Environmental Ethics and the Via
What Environmental Ethics has to
says about the Via Verde Project
What is Environmental Ethics?
• A systematic and critical study of
different moral approaches to the
environment such as…
–Environmental Virtue Ethics
Today’s Agenda
• Use these approaches as lenses through which
to examine three cases in environmental
• Give a brief account of each approach
• Raise questions from each approach to help
structure an inquiry into the project’s ethical
Environmental Ethics Rectangle
Agrarianism: Humans
Ecocentrism: “A thing is
transform nature by
agriculture but understand
the farm as ecosystem
(Berry, Jefferson, Jackson)
good if it promotes the
integrity, beauty, and
stability of the biotic
Focus on biotic community
conceived holistically
Biocentrism: obligations
Individualistic ethical
approaches such as
Utilitarianism and
Deontology are extended
to cover non-humans.
(Singer for Utilitarianism
and Regan for Deontology)
not to interfere with
teleological centers of a
life. Basic , non-human
telos can trump non-basic
and even basic human
Classify according to method
• Humans are atomic
individuals (See Hobbes,
Locke, and economic
theories of rational self
• Humans are social (See
communitarians like Taylor,
J. Dewey or go back to
• Complex wholes (like
ecosystems) can be reduced
to sum of their parts
• Whole cannot be reduced
to parts.
• Reductionistic
• Wholes are greater than the
sum of their parts
Classified according to perspective
• Anthropocentric: Centered
around humans. (Comes
from Greek word anthropo
which means human)
• Non-anthropocentric: Not
centered around humans
– Environmental ethics
formulated from a point of
view centered around human
– Moral community not
centered around humans.
Animals, plants, small
organisms all count in the
moral scheme of things.
Attempt made to formulate a
point of view that is nonhuman.
Polar Bear Gate
Gore uses study to
reinforce argument for
global warming. Oil
interests push to
discredit via charge of
research misconduct
Spotted four dead polar
•More distance between
ice floes
•Waves increase when ice
•Evidence that PBs should
be treated as endangered
•Used by others as
evidence of GW
•Conflict of Interest—
Diverting research funds
to sympathetic proposals
Environmental Ethics
•What human and non-human
rights are at stake in this project?
•What are the harms and benefits
this technology will bring about?
•How are these harms and
benefits distributed among
human and non-human
How does this technology stand
with Environmental Virtues?
•Gore and Obama argue that
environmental protection is
also good business. (It is a
way of keeping appropriate
technology in the US)
•Solyndra asks for
government guaranteed
loan to start-up business
making solar panels
•Secures ½ billion loan
•Goes bankrupt in 2011
•Investigation ensues to
discredit government
support of environmentally
appropriate technology and
Critics claim that
government should not
“play venture capitalist.”
Conflict of interest:
Obama administration
fast-tracked project &
ignored cash-flow
problems because of
Solyndra campaign
administration urge US
businesses to hold on to
green technology
Environmental Ethics
•What human and nonhuman rights are at stake in
this project?
•What are the harms and
benefits this technology will
bring about?
•How are these harms and
benefits distributed among
human and non-human
How does this technology
stand with Environmental
Keystone XL Pipeline
Trans Canade wants to
build an oil pipeline across
central US to ship crude
oil from Canada to Gulf of
Mexico and Mississippi
River oil refineries
Oil or Tar Sands
technology (Controversial
because production of oil
using this technology is
energy intensive and has
strong impact on
Strong impact on
wetlands and peat lands
Technology appears bad
until compared with
existing method of oil
production and transport
Environmental Ethics
•What human and non-human
rights are at stake in this project?
Two methods of
•What are the harms and
extraction (open pit mines benefits this technology will
versus steam assisted
bring about?
gravity drainage
•How are these harms and
Produces jobs in Central
benefits distributed among
Indiana (BP jobs with
human and non-human
pipeline parts
How does this technology stand
41/2 barrels of water for
with Environmental Virtues?
one barrel of oil
Oil pipeline to pass
through Ogallala Aquifer
1a. Extending the umbrella of
utilitarianism to cover animals (Peter
Individualistic and
Singer: Animal Liberation
• Utilitarianism
– Actions and policies derive their moral worth from
their consequences
– Maximize good results and minimize bad results
• All sentient beings have moral worth
– Sentiency includes consciousness and ability to feel
pleasure and pain
• The umbrella of moral consideration is extended
to animals because they have sentiency
– Their pleasures and pains count
1b. Extended moral rights to
animal (Tom Regan)
Anthropocentric and
Regan: The Case for Animal Rights
• Animals are moral patients and have
“preference autonomy”
– = preferences along with the ability to act on them
• Humans have duties to recognize and respect
preference autonomy of moral patients
including animals
• Rights would include right to life, right to a
livable environment (=environment in which
they can pursue their preferences)
Regan Quotes
• “The fundamental wrong is the system that
allows us to view animals as our resources, here
for us—to be eaten, or surgically manipulated, or
put in our cross hairs for sport or money.” Joseph R.
Des Jardins. (1993). Environmental Ethics: An Introduction to Environmental
Philosophy. Wadsworth, 126
• “To be the subject –of-a-life…involves more than
merely being alive and more than merely being
conscious. To be the subject-of-a-life is to…have
beliefs and desires; perceptions, memory, and a
sense of the future, including their own
future…their experiential life fares well or ill for
them, independently of their utility for others”
(Des Jardins 128)
2. Agrarianism:
Living in small farms and practicing
traditional agriculture fosters key civic
and moral virtues (Paul Thompson, Spirit
of the Soil, and Wendell Berry, The
Unsettling of America, A Place on the
Holistic and Anthropocentric
Wendell Berry
• Unsettling of America
– Adverse consequences of industrialization of
• Small farms give way to industrialized agriculture
• Had small farm in Kentucky; treated it as an ecosystem
• Accords Jefferson’s view that small farms were
essential to democracy
– Fostered development of moral and civic virtues
– Dispersed power (Decentralized)
• A Place on Earth: main character of novel is a
– Personification of the land
3. Biocentrism: Each living thing is a
“teleological center of a life”.
There are moral obligations to
recognize and respect these “centers”
Non-anthropocentric and
Paul Taylor: Biocentrism
• Hursthouse summarizes:
– “Environmental Virtue Ethics” in Working Virtue edited by
R. Walker and P. Ivanhoe. Oxford: 163.
• Every living thing has a telos = a good of its
– Fish swim, birds fly
– Its nature or being is fulfilled by exercising its
proper telos
• Positive duties to promote the telos
• Negative duties not to interfere with telos
Human Goods /
Non-Human Goods
Basic Non-Human
Non-Basic, NonHuman Good
Basic Human Good
Basic human good has
priority (Right of SelfDefense)
Basic human good has
priority because a basic
good trumps a non-basic
Do humans have a basic
need for energy? Do the
cases under consideration
violate basic non-human
needs? Are there
Non-Basic Human
The basic, non-human
good has priority
because a basic good
trumps a non-basic
Humans need energy for
recreational activities. Do
these interfere with basic,
non-human needs?
Humans need for energy
would trump if project did
not violate basic, nonhuman needs
Toss up. Some nonbasic goods have
priority over others.
If non-basic human needs
conflict with non-basic
non-human needs in the
cases under consideration,
this is a toss up.
4. Ecocentrism: Aldo Leopold’s
Land Ethic
Non-anthropocentric (under
most interpretations) and Holistic
• Aldo Leopold, “The Land Ethic” in A Sand County
• “There is as yet no ethic dealing with man’s relation
to land and to the animals and plants which grow
upon it. Land, like Odysseus’ slave-girls, is still
property. The land-relation is still strictly economic,
entailing privileges but not obligations.”
• “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 otherwise.”
A Virtue Approach to
Environmental Ethics
Wensveen, “Cardinal Environmental Virtues: A Neurobiological
Perspective,” in Environmental Virtue Ethics, edited by R. Sandler and P.
Cafaro. Rowman & Littlefield: 176-177
Definitions of Virtue and Virtue Ethics
• “Las virtudes son disposiciones y rasgos del carácter del
agente moral a la hora de ejecutar las acciones
inherentes al ser persona.
– se trata de un punto intermedio entre dos extremos, ninguno
de los cuales representa un valor moral, sino que más bien
puede constituir un vicio o al menos carecer de excelencia
– no son meros rasgos del carácter que se operan
automáticamente, sino respuestas deliberadas ante las
situaciones concretas
– existe un cierto grado de influencia cultural que puede hacer
que la manifestación de la virtud varíe según el contexto
– se puede distinguir la “virtud” de las virtudes, en cuanto que
la primera se refiere a la integridad o coherencia de la
personalidad ante la vida, mientras que las segundas son
reacciones a situaciones especificas”
Lugo,E. (2002) Relación Medico/paciente:
encuentro interpersonal ética y
espiritualidad. Pontificia Universidad Católica
de Puerto Rico: 88
Definition of Virtue and Virtue Ethics
• “A virtue such as honesty or generosity is not just a
tendency to do what is honest or generous, nor is it to be
helpfully specified as a “desirable” or “morally valuable”
character trait.
• It is, indeed a character trait—that is, a disposition which is
well entrenched in its possessor, something that, as we say
“goes all the way down”, unlike a habit such as being a teadrinker—but the disposition in question…is multi-track.
• It is concerned with many other actions as well, with
emotions and emotional reactions, choices, values, desires,
perceptions, attitudes, interests expectations and
• To possess a virtue is to be a certain sort of person with a
certain complex mindset.”
Hursthouse, R. (2007) “Virtue Ethics”
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Accessed 11/11/2008
Virtue Ethics
• Virtue ethics does focus on individual actions
but in a different way than other theories
• It assesses the moral worth of an action by
“fitting” into different contexts:
– Narrative of a morally exemplary career
– Practice or community
• So, an environmental virtue = that which,
together with other actions, sustains the
“beauty, stability, and integrity of the biotic
Context 1: Moral Exemplar
• Would this action fit into the career of a morally
exemplary …
– Engineer
– Business practitioner
– Community leader
• This action instantiates certain values. Would I
want these values to become central parts of my
core self identity?
– How does this action and the values it instantiates fit
into my own self-narrative?
Context 2: Practice
• Does this action resonates with the values professed
(and actually constitutive of) my practice or
– Doctor: Does this resonate with a practice devoted to
– Lawyer: Does this action resonate with a practice devoted
to an adversarial approach to justice and truth?
– Engineer: Does this action resonate with a practice
devoted to public wellbeing (health and welfare), client
fidelity, peer collegiality, and professional integrity
– Business practitioner: Does this practice resonate with the
prosperity and sustainability (taken in its widest sense) of
the community?
Context 3: Biotic Community
• To paraphrase Leopold, does this action resonate
with the beauty, stability, and integrity of the
biotic community (which includes inanimate as
well as animate matter).
• This involves four virtues (reconfigured from a
human context to a trans-human context)
Virtues of position
Virtues of care
Virtues of attunement
Virtues of endurance
• Louke Van Wensveen: “Cardinal Environmental Virtues”
Environmental Virtues from Wensveen
• Virtues of Position: "Constructive habits of seeing
ourselves in a particular place in a relational structure
and interacting accordingly.”
– Can we integrate energy production technologies with
the surrounding natural environment?
• Examples:
– Humility, self-acceptance, gratitude, appreciation of good
in others, prudence, and practical judgment
• Question:
– Do the technologies in our cases resonate with virtues
such as humility? Or do they express corresponding vices
such as greed, arrogance, and imprudence?
Environmental Virtues from Wensveen
• Virtues of Care: "habits of constructive involvement within
the relational structure where we have found our place.
How widely do we cast our sensors in order to learn what is
needed around us?“
– Honing in on weak points in the ecosystem and calibrating
action to address these vulnerabilities
• Examples:
– Attentiveness, benevolence, loving nature, friendship
• Question:
– Do the technologies under consideration in design and
execution resonate with attentiveness and benevolence? Do
they fall into vices such as insensitivity and malevolence (or
More Environmental Virtues
• Virtues of Attunement: "habits of handling
temptations by adjusting our positive, outgoing drives
and emotions to match our chosen place and degree of
constructive, ecosocial engagement."
– Can energy conservation be a source of solidarity and
also defuse the current energy crisis in PR? (reconfigures
• Examples:
– Frugality and simplicity
• Question:
– Do the technologies under consideration express virtues
or values like frugality and simplicity? Do they express
the vices of manifest and concealed complexity?
More Environmental Virtues
• Virtues of Endurance: "habits of facing dangers and
difficulties by handling our negative, protective drives and
emotions in such a way that we can sustain our chosen sense
of place and degree of constructive ecosocial engagement."
– Can Puerto Ricans act resolutely and ethically in the face
of environmental and economic crises? (Integration,
compromise, and ethical trade-offs
• Examples:
– Tenacity (mean between apathy and obsession), loyalty,
• Question:
– Does the Via Verde express tenacity, loyalty, and
perseverance especially in relation to the natural
environment? Does it target the corresponding vices?
Framing Solutions
• Two Paradigms
– Follow the current paradigm
Energy growth
Reduce immediate costs
Diversify sources (using non-renewable resources)
Keep energy production centralized and technologically sophisticated
– New paradigm (new goal)
• Energy Independence
• Reduce usage through conservation and technology (smart grids and
• Decentralization and simplification of energy production
• Diversify sources
• Make use of renewable resources
– Use of “paradigm” is appropriate here—represent two different
ways of approaching the PR energy “crises”
Virtue Perspective on Paradigm Choice
• These paradigms also represent two
fundamentally different paths for PR
• Choice not only expresses who we are (our
collective identity or character) but will,
partially, constitute who we will become
• So, seeing these two paradigms and their
associated virtues and vices, virtue ethics has
us ask what kind of people we wish to become
– Each choice expresses fundamental dispositions
Values Expressed by Participants
• Values Sensitive to Context:
– Values Expressed by Signal Events (Cogentrix,
Copper Mining, CAPECO explosion, Zoe
Colocotroni Oil Spill)
– Values telescoped into the image of Jibaro
– Environmental and social justice
– Health and Safety
– Autonomy
– Identification with Land, History, Tradition.
• These values, in their thick sense, depend on the
quality of the discourse generated within the
• Examined four approaches to environmental
• Interpreted approaches as lenses that highlighted
certain aspects and de-emphasized others
• Each approach generated questions pertinent to
the ethics of the Via Verde Project
• Choice between energy paradigms expresses our
character as a community, as a nation, as a
– Choice and action reflect existing character
– But they also inaugurate a future that constitutes who
we are to become
William J. Frey
College of Business Administration
[email protected]
[email protected]
• http://cnx.org/content/m32584/latest/

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