amazonia is unjustified because of the intrinsic goodness of the environment.
The Intrinsic Goodness of the Environment
One strong argument for the intrinsic goodness of the environment that deep ecologists argue is the Amazon’s self-sufficiency. Some estimates suggest that the Amazon rainforest is able to produce approximately half of its own rainfall.
Researchers have calculated that if the Amazon rainforest is to reach a 40 percent deforestation rate, this would inevitably lead to a drier season and a steady transition to savannah landscapes.
Add unto this the problem that the “tipping point,” that is, the point of no return, is approximately 20–25 percent deforestation. As was mentioned above, in 2018 the deforestation rate of the Amazon rainforest was already at 17 percent. Therefore, deep ecologists rightly urge some immediate course of action. Because of the deep ecologists’ argument for self-sufficiency, they also argue for regrowth.
Due to the 2015 Paris climate agreement, Brazil promised to restore 120,000 km2 of the Amazon rainforest.
However, research suggests that in order to restore self-sufficiency, Brazil would have to reforest more than 200,000 km2 ‒ especially in areas that are most affected by deforestation, such as the south and east Amazon.
When it comes to ecofeminism, its defining characteristic is its critique of value-hierarchical thinking which stresses that some groups are inherently more valuable than other groups.
An ecofeminist approach argues that the underlying oppression of women and nature are intertwined through linguistics. It is because of this that the environment is often portrayed as “mother earth” or “fertile ground” ‒ both of which are feminine terms.
One of the weaknesses of ecofeminism is that its analysis extends only to how gender and the environment are connected. Inadvertently, this leaves out the much-needed intersectional focus of race, ethnicity, and social class, not to mention other areas.
An ecofeminist approach would, for example, criticize the Paris Agreement as ineffective because it does not take into account the “structural constraints” people in local areas have with anthropogenic climate change.
They would stress that there is an intimate connection between the oppression women face and the oppression of nature. In many areas in Central and South America, for example, women are seen as having a “special” and “natural” connection to nature, contributing to the existing gender roles where the women care for the garden and domestic responsibilities. The ‘natural’ positioning prevents women from advancing in society and maintains class divisions between the sexes.
Deep Ecology vs. Ecofeminism
In contrast to deep ecology, ecofeminism prioritizes human animals at the center of moral obligation and worth. That is not to say that they assume that non-human animals are not worth moral consideration but that they are less intrinsically valuable.
This is why ecofeminism can do a better job at providing minority groups liberty and human rights. The shortcoming of ecofeminism is that its analysis is not intersectional, however. Deep ecologists are not as equipped in providing rights and liberties to human animals because they believe in the intrinsic goodness of the environment.
Therefore, their critique discredits the interests of human animals based on utilitarian grounds. Instead, they have a rules-based ethos. In my view, deep ecology is an important critique, yet it fails to conform to our moral intuitions on caring for future generations and using the environment in a sustainable way in order to feed and house impoverished people groups.
Despite their differences, both views are important in addressing the pressing challenge the deforestation of Amazonia poses to humanity.
This blog post is a part of my brief series on political philosophy! I cover thinkers from Locke and Rousseau to Marx, Hegel, and even Bernie Sanders. Finally, I look at environmentalism and Islam in politics, among other topics. We are reaching our end of this series! You can check out some previous posts here if you are interested:
Modernity: Universality and Rationality in Religion and Politics
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