Ecological worldviews

(These notes are based on a full-day workshop titled ‘Ecological Worldviews’ facilitated as part of the Go Eco Permaculture Design Certificate.)

Learning objectives:

*Be familiar with the different factors that shape worldviews.
*Understand the term ‘dominant social paradigm’ and its role in shaping our worldviews.
*Understand the meaning and differences between ‘intrinsic value’ and ‘instrumental value’.
*Be familiar with different ideas, philosophies and theories that may foster worldviews more aligned with ecological thinking, including the New Ecological Paradigm, Deep Ecology, and example of some indigenous worldviews.
*Be familiar with aspects of Te Ao Māori (Māori world, culture and values), and how it can help describe and develop peoples’ relationships to nature.
*Understand your personal worldview, including factors that shape its development, and values that support or create dissonance when trying to develop a way of being that has Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share at its core.

We started the day with a mihi whakatau (a less formal version of a pōwhiri) onto Te Aratiatia Marae, the Marae nestled within Fairfield College. We chose for this Marae to be the location for the workshop as the wharenui in this Marae is unique in that it is a place for the celebration of all religions and spiritualities.

For more information about Te Aratiatia Marae and its beautiful wharenui, follow this link: http://www.faircol.school.nz/files/ff4e4b49c519b128/file_attachments/6/Marae.pdf

Photo is borrowed. The right wall is adorned with carvings of the most popular Māori gods, and the left has depictions of gods from the main world religions.

Photo is borrowed. The right wall is adorned with carvings of the most popular Māori gods, and the left has depictions of gods from the main world religions.

What is a worldview and what are the factors that shape its development?

A worldview can be thought of as the lens that we see the world through. It is shaped by our personal, family, cultural and global experiences, and there are many different influences that develop it.

Factors that shape our worldview include:

*Our ideas about higher powers in the universe.  Is there a God, or multiple Gods? If there is/are no God/s, what is the ultimate authority in the universe? Is there even one, or are we all autonomous individuals?
*Our ideas about the world. Where did it come from, and where is it going? Is time linear, circular, or something else?
*Our ideas about humans. What is our purpose? Is there a purpose? What role do we play? Are we essentially good, bad, or neither?
*Our values. How we define and determine ‘good’ and ‘bad’.
*Our ideas about knowledge. How we define and determine ‘true’ and ‘false’. Science, faith, both?



The Dominant Social Paradigm, and a New Ecological Paradigm.

According to David Suzuki, the Dominant Social Paradigm (DSP – the dominant beliefs that shape the way Western societies function) is comprised of three basic beliefs:

*technology will spare the planet, and all things detrimental can be resolved with continued pursuit of industrial advancement;
*economic growth and prosperity will resolve any disinterest or dissatisfaction with societal problems; and
*political representatives in office are there for the benefit of the
people and their country, and that ultimately they, and only they, have
the capability to handle policies that effect society as a whole.

One response to this has been the development of the idea of a New
Ecological Paradigm (NEP), which is loosely based on three ideas:

*environmental protection is possible through limitations on industrial and population growth;
planetary demise is directly correlated with human-influenced interactions with natural ecosystems and landscapes; and humans are one, usually the major, cause of global environmental deterioration.  (Extracted from Environmentalism has failed, or has it?).

The NEP Scale is a set of questions that people can complete to see how far their
ideas about the world align with the Dominant Social Paradigm, or the
New Ecological Paradigm.

Understanding intrinsic and instrumental value of nature

Intrinsic value is the value that an entity has in itself, for what it is, or as an end. 

The contrasting type of value is instrumental value.
Instrumental value is the value that something has as a means to a desired or valued end. Instrumental value is always derivative on the value of something else, and it is always conditional.

It is uncontroversial that ecosystems and species possess a wide variety of instrumental values (e.g., cultural value, recreational value, medicinal value, spiritual value, transformational value, natural resource value, and ecosystem services value). What is contested is whether ecosystems and species have non-instrumental value, value as an end, or value in themselves as well (i.e., intrinsic value).

Sandler, R. (2012) Intrinsic Value, Ecology, and Conservation. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):4

If we think about the different values we place on people, animals, plants, and ecosystems, it is often very easy to identify their instrumental uses. It is more challenging to think about how and why we assign intrinsic value, or even the ways we might show it.

For example, plants give us food, fibres, and medicines. We use them for fuel and construction. We value the ecosystem services they provide (such as turning CO2 into oxygen for us to breathe), and the aesthetics they offer (flowers, for example, or what plants contribute to landscapes). Less often we think about their value beyond their use to us (for example, other species depend on them entirely, as well). Less frequently still, do we consider their intrinsic value… and even if we do make this acknowledgement, what are the ways we display this?

Deep Ecology

In 1973, Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess introduced the phrase “deep
ecology” to environmental literature. The deep ecology movement is
about recognising the intrinsic value of all living beings, and that
humans are part of and inextricably linked to nature.

The Deep Ecology Platform details the key ideas on which the Deep Ecology movement is based, and the movement itself is about using this understanding to shape how we interact with our environment.

The Gaia Hypothesis

The Gaia Hypothesis was developed in the late 1960’s by Dr. James Lovelock, a British Scientist and inventor.

The Gaia hypothesis proposes that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a synergistic, self-regulating, complex system that helps to maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life on the planet. Topics of interest include how the biosphere and the evolution of life forms affect the stability of global temperature, ocean salinity, oxygen in the atmosphere, the maintenance of a hydrosphere of liquid water and other environmental variables that affect the habitability of Earth.

The above is an extract from the Wikipedia entry on the Gaia Hypothesis, which is really a great online starting point for understanding the Gaia Hypothesis.

Māori creation story

Ngaire Pene shared the Creation Story according to Māori mythology in the form of a guided meditation (which I cannot begin to summarise in any way that could give it justice, though here is a link that begins to explain some of the ideas within it).

The importance and significance of including this story in a discussion about ecological worldviews is because in Māori tradition, just like most indigenous cultures and belief systems, there is great focus on nature, nature-human relationships, and how humans can live within natural systems.

How different religions and spiritualities shape cultures and worldviews

Our personal religions, spiritualities, or atheism help shape our worldviews, as do the dominant and/or historical religions in the culture of our society (wherever we are in the world).

Different religions and spiritualities promote, encourage or (re)inforce different ideas, which help shape the worldview of those that follow it. When looking to understand which ideas different religions/spiritualities foster in terms of human-nature relationships, their Creation story/the-story-of-how-things-started can be a useful place to begin.

For example:  In Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), God created the world followed by humans, and put humans in a position to take charge/care of nature. This creates a hierarchy with humans above animals, plants and the rest of nature, and so sets us apart from the rest of the natural world.

Not that this is necessarily a bad idea, but this idea of separation from and dominance over nature has then become a key concept in Western culture (which has been heavily influenced by the then -and probably still- dominant religion of Christianity). Western culture has undeniably led to very destructive practices against nature, and people.

Other religions, spiritualities and faiths have a different understandings of how the world came to be, and the role of humans. They also place worth on different values and ethics. Reflecting on these differences (as well as the many shared ideas that exist) can be helpful in developing an understanding the different worldviews that exist across cultures and countries.

Of course, our individual experiences, as well as our personal interpretations of our religions and cultural norms, means that there is great diversity in worldviews even among people that share the same faith.

Reflecting on our own worldviews

Reflecting on our personal worldviews can help us make sense of our beliefs and behaviours. There are many different worldview tests available, of which my favourite is the Annik de Witt Worldview Test.

To better understand our worldview, it is helpful to think about what the different influences in our lives have been (family values and upbringing, dominant culture and religion, social norms, personal experiences, etc.).

Reflecting on our values (here is a place to start with that) means we can identify which values are important to us, and which values we express but might be creating dissonance between what we do and what we would like to do.

I shall finish this post with a video clip that amazed me when I first saw it: it challenges many aspects of our dominant cultural paradigm, and offers more positive alternatives.


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