Below is an article by Marilyn Mason, coordinator of Humanists for a Better World, on a humanist attitude towards the environment.
Humanists believe that we have just one life, that we have evolved, along with the rest of the natural world, to live on planet Earth, and that we alone are responsible for looking after it. Evidence shows that we are dependent in countless ways on our environment and its ecosystems (for fresh water, breathable air, fertile soil, a tolerable climate). Additionally, many humanists cherish the natural world, its landscapes, wildernesses, flora and fauna, for the beauty, inspiration, and solace they provide. If there are other habitable planets, they are a long, and perhaps impossible, journey away, so we should do our best to look after this planet for ourselves, for other animals, and for future generations.
Why worry about the environment? Humanists base their beliefs about the world on evidence. 97% of scientific papers on global warming conclude that it is real, problematic, and exacerbated by human activity. Many humanists would accept that as a good basis for concern and a motivation to action. Environmentalists express concern about the loss of species, also caused by human activity, such as encroachment on habitats by cities, roads, and agriculture. Agriculturalists worry about degradation of the soil caused by intensive farming, grazing, and deforestation. We will all suffer if we over-exploit or damage valuable, often shared, resources such as forests, fresh water, fossil fuels, and oceans. One can foresee growing tensions – even wars – over resources if we do not come up with rational ways of conserving and sharing them.
Humanist ethics are based on reason, taking responsibility for our own actions and their consequences, and empathy for other people and other sentient beings. When our actions lead to climate chaos and environmental degradation, considerable responsibility is placed on us. The worsening environment’s biggest impacts are on the poorer parts of the world, many of which already suffer from stresses such as desertification and flooding. These stresses contribute to conflicts and mass migration, with the more secure and affluent populations of the developed world often unwilling to provide for refugees. So, alongside humanist ideals such as justice and fairness, and empathy for those whose homes and livelihoods are threatened, there is an element of enlightened self-interest in trying to prevent or mitigate the changes that lead to so much upheaval and suffering.
Future generations, too, are likely to suffer from environmental stresses, and parents and grandparents will have rational personal reasons for caring about the future of the planet. But even without direct descendants, intergenerational justice would demand that we safeguard the rights of future generations to life, food, and homes. We should not require sacrifices from them so that we can carry on living wastefully and extravagantly. It would take 5.4 Earths to sustain the world’s population if everyone lived like the average American (you can measure your own ‘ecological footprint’ with Earth Day Network). Most humanists would advocate more rational attitudes to wealth, consumption, and wellbeing as routes to conserving the environment, and, without religious reservations about contraception, would promote birth control as an essential step towards a sustainable world population.
It’s not all bad. The knowledge we need to limit and feed the world population and become carbon-neutral exists already, more useful technologies are emerging, and there are potentially millions of jobs in new green industries. Earth remains beautiful and diverse, and, thanks to the work of scientists and environmentalists, we are now aware of the problems and the solutions.
Our Pursuit of Climate Justice
The Earth’s climate is experiencing destabilization, and our planet’s ability to sustain life as we know it is in crisis. Humanists must join others in leading efforts to reduce human activities causing climate change to ecologically sustainable levels.
Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree that climate change is real and human-induced, and the consensus is that we must stabilize global temperatures at the two-degree Celsius target to prevent dangerous impacts to humans, flora, and fauna. The consequences of our actions—and inaction—regarding the destruction of our environment for ourselves and future generations mandate a naturalistic social responsibility inherent to humanist values.
WHEREAS human-generated greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion—exacerbated by unsustainable land use such as deforestation—are a leading cause of climate change, and
WHEREAS deforestation and wildfire suppression are making forests more vulnerable to fires and reducing the ability of forests to sequester and store carbon, and
WHEREAS industrial animal production for food is inefficient in terms of land and water usage and often harms the environment due to animal waste, chemical runoff, and bacterial resistance to antibiotics, and
WHEREAS glaciers melting at heightened rates have been and are resulting in rising sea levels, threatening coastal populations and ocean ecology, and
WHEREAS global warming has contributed directly and indirectly to the loss of biodiversity and the destruction of critical biomes, and
WHEREAS the corollaries of these same changes appear to cause shifts in precipitation, resulting in droughts around the globe, and the increase in other extreme weather events, like tsunamis and hurricanes, leading to food insecurity and famine, and decreased access to natural resources like potable water, and
WHEREAS climate change impacts everyone, already vulnerable populations globally will be disproportionately affected, exacerbating unemployment, displacement, and homelessness, and
WHEREAS drastic global climate change is a challenge facing all populations around the world;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the SECULAR HUMANISTS OF CALGARY, in the pursuit of climate justice,
AFFIRMS its support for the development and proliferation of renewable sources of energy and fuel, particularly wind and solar, and
AFFIRMS its support of sustainable land use, forest conservation, and reforestation, and
AFFIRMS its support for personal and commercial transition toward a plant-based diet, and
AFFIRMS its support of the rights of indigenous peoples who inhabit some of world’s most intact and biodiverse forests, and
AFFIRMS where direct restrictions are insufficient, support for a price on climate-damaging
substances and practices through carbon tax and other related disincentives, and
AFFIRMS political and financial incentives for a global industrial refitting of our power infrastructure away from fossil fuels and toward sustainable energy production and storage, and
AFFIRMS its support for international funds for climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, and
AFFIRMS its support for efforts to keep fossil fuels underground, particularly in ecologically and culturally important areas, and
AFFIRMS its support for the validation of climate refugee status, and
AFFIRMS that access to clean and affordable water is necessary and important, and
AFFIRMS its support for a coordinated global effort to manage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
As humanists, it is crucial that we recognize that the responsibility to create and maintain sustainable methods of living is a collective one. As humanists, we acknowledge the damage done to our environment has been caused by human action and constitutes an existential threat to humanity and many other species that have not already been wiped out. As humanists, we understand that only humans can save ourselves from the climate crises we have created.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the SECULAR HUMANISTS OF CALGARY calls all humanists to take personal and collective action to save our planet.
Adapted from the American Humanist Association