An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore

Philosophical Reformism

Philosophically, reformism frames progress as the cultural development of humanity from the primitive nature of superstitious religious hunters and gatherers through philosophy and metaphysics, to the current scientific, industrial and technologically based paradigm we have come to know. Reformism also includes the notion that progress is a distinguishing characteristic of modern humans and that humans are superior to other living creatures and entities, especially with respect to life on Earth. Also, philosophy seems to have lost its power to critique the endeavors of humanity including its relationship with nature or to have influence in questioning a cultural perspective that does not include ecological considerations.

Resource Conservation and Development          

Resource Conservation and Development is a perspective that views nature as a collection of natural resources which humans are entitled to utilize for the benefit of society. Ultimately, this means that as natural resources become scarce due to exploitation, the environment will be managed with increasing intensiveness and sophistication. It is also thought that advanced scientific methods and technological advances will keep us from totally depleting our dwindling supply of resources and that we will always somehow be able to procure enough from the Earth to satisfy human ambitions and needs. This philosophy also frames animals, plants and inert matter as having no intrinsic value in and of themselves, thereby justifying our continued exploitation. Therefore, it can be implied that the resource conservation and development movement is primarily anthropocentric.

Geography and the Elements

The conquering of the planet’s landscapes for human habitation and recreation is also another form of exploitation and domination that the conservation movement fails to perceive as problematic. For example, the high peaks of the Himalayas have been ravaged by exploration as well as many other impressive landscapes and humans have continued to populate regions that are clearly unfit for habitation without rendering extensive ecosystem degradation. The primary elements including soil, minerals, water and atmosphere have also been exploited with little regard for their relation to all the living systems of the Earth.

The Rights and Liberation of Animals

Animals that are considered more highly developed and that experience pain and suffering have been awarded some rights for benevolent treatment but the less advanced creatures have been given no status deserving of such rights. The practice of domesticating wild animals, subjecting animals to sport hunting, captivity in zoos and circuses, their use in scientific experiments that are painful and to test products is clearly directed at human needs. Plants have also been considered valuable but again mainly in anthropocentric terms. Animals and plants have not been valued for their intrinsic worth as creatures of the Earth.

Population Growth

Population growth is another issue of contention as some believe humans are a most valuable or ultimate resource and should be allowed to increase and prosper as much as they desire. Others believe that the planet has a definite carrying capacity and that continued population growth will eventually result in ecosystem collapse due to the exhaustion of natural resources and the extinction of humanity and many if not all of Earth’s creatures.


Reform in the political arena has been slow and unremarkable. John Livingston defined conservation as the caring and preservation of natural resources so they will be available for human consumption for all time. John Passmore defined it as saving the Earth’s bounty for future utilization. Gifford Pinchot influenced Teddy Roosevelt to share the notion that science and technology would guide the use of natural resources in a wise manner for the benefit of humanity and that exploitive practices would end and social justice would prevail.

The establishment of the “resource expert” or scientific manager of nature developed quickly throughout the world in colleges and universities to equip society with experts to deal with every aspect of the environment. This ideology created the framework from which to treat all of nature as a resource to be managed by humanity. This notion of our role as manager isolates us from our fellow inhabitants with whom we should be sharing a symbiotic relationship. 

Not only was the environment slated to be forever under the domination of humans but humanity itself became a target for this type of thinking as well. Humans began to be increasingly perceived as a resource to be managed for the benefit of society to further human progress technologically and socially.


Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered by Bill Devall and George Sessions, 1985 by Gibbs M. Smith, Inc. The Reformist Response, pp. 51-6.1

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