The concept of environmental ethics is a broad umbrella term that aims at saving the earth as we know it. Extinct species, low natural resources, no accountability for negative actions against the environment are reasons why human beings need to learn the importance of preserving our earth and all the creatures.
Wendell Berry once said, “The earth is what we all have in common.” Today, we are going to break down environmental ethics for you and help you see how important our actions are for generations to come.
What Is Environmental Ethics?
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states that “Environmental ethics is the discipline in philosophy that studies the moral relationship of human beings to, and also the value and moral status of, the environment and its non-human contents”.
By learning environmental ethics, humans can become more responsive to the needs of all the world’s living organisms. The ethics are divided into several sub-sections, namely:
This philosophy believes that all life deserves equal moral consideration as well as has equal moral standing. It is believed that humans believe it is acceptable to take another life to sustain their own, such as eating animal products. With that being said, we would consider it wrong to take a human’s life for the same reason.
Biocentrism is the ethical perspective that believes all living organisms deserve to be treated with respect and as equals. All life is precious no matter how big or small.
This is the philosophy that looks at humankind as the most important element of existence. We know how the world should work. One can argue that because we have a better understanding, we should preserve the environment since we know how each element and ecosystem can help make the world a better place for years to come.
This is a viewpoint that sees that the earth’s ecology and ecosystems, including all life forms, land, and water have intrinsic value. We should protect and value every resource we have at our disposal and find ways to preserve it for years to come.
All these sub-philosophies join together to help keep humans grounded. Without the understanding that we need to preserve and conserve what we have been given on this earth, we will eventually run out of resources due to greed. We also need to be aware that no matter how small life may seem to us, every life has a purpose to help ensure that the earth continues to thrive and grow.
A brief History about Environmental Ethics
The philosophy of environmental ethics has a long history. Humans have been debating the role humans should play in conserving the environment and the various ecosystems the world supports for hundreds of years.
Environmental ethics did not become a subfield philosophy until the early 2070s. According to Katie McShane, these ethics came about, “as a result of the growing environmental consciousness and social movements of the 1960s, public interest increased in questions about humans’ moral relationship with the rest of the natural world.”
According to many theorists, traditional ethical theories were incapable of bringing human awareness to their relationship with the environment. In response to this theory, ethical practices were implemented to help humans become accountable for their moral obligations to nature, the nonhuman world we are well-aware of and cherish.
The better our understanding becomes of how each ecosystem and living organism helps the world thrive, the more accountable these philosophies believe we should be.
Some Examples Of Ongoing Environmental Ethical Debates
There are a few debates that happen around the world that most people are familiar with. One of them being the debate about cutting down trees to make space for new buildings.
Trees provide us with oxygen as well as help to get rid of carbon dioxide in the air. Trees are also homes for small creatures and animals. People often wonder if it is morally correct to cut down trees so that humans can build another shopping mall.
Environmental enthusiasts often plant trees to help combat the effect of losing so many trees at a time.
Another example is of course the stand of vegans saying that eating animal products to sustain humans is not morally correct. They believe that taking the life of an animal to consume it is as bad as taking the life of a human being for the same reason.
“The Earth will not continue to offer its harvest, except with faithful stewardship. We cannot say we love the land and then take steps to destroy it for use by future generations.”—John Paul II.
Recent Trends in Environmental Ethics
Environmental ethics have been making huge strides in recent years. A few developments have been made that affect our daily lives without us giving it a second thought.
The first one being, reducing the use of plastic straws. Might seem like a small effort, however, a 2017 study from researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, found that an astonishing 9% of the plastic we use is not recycled and instead ends up in landfills or the ocean. It has now become normal for people to use plant-based straws and some have even gone as far as to buy their own reusable straws to help reduce plastic waste.
Another great trend is cars that no longer use gas to power the engine. Did you know that each gallon of hydrocarbon-rich petroleum fuel produces nearly 20 pounds of carbon dioxide? This results in an annual emission of over 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide or roughly 1 third of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
Greenhouse gases trap heat into the atmosphere which causes worldwide temperatures to rise. By converting cars into electric-powered engines, we can reduce greenhouse gases which will result in a cleaner, healthier air. It also helps to reduce global warming effects.
“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” –George Bernard Shaw.
The purpose of environmental ethics is to help sustain and preserve the environment for future generations. Without humans being accountable for their actions against ecosystems and nature, we will run out of natural resources sooner than we think.