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Environmental Ethics

Summary of Environmental Ethics Schools of Thought

1. Sustainability

Since the 1980s sustainability has been used more in the sense of human sustainability on
planet Earth and this has resulted in the most widely quoted definition of sustainability by the
Brundtland Commission of the United Nations on March 20, 1987: sustainable development is
development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs.

A universally accepted definition of sustainability remains elusive because it needs to be

factual and scientific, a clear statement of a specific destination. The simple definition
"sustainability is improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of
supporting eco-systems", though vague, conveys the idea of sustainability having quantifiable

2. Environmental Justice

The Environmental Justice movement addresses the statistical fact that people who live,
work, and play in Americas (and the worlds) most polluted environments are commonly
minority communities and the poor. Environmental justice advocates argue that this is not an
accident, and that minority and poor communities are often targeted to host facilities that have
negative environmental impacts (landfill, dirty industrial plant, etc.). This movement is also
called environmental racism when concerning communities of color.

3. Biocentrism

Ethical perspectives are traditionally anthropomorphic or human-centered, in that they

either assign value in human beings alone or they assign a significantly greater amount of
intrinsic value to human beings than to any nonhuman things such that the protection or
promotion of human interests or well-being at the expense of nonhuman things turns out to be
nearly always justified. Environmental ethics proposes a new biocentric outlook, encouraging
humans to consider (1) The belief that humans and other living things exist within the same
greater Earth community, (2) the belief that all species (humans and otherwise) are integral
elements in an interdependent, symbiotic system, (3) the belief that each organism is a unique
individual pursuing its own good in its own way, and (4) the belief that humans are not
inherently superior to other living things. (Taylor, 1986).

4. The Ecological Perspective

American environmentalist Aldo Leopold advocated for an ecological perspective,

nature-centered approach to environmental ethics. He was focusing on the idea that human

Environmental Ethics

action should preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. (Leopold,
1949). In the 1970s, people became concerned with the Earths carrying capacity, or how
many people the planet could support given its finite resources. Scholars began considering
ecological scarcity and how humans were obliged to balance human demand for the environment
with the Earths resources to reach some equilibrium with minimal erosion to the Earths
carrying capacity. (Ophuls, 1977).

5. Value of Species and Ecosystems

Biocentrism proposes a wholly equal view of species and ecosystems, others have
encouraged valuing species and ecosystems based on their intrinsic value. Nicholas Agar argued
that the value of an individual within a species is not a function only of its own goals. Its demise
affects the other members of the species, depending on how plentiful the species is. This makes
individuals belonging to endangered species more valuable than those belonging to non-
endangered species. (Agar, 2001) One can argue that not all populations in an ecosystem are
equally important to that ecosystems health; and therefore under this view if a population is
particularly important to ecosystemic health, then its members should be viewed as more

6. Deep Ecology

The deep ecology movement endorses biospheric egalitarianism, the view that all
living things are alike in having value in their own right, independent of their usefulness to
others. This also stems from Leopolds beliefs that there is an intrinsic value to the stability of
natural processes unchanged by human intervention. That humans are just a plain citizen of the
biosphere, not its conqueror or manager. (Devall, 1980).

Deep ecology is therefore a type of ecological perspective, respecting the planets optimal
human carrying capacity and creating healthy, ecologically viable societies above all. It
represents a very spiritual, in tune with our environs approach to environmental thought.

7. Vegetarianism

An ecological vegetarian may argue that they maintain their meat-free diet because of
environmental ethics. That the amount of arable land needed for raising grain and other plants as
food for those animals that are in turn to be eaten by humans takes much more resources then
the amount of land needed for raising grain and other plants for direct human consumption.

8. Ecofeminism

Ecofeminism argues that just as patriarchy is the domination of women by men,

patriarchy has objectified nature by placing it in the category of other and denied human links
with the natural world. Ecofeminists argue that patriarchy must be replaced with an egalitarian

Environmental Ethics

form of social organization in which men and women have equal power, and by a social ecology
in which the natural environment is treated with respect and sustained rather than manipulated
and destroyed. (Epstein, 1993). They also argue that capitalism is linked to this patriarchal
domination, and must be replaced with small-scale economies and local democracy. It
encourages linking environmental problems with wider social problems.