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Environmental Ethics

ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS.

Environmental ethics emerged as a subdiscipline of philosophical ethics in the early 1970s, following the first Earth Day in 1970 and a sharply increased awareness of environmental problems at that time. Courses began appearing in university curricula, and books, articles, and journals proliferated to meet the growing interest. To judge by student demand and university courses and programs, environmental ethics is today a mature and robust subject. To judge by intellectual content, however, it is still in the early stages of development.

Antecedents

The intellectual sources of environmental ethics go back at least to God's first injunction in Genesis 1:28: "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." Literary discussions of the value of nature in the West, having been stimulated by global exploration and the European discovery of the Americas, go back at least to the sixteenth century. Wilderness began to appear as an allegorical theme in European and American painting in the eighteenth century. The awesome forces of nature remind us that the human condition demands the virtues of faith, hard work, and steadfastness as we negotiate the path of our lives on earth. These writings and images of course helped shape the themes of contemporary environmental ethics, and today's writers also pay homage to Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882), Henry David Thoreau (18171862), and the views of early-twentieth-century writers like Gifford Pinchot (18651946) and John Muir (18381914).

Of these early sources for environmental ethics, none is more significant than Aldo Leopold (18871948), an ecologist and wildlife manager who in his essays argued the need to reconsider our attitude toward nature. Writing in A Sand County Almanac (1949), his frequently cited classic of American nature writing, Leopold bemoaned the fact that, as it appeared to him, "there is as yet no ethic dealing with man's relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it," and called for an evolutionary shift in what he viewed as the traditional perspective in ethics. "All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in that community, but his ethics prompt him also to cooperate" (pp. 203204). Arguments for cooperation in ethics, however, had been limited in scope to other humans. Leopold urged his readers to think about cooperation in a more expansive sense, which would include the environment. This land ethic, as he called it, "simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land." Without much defense or argument, Leopold went on to formulate some basic principles of a land ethic, but his influence on later writers comes mainly from his vision that enlarging the scope of ethical concern is a mark of intellectual progress.

The Debate over Anthropocentrism

Following Leopold's suggestion, the central issue in the first quarter century of environmental ethics has been a debate about anthropocentrism and the idea of intrinsic ethical value. Traditional ethical theories are characterized as anthropocentric because they regard only humans or human experience (or reason) as having intrinsic ethical worth. Everything else is valuable only as a means to promoting or enhancing human interests. For Aristotle, this much is obvious. "Clearly, then, we must suppose that plants are for the sake of animals, and that other animals are for the sake of human beings. If then nature makes nothing incomplete or pointless, it must have made all of them for the sake of human beings" (Politics, 1256b1522) John Locke, writing in the seventeenth century, reflected the consensus view when he spoke of the distinction between man and nature. Mankind is "the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker," and thus the law of nature teaches us that man "has not the liberty to destroy himself," and that "no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions" (Second Treatise of Government, chap. 2, par. 6). But reason also tells us that, "land that is left wholly to nature, that hath no improvement of pasturage, tillage, or planting, is called, as indeed it is, waste ; and we shall find the benefit of it amount to little more than nothing" (chap. 5, par. 42). For land to have value, it must be made to serve human needs and ends.

The classical utilitarians were the first to move explicitly beyond anthropocentrism. They argued that sentience was the locus of intrinsic value, and thus the ultimate ethical end was an existence "exempt as far as possible from pain, and as rich as possible in enjoyments." Morality consists of "rules and precepts," as John Stuart Mill (18061873) put it in his Utilitarianism (1861). Its aim is to secure such an existence "to all mankind; and not to them only, but, so far as the nature of things admits, to the whole sentient creation" (chap. 2). Although utilitarianism may provide a basis for rejecting anthropocentrism, it will not get us to anything resembling a land ethic. Even if sentience is a sufficient basis for gaining intrinsic worth or value, it gives us no reason for regarding endangered species, forests, wilderness, or ecosystems as worth preserving in their own right. Thus, philosophers who follow Leopold have rejected utilitarianism along with anthropocentric conceptions of ethics.

The problem with extending the scope of morality beyond sentience is to explain the basis for attributing intrinsic value to entities that have no inner lives and are not subjects of experience. Two ways of attempting this extension figure most prominently in the literature. The first is to identify intrinsic value with having an interest, which is interpreted in turn as having an end or a natural good. If it makes sense to say of any thing that it has an end, then we can make sense of talking about what is good or bad for that thing. And just as sentient beings have an interest in not suffering, all living things, sentient and nonsentient alike, have an interest in realizing their natural ends. It is in this sense good for any such thing to thrive (Goodpaster).

One objection to extending the scope of intrinsic ethical value in this way is that the idea of having an end or a natural good applies to more than living organisms. This might appear to be a good thing for the purposes of developing environmental ethics in the direction of a land ethic, because it would allow us to include entities like species and ecosystems within the community of intrinsically valuable beings. An ecosystem is not a living organism, but it has a good (however difficult it may be to determine it), which it is in its interest to realize. The problem is that this analysis does not allow us to discriminate among living things to exclude deadly viruses or invasive species from having intrinsic moral worth, nor does it allow us to discriminate among other nonliving entities with ends, such as gangs, terrorist cells, or corrupt political regimes. Each of these has ends and an interest in thriving, but surely they do not all have intrinsic moral worth.

A second objection to this proposal is that it equivocates on the morally relevant concept of an interest. Utilitarians extend the idea of intrinsic moral worth to sentient creatures because nonhuman animals not only have an interest in avoiding suffering, they can act in ways that show that they take an interest in seeking enjoyment and avoiding pain. If human suffering is morally relevant not merely because we are capable of suffering but because as conscious agents we care about or take an interest in avoiding suffering, then nonhuman suffering should be morally relevant for the same reason. But when we talk about the interests of nonsentient entities (and perhaps the interests of many species of lower animals, such as sponges or clams), we do so in a different sense. They may have interests, but they cannot take an interest in anything. It begs the question to suppose that having an interest in any sense that does not presuppose subjectivity or consciousness has any moral relevance of its own.

A second way to reject anthropocentrism and extend the scope of intrinsic ethical value beyond sentience is associated with deep ecology, a political movement that emerged in the 1980s in response to disillusionment with large, well-funded environmental groups that some critics saw as having been co-opted by prevailing political powers. The "shallow ecology" of these large environmental organizations, in the eyes of their critics, was associated exclusively with the fight against pollution and resource depletion, which were seen as elitist and anthropocentric goals of affluent classes living in developed countries. Deep ecology defends the idea of ecocentric identification, a form of self-realization, which calls on us humans to see ourselves not at the top of creation but as merely one part of the "web of life," on an equal footing with every other part. The deep ecology manifesto claims that nonhuman life has value in itself that is "independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes"(Devall and Sessions, p. 70) If a living, free-flowing river is a good thing to have on this planet, then it is good independently of human existence and interests, and it would equally be a good thing on a planet that never hosted conscious life.

Leaving political agendas aside, many people who have sympathy for Leopold's land ethic find deep ecology an unsatisfying way to develop the idea. It is one thing to believe that traditional conceptions of ethics have perhaps wrongly viewed nature as having no value except as resources for human satisfaction. It is quite a different matter to think that the only alternative to such a conception of ethics is ecocentric identification in the sense demanded by deep ecology.

Value as a Feature of Actions and Attitudes

Early in the twentieth century, G. E. Moore (18731958) argued that goodness was a nonnatural property that good things possessed, and although his arguments for this view have had a profound influence on the course of ethical theory, the view itself is not widely accepted (chaps. 13). There seems no satisfactory way to resolve disagreements over what things have this property or how to act and make tradeoffs when necessary. Should we preserve the redwood trees, or clear them to make room for the weeds that will thrive in their place? It will not do to identify ethical value with the products of evolution or natural processes, for humans are natural creatures and our creations are in some sense as much a part of nature as fossils and spider webs. What makes the forest more valuable in its own right than the strip malls along the highway? The idea that value is a nonnatural intrinsic property of things is mysterious, and many philosophers simply reject Moore's intuitions about what has it and what does not. Nor could the existence of such value in itself tell us much about what to do or how to act and choose. These same issues arise for deep ecology and for any attempt to move beyond anthropocentrism in locating intrinsic ethical value.

If we think about value as something we express in our actions and attitudes, rather than as an intrinsic property of objects, then the difference between anthropocentrism and its opposite seems smaller and less significant. For even those who insist that value originates in reasons and attitudes are quick to acknowledge that we value different parts of the world in different ways and for a multitude of reasons. This includes valuing things other than humans, human experiences, and reason as ends. We can realize Leopold's vision of a land ethic without rejecting anthropocentrism, by concentrating instead on the reasons we have for attitudes toward nature that see it as worth preserving in its own right. Thinking of nature as a resource for our use in promoting human enjoyment is of course one attitude we may have, and thinking about the effects of environmental change on human health is another. But we also find it reasonable to adopt attitudes of appreciation, reverence, awe, love, and fear toward different parts of the world around us, and the appropriateness of these attitudes moreover seems to be connected intimately to other aspects of morality, such as the virtues of humility and gratitude (Hill).

Ethics and Environmental Policies

The appropriateness and implications of these attitudes give rise to other substantive issues in environmental ethics because they imply that it is reasonable to value different parts of nature in ways that go beyond the distinction between valuing something instrumentally and valuing it as an end. Thus, one topic in environmental ethics concerns the appropriateness of using decision-making techniques developed by economists for determining environmental policies. These techniques are enormously flexible, and they include regarding aspects of the environment as having existence value as well as use value. But these techniques in the end measure values in terms of a willingness to pay for different levels and kinds of protection. They assume that environmental values are commensurable, but it remains an open question in environmental ethics whether this is true. Distinguishing between use value, existence value, and the addition of other values that can be measured by these techniques may also fail to address the appropriate ways to express reverence or respect, and these are the kinds of attitudes that some people believe a reasonable land ethic demands.

A related topic in environmental ethics concerns the way we interpret the value of ecosystems. An endangered ecosystem, or an endangered species within an ecosystem, may be valued differently according to whether we think of an ecosystem only as providing useful services or also as worth preserving in its own right. Debates on this issue go to the meaning of environmental protection and to the reasonableness of some statutes like the Endangered Species Act.

At least three other kinds of substantive issues have emerged recently as major topics in environmental ethics. One has to do with the nature of environmental risk of the kind one finds in issues surrounding possible climate change and global warming. What are rational decision procedures in areas involving great uncertainties but also possibilities of very large consequences and irreversible changes? Should we be aiming to maximize expected values, or should we be trying instead to develop and apply more precautionary principles? A second issue has to do with depleting nonrenewable environmental resources. What are our obligations as stewards of the environment to future generations, and what do we regard as appropriate substitutions for the resources we deplete, so that we can protect the environment in a sustainable way? A third issue concerns environmental justice. Do we need special principles of distributive justice to ensure that economically disadvantaged or politically vulnerable populations do not bear unfair environmental burdens?

These issues are often addressed by writers who express little concern with the philosophically more basic questions about the nature of environmental values, but as discussion of these substantive issues proceeds, it usually leads back to basic questions in ethical theory. For these reasons, environmental ethics is not only a popular and apparently permanent part of university curricula, it is also a subject that increasingly draws the attention of philosophers who are concerned with the more basic and theoretical parts of their subject.

See also Ecology ; Nature ; Wildlife .

bibliography

Crocker, David A., and Toby Linden, eds. Ethics of Consumption: The Good Life, Justice, and Global Stewardship. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998.

Devall, Bill, and George Sessions. Deep Ecology. Salt Lake City: G. M. Smith, 1985.

Feinberg, Joel. "The Rights of Animals and Unborn Generations." In Philosophy and Environmental Crisis, edited by William T. Blackstone, 4368. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1974.

Goodpaster, Kenneth. "On Being Morally Considerable." Journal of Philosophy, 75, no. 6 (1978): 308325.

Hill, Thomas E., Jr., "Ideals of Human Excellence and Preserving Natural Environments." Environmental Ethics 5 (1983): 211224.

Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and There. New York: Oxford University Press, 1949. Reprint, 1987.

Naess, Arne. "The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement. A Summary." Inquiry 16 (1973): 95100.

Nash, Roderick, Wilderness and the American Mind. 3rd ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1982.

Plumwood, Val. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. London and New York: Routledge, 1993.

Rolston, Holmes, III. "Values in and Duties to the Natural World." In Ecology, Economics, Ethics: The Broken Circle, edited by F. Herbert Bormann and Stephen R. Kellert, 7396. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991.

Singer, Peter. "The Environment" In his Practical Ethics, 264288. 2nd ed. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Sober, Elliott. "Philosophical Problems for Environmentalism." In The Preservation of Species: The Value of Biological Diversity, edited by Bryan Norton, 173194. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986.

Douglas Maclean

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Environmental Ethics

Environmental ethics

Environmental ethics is a branch of philosophy that considers the moral relations between human beings and their natural environment. As a field of study, it assumes that humans have certain responsibilities to the natural world, and it seeks to help people and their leaders become aware of them and to act responsibly when they do things that impact the natural world.

The need for ethics

Most people recognize that some agreed-upon guidelines or general rules should exist between individuals when they interact with one another because if they did not, nothing in our lives would be predictable or safe. In other words, people need to know that besides actual laws, there are some basic, common ethics or principles of what is right and what is wrong that everyone agrees upon and usually follows or lives by. Ethics is sometimes called moral philosophy because it is concerned with what is morally good and bad or what is right and wrong. As a specialized part of ethics, environmental ethics is concerned with the morality (right and wrong) of human actions as they affect the environment or the natural world we live in.

Global environmental problems

As a branch of philosophy, environmental ethics is a fairly recent development, having become a body of organized knowledge only in the last decades of the twentieth century. It came about as a necessary response to a growing number of very obvious threats to the physical condition of the world in which we live. The list of some of these global environmental problems is a long and familiar one, and many of them came about because of the massive increase in the growth of the human population worldwide. As populations continue to soar, the various problems caused by too many people naturally increase in both their number and seriousness. It is predicted that the 2000 world population of six billion people will rise by another one billion people within ten years. To the many problems this causes, such as increased pollution of the air, water, and soil, is also added the depletion of these and other important natural resources.

Words to Know

Anthropomorphic: Described or thought of as having a human form or human attributes.

Deep ecology: Philosophical belief system that holds that all forms of lifeplant, animal, humanhave an intrinsic right to exist in the natural environment and that humans have a direct responsibility to maintain the environment for all life forms.

Ethics: Branch of philosophy that deals with the general nature of morals and specific moral choices.

Shallow ecology: Philosophical belief system that holds that humans have a responsibility to protect the environment so it can support human life both in the present and in the future.

Today, as we face such problems as the greenhouse effect, the destruction of the ozone layer, and the presence of toxic and nuclear wastes, we can easily recognize some of their negative effects. Among these are the growing disappearance of wilderness areas, a steady loss of biodiversity (the variety of species in an area) among living things, and even the actual extinction of some species. It is safe to say that at the beginning of the twenty-first century, one of the greatest challenges facing human beings is how to stop the continued harm to Earth.

Origins of environmental ethics

Many people associate the beginnings of today's environmental ethics with the first Earth Day held on April 22, 1970, in the United States. On that day (and every April since), organizers around the country rallied and demonstrated to make people and political leaders aware of the importance of caring for and preserving the environment. That first Earth Day launched the beginning of an environmental awareness in the United States and later around the world. It made many people realize that some sense of environmental responsibility should be developed and applied to our daily lives.

Most movements do not just suddenly happen out of nowhere; they are usually preceded by many other influential events. In the environmental movement, perhaps the earliest of these was the 1949 publication of a book by American naturalist Aldo Leopold (18871948). Leopold had fallen in love with nature as a youngster and eventually joined the newly established U.S. Forest Service in 1909. As a game management expert, he came to appreciate and understand how deeply humans affected the natural world. A year after he died, his landmark work, A Sand County Almanac, was published. It contained not only his strong defense of the environment but his argument that what was needed was a new philosophy about man and nature, or what would come to be called an environmental ethic. This idea was carried on by others when, two decades later, the first Earth Day was held.

Important questions

The importance of that first Earth Day was that it not only raised the environmental consciousness or awareness of many people, but it got them to start asking important questions. Once people became aware that they had some sort of a responsibility toward the natural world, it then became a matter of trying to figure out how far that responsibility extends. This naturally led to many questions, such as, does Earth exist entirely for humanity? What are the rights of nonhuman species and do we have any obligations to them? Do we have a duty to be concerned with future generations? These and many other important questions are what environmental ethics is all about. While answering them may be difficult, and people may not always agree, it is significant that they are being asked and discussed.

Schools of thought

Answers to these questions are shaped by what theory or school of thought of environmental ethics an individual believes in. One of these theories says that our responsibility to the natural environment is only an indirect one and is based on our responsibilities to other people. This school of thought is definitely human-centered or anthropomorphic (pronounced an-throw-poe-MOR-fick). While it argues that we have some sort of responsibility to the environment, it says that this responsibility is not a direct one and that the focus is on how the condition of the environment affects people, both in present and in future generations. In other words, we have a duty to make sure that Earth stays in good enough shape so that human life is supported. Some call this school of thought or philosophy "shallow ecology."

A somewhat different school of thought is described as nonanthropomorphic, which means that all forms of life have an intrinsic (essential or basic) right to exist in the natural environment. This point of view gives what is called "moral standing" to animals and plants, and argues that they, like humans, are to be considered "morally significant persons." This philosophy is called "deep ecology." It states that humans have a direct responsibility toward maintaining the environment for all forms of life.

There are many versions of these two schools of thoughtranging from the argument that what is right or wrong environmentally should be judged only by how it affects people, to one that says the environment itself has direct rights. Few agree on how far our responsibility extends. Furthermore, the real disagreements are found when actual policies have to be decided upon that will guide how we act. Despite these and other disagreements, the fact that some sort of appreciation for nature has been fostered in many of us, and that we realize that nature must be appreciated and considered for its own sake and treated with respect, marks the beginning of a real ethics of the environment. For a very long time, human beings have never even been aware that they had any sort of responsibility toward the natural world and all its members. However, the development of some sort of environmental ethic that makes us consider if our environmental actions are right or wrong marks the beginning of future progress for a better world.

[See also Ecology; Endangered species ]

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Environmental Ethics

Environmental ethics


Ethics is a branch of philosophy that deals with morals and values. Environmental ethics refers to the moral relationships between humans and the natural world. It addresses such questions as, do humans have obligations or responsibilities toward the natural world, and if so, how are those responsibilities balanced against human needs and interests? Are some interests more important than others?

Efforts to answer such ethical questions have led to the development of a number of schools of ethical thought. One of these is utilitarianism , a philosophy associated with the English eccentric Jeremy Bentham and later modified by his godson John Stuart Mill. In its most basic terms, utilitarianism holds that an action is morally right if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people. The early environmentalist Gifford Pinchot was inspired by utilitarian principles and applied them to conservation . Pinchot proposed that the purpose of conservation is to protect natural resources to produce "the greatest good for the greatest number for the longest time." Although utilitarianism is a simple, practical approach to human moral dilemmas, it can also be used to justify reprehensible actions. For example, in the nineteenth century many white Americans believed that the extermination of native peoples and the appropriation of their land was the right thing to do. However, most would now conclude that the good derived by white Americans from these actions does not justify the genocide and displacement of native peoples.

The tenets of utilitarian philosophy are presented in terms of human values and benefits, a clearly anthropocentric world view. Many philosophers argue that only humans are capable of acting morally and of accepting responsibility for their actions. Not all humans, however, have this capacity to be moral agents. Children, the mentally ill, and others are not regarded as moral agents, but, rather, as moral subjects. However, they still have rights of their ownrights that moral agents have an obligation to respect. In this context, moral agents have intrinsic value independent of the beliefs or interests of others.

Although humans have long recognized the value of non-living objects, such as machines, minerals, or rivers, the value of these objects is seen in terms of money, aesthetics, cultural significance, etc. The important distinction is that these objects are useful or inspiring to some personthey are not ends in themselves but are means to some other end. Philosophers term this instrumental value, since these objects are the instruments for the satisfaction of some other moral agent. This philosophy has also been applied to living things, such as domestic animals. These animals have often been treated as simply the means to some humanly-desired end without any inherent rights or value of their own.

Aldo Leopold , in his famous essay on environmental ethics, pointed out that not all humans have been considered to have inherent worth and intrinsic rights. As examples he points to children, women, foreigners, and indigenous peoplesall of whom were once regarded as less than full persons; as objects or the property of an owner who could do with them whatever he wished. Most civilized societies now recognize that all humans have intrinsic rights, and, in fact, these intrinsic rights have also been extended to include such entities as corporations, municipalities, and nations.

Many environmental philosophers argue that we must also extend recognition of inherent worth to all other components of the natural world, both living and non-living. In their opinion, our anthropocentric view, which considers components of the natural world to be valuable only as the means to some human end, is the primary cause of environmental degradation . As an alternative, they propose a biocentric view which gives inherent value to all the natural world regardless of its potential for human use.

Paul Taylor outlines four basic tenets of biocentrism in his book, Respect for Nature. These are: 1) Humans are members of earth's living community in the same way and on the same terms as all other living things; 2) Humans and other species are interdependent; 3) Each organism is a unique individual pursuing its own good in its own way; 4) Humans are not inherently superior to other living things. These tenets underlie the philosophy developed by Norwegian Arne Naess known as deep ecology .

From this biocentric philosophy Paul Taylor developed three principles of ethical conduct: 1) Do not harm any natural entity that has a good of its own; 2) Do not try to manipulate, control, modify, manage or interfere with the normal functioning of natural ecosystems, biotic communities, or individual wild organisms; 3) Do not deceive or mislead any animal capable of being deceived or misled. These principles led Professor Taylor to call for an end to hunting , fishing and trapping , to espouse vegetarianism , and to seek the exclusion of human activities from wilderness areas. However, Professor Taylor did not extend intrinsic rights to non-living natural objects, and he assigned only limited rights to plants and domestic animals. Others argue that all natural objects, living or not, have rights.

Regardless of the appeal that certain environmental philosophies may have in the abstract, it is clear that humans must make use of the natural world if they are to survive. They must eat other organisms and compete with them for all the essentials of life. Humans seek to control or eliminate harmful plants or animals. How is this intervention in the natural world justified? Stewardship is a principle that philosophers use the justify such interference. Stewardship holds that humans have a unique responsibility to care for domestic plants and animals and all other components of the natural world. In this view, humans, their knowledge, and the products of their intellect are an essential part of the natural world, neither external to it nor superfluous. Stewardship calls for humans to respect and cooperate with nature to achieve the greatest good. Because of their superior intellect, humans can improve the world and make it a better place, but only if they see themselves as an integral part of it.

Ethical dilemmas arise when two different courses of action each have valid ethical underpinnings. A classic ethical dilemma occurs when any course of action taken will cause harm, either to oneself or to others. Another sort of dilemma arises when two parties have equally valid, but incompatible, ethical interests. To resolve such competing ethical claims Paul Taylor suggests five guidelines: 1) it is usually permissible for moral agents to defend themselves; 2) basic interests, those interests necessary for survival, take precedence over other interests; 3) when basic interests are in conflict, the least amount of harm should be done to all parties involved; 4) whenever possible, the disadvantages resulting from competing claims should be borne equally by all parties; 5) the greater the harm done to a moral agent, the great is the compensation required.

Ecofeminists do not find that utilitarianism, biocentrism or stewardship provide adequate direction to solve environmental problems or to guide moral actions. In their view, these philosophies come out of a patriarchal system based on dominationof women, children, minorities and nature. As an alternative, ecofeminists suggest a pluralistic, relationship-oriented approach to human interactions with the environment . Ecofeminism is concerned with nurturing, reciprocity, and connectedness, rather than with rights, responsibilities, and ownership. It challenges humans to see themselves as related to others and to nature. Out of these connections, then, will flow ethical interactions among individuals and with the natural world.

See also Animal rights; Bioregionalism; Callicott, J. Baird; Ecojustice; Environmental racism; Environmentalism; Future generations; Humanism; Intergenerational justice; Land stewardship; Rolston, Holmes; Speciesism

[Christine B. Jeryan ]


RESOURCES

BOOKS

Devall, B., and G. Sessions. Deep Ecology. Layton, UT: Gibbs M. Smith, 1985.

Odell, R. Environmental Awakening: The New Revolution to Protect the Earth. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger, 1980.

Olson, S. Reflections From the North Country. New York: Knopf, 1980.

Plant, J. Healing the Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism. Santa Cruz, CA: New Society Publishers, 1989.

Rolston, H. Environmental Ethics. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1988.

Taylor, P. Respect for Nature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986.

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Environmental Ethics

ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS

Spurred by growing environmental concern in the 1960s, philosophers paid increasing attention to environmental ethics in the 1970s and 1980s. The field is dominated by dichotomies: anthropocentrism versus nonanthropocentrism, individualism versus holism, environmental ethics versus environmental philosophy, organic versus community metaphors, citizen versus consumer perspectives, scientific versus social scientific justifications, and trade-offs versus synergism.

Anthropocentric Environmentalism

Traditional Western ethics is anthropocentric, as only human beings are considered of moral importance. Because people can help or harm one another indirectly through environmental impact, such as by generating pollution, destroying marshes, and depleting resources, environmental ethics can be pursued as a form of applied ethics in an anthropocentric framework.

Some anthropocentric issues concern the nature and relative importance of values. For example, does the beauty or inspirational quality of a canyon make the canyon intrinsically valuable? If so, is that value an objective feature of the canyon or an aspect of the evaluators' subjective experience or judgment? Finally, how important to people is such intrinsic, noneconomic value compared to economic considerations? Is the canyon's intrinsic value, assuming it has such value, sufficient to forgo its flooding to generate hydroelectricity that can power economic growth? Environmental ethics is a fertile testing ground for competing axiologies.

Environmental ethics also tests competing conceptions of the individual's relationship to society. A strictly economic approach views the individual as a consumer and directs government to regulate environmental matters to maximize the satisfaction of consumer demands. An alternative approach views the individual as a citizen concerned to promote individual excellence and to preserve and improve the community's best traditions and highest moral ideals. This dichotomy parallels that between liberalism and perfectionism in political philosophy. Just as many perfectionists would forgo the economic benefits of legal prostitution to protect the traditional family, many citizen-oriented environmentalists recommend preserving wilderness areas and species diversity to promote ideals of stewardship.

Environmental justice is primarily an anthropocentric ideal concerning the appropriate distribution of benefits and burdens among human beings affected by environmental decisions. Issues of resource depletion, nuclear waste, and population policy, for example, raise questions about intergenerational justice. Do future people have rights? Can a meaningful distinction be made between future people and possible people? Why should we care about future people if they can neither harm nor help us?

Issues of environmental justice arise when governments use cost-benefit analysis (CBA) to evaluate environmental policies. CBAs typically translate all values into monetary terms with the goal of identifying policies that maximize total social wealth. Exclusively monetary evaluations jeopardize future generations through the use of a discount rate that renders impacts 500 years from now insignificant. In addition, CBAs promote decisions that are unjust to poor people because the monetary value of items in a market economy, and therefore the total value of all such items, social wealth, depends on people's willingness to pay for things. Rich people can pay more than poor people, so the preferences of the rich are weighted more heavily in CBA than the preferences of the poor. Government policies guided by CBA therefore contravene the principle of justice that the interests of each individual person be considered equally.

Environmental racism concerns practices, in derogation of environmental justice, that subject people of non-European origin to disproportionate amounts of pollution and other negative side effects of economic development. Within most industrial countries, such people are racial minorities. Internationally, such people reside in Third World countries. In both cases, many economists reject charges of environmental racism. They claim that people of color suffer disproportionate burdens not because of racist intent but because they are too poor to pay for better conditions. This is another area of tension between economic and noneconomic anthropocentric considerations.

Moral Extensionism

Opposed to anthropocentrism are those who consider many nonhuman animals to be worthy of moral consideration in their own right. These views extend some traditional ethical theories, such as utilitarianism and neo-Kantianism, to include nonhuman individuals. Paul Taylor (2005) advocates further extension, according equal moral consideration to every living individual, amoeba included.

Many environmental philosophers consider moral extensionism too human-centered and individualistic. It is too human-centered because it justifies valuing nonhumans on the basis of similarities to human beings, such as sentience, consciousness, or merely life itself. Human traits remain the touchstone of all value. Moral extensionism is too individualistic for environmental ethics because some matters, such as species diversity, concern collectives, not individuals. From an individualist perspective, saving ten members of a common species is better than saving one member of an endangered species, other things being equal. Environmentalists concerned with maintaining species diversity reject individualism for this reason.

They reject individualism also as ecologically unrealistic. Ecology teaches that ecosystems depend on individuals eating and being eaten, killing and being killed. For example, predators must kill enough deer to avoid deer overpopulation, which would threaten flora on which deer feed. Reduced flora threatens soil stability and the land's ability to support life. So protecting individual deer from untimely death, which valuing deer as individuals may suggest, is environmentally harmful. Such harm threatens natural ecosystems, such as wilderness areas, that foster biological evolution, which is the focus of value for some nonanthropocentric environmentalists.

Tom Regan (2005) calls holistic views "environmental fascism." Sacrificing individuals for evolutionary advance or the collective good resembles Adolf Hitler's program, especially when human beings may be among those sacrificed. Human overpopulation threatens species diversity, ecosystemic complexity, and natural evolutionary processes, so consistent, nonanthropocentric environmental holism may be misanthropic.

Holists reply that human individuals, as well as environmental wholes and evolutionary processes, are intrinsically valuable, so individual humans should not be sacrificed to promote the corporate good. However, the casuistry of trade-offs among individuals and corporate entities of various species and kinds is not well developed by the holists. But Regan (2005), for his part, does not show how all individual nonhuman mammals, for example, can be accorded the equivalent of the human right to life without destroying wilderness areas and causing the extinction of carnivorous species.

Because they value not only nonhumans but holistic entities, many environmental philosophers believe their discipline calls for thorough review of the place of human beings in the cosmos. They reject the title "environmental ethics" in favor of "environmental philosophy" or "ecosophy" to emphasize that their views are not applications of traditional ethics to environmental problems but fundamental metaphysical orientations.

Holistic Environmentalism

Holistic views tend to compare the environmental wholes they consider valuable in themselves with either communities or organisms. Aldo Leopold's "land ethic" (2005), for example, leans toward the community metaphor. Just as the benefits people derive from their human communities justify loyalty to the group, benefits derived from complex ecological interdependencies justify loyalty to ecosystemic wholes. J. Baird Callicott (2005) maintains that community loyalty is emotionally natural to humans, as our ancestors' survival during evolution depended on sentiments of solidarity. In this sense, ethics is based on Humean sentimentalism rather than on Kantian rationality or utilitarian calculation.

The Gaia hypothesis and deep ecology stress the similarity of holistic entities to individual organisms, thereby attempting to reconcile individualism with environmentalism. The Gaia hypothesis maintains that life on Earth operates as if it were a single organism reacting to altered conditions so as to preserve itself. This explains, for example, how Earth has maintained a relatively constant temperature over a 3-billion-year period while the energy emitted toward Earth from the Sun had increased 30 percent. Metaphorically, if Earth is alive, it is our mother because Earth's processes produce and sustain us. This metaphor justifies respect for Earth and Earth's processes analogous to respect for human mothers.

Deep ecology reflects the belief of the stoics and Benedict (Baruch) de Spinoza that reality is essentially one being. Accordingly, it questions the separateness of any individual from the environmental whole. Deep ecologists point out that the skin and other borders between individuals are really permeable membranes that connect as well as divide. Arne Naess (2005), deep ecology's founder, notes that human beings can possess the entire universe in their minds and suggests identifying one's real self with nature. Degrading nature is therefore unwise because it is a form of self-degradation. Deep ecology reconciles holistic environmental concern not only with individualism but also with individual self-concern. This metaphysical consideration is bolstered by observations about the lack of genuine fulfillment experienced by most people whose lives are dominated by consuming artifacts instead of appreciating nature.

Ecofeminism

Whereas the land ethic and Gaia hypothesis rely primarily on information drawn from science, other environmentalists stress social scientific information. Using the results of anthropological studies, especially of foraging (hunter-gatherer) societies, some environmentalists maintain that human life is better where people do not attempt to master nature in the human interest. Many indigenous societies practice an environmental ethic, similar to the land ethic, of reciprocal exchange with nonhuman environmental constituents such as water, sun, trees, and game animals. This enriches human life and preserves the environment.

Ecofeminists emphasize the relationship between mastering nature in the supposed human interest and the oppression of women, indigenous people, and other subordinated groups. Ecofeminists claim that much Western thinking is dominated by what they call "the master mentality," which is dualistic thinking that values one member of each dyad more than the other and relegates the inferior member to serve the superior. Such dyads include men versus women, heaven versus earth, mind versus body, reason versus emotion, culture versus nature, and progress versus stagnation. White Western men are associated with the superior member of each dyad: heaven, mind, reason, culture, and progress; whereas women, indigenous people, and other subordinated groups are associated with the inferior member: earth, body, emotion, nature, and stagnation. The master mentality thus justifies the continued subordination of women and non-Western, nonindustrialized men, because humanity in general flourishes, the masters claim, when the inferior serves the superior.

The master mentality's association of women with earth and emotion explains traditional exclusions of women from high religious offices and from professions emphasizing the use of abstract reason. The association of progress with economic growth explains Western insensitivity to the disruption of traditional patterns of life in many Third World countries. Traditional agriculture returns little money but produces a large variety of food for local consumption. It suffers in comparison with Western-inspired commercial agriculture that emphasizes remunerative monocultures when progress is associated with economic growth. The master mentality also generally undervalues work traditionally done by women because much of it is done free, whether it is childcare or tending a garden to feed the family.

Ecofeminists claim that the master mentality approach to the environment serves humanity badly. Worldwide, it marginalizes and impoverishes women and other subordinated people. Humanity would fare better if people's interactions with nature were guided more by thinking traditionally associated with women. Women tend to think more relationally, organically, and holistically than (Western) men, who favor individual rights, commercial success, and mechanistic processes. Whereas typical male patterns of thought and action precipitate ecocrises, typical female patterns ameliorate them. Empowering women can save ecosystems and species diversity.

Most anthropocentrists and nonanthropocentrists believe that in general a tension exists between protecting nature and serving humanity. Nonanthropocentric concern for nature as valuable in itself precludes actions that can make human life better, they think. This is the trade-off perspective. The synergistic perspective, by contrast, is that valuing nature for itself most often precludes action that is mistakenly undertaken in pursuit of human welfare but that is actually counterproductive. For example, the Green Revolution attempted to improve human life by mastering nature but it harmed people more than it helped them because it disrupted traditional social systems and more holistically productive agriculture, argues Vandana Shiva (1991). Like the hedonic paradox, which claims that happiness is best achieved by not seeking it directly, synergists claim that human flourishing is best achieved by nonanthropocentrically valuing nature for itself rather than by trying anthropocentrically to maximize returns from nature for human beings. The land ethic, deep ecology, and ecofeminism are compatible with environmental synergism.

Because environmental ethics/philosophy questions basic assumptions in economics, technology, metaphysics, ethical theory, moral epistemology, and gender relations, it approaches religion in its attention to the fundamental concerns of human existence.

See also Animal Rights and Welfare; Applied Ethics; Distant Peoples and Future Generations; Good, The; Intrinsic Value; Rights; Utilitarianism.

Bibliography

Callicott, J. Baird. "The Conceptual Foundations of the Land Ethic." In Environmental Ethics: Readings in Theory and Application. 4th ed, edited by Louis P. Pojman, 149160. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2005.

Dobson, Andrew. Fairness and Futurity: Essays on Environmental Sustainability and Social Justice. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Hargrove, Eugene C., ed. The Animal Rights, Environmental Ethics Debate: The Environmental Perspective. Albany: SUNY Press, 1992.

Leopold, Aldo. "Ecocentrism: The Land Ethic." In Environmental Ethics: Readings in Theory and Application. 4th ed, edited by Louis P. Pojman, 139148. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2005.

Naess, Arne. "Ecosophy T: Deep versus Shallow Ecology." In Environmental Ethics: Readings in Theory and Application. 4th ed, edited by Louis P. Pojman, 192200. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2005.

Partridge, Ernest, ed. Responsibilities to Future Generations: Environmental Ethics. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1981.

Pojman, Louis P., ed. Environmental Ethics: Readings in Theory and Application. 4th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2005. This is an excellent source of information on anthropocentric environmentalism, animal rights, biocentrism, the land ethic, deep ecology, social ecology, and ecofeminism.

Regan, Tom. "The Radical Egalitarian Case for Animal Rights." In Environmental Ethics: Readings in Theory and Application. 4th ed, edited by Louis P. Pojman, 6572. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2005.

Sagoff, Mark. The Economy of the Earth: Philosophy, Law, and the Environment. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Critiques economics and CBA.

Shiva, Vandana. The Violence of the Green Revolution: Third World Agriculture, Ecology and Politics. London: Zed Books, 1991.

Taylor, Paul. "Biocentric Egalitarianism." In Environmental Ethics: Readings in Theory and Application. 4th ed, edited by Louis P. Pojman, 117131. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2005.

Warren, Karen J. Ecofeminist Philosophy: A Western Perspective on What It Is and Why It Matters. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000. A comprehensive introduction to ecofeminism.

Wenz, Peter S. Environmental Ethics Today. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Peter S. Wenz (1996, 2005)

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Environmental Ethics

Environmental Ethics

Key issues

Environmental attitudes

Environmental ethics and the law

Major contributors

Resources

Ethics is a branch of philosophy that primarily discusses issues of human behavior and character. Ethics is an attempt to reason about the distinction between right from wrong, good from bad. Environmental ethics is a sub-field of ethics concerned with human choices as they affect the nonhuman world, both living and nonliving. It employs concepts from aesthetics, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, religion (in some cases), and social and political philosophy in an effort to relate moral values to human interactions with the natural world.

Aesthetics deals with perceptions of physical properties such as color, sound, smell, texture, and taste. Since environmental ethics is often involved with issues dealing with the protection of plants and animals, its appeal is often to aesthetic experiences of nature. Environmental ethics is also interconnected with political and social structures concerning the use of natural resources, so the field also touches the areas of social and political philosophy. In the struggle to conserve the environment, environmental ethicists also use the knowledge and theories of science, for example, in issues such as those dealing with global warming and air pollution.

Key issues

Just as philosophers try to answer questions about reality, environmental ethicists attempt to answer questions about how human beings should relate to their environment, how to use (or not use) Earths resources, and how to treat other species, both plant and animal. Some of the conflicts that arise from environmental policies deal with the rights of individuals versus those of the state, and the rights of private property owners versus those of a community.

Methods of dealing with environmental issues vary among the organizations that are devoted to protecting the environment. An important milestone toward a national environmental movement was an event that first took place on many college campuses across the United States on April 22, 1970. This was called Earth Day, and it used social protest and demonstration as a way of raising awareness about environmental issues. Earth Day has since become an annual event. In the United States, such groups as the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, Greenpeace, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the National Wildlife Federation use education and the political arena to lobby Congress for laws to protect the environment. These groups sometimes also use the legal system as a method to change environmental actions and attitudes.

The call to conserve and protect the environment has resulted in the passage of many laws. Among them are the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the National Forest Management Act of 1976, and the National Acid Precipitation Act of 1980. In 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created to oversee federal environmental policies and laws. This increased governmental activity supports the belief of many environmental activists that more is accomplished by working through the political and social arenas than in theorizing about ethics. However, others maintain that the exploration of ideas in environmental ethics is an important springboard for social and political action.

Environmental issues are not universally supported. The conflicts between those who want to protect the natural environment and its species, and those for which this is a lesser concern, often center around economic issues. For example, environmentalists in the Pacific Northwest want to protect the habitat of the rare spotted owl, which inhabits old-growth forests on which the timber industry and many people depend for their livelihood. There is much controversy over who had the most right to use this forest. The perception of those who are economically affected by protection of the old-growth forest is that spotted owls have become more important than the needs of people. Environmentalists, on the other hand, believe that both are important and have legitimate needs.

Environmental attitudes

The cultural and economic background of a person is likely to influence his views with regard to the environment. While these views can vary significantly, they can generally be categorized into one of three positions: the development ethic, the preservation ethic, or the conservation ethic. Each of these attitudes represents a generalized moral code for interaction with the environment.

The development ethic considers the human race to be the master of nature and that the resources of Earth exist solely for human benefit. The positive nature of growth and development is an important theme within this philosophy. This view suggests that hard work and technological improvements can overcome any limitations of natural resources.

The preservation ethic suggests that nature itself has intrinsic value and deserves protection. Some preservationists assert that all life forms have rights equal to those of humans. Others seek to preserve nature for aesthetic or recreational reasons. Still other preservationists value the diversity represented by the natural environment and suggest that humans are unaware of the potential value of many species and their natural ecosystems.

The conservation ethic recognizes the limitations of natural resources on Earth and states that unlimited economic or population growth is not feasible. This philosophy seeks to find a balance between the availability and utilization of natural resources.

The fundamental differences between each of these attitudes are the basis for debate and conflict in environmental policies today. These views dictate the behavior of corporations, governments, and even individuals and the solution to any environmental issues will first require an acknowledgement and some consensus of attitudes.

Environmental ethics and the law

In 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was established to oversee the various federal environmental laws that had been enacted. One of its major functions is to review the environmental impacts of highway projects, large-scale commercial and residential construction, power plants, and other large undertakings involving the federal government. A major tool of the EPA is its power to issue an environmental impact statement that evaluates a proposed project before it is undertaken. The advocates of this planning tool believe that is of great value in protecting the environment, particularly when a project is a potential threat to human health or the natural environment. However, others maintain that the agency and its work frustrate worthwhile projects and economic growth.

Lawyers who deal with environmental issues are key players in the issues raised by environmental ethics. They may bring court action against companies that, for example, leak toxic substances into the groundwater or emit harmful smoke from factories. Disasters like the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska help fuel demands for better environmental controls, since cases like this clearly show the damage that can be caused to fish, birds, and the natural environment. The Exxon Valdez oil spill was also an economic loss to Alaskan fishermen, who blame the disaster for degrading their ability to fish and make a living. What is always being weighed legally and ethically is how much environmental damage to the environment and its inhabitants can be judged as reasonable, and how much is not.

Major contributors

Environmental ethicists trace the roots of modern American environmental attitudes to the idea of private ownership. During the European Middle Ages, a strong ideal of individual land ownership emerged, in contrast to control by a ruler or a governmental body. This became the basis of property rights in the American Colonies of Britain, as advocated by Thomas Jefferson. The strongly held belief of the right to hold private property remains a cornerstone of American thinking, and is often at odds with issues of environmental ethics.

Farming the land was not the only activity in the early history of the development of the North American continent by European settlers. Before there was significant development of farmland in the interior of the continent, explorers, trappers, and naturalists were looking over the landscape for other reasons. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the attitudes of naturalists and hunters about killing animals were similar. For the naturalist, it was the only way to examine new species up close. For the hunter, killing animals was a way of making a living, from sale of the meat, fur, or some other product, such as ivory.

It was not until Dr. Edwin James expedition into the Rocky Mountains in 18191820 that it was suggested that some parts of the continent should be conserved for wildlife. One of the first to calculate the destruction of wildlife in North America was the artist George Catlin (17961872), who studied the Upper Missouri Indians. He was the first American to advocate a national park for people and animals alike. By 1872, it became clear that the plains buffalo had been massacred to the point of near extinction, and Congress established Yellowstone National Park as the first national park in the country.

Thomas Malthus

Thomas Malthus (17661834) had a great influence on the development of environmental ethics through his theory about population growth, which raised the primary question of how many human beings could be sustained by the ecosystems of Earth. Malthus was an English economist who published An Essay on the Principle of Population as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society in 1798, just as the Industrial Revolution was beginning in Europe. Malthus believed that if the natural forces of war, famine, and disease did not reduce the rate of growth of the human population, it would increase to the point where it could not be sustained by the natural resources that are available. The problem, as Malthus saw it, was that population increased geometrically, while resources could only grow arithmetically. In a later essay in 1803 he proposed late marriage and sexual abstinence as ways of restraining population growth. Malthus ideas influenced other activists of the nineteenth century, including Robert Owen (17911858), who advocated birth control for the poor. However, there was a great deal of opposition to the ideas of Malthus from such social reformers as William Godwin, who took a more optimistic view of the benefits gained through progress, and its possibilities for improving the lives of people.

While predicting a population explosion, Malthus did not foresee the technological changes that have increased the capacity of modern societies to sustain increasingly larger populations of people (at least for the time being). However, modern ecologists, social scientists, environmental ethicists, and politicians still must deal with the question of how large a population this planet can sustain without destroying its ecosystems, and subsequently much of the human population as well.

Theodore Roosevelt

President Theodore Roosevelt (18581919) was at the forefront of the conservation movement that developed in America from 1890 to 1920. By the end of the nineteenth century, the United States was an industrialized society. Many of the countrys natural resources were already threatened, as its wildlife had been earlier by commercial hunting. Diminishing stocks of forest, rangeland, water, and mineral resources were all of great concern to Roosevelt during his presidency. In his government, Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946), the head of the Forest Service, and James R. Garfield, Secretary of the Interior, argued for a comprehensive policy to plan the use and development of the natural resources of the United States.

While there was political opposition in Congress and among industrial developers to such ideas, there was support among some segments of the public. John Muir (1838-1914) founded the Sierra Club in this atmosphere of support for the conservation of natural resources. Some American businesses that depended on renewable resources were also supportive. The goal of this emerging conservation movement was to sustain natural resources without causing undue economic hardship.

New federal agencies were formed, including the National Park Service and the Bureau of Reclamation. State conservation laws were also passed in support of the conservation movement. The historical periods of both World Wars and the economic depression of the 1930s slowed the conservation movement, but did not destroy its foundation.

Aldo Leopold

American conservationist Aldo Leopold (1887 1948) is credited as the founding father of wildlife ecology. In his tenure with the U.S. Forest Service, Leopold pioneered the concept of game management. He recognized the linkage between the available space and food supply and the number of animals that may be supported within an area. Leopold observed in his influential book A Sand County Almanac that the greatest impediment to achieving what he called a land ethic was the predominant view of the land as a commodity, managed solely in terms of its economic value. He argued that instead, humans need to view themselves as part of a community, which also includes the land. In his effort to guide the change in philosophy, Leopold wrote, A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

Rachel Carson

A reawakening of environmental issues took place when Rachel Carson (19071964) published her book Silent Spring in 1962. Carson was a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service, and had already published The Sea Around Us in 1951. In Silent Spring, she alerted the world to the dangers of harmful pesticides that were being used in agriculture, particularly DDT. Later American writers who carried the environmental message into the public arena include Paul Ehrlich and Barry Commoner.

In the decades following the publication of Silent Spring, the earlier conservation movement became transformed into a worldwide environmental movement. Evidence of this transformation includes the growth of organizations such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, and an expansion of legislation designed to protect the environment, preserve species, and ensure the health of humans. Carsons writings made the world community aware of the interrelationships of humans and ecosystems. The ideas that pollution in one area can affect the environment in another, and that humans cannot live without the goods and services provided by ecosystems, are now commonly understood facts.

Concerns about acid rain, deforestation, global warming, and nuclear catastrophes like Chernobyl (1986) have helped the cause of those who argue for improved policies and laws to protect the whole environment and all of its inhabitants. In addition, activism has resulted in many non-governmental environmental organizations forming to tackle specific problems, some of a protective nature, others focused on conservation, and others designed to reclaim damaged areas.

High-profile Earth Summits sponsored by the United Nations met in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and again in Johannesburg in 2002. The goal of these meetings was to develop plans for implementing social, economic, and environmental change for future development. The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 was an attempt to require the industrialized nations to reduce emission of greenhouse gases. However, some environmentalists assert that little of substance was accomplished in terms of getting specific commitments from governments around the world to undertake serious action. As in the past, economic pressures came into stark conflict with the philosophical premises of environmental ethics. The same questions of how much protection our environment and its resources need, and how much must this would interfere with economic progress, are still relevant today.

See also Ecology; Endangered species; Greenhouse effect.

KEY TERMS

Aesthetics The branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of beauty.

Epistemology The study of the nature of knowledge, its limits and validity.

Metaphysics The study in philosophy of the nature of reality and being.

Philosophy of science The study of the fundamental laws of nature as they are revealed through scientific investigation.

Political philosophy The beliefs underlying a political structure within a society and how it should be governed.

Social philosophy The beliefs underlying the social structure within a society and how people should behave toward one another.

Resources

BOOKS

Des Jardins, Joseph R. Environmental Ethics: An Introduction to Environmental Philosophy. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 2005.

Newton, Lisa H., et al. Watersheds 4: Ten Cases in Environmental Ethics. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 2005.

Pojman, Louis P., ed. Environmental Ethics: Readings in Theory and Application. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 2004.

OTHER

University of Cambridge. Environmental Ethics Resources on WWW. <http://www.ethicsweb.ca/resources/environmental/index.html> (accessed October 30, 2006).

Vita Richman

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Environmental Ethics

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Environmental Ethics

ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS


Unqualified references to "population" typically refer to the human population. This is no doubt true of the vast majority of entries in this encyclopedia, which thus might more accurately be titled The Encyclopedia of Human Population. As things stand, however, species-specific references to the particular kind of "population" under discussion typically occur only in the context of specialized discussions in biology and ecology, especially the field of population biology.

These observations indicate a morally relevant point: The implicit understanding that the term population typically refers, unless otherwise specified, to the human population both reflects and reinforces the implicit assumption that human populations are the ones that really matter, the ones that, morally speaking, really count. There is of course a legitimate place for the widespread discussion of issues relating to human population, but why are these discussions not explicitly referred to as discussions relating to the human population so as to acknowledge the basic fact that humans live on this planet alongside a great many other, nonhuman kinds of populations to which humans are evolutionarily related?

Anthropocentrism

Acknowledging the ongoing human-centered (anthropocentric) nature of people's thinking, including the empirical and moral distortions that this introduces, has been a central motivating factor in the development of the field of inquiry that has become known as environmental ethics or, more generally, environmental philosophy. These empirical and moral distortions have included claims (in the Western tradition at least) along the lines that "we" (meaning the human population) dwell at the center of the universe; that humans and humans alone possess a soul and are created in the image of God, to whom they have a privileged personal relationship; that humans occupy the highest (and therefore most perfect) position in a scale of nature (Aristotle's influential scala naturae); that humans occupy the highest earthly position in a great chain of being that stretches all the way up to God (a view that permeated medieval thinking); and that humans are essentially and uniquely rational (a view that runs from the early Greek philosophers through the greatest thinkers up to the present yet is called into question by what has been learned from Sigmund Freud and the developments in clinical psychiatry and psychology since Freud as well as from human cognitive psychology, comparative psychology, and cognitive ethology).

As John Passmore argues, the history of ideas reveals that these kinds of anthropocentric views have been employed in varying forms to underpin the morally charged conclusion that humans are either exclusively or overwhelmingly valuable relative to all other earthly kinds and that these other earthly kinds are therefore people's to do with as they will. Indeed, as Passmore notes, throughout the history of Western philosophical thinking, "It is constantly assumed that whatever else exists does so only for the sake of the rational" (p. 15) (emphasis added). This sort of thinking has patently obnoxious upshots.

To take just one kind of example, Passmore states: "In so far as cruelty to animals was wrong, this was only because, so it was argued by [Thomas] Aquinas, by [Immanuel] Kant, and by a multitude of lesser thinkers, it might induce a callousness towards human suffering. There was nothing wrong with cruelty to animals in itself" (p. 113). It seems almost inconceivable today that highly intelligent thinkers of any period could maintain that nonhuman animals were not capable of suffering (a view to which René Descartes, the father of modern philosophy, was committed) or that they could suffer but that their suffering was of no direct moral consequence. However, up until at least Kant's time the most influential thinkers in the Western tradition believed precisely this.

The Argument against Anthropocentrism

Correcting anthropocentrically fueled intellectual distortions–or undermining them by showing their irrelevance to defensible moral conclusions–has been one of the central theoretical motivating factors for environmental ethicists. The central practical motivating factor has been the increasing sense, especially since the 1960s and the birth of the modern environmental movement, of a number of gathering ecological crises. It is the conviction of environmental ethicists that these theoretical and practical factors are directly related: that how people think about–or fail to think about–the value of the world around them has a direct connection with the ecological crises that people are experiencing today. Things might have turned out otherwise: People might have had a set of views that resulted in a far more ecologically respectful approach to the world around them yet still suffer from a range of ecological crises resulting from, say, an asteroid impact. However, it seems that the current ecological crises are largely anthropogenic, that is, of human origin. If it is true that there is a direct connection between these anthropogenic crises and the ways in which people think about and value the world, then environmental ethics must be thought of as a discipline that carries profound significance for the future of habitable life on Earth. Thus, Edward O. Wilson concluded a 1989 paper with the reflection that

Environmental ethics, still a small and neglected branch of intellectual activity, deserves to become a major branch of the humanities during the next hundred years. In the end, when all the accounting is done, conservation will boil down to a decision of ethics based on empirical knowledge: how we value the natural world in which we evolved and now, increasingly, how we regard our status as individuals. (p. 7)

Environmental ethics did not arise as a formal field of inquiry until the 1970s. Its official birth–after a period of gestation during the 1970s that saw the publication of a number of influential papers and books–perhaps can be dated to 1979 with the publication of Environmental Ethics, the first refereed journal in the field. Echoing the point made at the beginning of this entry about the term population, environmental ethicists have been unrelenting in pointing out that the discipline of ethics, and of philosophy generally, has been directly responsible for introducing and defending profoundly anthropocentric biases into Western thought.

A significant upshot of these biases is that the subject area known as ethics (or moral philosophy) has been focused almost exclusively on humans for the 2,500 years from the time of the Greek founders of this area of inquiry until at least the 1970s. Yet when people today hear the term environmental ethics, they think of it as a minor, specialized offshoot of a "main game" that is known purely and simply as ethics, when in fact environmental ethics represents a vast enlargement of the traditional boundaries of that main game. This is the case because it is the environmental ethicists who have deliberately and systematically criticized the traditional restriction of moral status to human beings on scientific, pragmatic, logical, moral, and even experiential grounds and at the same time have opened up the issue of moral status in order to address the question of what kinds of entities ought to be granted moral status and why. This means that it would be more logical, informative, and intellectually honest to change the name of what traditionally has been referred to as ethics to human ethics and to change thename of environmental ethics, which can mistakenly suggest a more specialized area of inquiry, to general ethics.

Ethical arguments that extend moral status beyond the human sphere typically begin by making two critically damaging points against the restriction of moral status to humans. The first is the logical point that it is not possible to identify a single morally relevant characteristic that distinguishes all humans from all nonhumans. For example, even if one accepted the idea that rationality (or the abilities that follow in its wake, such as the capacity to act as a moral agent) should be the criterion for moral status, one would find that there is a now standard objection to this view: the argument from marginal cases. This is the objection that such a view would not even include all humans, since some humans have not yet developed this capacity (infants), some have lost it and will never regain it (e.g., the senile, people in a persistent vegetative state), and some will never develop it (e.g., people who are profoundly retarded or brain damaged). Should it be permissible to do anything to these people, for example, experiment on them, as can be done to other animals, including other primates, humankind's closest evolutionary cousins, who can often lay more claim to rationality than can these "marginal cases"? However, if one tries to come up with a morally relevant characteristic that will include all humans, including these marginal cases, one will find that one is employing a criterion of moral status that also includes a great many nonhuman beings.

The second argument against the restriction of moral status to humans is the moral point that the traditional criteria that have been advanced for moral status–such as those of rationality or actual or potential moral agency and those that rest on highly contested religious assumptions–are irrelevant to the basic reason why most people think it is categorically wrong, say, to torture a baby. The basic reason most people think that this is categorically wrong is not because the baby is actually or even potentially rational, capable of moral agency, or endowed with a soul but simply that the baby will suffer if this is done and that there is no justification for inflicting that suffering. However, if this is the basic reason, consistency of reasoning–or what might simply be called intellectual honesty–demands that one should not inflict unnecessary suffering on any being that is capable of suffering (i.e., any sentient being).

This essentially is the argument that was advanced by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), the founding father of utilitarianism, and later was taken up and elaborated by Peter Singer. For Singer and other animal liberationists, consistency requires that equal consideration be given to equal degrees of pain no matter who the bearer of that pain is; to say that one should be concerned about pain only when it occurs in humans and not when it occurs in other primates, cats, birds, or fish is akin to saying that one should be concerned about pain only when it is experienced by men or whites. It amounts, in other words, to a morally indefensible form of discrimination, which Singer refers to as speciesism.

Nonanthropocentric Arguments

Other thinkers have developed different arguments for attributing moral status to nonhuman animals. These arguments range from Tom Regan's "subject-of-a-life" approach to animal rights, which would attribute the same degree of moral status to many nonhuman animals that is attributed to humans, to Richard Ryder's "painism" approach, which Ryder argues combines the best of Singer's and Regan's approaches, to R. G. Frey's "unequal value thesis" and Charles Birch and John Cobb's "richness of experience" approach, both of which only go halfway toward accepting Singer's argument in that they accept the moral significance of sentience but attribute different degrees of moral status to nonhuman animals–and people–on the basis of their overall capacity for richness of experience.

If one accepts any of these arguments even partially, one has attributed at least some degree of moral status to the members of a great many kinds of populations other than human populations. The implications of this for human action, including the incursion of human populations on nonhuman populations, are potentially immense.

However, that is just the beginning of the nonanthropocentric argument. Other thinkers go even further and argue that living things per se (such as plants) embody certain kinds of interests (such as the need for light and water) whether these living things are sentient or not. For example, physician Albert Schweitzer advanced a "reverence for life" ethic that has found more contemporary and perhaps more philosophically rigorous statement in the work of both Kenneth Goodpaster and Paul Taylor. Other environmental ethicists have noted that all the approaches discussed so far–anthropocentric, zoocentric, and biocentric–focus on individual entities: humans, nonhuman animals (or at least some nonhuman animals), and living things (including plants), respectively.

For these thinkers, there is something that is even more radically different about environmental ethical thought than its rejection of anthropocentrism: its questioning of any ethic, no matter how nonanthropocentric, that confines itself to an individualistic moral focus. In their view, what is profoundly revolutionary about environmental ethical questions is that they force people to take seriously the idea that certain kinds of complex wholes–paradigmatically, ecosystems and the ecosphere itself–may be proper foci of moral concern in their own right.

This idea was first seriously advanced in an ecological context by the American forester and conservationist Aldo Leopold in the culminating section ("The Land Ethic") of A Sand County Almanac, originally published in 1949. Contemporary environmental ethicists such as J. Baird Callicott and James Heffernan have drawn different kinds of inspiration from Leopold's pioneering Land Ethic in elaborating more philosophically rigorous versions of ecological holism. Other environmental philosophers, such as the advocates of "deep ecology" and "ecofeminism," are impatient with formal philosophical arguments about moral status per se and want instead to construct a type of ecological virtue ethics in which the point of the ethical enterprise would be to cultivate a wider and deeper sense of identification with the world around humankind in the case of deep ecology or a more caring attitude toward that world in the case of ecofeminism. Again, the implications of these nonanthropocentric views–biocentric, ecocentric, deep ecological, and ecofeminist–for the scale and rate of human impact on the natural world are potentially immense. This realization raises significant ethical questions about the built environment–both how people build and how people live in built environments–that are just beginning to be explored from an environmental ethical perspective.

However, lest these approaches (or at least those which are explicitly concerned with questions of moral status) sound like a simple continuum–a kind of linear bus ride in which different people who consider these issues get off at stops labeled anthropocentrism, zoocentrism, biocentrism, and ecocentrism (or ecological holism), depending on how far they feel the arguments oblige them to go–it must be pointed out that there are some very sharp turns and even disjunctions along this path.

To start with, nonanthropocentric environmental ethicists in general have an argument with the whole Western ethical tradition, which has systematically excluded and even denigrated the moral status of all members and aspects of the nonhuman world. However, even within the nonanthropocentric environmental ethical fold there are major divisions and disagreements. One of the most theoretically difficult and practically urgent is the argument between those who adopt an individualistic focus and those who adopt a holistic focus. Recent research suggests that the second leading cause of loss of biodiversity in the world today is introduced species that have become invasive and outcompeted indigenous species. What to do? In the case of invasive (nonhuman) animals such as feral cats and foxes in Australia, the animal liberationist–and certainly the animal rights advocate–is committed to saying in effect, "Leave the invasive animals alone; they have as much right to live as any other animals," whereas the ecocentrist is committed to saying, "Do whatever is necessary to get rid of the invasive animals; we have a duty to preserve the characteristic diversity of this region." There are real-world examples of precisely this sort of confrontation. Thus, Callicott once characterized the argument about animal liberation as a "triangular affair," a three-way argument between anthropocentric ethicists, animal welfare advocates, and ecocentrists.

The Future of Environmental Ethics

These kinds of debates are both important and overdue. Environmental ethics or, more logically, general ethics is overturning the Western ethical tradition, is still in its infancy, and both promises and needs to become, as Wilson said, a major branch of intellectual inquiry in the next hundred years.

See also: Animal Rights; Ecological Perspectives on Population; Future Generations, Obligations to; Sustainable Development.

bibliography

Birch, Charles, and John Cobb. 1981. The Liberation of Life. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press.

Callicott, J. Baird. 1980. "Animal Liberation: A Triangular Affair." Environmental Ethics 2: 311–338.

——, ed. 1987. Companion to a Sand County Almanac: Interpretive and Critical Essays. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Cohen, Carl, and Tom Regan. 2001. The Animal Rights Debate. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Fox, Warwick. 1995a. Toward a Transpersonal Ecology: Developing New Foundations for Environmentalism. Albany: State University of New York Press, and Totnes, Devon, Eng.: Green Books.

—— 1995b. "Anthropocentrism." In Conservation and Environmentalism: An Encyclopedia, ed. Robert Paehlke. New York and London: Garland Publishing.

——, ed. 2000. Ethics and the Built Environment. London: Routledge.

Heffernan, James. 1982. "The Land Ethic: A Critical Appraisal" Environmental Ethics 4: 235–247.

Johnson, Lawrence. 1991. A Morally Deep World: An Essay on Moral Significance and Environmental Ethics. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press.

La Follette, Hugh. 1997. Ethics in Practice: An Anthology. Malden, MA, and Oxford: Blackwell.

Passmore, John. 1980. Man's Responsibility for Nature: Ecological Problems and Western Traditions. 2nd edition. London: Duckworth & Co.

Ryder, Richard. 2001. Painism: A Modern Morality. London: Centaur Press.

Singer, Peter. 1990 (1975). Animal Liberation, 2nd edition. London: Jonathan Cape.

Warren, Mary Anne. 1997. Moral Status: Obligations to Persons and Other Living Things. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wilson, Edward O. 1989. "Conservation: The Next Hundred Years." In Conservation for the Twenty-First Century, ed. David Western and Mary Pearl. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Zimmerman, Michael, general ed. 2001. Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Warwick Fox

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Environmental Ethics

Environmental ethics

Ethics is a branch of philosophy that primarily discusses issues dealing with human behavior and character. Ethics attempts to establish a basis for judging right from wrong and good from bad. Environmental ethics employs concepts from the entire field of philosophy, especially aesthetics, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, and social and political philosophy in an effort to relate moral values to human interactions with the natural world.

Aesthetics deals with perceptions of physical properties such as color , sound, smell , texture, and taste . Since environmental ethics is often involved with issues dealing with the protection of plants and animals, its appeal is often to aesthetic experiences of nature. Environmental ethics is also interconnected with political and social structures concerning the use of natural resources, so the field also touches the areas of social and political philosophy. In the struggle to conserve the environment, environmental ethicists also use the knowledge and theories of science, for example, in issues such as those dealing with global warming and air pollution .


Key issues

Just as philosophers try to answer questions about reality, environmental ethicists attempt to answer the questions of how human beings should relate to their environment, how to use Earth's resources, and how to treat other species , both plant and animal . Some of the conflicts that arise from environmental policies deal with the rights of individuals versus those of the state, and the rights of private property owners versus those of a community.

Methods of dealing with environmental issues vary among the organizations that are devoted to protecting the environment. An important milestone toward a national environmental movement was an event that first took place on many college campuses across the United States on April 22, 1970. This was called Earth Day, and it used social protest and demonstration as a way of raising awareness about environmental issues. Earth Day has since become an annual event. In the United States, such groups as the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, Greenpeace, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the National Wildlife Federation use education and the political arena to lobby Congress for laws to protect the environment. These groups sometimes also use the legal system as a method to change environmental actions and attitudes.

The call to conserve and protect the environment has resulted in the passage of many laws. Among them are the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the National Forest Management Act of 1976, and the National Acid Precipitation Act of 1980. In 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created to oversee federal environmental policies and laws. This increased governmental activity supports the belief of many environmental activists that more is accomplished by working through the political and social arenas than in theorizing about ethics. However, others maintain that the exploration of ideas in environmental ethics is an important springboard for social and political action.

Environmental issues are not universally supported. The conflicts between those who want to protect the natural environment and its species, and those for which this is a lesser concern, often center around economic issues. For example, environmentalists in the Pacific Northwest want to protect the habitat of the rare spotted owl, which inhabits old-growth forests on which the timber industry and many people depend for their livelihood. There is much controversy over who had the most "right" to use this forest. The perception of those who are economically affected by protection of the old-growth forest is that spotted owls have become more "important" than the needs of people. Environmentalists, on the other hand, believe that both are important and have legitimate needs.

Environmental attitudes

The cultural and economic background of a person is likely to influence his views with regard to the environment. While these views can vary significantly, they can generally be categorized into one of three positions: the development ethic, the preservation ethic, or the conservation ethic. Each of these attitudes represents a generalized moral code for interaction with the environment.

The development ethic considers the human race to be the master of nature and that the resources of Earth exist solely for human benefit. The positive nature of growth and development is an important theme within this philosophy. This view suggests that hard work and technological improvements can overcome any limitations of natural resources.

The preservation ethic suggests that nature itself has intrinsic value and deserves protection. Some preservationists assert that all life forms have rights equal to those of humans. Others seek to preserve nature for aesthetic or recreational reasons. Still other preservationists value the diversity represented by the natural environment and suggest that humans are unaware of the potential value of many species and their natural ecosystems.

The conservation ethic recognizes the limitations of natural resources on Earth and states that unlimited economic or population growth is not feasible. This philosophy seeks to find a balance between the availability and utilization of natural resources.

The fundamental differences between each of these attitudes are the basis for debate and conflict in environmental policies today. These views dictate the behavior of corporations, governments, and even individuals and the solution to any environmental issues will first require an acknowledgement and some consensus of attitudes.


Environmental ethics and the law

In 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was established to oversee the various federal environmental laws that had been enacted. One of its major functions is to review the environmental impacts of highway projects, large-scale commercial and residential construction, power plants, and other large undertakings involving the federal government. A major tool of the EPA is its power to issue an "environmental impact statement" that evaluates a proposed project before it is undertaken. The advocates of this planning tool believe that is of great value in protecting the environment, particularly when a project is a potential threat to human health or the natural environment. However, others maintain that the agency and its work frustrate worthwhile projects and economic growth.

Lawyers who deal with environmental issues are key players in the issues raised by environmental ethics. They may bring court action against companies that, for example, leak toxic substances into the groundwater or emit harmful smoke from factories. Disasters like the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska help fuel demands for better environmental controls, since cases like this clearly show the damage that can be caused to fish , birds , and the natural environment. The Exxon Valdez oil spill was also an economic loss to Alaskan fishermen, who blame the disaster for degrading their ability to fish and make a living. What is always being weighed legally and ethically is how much environmental damage to the environment and its inhabitants can be judged as reasonable, and how much is not.


Major contributors

Environmental ethicists trace the roots of modern American environmental attitudes to the idea of private ownership. During the European Middle Ages, a strong ideal of individual land ownership emerged, in contrast to control by a ruler or a governmental body. This became the basis of property rights in the American Colonies of Britain, as advocated by Thomas Jefferson. The strongly held belief of the right to hold private property remains a cornerstone of American thinking, and is often at odds with issues of environmental ethics.

Farming the land was not the only activity in the early history of the development of the North American continent by European settlers. Before there was significant development of farmland in the interior of the continent, explorers, trappers, and naturalists were looking over the landscape for other reasons. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the attitudes of naturalists and hunters about killing animals were similar. For the naturalist, it was the only way to examine new species up close. For the hunter, killing animals was a way of making a living, from sale of the meat, fur, or some other product, such as ivory.

It was not until Dr. Edwin James' expedition into the Rocky Mountains in 1819-1820 that it was suggested that some parts of the continent should be conserved for wildlife . One of the first to calculate the destruction of wildlife in North America was the artist George Catlin (1796-1872), who studied the Upper Missouri Indians. He was the first American to advocate a national park for people and animals alike. By 1872, it became clear that the plains buffalo had been massacred to the point of near extinction , and Congress established Yellowstone National Park as the first national park in the country.


Thomas Malthus

Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) had an enormous influence on the development of environmental ethics through his theory about population growth, which raised the primary question of how many human beings could be sustained by the ecosystems of Earth. Malthus was an English economist who published An Essay on the Principle of Population as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society in 1798, just as the Industrial Revolution was beginning in Europe . Malthus believed that if the natural forces of war, famine, and disease did not reduce the rate of growth of the human population, it would increase to the point where it could not be sustained by the natural resources that are available. The problem, as Malthus saw it, was that population increased geometrically, while resources could only grow arithmetically. In a later essay in 1803 he proposed late marriage and sexual abstinence as ways of restraining population growth. Malthus' ideas influenced other activists of the nineteenth century, including Robert Owen (1791-1858), who advocated birth control for the poor. However, there was a great deal of opposition to the ideas of Malthus from such social reformers as William Godwin, who took a more optimistic view of the benefits gained through "progress," and its possibilities for improving the lives of people.

While predicting a population explosion, Malthus did not foresee the technological changes that have increased the capacity of modern societies to sustain increasingly larger populations of people (at least for the time being). However, modern ecologists, social scientists, environmental ethicists, and politicians still must deal with the question of how large a population this planet can sustain without destroying its ecosystems, and subsequently much of the human population as well.


Theodore Roosevelt

President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) was at the forefront of the conservation movement that developed in America from 1890 to 1920. By the end of the nineteenth century, the United States was an industrialized society. Many of the country's natural resources were already threatened, as its wildlife had been earlier by commercial hunting. Diminishing stocks of forest, rangeland , water , and mineral resources were all of great concern to Roosevelt during his presidency. In his government, Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946), the head of the Forest Service, and James R. Garfield, Secretary of the Interior, argued for a comprehensive policy to plan the use and development of the natural resources of the United States.

While there was political opposition in Congress and among industrial developers to such ideas, there was support among some segments of the public. John Muir (1838-1914) founded the Sierra Club in this atmosphere of support for the conservation of natural resources. Some American businesses that depended on renewable resources were also supportive. The goal of this emerging "conservation movement" was to sustain natural resources without causing undue economic hardship.

New federal agencies were formed, including the National Park Service and the Bureau of Reclamation. State conservation laws were also passed in support of the conservation movement. The historical periods of both World Wars and the economic depression of the 1930s slowed the conservation movement, but did not destroy its foundation.


Aldo Leopold

American conservationist Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) is credited as the founding father of wildlife ecology . In his tenure with the U.S. Forest Service, Leopold pioneered the concept of game management. He recognized the linkage between the available space and food supply and the number of animals that may be supported within an area. Leopold observed in his influential book A Sand County Almanac that the greatest impediment to achieving what he called a "land ethic" was the predominant view of the land as a commodity, managed solely in terms of its economic value. He argued that instead, humans need to view themselves as part of a community which also includes the land. In his effort to guide the change in philosophy, Leopold wrote, "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."


Rachel Carson

A reawakening of environmental issues took place when Rachel Carson (1907-1964) published her book Silent Spring in 1962. Carson was a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service, and had already published The Sea Around Us in 1951. In Silent Spring, she alerted the world to the dangers of harmful pesticides that were being used in agriculture, particularly DDT. Later American writers who carried the "environmental message" into the public arena include Paul Ehrlich and Barry Commoner.

In the decades following the publication of Silent Spring, the earlier conservation movement became transformed into a worldwide environmental movement. Evidence of this transformation includes the growth of organizations such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, and an expansion of legislation designed to protect the environment, preserve species, and ensure the health of humans. Carson's writings made the world community aware of the interrelationships of humans and ecosystems. The ideas that pollution in one area can affect the environment in another, and that humans cannot live without the goods and services provided by ecosystems, are now commonly understood facts.

Concerns about acid rain , deforestation , global warming, and nuclear catastrophes like Chernobyl (1986) have helped the cause of those who argue for improved policies and laws to protect the whole environment and all of its inhabitants. In addition, activism has resulted in many non-governmental environmental organizations forming to tackle specific problems, some of a protective nature, others focused on conservation, and others designed to reclaim damaged areas.

High-profile Earth Summits sponsored by the United Nations met in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and again in Johannesburg in 2002. The goal of these meetings was to develop plans for implementing social, economic, and environmental change for future development. The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 was an attempt to require the industrialized nations to reduce emission of "greenhouse gases." However, some environmentalists asssert that little of substance was accomplished in terms of getting specific commitments from governments around the world to undertake serious action. As in the past, economic pressures came into stark conflict with the philosophical premises of environmental ethics. The same questions of how much protection our environment and its resources need, and how much must this would interfere with economic progress, are still relevant today.

See also Ecology; Endangered species; Greenhouse effect

Resources

books

Botzler, R.G., and S.J. Armstrong. Environmental Ethics: Divergence and Convergence. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw Hill Companies, 1997.

Miller, Peter, and Laura Westra. Just Ecological Integrity: TheEthics of Maintaining Planetary Life. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.

VanDeVeer, Donald, and Christine Pierce. The EnvironmentalEthics and Policy Book: Philosophy, Ecology, Economics. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2003.

other

University of Cambridge. "Environmental Ethics Resources on WWW" [cited January 28, 2003]. <http://www.ethics.ubc. ca/resources/environmental/>.


Vita Richman

KEY TERMS

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Aesthetics

—The branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of beauty.

Epistemology

—The study of the nature of knowledge, its limits and validity.

Metaphysics

—The study in philosophy of the nature of reality and being.

Philosophy of science

—The study of the fundamental laws of nature as they are revealed through scientific investigation.

Political philosophy

—The beliefs underlying a political structure within a society and how it should be governed.

Social philosophy

—The beliefs underlying the social structure within a society and how people should behave toward one another.

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Environmental Ethics

ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS

Modern science and technology have brought about a unique, human-caused transformation of the Earth. Although humans have for thousands of years had measurable terrestrial impacts with fire, agriculture, and urbanization, since the Industrial Revolution the scope, scale, and speed of such impacts have exceeded all those in the past (Kates, Turner, and Clark 1990) and promise to become even more dramatic in the future. Humans have become what the Russian scientist V. I. Vernadsky in the 1920s called a geological force, in a sense even more strongly than he imagined it. Environmental ethics and, more generally, environmental philosophy comprise a variety of philosophical responses to the concerns raised by the magnitude of this transformation.

Basic Issues

Since the noxious clouds and pollution-clogged rivers of the Industrial Revolution, society has generally agreed that many modern technological activities, due to their potentially devastating impact on nature and people, are in need of regulation. Recognition of the fact that humans can foul their own nests is now widely accepted and often politically effective. Indeed concerns about the counterproductivity of scientifically and technologically enhanced human conduct in the early-twenty-first century extends to discussions of population increase, environmental costs borne by the poor and minorities, and responsibilities to future generations. But it is not clear that addressing such anthropocentric worries adequately encompasses all properly human interests. Beyond working to live within the environmental limits for the production of resources and absorption of wastes—which can be pursued both by moderating activities and transforming technologies—questions arise about whether nonhuman or extrahuman considerations have a role to play. What are the ethical responsibilities, the moral duties, of humans to nonhuman animals, plants, populations, species, biotic communities, ecosystems, and landforms? Should environmental outcomes for these, or at least some of these, not mean something in their own right quite apart from their mere resource value for human exploitation? Ought humans not to respect nature to some degree for what it is intrinsically? Much of the professional field of environmental ethics has been exercised with articulation and debate regarding the relative weight of human- and extrahuman-centered concerns.

Moreover early-twenty-first-century humans are often ambivalent about the place of nature in human life. Human beings of all times and places have needed and wanted freedom from many of the harsh conditions of the natural world, but earlier humans also celebrated the grace of nature in art, song, story, and ceremony. Modern technological efforts perfect the former and neglect the latter. Could it be that human flourishing is connected to nature flourishing? If so, over and above respect for nature, a celebration of things natural and the natural world in human lives and communities throughout the world is necessary. Although their numbers remain comparatively small, many people are stirred by passionate feelings about nature in communities that have long turned their backs to the river. While some critics argue the pathetic fallacy of such positions, the question of how much say nature and natural things will have over human life and the planet remains.

Any philosophical criticism of the anthropogenic transformation of the natural world must ultimately lead to an assessment of human culture. Perhaps humans have been at some level mistaken about the fundamental payoffs of environmental exploitation. In many instances, the technological control of nature that displaces its celebration leaves people numb, mindless, or out of shape. It seems necessary to coordinate a critique of technological damage with discovery of new ways for living with nature in order simultaneously to save the planet from environmental degradation and society from cultural impoverishment. The quality of the environment and of human life —questions of environmental and interhuman ethics (the good life)—may be inseparable.

The extensive transformation of the Earth deserves to be seen from the perspective of both the natural world and culture. This transformation could not have taken place without widespread agreement underlying the fundamental orientation of the modern technological project. There may be several ways of understanding this agreement, and there is debate among scholars on this issue (Borgmann 1984; Higgs, Light, and Strong 2000; Zimmerman et al. 2000). Despite differences, there is nevertheless a consensus that unless people unite concerns for nature and culture, environmental ethics will prove to be inconsequential. In other words, an effective environmental ethics and philosophy must include as well a philosophy of technological culture.

Historical Development

Historically environmental ethics is associated with a certain unease about the unbridled exploitation of nature that is typical of post-Industrial Revolution society. As Roderick Nash (2001), among others, points out, such uneasiness was first evidenced in post-Civil War United States concerns over the loss of both wilderness and natural resources—concerns that led to the creation of the first U.S. national park (1872) and then forest service (1905). After World War II, the creation of a second wave of environmental concern centered around the wilderness movement of the 1950s that led to the Wilderness Act (1964) and Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962), which argued that aggressive technology in the form of the extensive use of chemical pesticides, especially DDT, was killing millions of songbirds and could eventually have a much broader impact on plant, animal, and even human life. Nuclear weapons and energy production, technological disasters (such as the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969), wasteful extraction and use of resources, the rise of consumerism, the population explosion, oil shortages (in 1973 and 1977), pollution, and a host of related environmental problems combined to establish in popular consciousness what can be called an environmental or ecological crisis about the health of the Earth as a whole. Existing conservation measures, with their many successes, were nevertheless judged too weak to respond to the new problems, leading to the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA 1969) and to the establishment of the first national Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by President Richard Nixon in 1972. At the same time, some began to question whether enlightened self-interest was a sufficient basis for assessing the contemporary state of environmental affairs and argue that nature mattered in ways beyond its strictly human utilities and should be protected with an eye for more than human safety and health.

Among figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and Albert Schweitzer, wildlife biologist and ecologist Aldo Leopold advocated this position before environmental ethics became a popular movement. Early in his career as a professor of wildlife management, Leopold thought that nature could be reorganized for human ends (enhancing wildlife populations by eliminating wolves, for instance) if one took a long-range view and was scientifically informed. However in his mature work A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There (1949), Leopold criticized reliance on the conservationist position, and argued that the land, what is now called an ecosystem, must be approached holistically and with love and respect, that is, with what he calls the land ethic. He said, "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise" (Leopold 2000, pp. 224–225). Leopold articulated the emerging new ethic concerning both living things as individuals and the natural system itself, including the community concept generated by the relatively new sciences of evolution and ecology. This was in contrast to earlier theories that invited human domination of nature, which Leopold believed were encouraged by the older hard sciences.

The groundwork for environmental ethics as such was laid in the 1970s. During the first half of that decade, four independent philosophical works launched the academic field. Arne Naess's "The Shallow and Deep, Long-range Ecology Movement: A Summary" (1973) called for a radical change in the human-nature relationship, and became a seminal work of the deep ecology movement. Richard Sylvan's (then Routley) "Is There a Need for a New, an Environmental, Ethic?" (1973) argued that modern ethical theories were inadequate for the full range of moral intuitions regarding nature. Peter Singer's "Animal Liberation" (1973) reanimated Jeremy Bentham's proposal for including sentient members of nonhuman species in the utilitarian calculus. And Holmes Rolston III's "Is There an Ecological Ethic?" (1975) distinguished between a secondary sense environmental ethic in which moral rules are derived from concerns for human health or related issues, and a primary sense environmental ethic, in which nonhuman sentient animals as well as all living things, ecosystems, and even landforms are respected because they are intrinsically valuable apart from any value to humans. For Rolston, the secondary ethic is anthropocentric and not truly environmental, whereas the primary is truly environmental and ecocentric. Subsequently Kenneth Goodpaster (1978) developed the fertile concept of moral considerability to discuss more generally who and what, if anything nonhuman, counts ethically. In 1979 Eugene C. Hargrove founded Environmental Ethics, the first journal in the field.

Mainstream environmental ethics matured over the next decade. Animal liberation and rights discussions flourished and became a separate field from, and often in conflict with, environmental ethics, because ecosystems sacrifice the welfare of individual animals. Within mainstream environmental ethics, ethical theories regarding individual lives of animals and plants, usually called biocentric or life-centered, began to be distinguished from holistic approaches that dealt with preserving entire ecosystems, called ecocentric or ecosystem-centered ethics. Leopold's earlier vision developed in different ways in the systematic works of J. Baird Callicot, deep ecologists, and others.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the field witnessed remarkable growth. Currently there are numerous journals, two professional organizations (the International Society for Environmental Ethics and the International Association for Environmental Philosophy), and an array of Internet sites devoted to it. Colleges and universities routinely teach courses in environmental ethics.

Environmental ethics theorists, in the early twenty-first century, believe they are taking a radically new direction because they are informed by scientific insight and philosophical prowess. Many aspire to produce universal claims about humans and the environment. They argue the urgent need for a new environmental ethic governing the duties of people toward nature, and reject the view of nature, which started with the rise of modern science, as value-neutral stuff that humans can manipulate as they please.

However recent developments in science complicate and challenge environmental ethics. Ecology has always accepted change, but modern ecology has moved away from early ecology's notion of stable, climax communities (usually pre-Columbian) reached by moving at a steady pace through successive stages. The notion that nature tends toward equilibrium conditions, a balance of nature, has become largely rejected in favor of the view that ecological processes are much more unruly and undirected. Catastrophic, episodic, and random events may be more responsible for the ecological condition than ordinary cycles. Ecological settings, once disturbed, do not automatically return to their predisturbance state. What were thought to be symbiotic relationships between members of an ecological community are often better understood as assemblages of individuals acting opportunistically. The assumed relationship between biodiversity and stability does not always hold up to scientific scrutiny. Added to these are complicating human and cultural influences such as the role of Native Americans in shaping ecosystems, the European introduction of horses, and global climate change. In light of these factors, environmental ethics theorists must again consider the acceptability of the control and maintenance of nature for human benefit. Those who have been inspired by ecology generally, and Leopold in particular, struggle to revise their theories. Most of these revisions turn on protecting dynamic processes rather than fixed-states and on considering the relative magnitude of anthropogenic transformation. Modern human-caused ecological changes differ dramatically from natural-caused changes in terms of rates (for instance, of extinction or of climate change), scope, and scale.

Beginning in the late 1980s and following a direction initiated by deep ecology, environmental ethics, with its focus on elaborating moral duties to nature, was felt by many to be too constrictive to address the questions of humankind's place in nature or nature's place in the technological setting. Nature seems to count in ways that were neither exclusively exploitive nor independent of humans. Others find that environmental ethics too often stops short of cultural critique. For instance, criticism of the modern transformation of the Earth from a predominantly technological and cultural standpoint is considered to be an inappropriate subject for the journal Environmental Ethics. Third, concern with a new environmental ethic in a primary sense was denounced for diverting attention from developing sophisticated and effective anthropocentric positions. Whereas environmental ethics is popularly understood as being synonymous with environmental philosophy, philosophers often conceive of environmental philosophy an alternative field, distinguished by its philosophical broader concern regarding the human and cultural relationship with nature (Zimmerman et al. 2000).

Scope and Central Issues of Environmental Ethics

Human beings are expected to act morally, but no such expectation exists for animals and plants; ethics is limited traditionally to the sphere of moral agents, those capable of reciprocity of rights and duties. No one in environmental ethics argues that anything in nature is a moral agent and morally responsible. If human beings can overcome the problem of extending moral duties beyond moral agents, other issues become central for environmental ethics including: (a) What duties should constrain human actions on the part of other beings who can suffer or are subjects of a life, that is, sentient animals? and (b) Should sentient animals be ranked, for example, primates first, followed by squirrels, trout, and shrimp, depending on the degree to which an animal can be pained or the complexity of their psychological makeup? Human duties toward different kinds of animals may be clarified with advances in neuroscience and animal psychology.

However ranking animals according to these hierarchies may simply be an imposition of anthropocentric norms, that is selecting paradigmatically human characteristics as a basis for rank. What duties do humans have toward those who are alive, usually defined as nonsentient animals and plants? Do all living things possess biological needs, even when there are no psychological interests? If some duties obtain, how should these take into consideration the natural order where life feeds on life and might makes right, for instance?

Other issues also merit consideration. Can moral extensionism by analogy apply beyond individualistic accounts, beyond selves, to other parts of the natural world? Do humans have duties to microbes and to mere things such as rocks, rivers, landforms, and places? A final crucial issue to be considered by environmental ethics is whether humans have duties to species and ecosystems that are not only not alive and do not suffer, but are not individual beings at all?

Many environmental ethicists believe that humankind can answer these questions only when the question of whether nature possesses intrinsic value is answered (Light and Rolston 2002). Normally intrinsic value is distinguished from instrumental value. Instrumental value is use-value, that is, something is valued merely for its utility as a means to some other end beyond itself. Exploiting nature for its instrumental value is seen as the root cause of the ecological crisis. If nature is value-neutral, then humans can dispose of it anthropocentrically as they please. The only alternative to instrumental value, it may seem, is a kind of hands-off, nonrelational respect for nature. If nature matters intrinsically, independently of humans, then its value may prescribe moral consideration.

For instance, all life forms seek to avoid death and injury and to grow, repair, and reproduce themselves by using elements (including other life forms) of the environment instrumentally. These elements have instrumental value for the life-form. On the other hand, in order to generate instrumental value these life-forms must be centers of purpose—growth, maintenance, and reproduction. They must have sakes or intrinsic value which they pursue. Because the organism's intrinsic value and the instrumental values derived from the organism's pursuit of its own well-being exist whether or not there are humans, such values are independent of humans. For example, grizzlies have a stake in the use of pesticides to control army cutworms in the Midwest because scientific studies show that migrated cutworm moths constitute a significant portion of their diet.

Yet, it is argued, this cannot be a complete account of intrinsic value because the individual may not be a good kind, for example, a nonnative species such as spotted-knapweed in North America. Should the life of such a species be respected and allowed to be a good of its kind, or should humans seek to eliminate it? Good kinds need to be weighed in relation to a natural ecosystem. Can a species that uses the forces of evolution to improve itself have intrinsic value, even though it has no self? Having wolves cull elk herds will help the species by assuring that elk maintain a good gene pool that is better adapted; however, no individual elk welcomes these wolves. Are any species more valuable than others? By genetic standards alone, there is more biodiversity among the microbes in some Yellowstone Park hotpots than the rest of the larger life-forms of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Finally should the concept of intrinsic value be reserved for the products of the ecosystem and evolution and not the processes themselves, the source of these products?

Significant philosophical (and practical) problems as suggested occur here. How do humans adjust intrinsic values found in nature with people (Schmidtz and Willott 2002)? Second, can humans speak of intrinsic value apart from human minds? Environmental ethicists provide conflicting answers, ranging from conventional anthropocentric to nonanthropocentric value subjectivist versus value objectivist debates between Callicot and Rolston (Rolston 1993). Third, by focusing so much energy on the nonrelational, intrinsic value of the autonomy of natural things and of nature, environmental ethics tends to concentrate on nature disengaged from humans: particularly on wild nature and the independent natural order. Initial unease with the environment, however, is likely caused in part by the disruption of humanity's bonds of engagement with nature. Between the instrumental resource value of nature and the nonrelational intrinsic value of nature, between the misused and the unused, lies a third alternative: the well used and the well loved. Nature has correlational value for humans in the sense that nature's flourishing is bound up with human flourishing in a kind of correlational coexistence (Strong 1995, p. 70). Allowing consideration for nature to more strongly influence the design and maintenance of cities may make them more livable, enjoyable, and attractive.

Environmental Philosophy

Turning from environmental ethics to environmental philosophy, agreement about the limitations of conservation measures and analysis of nature solely in terms of its exploitive-value exists, but with an argument for broader reflection. Deep ecologists, for instance, call for metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, political, and cultural changes. What philosophers find most troubling—anthropocentrism, patriarchy, class struggle, placelessness, the technological project itself, and so on—colors the nature of the environmental philosophy.

Deep ecology has focused on anthropocentrism as the source of ecological problems. To overcome this, deep ecologists, such as Naess, advocate a new sense of self-realization (Fox 1995). Anthropocentric self-realization is atomistic, selfish behavior. From an ecological understanding of humankind as part of a larger whole, deep ecologists argue that human beings can reconceive of themselves as extending to that larger whole; reframed, human realization is tantamount to the realization of that larger whole, usually written as Self-realization in contrast to anthropocentric self-realization. From this perspective or reframing of human life, nature no longer seems like a resource to be used for a separate human good, but rather as its own good. Other ways of overcoming this anthropocentrism emphasize Naess's eight-point platform that includes a call for decreases in consumption. Yet to rail against consumerism and its destructiveness is not to understand its motivation and attraction. Without understanding those aspects (a topic for technology studies and ethics), can humans become genuinely liberated from it?

Stepping beyond strictly scientific accounts of ecosystems, humans historically and across cultures—for example, Greek, Chinese, and Incan temples—have understood profoundly, cared for, respected, revered, and celebrated the natural world. There is a good deal to learn from how some cultures prescribe the human relationship with nature, and for recent developments in environmental philosophy, such as bioregionalism, an understanding of cultures of place plays a central role their theories and practices (Abram 1996, Jamieson 2003, Snyder 2000). The intuitive and eclectic nature of deep ecology and bioregionalism, as well as their activist emphasis, has made these environmental philosophies especially popular.

Ecofeminism is another promising version of environmental philosophy. Common to different kinds of ecofeminism is the idea of, as Karen Warren puts it, the "twin domination of women and nature," and that both forms of domination ought to be overcome (Zimmerman et al. 2000, p. 325). Some ecofeminists distance themselves from other forms of environmental ethics by arguing that the latter are dominated by male voices and male-centrism, or androcentrism. Some ecofeminists, inspired by Carol Gilligan's work and postmodernism generally, criticize notions of abstraction and detachment, reason, and universality as pretentious and arrogant. They attempt to replace such concepts with an ethics of care, which is highly contextual, particular, and more focused on relationships than on formal rules and individuals (such as earlier philosophies that focused on animals and plants). For instance, ecofeminists have characterized the notion of Self-realization as a means of eradicating the differences between humans and the natural world rather than as an instrument that fosters recognition and acceptance of the differences of these others.

Val Plumwood in particular has shown that concerns about anthropocentrism can be addressed in the same ways concerns with androcentrism are dealt with by her, without giving up personal points of view, which she argues is impossible (Plumwood 1999). More specific analyses of anthropocentrism allow people to devise more alternatives to it. However arguments for an end to the domination of nature entirely are too general. One can criticize a limitless technological domination of nature without claiming that all human domination is unwarranted. Even though Warren rappels down a cliff as opposed to climbing and dominating it, she uses technological devices that lessen the risk involved and insure that the activity is performed safely. Whether humans use bicycles, public transportation, or SUVs to reach such cliffs, they use technology that dominates nature to some extent, albeit almost imperceptibly. What human beings must learn is to carefully limit technology and technological domination.

As with ecofeminist views of patriarchy, many social and political ecologists, inspired by socialist economic perspectives (and some inspired by the work Lewis Mumford), locate the source of human unease as social hierarchy, placing dominance of economic power at the root of social injustice and the ecological crisis. If social hierarchy does not end, humans cannot expect a substantive change in their relationship with nature.

Consideration of social issues opens environmental philosophy to social and philosophical theories of technology (and vice versa) in ways that remain largely undeveloped. The question concerns the earlier issue of how deeply human culture's fundamental orientation toward nature lies. Would a change of social hierarchy alone result in a sufficiently radical change of orientation or does society need to outgrow its current technological orientation, as is posited in the social theories of technology based on the work of Martin Heidegger and Jacques Ellul? Locating the center of gravity with technology, these theories of technology call for prescriptions that differ with other social theories. To use technology in a different way may call for a sea change for nature and material culture.

A related political issue is environmental justice. Some argue that it would take the resources of at least two more Earths to bring all people on this planet up to the standard of the developed nations. The environmental cost of the transformation of the Earth is borne disproportionately, both within and outside of the United States, by the poor, minorities, and women. Moreover the cost of environmental legislation often falls disproportionately on these groups, giving rise to a charge of elitism against environmentalists. Finally, those in developed countries who take modern conveniences for granted often callously disregard the genuine hardships suffered by those in developing countries where such technological relief is unavailable or inadequate. The challenge for environmental philosophy is to meet moral concerns for social justice and nature. What conditions are required to put a life of excellence within everyone's reach?

A Consequential Environmental Ethic?

What are the practical achievements of environmental ethics? While environmental ethics is not simply applied ethics (a body of traditional normative ethical theories is not being applied to specific ethical issues as is often the case in medical or business ethics), it is important to apply traditional theories of interhuman ethics to environmental problems in a secondary sense. Arguably the most valuable contributions to policy decisions have been made in terms of risk assessment and related issues (Shrader-Frechette 2002). Animal rights and liberation theories indirectly influence legislation such as the laboratory care and use of animals. Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics explicitly advances Leopold's land ethic in a quest for a new resource ethic; departments of natural resources, as they move toward ecosystem approaches of management, seem to be attentive to these discussions of Leopold and those philosophers influenced by him. More progressive hunting and fishing regulations sometimes mimic ecosystem processes by reducing the number of trophy animals harvested. Environmental philosophers have proven most effective publicly when they, like Rolston, listen and speak in intelligible ways to a broad spectrum of people including those in the fields of technical philosophy and science, activists, and ordinary people (Mitcham et al. 1999, Rolston 1993).

All major pieces of environmental legislation preceded the development of environmental ethics, and as yet there is no effective green party in the United States. In particular there is none inspired by philosophers. Environmental pragmatists criticize environmental ethics and environmental philosophy for missing opportunities to make significant contributions to policy because they are too impractical and dismissive of activism. In their view, environmental ethicists divert attention from actual environmental problems by being overly concerned with theoretical issues such as intrinsic value, whereas environmental philosophers do the same by concentrating on the impossible task of radical reform. Pragmatists urge philosophers to apply their unique abilities and resources to solving concrete environmental problems. Distinct problems, in their view, call for different approaches (ranging from the economic to the aesthetic); no single approach is the correct one. In fact, the same problem may require a solution that includes approaches from incompatible theoretical positions. Thus, as pluralists, they call for cooperation between environmental philosophers.

Although they would be wary of any absolutist tendencies, pragmatists also call for more cooperation between these philosophers and other kinds of, normally anthropocentric, reformist positions that have been developing simultaneously with the field. Some approaches are based on deeply held values, such as the difference between consumers and citizens, in conservative and liberal traditions in order to get people to change attitudes, behaviors, and polices toward nature. Others, such as environmental libertarianism, have developed free-market approaches to resolving environmental problems. This kind of thinking has been used to show that government subsidies to the forest service have been the impetus for much logging and road building that would not have otherwise occurred. More liberal economic approaches demonstrate that while the market is effective for resolving some environmental problems, it is limited with regard to ensuring environmental protection. Many of the market's shortcomings have to do with the limits of economic value, cost benefit analysis itself, or how ethically and scientifically sound solutions to environmental problems are ignored based on economic considerations (Sagoff 1984, Schmitz and Willott 2002). Alternatively green capitalism, in order to avoid ecological catastrophe, advocates government regulations and policies, such as "green taxes," that develop the economy in ecologically sustainable ways (Hawken, Lovins, and Lovins 1999, Thompson 1995).

Is an environmental ethic needed or is ecological prudence sufficient? Apart from meeting people's moral concerns with nature, many advocates argue that an environmental ethic is imperative in order to save the planet from catastrophe. Such pessimism invites detractors who contend that scientists and engineers are making progress with environmental problems and that some fears regarding the environment are unwarranted; moreover unfounded fear is cited as part of the problem (Baarschers 1996, Lomborg 2001, Simon 1995). Certainly informed debate, critical thinking, scientific literacy, and pragmatism are called for.

However even if some consensus were achieved and catastrophic outcomes could be ruled out safely, this debate is a diversion from a submerged but central environmental and ethical issue: Will a saved planet be worth living on? Those who would continue the technological project unimpeded except for refinements and adjustments are quite sanguine in their answer—often assuming that the indisputable early achievements of technology are analogous with later postmodern ones—whereas those concerned about survival are often covertly more concerned about the quality of human life. What level of environmental quality is correlatively important to the quality and excellence of human life? Where is nature's place in a technological setting? How tamed should nature be? Contemplating these questions requires the use of science, technology, ethics, and environmental ethics. These reflections will involve not only specialists, but also each and every person, in a public conversation that considers facts and fallacies, but ultimately ponders alternative visions of life. As Langdon Winner writes, "we can still ask, how are we living now as compared to how we want to live?" (Winner 1988, p. 163). Human beings need to reflect on whether to continue to seek prosperity and happiness entirely through affluence and goods provided by the technological project, or, alternatively, through a new engagement with, among other things that matter, the nonhuman world. In the former vision, the technological project is prudently modified to be environmentally sustainable and shared equally with all people, and nature is controlled as a mere resource and commodity. In the latter vision, nature plays a much greater role in a reformed technological setting.

Unreflective consensus threatens to subvert any substantive environmental ethic because most of the ethical claims of the natural world are overridden when they conflict with consumption as a way of life (Strong 1995). Quite often environmentalists and environmental academics want environmental protection and are attracted to affluence and full-scale technological development. Can both exist? Most people uneasily muddle ahead simply assuming they can. Humans need a vision that values the natural world and includes an understanding of why the planet is being transformed in the way that it is. Only then can people hope to attain some clarity with regard to the real environmental and social consequences of personal, collective, and material choices.

Environmental philosophers must remember the original environmental and cultural problems that caused them to reflect and measure their overall successes in terms of how far human culture has come in dispelling those concerns. In the early-twenty-first century, it is clear that the full autonomous, independent, and nonrelational character of nature has changed (McKibben 1989). Often in restoration work and matters concerning nature in urban settings, the questions are more clearly focused. Will nature be respected and celebrated as having dignity and a commanding presence, expressive of the larger natural and cultural world of particular places, and be correspondingly cared for in that way (will it have correlational rather than intrinsic value alone)? Or will nature be entirely demeaned as a mere resource for humans to control and modify for the convenience of consumption (Borgmann 1995; Higgs 2003)?

DAVID STRONG

SEE ALSO Acid Mine Drainage; Biodiversity; Carson, Rachel; Dams; Deforestation and Desertification; Ecology; Engineering Ethics; Environmental Ethics; Environmentalism; Environmental Justice; Environmental Regulatory Agencies; Environmental Rights; Global Climate Change; Mining; National Parks; Nongovernmental Organizations; Oil; Pollution; Rain Forest; Scandinavian and Nordic Perspectives; Sierra Club; Thoreau, Henry David; United Nations Environmental Program; Waste; Water.

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