The Great Decoupling: Why Minimizing Humanity’s Dependence on the Environment May Not Be Cause for Celebration

Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 31 (4):429-442 (2018)
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Characterizations of the Anthropocene often indicate both the challenges that our new epoch poses for human well-being and a sense of loss that comes from a compromised environment. In this paper I explore a deeper problem underpinning both issues, namely, that decoupling humanity from the world with which we are familiar compromises human flourishing. The environmental conditions characteristic of the Anthropocene do so, I claim, by compromising flourishing on two fronts. First, the comparatively novel conditions of the Anthropocene risk rupturing our narratives, putting at risk our sense of self and connections to familiar environments. Second, by undermining the connections between our environmental background and the sense of well-being conditioned by that background our ability to exercise options that constitute a recognizable good life are compromised. This paper argues that to the extent humanity is decoupled from their environments humans are not only less able to access opportunities our understanding of who we are, our identities, and our capacity to make sense of the world around us through those identities is compromised. I conclude that the Anthropocene does more than challenge our ability to utilize resources, it challenges our understanding of who we are in the world.



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Kenneth Shockley
Colorado State University

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