The HEP theory claims that humans are such a uniquely superior species that they are exempt from environmental forces. Shaped by the leading Western worldview of the time, this was the popular societal paradigm from the industrial revolution until the second half of the 20th century. Human dominance was justified by the uniqueness of our culture, which is far more adaptable over a shorter period than an ecosystem or biological process. Culture also has the capacity to accumulate and innovate, making it an unbounded resource capable of solving all natural problems. As humans are not governed by natural conditions, they have complete control of their own destiny. Any potential limitations posed by the natural world, are surpassable using human intellect and ingenuity.
In the 1970’s, scholars began to see limitations emerging with regards to our natural resources. This coined the term ‘New Ecological Theory (NEP)’. This theory was one of the first of its kind that took environmental variables into account and it completely contradicted the HEP theory. While HEP sees humans as separate/above the natural environment, NEP suggests that human beings are an integral part of the ecosystem and as much a part of it as any other species, we are still ecologically interdependent. The NEP notes the power of social and cultural forces, however it does not set us above these forces. Instead, humans are impacted by the cause, effect, and feedback loops of ecosystems. The earth has a finite level of natural resources and waste repositories. Thus the biosphere/physical environment can impose restrictions on human activity.
My conceptualization of these theories, with regards to my tree, is much more strongly directed towards the NEP theory than the HEP. The reason for my stance is simple, without the cycles of the natural world human beings would not, and could not exist. My tree is a London Plane tree hybrid, among its many uses is its unique ability to reduce the ambient air pollution more than most other tree species. This skill enables this species to be very advantageous in a wide variety of locations that have poor air quality.
Lucky enough for Earnest and his cousins, there are plenty of human-inhabited landscapes that are in desperate need of trees with such skills. Unfortunately for Earnest and his cousins, there are plenty of human-inhabited landscapes that are in desperate need of trees to remedy the consequences of their activities and only once they realize the severity of their actions do they seek out trees such as Earnest.
I find the NEP paradigm more relevant because it is the paradigm in which we must trust if we are to move forward. For far too long we have allowed HEP principles to be the underlying infrastructure of our economy, basing our current and future energy, social, environmental problems on the idea that; whatever issue we face we can overcome given enough time and money.
There are also other theories that are similar to the ideas brought up in the HEP and NEP argument. One of these seeks to determine sustainability, however they do so by splitting sustainability into two sections; weak and strong sustainability. Weak sustainability is comparable with the HEP side of the debate, it implies that human capital (produced) and natural capital are interchangeable. In very weak sustainability, as long as total capital is consistent and at a certain level then it does not matter whether that capital be natural or produced. While in strong sustainability the future generations are of utmost importance, due mainly to their inherent right to receive a planet with the same natural resources that were present in generations before. Weak sustainability says that we do not know what future generations will or won’t need/want, so we are best to serve ourselves however we please as long as we maintain total capital.