From respect for nature to agency as realisation in response to the ecological emergency

Lucy Weir Bingham McAndrew
University College, Galway
'The ecological emergency’ describes both our emergence into, and the way we relate within, a set of globally urgent circumstances, brought about through anthropogenic impact. I identify two phases to this emergency. Firstly, there is the anthropogenic impact itself, interpreted through various conceptual models. Secondly, however, is the increasingly entrenched commitment to divergent conceptual positions, that leads to a growing disparateness in attitudes, and a concurrent difficulty with finding any grounds for convergence in response. I begin by reviewing the environmental ethics literature in order to clarify which components of the implicit narratives and beliefs of different positions create the foundations for such disparateness of views. I identify the conceptual frameworks through which moral agency and human responsibility are viewed, and that justify an ethical response to the ecological emergency. In particular, I focus on Paul Taylor's thesis of 'respect for nature' as a framework for revising both the idea that we are ‘moral’ and the idea that we are ‘agents’ in this unique way, and I open to question the idea that any response to the ecological emergency need be couched in ethical terms. This revision leads me to formulate an alternative conceptual model that makes use of Timothy Morton’s idea of enmeshment. I propose that we dramatically revise our idea of moral agency using the idea of enmeshment as a starting point. I develop an alternative framework that locates our capacity for responsibility within our capacity for realisation, both in the sense of understanding, and of making real, sets of conditions within our enmeshment. I draw parallels between this idea of ‘realisation as agency’ and the work of Dōgen and other non-dualists. I then propose a revised understanding of ‘the good’ of systems from a biophysical perspective, and compare this with certain features of Asian traditions of thought. I consider the practical implications of these revisions, and I conclude that the act of paying close attention, or realising, contains our agency, as does the attitude, or manner, with which we focus. This gives us the basis for a convergent response to the ecological emergency: the way of our engagement that is the key to responding to the ecological emergency.
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