Traditionally, Western views of environment ethics has been unclear and for the most part unnecessary. We used earths resources without thinking about consequence. This nonchalant use aided in the Wests ability to influence the world through technological advances. In the past, limited travel and slow communication systems had limited our view to a local one. If pollution or to much urbanization occurred the solution was to move. Industrialization has changed things. With science advancing so quickly, the population exploding, and our environment actually being truly affected on a global scale.
Within our lifetime, we can see changes in the environment. No longer do we have wild frontiers, an abundance of land for anyones taking. We can see our resources do have limits for example we can deplete our fossil fuels. We need to formulate a comprehensible environmental ethic in desperation. The morality of preserving nature comes more out of a practical need than from a purely philosophical reason. We have come to time when destruction we can inflict is harsher and faster than the earth can recover.
Although it should fit in seamlessly with all of our moral views, the environment is rather new territory and may be set aside form the rest. In making a code, we need to define environment, establish a basis of what we value as intrinsically good and bad, choose a principles of obligation and distribution, and see if it can be applied to real world situations. When using such a broad term as environmental ethics, it is necessary define what that entails. Environment, in this paper, deals strictly with natural habitats and ecosystems.
We will not make a distinction between animals, plants, and rocks, but instead group all of them together. This notion is not at all an original one, and is called a Land Ethic by Aldo Leopold. Everything in nature lives in a symbiosis so complicated that we cannot disassociate a living thing from its habitat. Humans have the ability to alter their surroundings and disrupt the balance of nature to a point where an equilibrium may never be reached. So in the definition of nature, human element have no part of it. We will assume that we act as an outside force onto a habitat.
Although our actions towards the environment, especially within the past 150 year, may not have been favorable, nevertheless the historical and global attitudes toward nature has always been one of reverence. The proof of this reverence can be seen through religion. It can also be inferred from our interests in science and the fact throughout history there have always been advocates for the preservation of nature. These notions are not limited to a section of the world, but have independent roots in many cultures and societies world wide.
One place to start are in cosmology sagas. Many of them have a common thread of being highly naturalistic and emphasizing the miracle of all life. The Enuma Elish, an ancient tale from Mesopotamia, describes the forming of the world from pure water. These peoples most revered gods and goddesses were ones of land and abundance. Although this can be explained away by many critics as simply there dependence on an agrarian society, it does show an initial reverence for nature and its wealth as well as its destructive powers. A basis for much of Western world is the Old Testament.
In Genesis, the garden of Eden is paradise where all things live in harmony even man is naked, his most primitive state. This natural state beginning stages of life all believe in the purity of nature and changes to it through mans hand. Beyond mythology, we have religion. Jainism which grew out of Hindu ideals reveres nature and believe all living things deserve our respect especially other animals. One of its fundamental rules is to try not to harm any animal for any reason. On the other side of the world we see many Native American religions based on sacredness of nature.
In addition, we have the naturalists. All throughout history we have people writing about the virtues of nature. Japan had poets who were exalted for writing haiku about the natural world. Aristotle wrote about the perfect forms found in nature. And recently, we had people like John Muir who described scenes of awesome beauty. So what is it about nature that we value so highly? It is hard to pinpoint natures intrinsic value. One definite part of value is the aesthetics. Nature is beautiful. Most people agree to this statement.
We covet gardens around our houses and build parks in our cities to keep them from becoming too sterile. Houses and apartments with views are considered status symbols. People swarm to National Parks yearly. We value the natural resources. A market value is given to these resources ranging from fossil fuels to food. Our survival depends on theses resources. Even items that are not on the market like the air we breathe. Scientists have shown a dramatic increase of the number of asthmatics in urban areas where the air is very polluted. One of our most basic things we value is our own lives.
To find the method of distribution, we have to define the relationship between nature and humans. The options are that we are equals, nature controls us, or we control nature. Although we do not have complete control over our surroundings, it is undeniable that we so have a certain powers over nature. We can call it human nature to dominate our surroundings and to adapt the surroundings to fit our needs instead of adapting ourselves to our surroundings. Nature throw in the occasional disaster like flood, earthquake, tornado, but we even have ways of limiting those affects too.
As caretakers, we must try to do what is best for the environment. If we go on the basis of productivity how would we judge it since the environment does not have any substantive product. We may harvest resources from it, but that is not because the earth is working for us. The ideal method of distribution is a middle ground between basing it on need and equality. We ought to treat each type of ecosystem as equal to each other while understanding that there maintenance depend on different things. For now keeping the earth as diverse as possible should be a goal.
Even though our relationship between us and nature may be an authoritarian one, our relationship with other humans are not. So when choosing an obligation of behavior we need to present a code that is inclusive of all and places the burden of caretakers on everyone. This sharing is the only practical method of truly making a difference and sustaining it. Moral obligation can be a powerful tool in persuading the public. No classical method can sustain the need for practicing environmental ethics. Deontology cannot work because in a global society, humans will not be able to agree on the deos part.
The Social Contract Theory is involves relations between humans and not about the world around us. Utilitarianism is not ideal on its own, since saving the environment has no real utility and may not always bring us happiness. And last but not least, Kantian principles are simply not practical to impose on a large population, using that kind of moral autonomy would cause chaos and the metal gymnastic to get universal maxims is too complicated. We need to take positive aspects of each method and meld them into an obligation that has practical use with the general public.
Deontology is singular in purpose and in this case we say preservation of the environment is good with the proof lying in scientific evidence. Our duties to protect the environment comes through our agreement to the Social Contract theory. We sacrifice some our freedoms in order to help the environment. This side of the methodology will arise the legislation of environmental policy. The utility of protection is the long term hope of self-preservation and that we maintain researching to so that we can better predict the effects of our actions.
Although Kantian reasoning is often obtuse, in self examination and honest communication of options it can be a source of fresh ideas and a greater sense of worth and participation to the individual. Our new composite obligation is practical. When approaching a problem first realize your duty to the greater good of the environment. results are important, not just good intention because there is a clear defined goal of environmental protection. Practical application of this morality is largely dependent on convincing the public at large to think environmentally.
Like any process it will take longer to adapt. Human welfare versus environmental concerns If we consider ourselves masters of nature, how will we make decisions when both parties are in conflict? It would at first seem to be logical that all human concerns are prioritized over environmental concerns. Yet just because we have more power to affect change does not mean that morally we are obligated to put all our needs above the needs of the environment. Let us assume that human suffering is intrinsically bad. So if chopping down the rain forest to provide farmland to feed people is sticky situation.
One major conflict in making these decisions is weighing short term benefits versus long term benefits. Most of the time humans suffering is a rather immediate situation in which we look for immediate solutions. However, effects of harming the environment is normally a long term problem. It requires planning to avoid foreseeable situations. In this example, proper population control would have been avoided. Look for alternative solutions like different methods of agriculture like hydroponics which may take more work and money. Even if no options are available, we must NOT follow our natural tendency to alleviate human suffering.
This idea sounds cruel and immoral, but it is not. We need to draw a line and make our responsibilities to the environment absolute. If we make exceptions, more than the slippery slope argument comes into play. We will then take away any incentive for planning because we will always have a safety net. Truly, if protecting the environment is essential for our long term survival the measures we take have to be drastic. The environmental ethics established may be faulty in philosophical reasoning, but it is ideal for practical use.
Its ideal of prioritizing environmental concerns leaves clear guidelines for both bureaucrats and a citizen alike. In defining the environment before we mentioned that we view environmental concerns with humans as external factors. This is not accurate. When evaluating a situation, it is essential to take human force into account but the goal we are shooting for is a habitat minus humans. But why? Are we setting ourselves to fail from ever reaching our goals? The answer is loaded in that it is both yes and no. The notion that in reaching something beyond our means we can achieve something livable while constantly striving for improvement.