Environmental activism has reached high levels of public visibility since late 1994 when protests over the transport of live animals at Coventry, Shoreham and Brightlingsea attracted new supporters to the animal-rights movement, revealing the growth of Green politics in unexpected social corners and the changing content of Green activism. Public commentary on these protests has also raised the objection that society should be more concerned about the ill treatment of people—children, the poor, ethnic minorities—before mobilizing over the protection of animals. Whilst the rejoinder of, for example, Compassion in World Farming, that these are not exclusive alternatives is reasonable, the underlying concern over priorities is, I think, justified. The central issue in radical Green politics is indeed the question of human and non-human rights. Animal-rights groups have of course existed for some time but older organizations like the rspca and the anti-vivisection campaign are now part of a much larger, broader and more militant movement. Ted Benton claims ‘There has been a fundamental shift in moral concern in Britain for the non-human world’ and Geoffrey Mulgan of Demos that ‘the Green movement is going towards a post-humanist agenda’.footnote1 What does this new face of post-humanist environmentalism imply for feminist environmentalism? This article addresses a series of related issues in radical environmentalism; in particular, the extent to which a bioethical position, and much that this entails, is contrary to the interests of women as relatively disadvantaged humans.
There have been a number of recent attempts at theorizing the politics of Green activism which portray themselves as radical and emancipatory, but fall short of an expectation that any such project must incorporate a gender analysis. The reconstruction of socialism as radical environmentalismfootnote2 is one such strand, but this is overwhelmed by the tide of ecocentric radical environmentalism. Ecocentrism is based on a belief in the ‘internal relatedness of all phenomena. . .not only in respect of human–nonhuman relations but also in respect of relations between humans’ and on a ‘positive affirmation of the fact of our embeddedness in ecological relationships’.footnote3
Ecocentrics assert the absence of dividing lines between categories of organisms and oppose anthropocentrism:
[T]o single out only our special attributes as the basis of our exclusive moral considerability is simply human chauvinism that conveniently fails to recognize the special attributes of other life-forms.footnote4
Humanity may be recognized as different from other organisms in various ways, but this does not make humanity superior to other life.
Ecocentrics deny hierarchy in nature. Thus for example, they criticize animal liberationism for too narrow a definition of animal rights. Although animal liberationism is, for ecocentrics, on the right side of the anthropocentric fence, it is still based on the idea that sentient beings (those with capacity for pleasure and pain) are morally considerable, and the cutoff point is identified as somewhere in the crustaceans. This does not go far enough for ecocentrists who criticize this position as neglecting the rights of non-sentient beings. However there is some in consistency in ecocentric denial of hierarchy. For example, even within the ecocentric critique of animal liberationism, the objection to the failure to distinguish between the rights of the last few members of a threatened species and the rights of an expansionist species reveals an implicit hierarchical set of values.
The contradictions in ecocentrism will not be discussed here, but what does the bioethical stance imply for gender relations? Whilst the struggle for recognition of women’s full humanity continues, the goal posts have changed and now women’s rights are of the same significance as nonhuman life. Ecofeminists have criticized deep ecology for its androcentrism and for the reactionary positions taken by ecocentrists on population control, and critics of ecofeminism have focused upon an examination of its features as characterized by ecofeminist writers.footnote5 However, delineating boundaries between ecocentrism and ecofeminism detracts attention from some quite problematic common ground. Rather than reiterating previous critiques, or allowing ecofeminismfootnote6 to distance itself from the more obviously unacceptable ecocentric stances, this article considers what ecocentrism and ecofeminism share.