January 15, 2021
By: Ivan Vargas, Katie Horner, Shaun Sellers, Emille Boulot, Megan Egler, James Magnus-Johnston, Michael Babcock, Tina Beigi, Rigo Melgar-Melgar.
The global socio-ecological crisis we face in the form of extreme weather events, increasing
social inequality, environmental injustice, loss of biodiversity, climate change, pandemics, and massive species extinctions, are expressions and outcomes of a worldview and a way of living that sees humans and human systems as separate from a “natural” world. This worldview and way of living fail to recognize that we are deeply embedded in socio-ecological worlds and we must act accordingly; that is, as interdependent assemblages in relation with other beings.
Responses to these crises that arise from the same worldview that produced them will be unable to address the crises themselves. This is because solutions that follow the same logic of our current anthropocentric worldview can only offer temporary relief from the outcomes of our systems of cultural survival and acceptable livelihoods, if at all. More importantly, anthropocentric responses fail to confront the underlying causes of crises and thus further entrenches these systems which alienate us from our integral relationships. Recognising the insufficiency of the anthropocentric worldview and changing its associated practices are fundamental to achieving transformation towards flourishing social-ecological systems
Anthropocentric thinking and acting
So what is anthropocentric thinking and acting? To think anthropocentrically is to think of
humans as being separate from each other and the world around them, and to act as if humans are divided from the rest of life. It casts all humans as fundamentally the same, motivated by the same kinds of life goals and following similar paths towards achieving them. It is through the claim of human universality and superiority, granting the right to dominate other humans, other beings, landscapes, and through creating systems of livelihoods constrained by ethical, political, legal, and economic logics informed by anthropocentric thinking that reproduce this kind of
thinking and acting.
Transformative policy reform
We need a worldview that grounds policy and imaginings towards transformation. This
worldview must be capable of seeing the human as deeply interconnected and interdependent, from the microscopic level to the cultural and ecological, and through this be capable of addressing the roots of intertwined social ecological crises. This means that what are traditionally considered to be mere environmental issues or economic issues, or social issues are understood as nuanced and dimensional. For example, pollution that affects river health must be acknowledged to include broad public health concerns, economic concerns for those who rely on the river water for their livelihoods, cultural concerns for those who have strong traditional and emotional ties to the river, environmental justice concerns due to social geographies, and long term concerns about ecosystem resilience. This complexity is as much a source of knowledge as a source of uncertainty and ambiguity.
The outcomes that are paramount in any policy debate are fundamental to worldview. What we think the world is, who inhabits it, who matters, and what is valued define how problems are framed and constrains the possible solutions. The knowledge that emerges from relationships and characterizes interconnectedness supports a governance approach that redefines what is possible. Adaptive governance that sees and incorporates complexity, plural livelihoods, and plural worlds is able to address the root causes of the social ecological crises we face today.
Making policy for socio-ecological flourishing
Policy development will always be informed by the values and ethics of its creators, both
individual and institutional, as well as reflecting power relationships. Thus, having an
understanding of current power dynamics and their historical and cultural conditions is essential to understanding the policy space, and to effect transformative change. We offer the following questions to guide policy development and responses that seek transformative change for socioecological flourishing:
1. How has the well-being of the more-than-human world been considered and framed in
2. What/where is the evidence and knowledge that this idea is based on coming from? Does
it include a tolerance for complexity and an acknowledgement of uncertainty? Are there
required statistical thresholds in considering information?
3. Does this policy make assumptions about the goals of all humans? Does it consider
equity and power across all of the lifeways in our communities?
4. How is good defined? And well-being? Is it explicit? The answer needs to be more than
just a single metric if it is to truly be transformative
5. If this policy succeeds, will the world be more ‘developed’ or will there be more socioecological flourishing and wellbeing in the world?