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An argument in favor of the personal effort in saving the environment

The Challenge of Environmental Ethics Suppose putting out natural fires, culling feral animals or destroying some individual members of overpopulated indigenous species is necessary for the protection of the integrity of a certain ecosystem. Will these actions be morally permissible or even required?

Is it morally acceptable for farmers in non-industrial countries to practise slash and burn techniques to clear areas for agriculture? Consider a mining company which has performed open pit mining in some previously unspoiled area. Does the company have a moral obligation to restore the landform and surface ecology? And what is the value of a humanly restored environment compared with the originally natural environment?

  • As our numbers continue to grow, we continue to increase our need for far more water, far more food, far more land, far more transport and far more energy;
  • In keeping with the non-anthropocentric focus of much environmental philosophy, a care for sustainability and biodiversity can embrace a care for opportunities available to non-human living things;
  • In 1972 a team of researchers at MIT led by Dennis Meadows published the Limits to Growth study, a work that summed up in many ways the emerging concerns of the previous decade and the sense of vulnerability triggered by the view of the earth from space;
  • In a disenchanted world, there is no meaningful order of things or events outside the human domain, and there is no source of sacredness or dread of the sort felt by those who regard the natural world as peopled by divinities or demons Stone 2006;
  • Enlightened anthropocentrism, they argue, is sufficient for that practical purpose, and perhaps even more effective in delivering pragmatic outcomes, in terms of policy-making, than non-anthropocentric theories given the theoretical burden on the latter to provide sound arguments for its more radical view that the non-human environment has intrinsic value cf;
  • If that is wrong, is it simply because a sustainable environment is essential to present and future human well-being?

If that is wrong, is it simply because a sustainable environment is essential to present and future human well-being? These are among the questions investigated by environmental ethics. Some of them are specific questions faced by individuals in particular circumstances, while others are more global questions faced by groups and communities. Yet others are more abstract questions concerning the value and moral standing of the natural environment and its non-human components.

The former is the value of things as means to further some other ends, whereas the latter is the value of things as ends in themselves regardless of whether they are also useful as means to other ends. For instance, certain fruits have instrumental value for bats who feed on them, since feeding on the fruits is a means to survival for the bats. However, it is not widely agreed that fruits have value as ends in themselves. We can likewise think of a person who teaches others as having instrumental an argument in favor of the personal effort in saving the environment for those who want to acquire knowledge.

Yet, in addition to any such value, it is normally said that a person, as a person, has intrinsic value, i. For another example, a certain wild plant may have instrumental value because it provides the ingredients for some medicine or as an aesthetic object for human observers. But if the plant also has some value in itself independently of its prospects for furthering some other ends such as human health, or the pleasure from aesthetic experience, then the plant also has intrinsic value.

For example, Aristotle Politics, Bk. Generally, anthropocentric positions find it problematic to articulate what is wrong with the cruel treatment of non-human animals, except to the extent that such treatment may lead to bad consequences for human beings.

From this standpoint, cruelty towards non-human animals would be instrumentally, rather than intrinsically, wrong. Likewise, anthropocentrism often recognizes some non-intrinsic wrongness of anthropogenic i. Such destruction might damage the well-being of human beings now and in the future, since our well-being is essentially dependent on a sustainable environment see Passmore 1974; Bookchin 1990; Norton et al.

When environmental ethics emerged as a new sub-discipline of philosophy in the early 1970s, it did so by posing a challenge to traditional anthropocentrism. In the first place, it questioned the assumed moral superiority of human beings to members of other species on earth. In the second place, it investigated the possibility of rational arguments for assigning intrinsic value to the natural environment and its non-human contents.

It should be noted, however, that some theorists working in the field see no need to develop new, non-anthropocentric theories. Instead, they advocate what may be called enlightened anthropocentrism or, perhaps more appropriately called, prudential anthropocentrism. Briefly, this is the view that all the moral duties we have towards the environment are derived from our direct duties to its human inhabitants.

Enlightened anthropocentrism, they argue, is sufficient for that practical purpose, and perhaps even more effective in delivering pragmatic outcomes, in terms of policy-making, than non-anthropocentric theories given the theoretical burden on the latter to provide sound arguments for its more radical view that the non-human environment has intrinsic value cf.

  1. It is important to understand how all this is connected. Around the same time, the Stanford ecologists Paul and Anne Ehrlich warned in The Population Bomb Ehrlich 1968 that the growth of human population threatened the viability of planetary life-support systems.
  2. In a much cited essay White 1967 on the historical roots of the environmental crisis, historian Lynn White argued that the main strands of Judeo-Christian thinking had encouraged the overexploitation of nature by maintaining the superiority of humans over all other forms of life on earth, and by depicting all of nature as created for the use of humans.
  3. By contrast to the focus on wild places, relatively little attention has been paid to the built environment, although this is the one in which most people spend most of their time.
  4. The position can be structurally compared to some indirect form of consequentialism and may attract parallel critiques see Henry Sidgwick on utilitarianism and esoteric morality, and Bernard Williams on indirect utilitarianism.

Norton 1991, de Shalit 1994, Light and Katz 1996. Furthermore, some prudential anthropocentrists may hold what might be called cynical anthropocentrism, which says that we have a higher-level anthropocentric reason to be non-anthropocentric in our day-to-day thinking. Suppose that a day-to-day non-anthropocentrist tends to act more benignly towards the non-human environment on which human well-being depends.

This would provide reason for encouraging non-anthropocentric thinking, even to those who find the idea of non-anthropocentric intrinsic value hard to swallow.

The position can be structurally compared to some indirect form of consequentialism and may attract parallel critiques see Henry Sidgwick on utilitarianism and esoteric morality, and Bernard Williams on indirect utilitarianism.

The Early Development of Environmental Ethics Although nature was the focus of much nineteenth and twentieth century philosophy, contemporary environmental ethics only emerged as an academic discipline in the 1970s.

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The questioning and rethinking of the relationship of human beings with the natural environment over the last thirty years reflected an already widespread perception in the 1960s that the late twentieth century faced a human population explosion as well as a serious environmental crisis.

Commercial farming practices aimed at maximizing crop yields and profits, Carson speculates, are capable of impacting simultaneously on environmental and public health. In a much cited essay White 1967 on the historical roots of the environmental crisis, historian Lynn White argued that the main strands of Judeo-Christian thinking had encouraged the overexploitation of nature by maintaining the superiority of humans over all other forms of life on earth, and by depicting all of nature as created for the use of humans.

Central to the rationale for his thesis were the works of the Church Fathers and The Bible itself, supporting the anthropocentric perspective that humans are the only things that matter on Earth. Consequently, they may utilize and consume everything else to their advantage without any injustice. For example, Genesis 1: And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: According to White, the Judeo-Christian idea that humans are created in the image of the transcendent supernatural God, who is radically separate from nature, also by extension radically separates humans themselves from nature.

Reducing Pollution

This ideology further opened the way for untrammeled exploitation of nature. Clearly, without technology and science, the environmental extremes to which we are now exposed would probably not be realized. Nevertheless, White argued that some minority traditions within Christianity e. Around the same time, the Stanford ecologists Paul and Anne Ehrlich warned in The Population Bomb Ehrlich 1968 that the growth of human population threatened the viability of planetary life-support systems.

Here, plain to see, was a living, shining planet voyaging through space and shared by all of humanity, a precious vessel vulnerable to pollution and to the overuse of its limited capacities.

In 1972 a team of researchers at MIT led by Dennis Meadows published the Limits to Growth study, a work that summed up in many ways the emerging concerns of the previous decade and the sense of vulnerability triggered by the view of the earth from space.

In the commentary to the study, the researchers wrote: We affirm finally that any deliberate attempt to reach a rational and enduring state of equilibrium by planned measures, rather than by chance or catastrophe, must ultimately be founded on a basic change of values and goals at individual, national and world levels. The new field emerged almost simultaneously in three countries—the United States, Australia, and Norway. In the first two of these countries, direction and inspiration largely came from the earlier twentieth century American literature of the environment.

That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

His views therefore presented a challenge and opportunity for moral theorists: The land ethic sketched by Leopold, attempting to extend our moral concern to cover the natural environment and its non-human contents, was drawn on explicitly by the Australian philosopher Richard Routley later Sylvan.

According to Routley 1973 cf.

  1. Only items that have interests, Feinberg argued, can be regarded as having legal standing and, likewise, moral standing.
  2. This suggestion was inspired by a particular case in which the Sierra Club had mounted a challenge against the permit granted by the U.
  3. More important, according to feminist analyses, the very premise of prescriptive dualism—the valuing of attributes of one polarized side and the devaluing of those of the other, the idea that domination and oppression can be justified by appealing to attributes like masculinity, rationality, being civilized or developed, etc.

From the human-chauvinistic or absolutely anthropocentric perspective, the last person would do nothing morally wrong, since his or her destructive act in question would not cause any damage to the interest and well-being of humans, who would by then have disappeared. Nevertheless, Routley points out that there is a moral intuition that the imagined last acts would be morally wrong.

Individual effort is futile in conserving the environment.

An explanation for this judgment, he argued, is that those non-human objects in the environment, whose destruction is ensured by the last person or last people, have intrinsic value, a kind of value independent of their usefulness for humans. From his critique, Routley concluded that the main approaches in traditional western moral thinking were unable to allow the recognition that natural things have intrinsic value, and that the tradition required overhaul of a significant kind.

It would be wrong, he maintained, to eliminate a rare butterfly species simply to increase the monetary value of specimens already held by collectors. Species, Rolston went on to argue, are intrinsically valuable and are usually more valuable than individual specimens, since the loss of a species is a loss of genetic possibilities and the deliberate destruction of a species would show disrespect for the very biological processes which make possible the emergence of individual living things also see Rolston 1989, Ch 10.

Meanwhile, the work of Christopher Stone a professor of law at the University of Southern California had become widely discussed. Stone 1972 proposed that trees and other natural objects should have at least the same standing in law as corporations. This suggestion was inspired by a particular case in which the Sierra Club had mounted a challenge against the permit granted by the U.

The Disney proposal was to develop a major resort complex serving 14000 visitors daily to be accessed by a purpose-built highway through Sequoia National Park. The Sierra Club, as a body with a general concern for wilderness conservation, challenged the development on the grounds that the valley should be kept in its original state for its own sake. Stone reasoned that if trees, forests and mountains could be given standing in law then they could be represented in their own right in the courts by groups such as the Sierra Club.

Humans: the real threat to life on Earth

Moreover, like any other legal person, these natural things could become beneficiaries of compensation if it could be shown that they had suffered compensatable injury through human activity. When the case went to the U. Supreme Court, it was determined by a narrow majority that the Sierra Club did not meet the condition for bringing a case to court, for the Club was unable and unwilling to prove the likelihood of injury to the interest of the Club or its members.

Only items that have interests, Feinberg argued, can be regarded as having legal standing and, likewise, moral standing. For it is interests which are capable of being represented in legal proceedings and moral debates. This same point would also seem to apply to political debates. Granted that some animals have interests that can be represented in this way, would it also make sense to speak of trees, forests, rivers, barnacles, or termites as having interests of a morally relevant kind?

This issue was hotly contested in the years that followed. Skeptical of the prospects for any radically new ethic, Passmore cautioned that traditions of thought could not be abruptly overhauled.

Any change in attitudes to our natural surroundings which stood the chance of widespread acceptance, he argued, would have to resonate and have some continuities with the very tradition which had legitimized our destructive practices.

The confluence of ethical, political and legal debates about the environment, the emergence of philosophies to underpin animal rights activism and the puzzles over whether an environmental ethic would be something new rather than a modification or extension of existing ethical theories were reflected in wider social and political movements.

It is not clear, however, that collectivist or communist countries do any better in terms of their environmental record see Dominick 1998. All three shared a passion for the great mountains. The deep ecologist respects this intrinsic value, taking care, for example, when walking on the mountainside not to cause unnecessary damage to the plants.

To make such a separation not only leads to selfishness towards other people, but also induces human selfishness towards nature. The identity of a living thing is essentially constituted by its relations to other things in the world, especially its ecological relations to other living things. If people conceptualise themselves and the world in relational terms, the deep ecologists argue, then people will take better care of nature and the world in general.

The idea is, briefly, that by identifying with nature I can enlarge the boundaries of the self beyond my skin.

To respect and to care for my Self is also to respect and to care for the natural environment, which is actually part of me and with which I should identify. Grey 1993, Taylor and Zimmerman 2005. It also remains unclear in what sense rivers, mountains and forests can be regarded as possessors of any kind of interests.

Biospheric egalitarianism was modified in the 1980s to the weaker claim that the flourishing of both human and non-human life have value in themselves. The platform was conceived as establishing a middle ground, between underlying philosophical orientations, whether Christian, Buddhist, Daoist, process philosophy, or whatever, and the practical principles for action in specific situations, principles generated from the underlying philosophies.

Thus the deep ecological movement became explicitly pluralist see Brennan 1999; c.

Environmental Ethics

These "relationalist" developments of deep ecology are, however, criticized by some feminist theorists. The idea of nature as part of oneself, one might argue, could justify the continued exploitation of nature instead.

  • Here are some of the changes we've been asked to make recently, by celebrities who like to pronounce on this sort of thing, and by governments, who should know better than to give out this kind of nonsense as 'solutions';
  • Whether the notion that a mountain or a tree is to be regarded as a person is taken literally or not, the attempt to engage with the surrounding world as if it consists of other persons might possibly provide the basis for a respectful attitude to nature see Harvey 2005 for a popular account of the new animism;
  • From his critique, Routley concluded that the main approaches in traditional western moral thinking were unable to allow the recognition that natural things have intrinsic value, and that the tradition required overhaul of a significant kind;
  • Generally, anthropocentric positions find it problematic to articulate what is wrong with the cruel treatment of non-human animals, except to the extent that such treatment may lead to bad consequences for human beings;
  • And recent research shows that we look certain to be heading for a larger rise in global average temperatures than 2C — a far larger rise.

For one is presumably more entitled to treat oneself in whatever ways one likes than to treat another independent agent in whatever ways one likes. Meanwhile, some third-world critics accused deep ecology of being elitist in its attempts to preserve wilderness experiences for only a select group of economically and socio-politically well-off people. The Indian writer Ramachandra Guha 1989, 1999 for instance, depicts the activities of many western-based conservation groups as a new form of cultural imperialism, aimed at securing converts to conservationism cf.