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A Humanist Perspective on Care of the Earth

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‘Because I want my grandchildren to be able to see elephants.’


This was the answer given by Sir Hermann Bondi, former president of the British Humanist Association, when asked why he cared about conservation. As the adviser to the Government on the construction of the Thames Barrier, he had – like many humanists – been directly involved in work to do with care of the earth.


Because of its name, some people think that Humanism must be completely human-centred, concerned only with human welfare. Humanists are indeed concerned with human welfare and happiness, but because of this concern, humanists also care about the natural world, which we all depend on and which will have to sustain our descendants. We should care about the future of our planet because we care about other human beings, even those not born yet.


For many humanists these motives are augmented by a recognition of the great beauty that we find in the natural world – the awe and wonder we feel when confronted with its dazzling diversity. Because humanists have no belief in a god or supernatural force that will solve our problems for us, they know that human beings must take sole responsibility for sorting out environmental problems. We are the only ones capable of finding the solutions that can lead to a sustainable existence.


Humanists are unlikely to subscribe to ‘deep green’ beliefs about the intrinsic value, or even superiority, of non-human nature, or to be sentimental about sweet or fluffy animals – rain forests and plankton and dung beetles are more relevant than pandas and tigers to the survival of life on this planet (though we would probably be less happy if pandas and tigers no longer existed).


The role of science


Humanists have a scientific view of the world, and would not automatically blame science and technology for environmental problems. Indeed, it was and is scientists – mainly biologists and ecologists – who notice and monitor environmental problems. Societies (and that means us) must take the responsibility for how we choose to use scientific and technological developments. Cleaning up our planet and finding new sources of energy will be tasks for scientists and engineers, and the rest of us (especially those of us in the wealthier nations) must be prepared to fund their work. Humanists were involved in setting up organisations such as UNESCO, which has worldwide environmental responsibilities, and many humanists have been active in promoting birth control as an important contribution to lessening the demands on the environment by helping to set up United Nations birth control programmes.


Humanists share many of the above ideas with rational and concerned people of all beliefs. Most environmental charities, such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the World Wide Fund for Nature, are non-religious and are supported by people of all faiths and none.



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