American Military University - EVSP508: Environmental Ethics Week 4 Forum Topic: Ecological Ethics

The Assignment
This week we focus on the topics of biological diversity, land ethics, and whether species should have legal standing. This collection of essays presents a diversity of views and ideas on the protection of species. One classic essay included this week is Aldo Leopold‟s thoughts on a Land Ethic. I wonder how many of you have read his Sand County Almanac. In the biological sciences, students are often faced with the age-old question „why are there so many species?‟ Thinking through this leads to discussion on divergent and convergent evolution, environmental factors, natural selection, and many more ideas. To spin this age-old question to environmental ethics, perhaps an appropriate question is „do species matter?‟ You might consider expanding this concept to communities and ecosystems as well. Further, how does the protection of individual species fit in the context of environmental ethics?

My forum posting
Yes, species matter, for a fundamental reason captured in Leopold‟s Land Ethic (2011), Callicott‟s (2011) excellent expository analysis of the Land Ethic, and in Stone‟s (2011) call for bestowing legal rights upon nature. One quote from Callicott (2011) almost seems enough for me to rest my case: “The trend of evolution [not its “goal,” since evolution is ateleological] is to elaborate and diversify the biota”... Hence, among our cardinal duties is the duty to preserve what species we can, especially the duty to preserve those at the apex of the pyramid – the top carnivores. (p. 241) Here is a wordier but (I think) simpler explanation of the above described fundamental reason that species matter: The health and longevity of the entire earth ecosystem rely upon immeasurably complex and innumerable interdependencies among its components, to include species (and plants; and soils, the oceans, the land and the sun); and those interdependencies have been developed over eons. Built into that evolution is a natural progression in which, generally, a relatively small number of species go extinct at any given point or period in time, either by virtue of not evolving enough to keep up with changes to their life support systems, or by virtue of keeping up with such changes so well that they develop into essentially new species. That exceptionally slow, localized and balanced evolution has been upended by humanity, which in an epochal flash has completely, and in a horrific way, changed the game. Leopold explains that “evolution is a long series of self-induced changes, the net result of which has been to elaborate the flow mechanism and to lengthen the circuit. Evolutionary changes, however, are usually slow and local. Man‟s invention of tools has enabled him to make changes of unprecedented violence, rapidity, and scope” … Normally [natural] speciation outpaces extinction… What is wrong with anthropogenic species extirpation and extinction is the rate at which it is occurring and the result: biological impoverishment instead of enrichment. (p.243) In my discussions above, I refer to species as members of a component subset in the “entire earth ecosystem” that interdependently interacts in complex ways with other components, like “…plants (although in this discussion I separate animals and plants, all the different types of both can and should be considered members of the species subset); and soils, the oceans, the land and the sun…” My purpose in going with that construct was to expansively and not subtly communicate full agreement with Leopold and the other Chapter 4 authors, except Russow, (2011) in urgently calling – explicitly (Leopold, Callicott, Taylor) or implicitly (Meadows, Schweitzer and Stone) (2011) – for a new, substantially evolved human ethic. That ethic appreciates that to reverse humanity‟s current trajectory towards annihilation of life on earth, humans must 1. intrinsically and objectively value – versus anthropocentrically and subjectively value – all life and all that sustains life;

2. consider human activities in relationship to the earth ecosystem, mitigating or offsetting noneconomic costs, and equalizing or making superior the welfare of the whole versus the welfare of humans; and 3. strive to protect species from continued human-caused reduction by reversing destruction of their habitats and poisoning of their life-sustaining sources and environments Before closing I want to state that my favorite Chapter 4 essay was Stone‟s Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects (pp. 246-257) His advocacy for granting standing and legal rights to nature – its lives and life-support systems – seems to be the ideal way/first step to proactively and aggressively implement the Land Ethic that Leopold asserts humanity is evolving towards.

Leopold, A. (2011). Ecocentric ethics: the land ethic. In L. P. Pojman & P. Pojman (Eds.), Environmental ethics: Readings in theory and application (6th ed., pp. 222-231). Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Inc. (Original work published 1949). Callicott, J. B. The conceptual foundations of the land ethic. In L. P. Pojman & P. Pojman (Eds.), Environmental ethics: Readings in theory and application (6th ed., pp. 232-245). Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Inc. (Original work published 1987). Russo, L. M. (2011). Why do species matter? In L. P. Pojman & P. Pojman (Eds.), Environmental ethics: Readings in theory and application (6th ed., pp. 190-197). Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Inc. (Original work published 1981). Taylor, P. (2011). Biocentric egalitarianism. In L. P. Pojman & P. Pojman (Eds.), Environmental ethics: Readings in theory and application (6th ed., pp. 205-221). Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Inc. (Original work published 1981). Meadows, D. (2011). Biodiversity: the key to saving life on earth. In L. P. Pojman & P. Pojman (Eds.), Environmental ethics: Readings in theory and application (6th ed., pp. 187-189). Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Inc. (Original work published 1990). Schweitzer, A. (2011). Reverence for life. In L. P. Pojman & P. Pojman (Eds.), Environmental ethics: Readings in theory and application (6th ed., pp. 198-205). Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Inc. (Original work published 1923). Stone, C. (2011). Should trees have standing? Toward legal rights for natural objects. In L. P. Pojman & P. Pojman (Eds.), Environmental ethics: Readings in theory and application (6th ed., pp. 246-256). Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Inc. (Original work published 1996).

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