Helen Kopnina headshot

“The Sustainable Development Goals Are All About Us Humans!” – Dr. Helen Kopnina – Sentientism Episode 95

Find our Sentientist Conversation here on YouTube and here on the Sentientism Podcast.

Helen (@hkopnina) is Senior Lecturer in Sustainable Business at the Uni of Northumbria & The Hague Uni. Her research focuses on environmental education, biodiversity & corporate sustainability.

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” In addition to the video above the audio is on our Podcast here on Apple and here elsewhere.

We discuss:
00:00 Welcome

01:12 Helen’s Intro

02:49 What’s Real?

  • The passage to caring about ecosystems for many ecocentrists was through a connection to individual animals
  • Growing up atheist “just like everybody else in the Soviet Union” in Moscow
  • Parents who were “wild about wilderness”
  • Visiting Siberia “in the summer & without gulags”
  • “I loved fairy tales” but firmly naturalistic
  • “I’m still 99% atheist with 1% reserved for doubt”
  • Political dissident parents, pushing back on ideology
  • “When you don’t have religion you create a religion yourself – & that was communism… we had Lenin & Marx as our gods…”
  • Lenin, Marx & Engels as a “holy trinity”?
  • “My parents instructed me that it was bullshit”
  • Naturalistic ontology (no supernatural) & epistemology (use evidence & reason)
  • Flat earth, anti-vaxx, one party states…

13:45 What (& Who) Matters?

  • Kant, deontology, consequentialism…
  • “You can call me a cynic – I don’t think there is any absolute morality – I think we invent it.”
  • Injustice & unfairness
  • Frans de Waal’s fairness experiments with chimps
  • “Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are all about us humans” (vs. https://sentientism.info/how/sentientist-development-goals)
  • “Why don’t we have the same moral consideration for billions of other living beings – it just seems inconsistent… unjust”
  • Environmental Justice isn’t about the env. its about distribution of goods & harms among humans
  • Wokeness, fairness, division & distribution. The risks of forcing pure equality (e.g. Soviet Union – bloody revolution then a new elite emerges)
  • Avoiding relativism & nihilism. Can we construct a universal morality?
  • The impacts on Soviet Union of WWII then Stalin
  • “I see our planet as one of billions – so it doesn’t really matter”
  • Anthropology & cultural relativism “why is human sacrifice & cannibalism a good thing?”
  • Moral progress “but things can be turned back too”
  • Survival & reproductive rationales for morality “Otherwise you get beaten up”
  • “Anger at inconsistency… it pisses me off that it just applies to one single species”
  • Writing picture novels as a child “Animals don’t want to be in cages or eaten… There’s something strange going on… the way we treat them… something has to be done”
  • Feminism: “I’m just not interested to be honest”
  • “There was no such thing as veganism in the Soviet Union”
  • “If you don’t do it it doesn’t matter at all – there are 8 billion others”
  • “I’m not vegan, I’m a flexitarian… I can even eat meat… although the last time I did was a long time ago”
  • Can the drive to reduce our individual impact go too far? Guilt, nihilism, even suicide?
  • “If I’m too strict myself… I get so angry at them… & at the whole world”
  • “What’s the most efficient way for me… to influence… open-minded dialogue”
  • “children are the worst thing you can do for the environment… even if you bring them up well”
  • “I actually feel more comfortable sinning a bit”
  • “Not talking to the converted”
  • Recognising the value in our own sentient flourishing. Not just minimising impact
  • The pros & cons of every consumption decision vs. the explicit suffering & death caused through animal products “the victim is there on the plate”
  • “Some of us are predators… the lion shouldn’t feel guily about eating an antelope”
  • Leopold’s Land Ethics
  • Natural predation vs. industrial agri
  • Animal rights/welfare
  • “I do see us human beings as part of nature… we’ve become a kind of cancer… like a virus”

53:14 How Can We Make a Better World?

  • J. Baird Callicott’s “A Triangular Affair”
  • “Individuals comprise species & species comprise ecosystems”
  • Ecocentric & sentiocentric common fronts (win-wins) & common enemies (e.g. animal agri)
  • Invasive species
  • Hierarchies of sentience vs. pure egalitarianism
  • “My daughter is much more harmful to the environment than an earthworm”
  • Ethical progress & regression
  • Afghanistani Taliban
  • Learning from indigenous & non-western ethics
  • Animals in politics & law
  • Ecocide
  • CSR/ESG in business
  • Family planning & population taboos
  • Degrowth business models

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at Sentientism.info.

Join our “I’m a Sentientist” wall using this simple form.

Everyone, Sentientist or not, is welcome in our groups. The biggest so far is here on Facebook. Helen and I are already there!

Thanks Graham for the post-production.

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