There is a growing consensus that the attitudes, values, perceptions and basic worldview humanity has created and perpetuated is the root cause of our current ecological catastrophe and that a dramatic shift in consciousness, ideologies and behavior is our only hope of restoring harmony and balance with the Earth.
If we are to change our relationship with our habitat, we need to create a new context from which to come and operate from. This would include changes in ideology from our previous industrial mindset to one of ecological consideration and practice. All human disciplines would have the challenge of re-examining fundamental questions and organizing principles and reformulating them to include ecological consciousness as well as the needs of humanity. Eco-philosopher and theologian, Thomas Berry, has stated that it is time to “re-invent the human at the species level.” This statement points to the reality that our current problems cannot be solved at the level they were created at, and need to be resolved by drawing on the “evolutionary wisdom of the human species in its interrelationships with all other species and ecosystems.” (Thomas Berry) Humanity, through its dysfunctional means of adaptation to the natural world historically, has called into question, its viability as an evolving species.
It has been acknowledged that our current attitudes and values in conjunction with our economic and technological lifestyles have resulted in the extreme exploitation and degradation of our habitat. This worldview was proposed by the scientific revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Western society is currently undergoing a transformation from the industrial era towards the electronic or information era. This will undoubtedly cause a change in technology with resulting effects on our economy, culture and human relationships, but without a change in underlying values and attitudes, no significant paradigm shift can be anticipated.
Some critics say we are transitioning from the “modern age of rationalism and positivism that began in the eighteenth century into a postmodern age of deconstructionist relativism.” (Ralph Metzner, p.173) The deconstructionist view claims that all theories and models of reality are the result of social and historical phenomenon and thus have no preference over each other in regards to value or credibility.
What we need to do now is to create a constructive ecological or systems postmodern context in which emerging features of the new worldview that contribute to sustainability, preservation and restoration of all living life-forms and ecosystems are recognized and employed as ongoing human strategies and specific interventions.
I will briefly mention some of the newer perceptions that are gaining acceptance and consideration. The mechanistic model of the universe is being replaced by the organismic model that views the cosmos as a process of evolutionary events. The Earth as lifeless matter is now perceived as a super-organism in the Gaia theory proposed by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis. Quantum physics has all but replaced the older deterministic and reductionistic notion of a mechanistic cosmos. Chaos and nonlinear systems theories have found acceptance over linear causality. Chaos theory has embraced orderliness within chaotic structures and processes. Evolution perceived as a process of random events is now being seen from a more holistic perspective that points to interrelatedness and interconnectedness.
The former view of epistemology was tied to logical positivism that attributed meaning to only perceptual observations. Corresponding with logical positivism was the doctrine of operationalism that stated that the meaning of variables was tied to experimental operations. These perceptions have receded and have been replaced by more open-ended approaches that recognize that all hypothesis and models are invented by the human mind (constructivism) and have no independent reality of their own. In essence, the new sciences are not influenced so much by data collection, observation and the ability to replicate results but by the inclusion of ancient wisdom, of intuition, a sense of mathematical elegance, emotional sensibilities and the deep connection with the universe that is inherent in human nature.
The role of humanity in the emerging ecological worldview will call for a substantial shift from the attitude of domination and exploitation to one of sustainability and symbiosis. Our past history on the planet has been oriented toward the primary consideration of human needs and the perception that the Earth had been given to us by God to allow us to thrive and multiply without any particular concern or responsibility for the state of the biosphere. Our continued behavior in this manner has steadily led us to the brink of our ecological crisis as well as a re-awakening, a re-evaluation and a new understanding of our place in the story of creation. Many of us have committed to initiating a change in purpose and lifestyle while others have continued to plunder the Earth for what they mistakenly perceive is the key to their happiness and fulfillment.
The new paradigm of co-evolution and symbiosis has led us to an awareness of the importance of protecting our ecosystems and preserving species diversity. Deep ecology teaches bio centric or eco centric values, in which humanity is viewed as a part of and a participant in the wonders of nature instead of an enemy of it. This perspective includes every facet of the environment from the natural elements to all living flora and fauna.