In the 1990s Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees developed the concept of “ecological footprint”, which is a way to measure the impact of human activities on the environment. (The definition for “ecological footprint” provided by the World Wildlife Fund website is: the impact of human activities measured in terms of the area of biologically productive land and water required to produce the goods consumed and to assimilate the wastes generated.) Why this concept is so useful and significant, is it allows us to understand the extent to which our lifestyle exceeds (or not) existing ecological limits, or the carrying capacity of our ecosystem. To the extent we exceed these limits, we are damaging either the ecosystem itself or the Earth somewhere else, somehow, even if the damage is not apparent to us. That we can measure this excess is key within our current understanding of global climate change, of our current mass extinction of species, of sustainability, of a safe operating space for humanity, and so on.
The evolution of any species within an environment creates a niche, which in ecosystem terms is an equilibrium of multiple forces, both living and nonliving, that find some working balance. This balance can be perturbed. For example, by an external event like a volcanic eruption or extended drought or, say, a massive asteroid impact which perturbed all the ecosystems of the globe ~67 million years ago and ended the dinosaurs. It can also be perturbed by an influx or invasion of something from outside that niche, like bringing rabbits to Australia, the influx of lily beetles or murder hornets from Asia into North America or the introduction of a noxious weed such that it proliferates over native species. Relative to all other animals, we human beings are a distinctive animal species as we have found ways to radically modify our niches, or internally perturb our ecosystems. Technology and industry are the modern and most extreme forms of that modifying or “perturbing”, which goes way back to the development of agriculture and domestication of animals and plants, which in turn was a drastic intensifying of hunter-gatherer perturbing. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle in being mobile provided a simple ecological solution: in humans moving away from the perturbed ecosystem, it could regain its equilibrium. (And thus the hunter-gatherer tribe, would cyclically leave and return particular places. Remaining sedentary, however, has raised an enormous ecological issue for human being that we have yet to solve.)
Noting this pattern of perturbation as “normal” for human being ever since we first evolved, and in addition noting that the contemporary issue of our global ecological crisis is due to a very specific intensification of that pattern, lets us sharpen our understanding. Specifically, to sharpen our focus onto the emergence of modern technology and industry as the cause of our ecological crisis. One of the justifiably famous reflections on our ecological crisis was historian Lynn White Jr.’s 1967 paper “On the historical roots of our ecological crisis“. In addition to naming modern science, technology and industry as the cause, White also points out that these modern forms issue from historical roots, that is a specific tradition, namely Western Christianity. Although modern science emerges as a repudiation and rejection of traditional Western Christianity, a deeper analysis shows unacknowledged continuities between traditional Western Christianity and modern Western science, technology, and industry, too. The two main continuities are: anthropocentrism (rather than, for example, an eco-centrism) and instrumentalism – seeing the natural world as subordinate to humans in value and there for our use (rather than, for example, a sacramentalism). In this respect, the strong emphasis throughout this entire website on a Christian perspective, and on transforming that perspective into an ecology-respecting one, seems to me strongly justified. A transformation in depth of our current system, and accompanying worldview, needs to not only rethink and reimagine contemporary society with its dependence on science, technology, and industry; but also the whole backgrounding Western Christian tradition and worldview from which it emerged. Current processes of globalization are not exclusively the product of modern Western society, nor are they guided or controlled by the modern West; but, the modern West has been the main contributor historically to contemporary globalization. Thus to trace our globalization back to the modern West, which in turn emerges from medieval Western Christianity, is to sketch out a historical timeline of the emerging worldview underwriting the system. Both need to transform, radically; in the insightful argument put forward by Carol Berzonsky and Susanne Moser in 2017, we need to engage in a deep “psycho-cultural transformation” of our worldview & system.
The webpages of this subsection are numerous different perspectives that together compose a critical mass of ecological thinking that run counter to the whole system of non-ecological thinking that have brought us into our present unprecedented crisis moment.