Biocentrism (from Greek βίος bios, “life” and κέντρον kentron, “center”) is an ethical point of view that extends inherent value to all living things. It is an understanding of how the earth works, particularly as it relates to its biosphere or biodiversity, that stands in contrast to anthropocentrism, which centers on the value of humans.
The term biocentrism encompasses all environmental ethics that “extend the status of moral object from human beings to all living things in nature”. Biocentric ethics calls for a rethinking of the relationship between humans and nature. It states that nature does not exist simply to be used or consumed by humans, but that humans are simply one species amongst many, and that because we are part of an ecosystem, any actions which negatively affect the living systems of which we are a part adversely affect us as well, whether or not we maintain a biocentric worldview.
Biocentrists observe that all species have inherent value, and that humans are not “superior” to other species in a moral or ethical sense.
The four main pillars of a biocentric outlook are:
Humans and all other species are members of Earth’s community.
All species are part of a system of interdependence.
All living organisms pursue their own “good” in their own ways.
Human beings are not inherently superior to other living things.<
Three Perspectives on Biocentrism
Excerpted from the book Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It. This segment was written by Lierre Keith.
Moment to moment, the world is kept alive only by the bacteria doing the basic work of life, which no one else can do, and by maintaining relationships more complex than any we could ever understand. We are all here only because of other beings. Biologist Robert Rosen argues that the mechanistic paradigm of Western science cannot explain living communities, which are always built from relationship “between the part and the whole.” The word he uses to define living communities: nonfractionability.
The mechanistic mind is also wrong across geologic time. Scientists and lay people alike have tried to draw a line between life and inanimate matter. Chemists, for instance, divide their field into the organic and inorganic. Organic matter is that which is produced by the “vital chemistry” of living creatures. Inorganic refers to “forms of matter which exist independently of the operation of living beings.”11 Rocks, metals, minerals, and water, for instance, are considered inorganic. But given a few billion years, rock will become living creatures who will eventually get pressed back into rock. And with a few plate shifts, the sediment of the ocean floor, built from the bodies of sea creatures, will become dry land. That land—comprised of those compressed dead bodies—is once more taken up by living creatures. Hence Russian scientist V. I. Vernadsky called life on earth “a disperse of rock.” Writes evolutionary biologist and futurist Elizabet Sahtouris, “This view of living matter as continuous with, and as a chemical transformation of, nonliving planetary matter is very different from the view of life developing on the surface of a nonliving planet and adapting to it.” In Sahtouris’s words, it’s the difference between “a living planet” and a “planet with life on it.”
This is not just clever semantics. In one view the planet is inanimate habitat for humans and maybe a few other creatures. According to another, everything on earth is part of a process called life. As Sahtouris writes, “Planetary life is not something that happens here and there on a planet—it happens to the planet as a whole.” Life is not a kind of matter, but a process.
Derrick Jensen: “Pretend You Are a River”
Excerpted from the book Endgame: The Problem of Civilization.
Pretend you are a river. Pretend you are the mist who falls so fine—so gentle—that nothing separates water and air. You are the rain who falls in sheets, explodes onto the ground to leave pocks and puddles. You are the ground who receives this water, soaking it up, taking it in, carrying it deep inside. You are the cracks and fissures where the waters accumulate, flow, fall to join more water, and more, in pools and rivers who move slowly through cavities, crevices, pores. You are the sounds and silence of water seeping or staying still. You are the meeting of wet and dry, the union of liquid and solid, where solids dissolve and liquids solidify. You are the pressure who pushes water through seams. You are the rushing water who bubbles from the earth.
You are a tiny pool between rocks. You overflow, find your way to join others who like you are moving, moving. You are the air at the surface of the water, the joining of substantial and insubstantial, the union of under and over, weight and not-weight. You are the riffle, the rapid, the tiny waterfall who turns water to air and air to water. You are the mist who settles on the soil. You are the plants who drink the mist, and you are the sun who warms and feeds them.
You are the fish who feed on insects who feed on plants who feed on soils who feed on fish. You are the fish who become soils who become plants who become insects who become fish who flow down the river.
You are the river who joins other rivers to become a new river who is all of the rivers and something else.
You are the river. You do not stop at the banks, where liquid turns to solid. You reach into the sky and into the soil. Water moves through rocks, comes up to form pools far from the fast flow where the rivers move together, seeps down to join still waters deep below the surface, waters who sleep and wake and sleep and mingle with the stones who are the river, too.
You are the river, who is married to the mountains you have known since they were young, who have given themselves to you as you have given yourself to them. You are the canyons you nestle into, each year deeper than the year before. You are the forests who give you their fallen trees, and the meadows you flood and feed and who feed you back their fruits and fine insects who fly to your surface to be taken in by the fish who with their own bodies again feed the meadows.
You are the river who feeds the ocean, who feels the tides pushing and pulling against your mouth, the waves mixing fresh and salt. You are that intermingling. That is who you are. That is who you have always been.
You are the river. You have lived with volcanoes and glaciers. You have been dammed by lava and ice. You have carried log jams so large and so old they grow their own forests, with you running beneath. You have lived through droughts and floods.
You are the river. You miss the salmon. You miss the sturgeon. You miss the ocean. You miss the meadows. You miss the forests. You miss the beavers and otters and grizzly bears. You miss the human beings.
You are the river. You want them back. You want to feel the tickling of the sturgeon, the thrusting of the salmon. You want to carry food and soil to the ocean. You want to cover the meadows as you used to, and you want to give yourself to them and you want them to give themselves to you, as you have done forever, and as they have too.
Rachel Carson: “In Every Grain of Sand is The Story of the Earth”
Excerpted from the book Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson.
Along mile after mile of coastline, the land presents a changing face to the sea. Now it is a sheer rock cliff; now a smooth beach’ now the frayed edge of a mangrove swamp, dark and full of mystery. Each is the seacoast, yet each is itself, like no other in time or place. In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.
This coastline plays endless variations on the basic theme of sea and land. On the coastal rocks of northern New England the sea is an immediate presence, compelling, impossible to ignore. Its tides rise and fall on their appointed schedule, draining coves and refilling them, lifting boats or dropping away to leave them stranded. On the broad beaches of the South the feeling is different. As you stand at the edge of the dunes, when the tide is out, the ocean seems far away. Under the push of a rising tide it advances a little, reducing the width of the buffer strip of sand. Storms bring it still farther in. But compared with its overwhelming presence on Northern shores it seems remote, a shining immensity related to far horizons. The sound of the waves on such a day, when the heated air shimmers above the sand and the sky is without clouds, is a muted whisper. In this quiet there is a tentativeness that suggests that something is about to happen. And indeed we may be sure the present stand of the sea here is only temporary, for many times in the past million years or so it has risen and flowed across all of the coastal plain, paused for perhaps a few thousand years, and returned again to its basin.
For the shore is always changing, and today’s sand beach may become the sheer coast of a distant tomorrow. This is precisely what happened in northern New England, where, only a few thousands of years ago, the earth’s crust sank and the sea came in, covering the beaches and the plain, running up the river valleys and rising about the hills. So, on the young Maine coast today, evergreen forests meet the granite threshold of the sea.
Everywhere the wind and the sea have shaped the coast, sculpturing it into forms that are often beautiful, sometime bizarre. Along the Oregon coast the rocky cliffs and headlands speak of the age-long battle with the sea. Here and there a lonely tower of rock rises offshore, one of the formations known as stacks or needles. Each began as a narrow headland jutting out from the main body of coastal rock. Then a weak spot in its connection with the mainland was battered through.
Here and there the assaults of surf have blasted out caves in the sea cliffs. Anemone Cave in Acadia National Park is one. In the famous Sea Lion Caves on the central Oregon coast several hundred sea lions gather each autumn, living in the tumultuous surge of the surf, mingling their roars with the sound of the sea, still working to break through the roof of the cave.
Back from the surf line, the winds have piled up majestic dunes here and there. At Kitty Hawk in North Carolina perhaps the highest dunes of the American coast rise abruptly from the sea. I have stood on the summit of one of those dunes on a windy day when all the crest appears to be smoking, and the winds seemed bent on destroying the very dunes they had created. Clouds and streamers of sand grains were seized by the strong flow of air and carried away. Far below, in the surf line, I could see the source of the dune sand, where waves are forever cutting and grinding and polishing the fragments of rock and shell that compose the coastal sands.