International Handbook on Social Policy and the Environment
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International Handbook on Social Policy and the Environment

Edited by Tony Fitzpatrick

Environmental change is central to the global social policy challenges of the twenty-first century. This comprehensive Handbook brings together leading experts from around the world to address the most important questions and issues we face. How should welfare states adapt to environmental change? To what extent are the ecological and social policy agendas compatible? Must we contemplate radical reforms to the principles and organisation of welfare services? Combining cutting-edge theory and data in an interdisciplinary approach, this Handbook both summarises existing developments and suggests how debates and research must develop in the future.
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Chapter 15: Social rights and natural resources

Hartley Dean


This chapter considers the competing ways in which human beings socially construct their claims upon natural resources. The axis around which conventional thinking tends to revolve is a distinction between anthropocentrism on the one hand and eco-centrism on the other. The former entails a set of assumptions about the primacy of humanity over Nature; assumptions that are challenged by the latter. The foundations of anthropocentrism run deep. The Biblical account of the Earth's creation conceptualizes the Earth as an environment created for humanity: a world created for a free-willed species supposedly made in the creator's image. The Genesis narrative has not only informed the major religions of the world, but its allegorical potential has resonated with Western Enlightenment thinking, insinuating itself into the conceptual ethos and cultural norms of believers and non-believers alike. The challenge to this orthodoxy has equally ancient roots in Greek mythology, which on the one hand warns humanity against the hubris of Prometheus, who stole fire from the Gods to give to mere mortals, while on the other celebrating Gaia, the primordial Earth Mother, whose name has been appropriated by a contemporary hypothesis that the Earth as a self-sustaining organism will defend itself against the reckless encroachments of mortal humanity. The Genesis narrative gives humanity licence to take from Nature. The Gaia hypothesis commands that humanity must live in harmony with Nature - or not at all.

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