Underpinning all the causes of rainforest loss listed above are the cultural values which permeate most societies today – an anthropocentrism which centers values on humans. The corollary of this is the absence of an ethical system which considers other organisms as significant or important, or which assumes that human beings are responsible for the well-being of the earth and its other inhabitants. Thus, most ethical and religious systems approve or condone exploitation by humans of nonhuman organisms, and/or the primacy of human concerns over all others. Consequently, only 1.5% of all charitable donations in the United States go to environmental or animal welfare charities, while approximately half goes to religious organizations (Soulé, 1991).
Since the 18th century, the idea of “progress” (equivalent to development, in many cases) has been prevalent in Europe and other developed areas and has led to destructive uses of natural resources. Human activities – urbanization, industrialization, expansion of agriculture – were and are seen as “progressive,” and were (and are) thought to lead to the “advance of civilization.” In many countries, one cannot take title to land until it is “improved,” i.e., deforested.