An interview with Helen Kopnina

‘We need to challenge dichotomous thinking about humans versus the environment’ (Helen Kopnina, here depicted next to two eco-coffins as described in the book chapter). 

Our relationship with nature

Corona has given us two things that I could summarize as being at the core of my research. First, when the lives of vulnerable social groups and the health of the larger community is under threat, larger philosophical and ethical questions about our relationship with nature emerge. Second, issues of product longevity and sustainability become more pressing leading to the question how we can organize society in such a way that alternatives for our current economic system become viable. 

Anthropocentric versus ecocentric 

I consider myself an environmentalist with a background in anthropology, thus interested both in people and in nature, and this combination has led me to wonder why we consider the three aspects of the triple bottom line as being equal. I always ask my students: ‘Can we even have people, let alone profit, without planet?’ That is also my critique of how the SDG’s have been formulated: finding a balance between the social, economic and ecological perspectives makes no sense if we don’t put the Earth first. Therefore, some of my work evolves around the value of nature and the legal personhood of non-human beings. There are several types of nature conservation: types that serve humans (anthropocentric) and others that serve nature and humans equally (ecocentric). 

Dematerialization and circular design

When we look at alternatives for growth such as circular economy and cradle to cradle (C2C), the biggest opportunity I perceive is how they can support dematerialization and circular design thereby altering our current linear system of production. Ideally, C2C can bring us a step closer to a reconciliation of the ecological and social worlds, both in terms of practical design and evolving values of cleaner production. However, if our population continues to increase on this planet, things will not fundamentally change. 

Economy of ‘enough’

There is luckily a win-win between human/women/reproductive rights as a framework for decreasing population growth. Two billion people are currently aspiring the Western lifestyle and abandoning tradition, such as increasing meat consumption in historically vegetarian India. More people equals more consumption even though you live as green as possible: the kids of environmentalists also become consumers. If we want a healthier and happier planet for generations to come, we need to switch to the voluntary reduction in population globally, and to the ‘’economy of enough’’ – degrowth or post-growth.