Environmental Ethics

Class 5
Environmental Ethics:
Other species and the community of
Environmental ethics addresses the ethical dimensions
of our relations to other species and the community of
life more generally.
Early environmental thinkers
• Nature’s value and its relation to human life
are important themes from the very origins of
both religious and secular ethics. Pre-20th
century thinkers who have influenced
contemporary environmental philosophy
include Saint Francis of Assisi and the
American transcendentalists Ralph Waldo
Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
Henry David Thoreau
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Aldo Leopold
• Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) is the
founder of contemporary
environmental ethics. He worked for
the U.S. Forest Service until he
became a professor of Game
Management at the University of
Wisconsin in Madison, where he
lived until his death fighting a forest
fire on a neighbor’s land.
The Land Ethic
• “The land ethic simply enlarges the
boundaries of the community to include soils,
waters, plants, and animals, or collectively:
the land.”
• “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the
integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic
community. It is wrong when it tends
Silent Spring
• Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson
(1907-1964), exposed the
dangers of pesticides,
especially DDT. It led to a
public outcry against pesticide
use and to the banning of DDT
in 1972.
• A major theme in ecological science and
environmental ethics is interdependence
“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find
it hitched to everything else in the universe” (John
Anthropocentric and ecocentric
• Like environmental ethics, an ethic of
sustainability values nonhuman nature, but it
integrates that concern with human-centered
(anthropocentric) values such as social justice
and economic equity. Because of this,
“ecocentric” environmental ethics may harder
to reconcile with an ethic of sustainability.
Many environmental ethics
are holistic – more
concerned with wholes
than individuals. In this
model, the ecosystem is
primary and individuals are
of less concern.
Deep Ecology
• Deep Ecology was first developed in the 1970s
by Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss. In
contrast to the “shallow” ecology that focuses
on fighting pollution and protecting humans’
quality of life, deep ecology sees humans as
interdependent with and morally equal to
other life forms on the planet.
Earth First!
Deep ecology is considered a form of radical environmentalism and exists
today in a number of forms that are distinguished according in relation
both to spirituality and to political militancy.
• Ecofeminism argues that
just as men have
subordinated women,
humans (particularly
males) have subordinated
and dominated the natural
world, especially in the
West. Some ecofeminists
argue that women have a
special connection to
nonhuman nature.
Social Ecology
Social ecology has roots in anarchism, socialism, and other social justice
movements. Social ecologists argue that environmental problems are rooted
in unjust, hierarchical social, economic, and political relations. Murray
Bookchin (1921-2006) was a leading social ecologist.
• Environmental pragmatists argue that the
search for shared theoretical foundations is
often destructive and that environmental
philosophers should focus on shared
practical values and goals.
• Bioregionalism asserts that many
environmental and social problems stem from
a refusal to live within local ecological limits. It
calls for people to become native to their
“little places” as a necessary first step toward
living sustainably in larger places (Wes
Jackson, Becoming Native to This Place).
Wes Jackson, President of The Land Institute
“The majority of solutions to both global and local problems must take
place at the level of the expanded tribe, what civilization calls
Think Globally?
• Some critics argue that bioregionalism
encourages people to focus on local
problems while ignoring the larger
contexts in which those problems have
• Like sustainability,
agrarianism integrates
economic, social, and
environmental goals –
aiming for self-sufficient
communities that respect
nature, local culture, and
neighborly values.
Wendell Berry (b. 1934) is
a leading American
agrarian thinker.
Environmental Justice
Environmental justice advocates argue that
ecological costs and benefits are distributed
unequally within a society and among nations.
• Many different religious groups
have developed their own
environmental ethics, based on
diverse traditions and texts.
These religious ethics may be
more or less ecocentric or
anthropocentric. Like
sustainability ethics, these
religious models often link
social and environmental
values together.
Environmental ethics and Sustainability
Sustainability is sometimes seen as a synonym for environmentalism.
While environmental ethics are important to an ethic of sustainability,
sustainability also entails economic and social values.

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