Richard Norman taught philosophy at the University of Kent for many years, working mainly in the areas of moral and political philosophy, including both theoretical and practical ethics, and is now Emeritus Professor of Moral Philosophy. He is an active member of Kent Humanists and a former Vice-President of Humanists UK, and was a founder-member of the Humanist Philosophers’ Group in 1999, as well as of the Humanist Peace Forum and Humanist Climate Action. He is actively involved in environmental campaigns to protect green spaces and biodiversity in Canterbury, where he lives. Here he writes why some Humanists UK members and supporters have come together to form Humanist Climate Action.
There is now a widespread recognition that human and animal wellbeing is intimately linked to the protection and flourishing of the natural environment. We know that if radical measures are not taken to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss, rising global temperatures will lead to damaging environmental changes such as extreme weather conditions, increased flooding, soil degradation, and desertification, all with potentially devastating impacts on habitations and food production.
We know too that, for the sake of their physical and mental wellbeing, including mental health, in particular, people need access to unspoiled countryside and green spaces, to woodlands and uncontaminated rivers and seas. We know that human lives are enriched by experiences of delight and wonder at the diversity of the living species with which we share our world.
Humanists are in a position to present insights into the interdependence of humans and the natural world in clear and compelling ways, drawing on scientific knowledge of the climate and ecosystems and on people’s shared and well-attested experience of what makes our lives go well.
Humanists look to scientific enquiry to understand the causes and consequences of natural processes. We do so not from an uncritical acceptance of scientific authority, but on the basis of an understanding of how the scientific method works, appealing to evidence and the experimental testing of explanatory hypotheses. As humanists, we have a duty to defend the scientific consensus on the human causes of climate change against the so-called ‘sceptics’ who are motivated not by intellectual rigour but by wishful thinking and vested interests.
Humanists know that we cannot look to a higher power to solve our problems for us. We have to take responsibility for our own lives, for the lives of others. We believe that this life is the one life we have, and similarly, this is the one planet we have. We are therefore all the more keenly aware that our finite human lives are given meaning and purpose by our membership of an ongoing human community and the legacy we bequeath to future generations.
Further, humanism is not just about humans. Humanists make their ethical decisions based on reason and empathy, guided by concern for the welfare and fulfilment of both humans and other sentient animals.
Given all of this, it is unsurprising that humanists are more concerned about climate change than the general population. YouGov polling has found that 84% of humanists think that climate change is the biggest threat to civilisation, versus 63% of the general population.
Humanist Climate Action seeks to bring these values and beliefs to the movement tackling environmental degradation, such as rising global temperatures, species loss, biodiversity decline, and the destruction of the natural environment. We aim to make our own distinctive contribution. We do not duplicate the work of other campaigns and organisations, but cooperate with them, including through our membership of the Climate Coalition. We aim to raise awareness, encouraging our fellow humanists to take action and to add our voices to this shared human endeavour.