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Environmental ethics tor engineers

by M. A. Hersh

What are ethics?


~iowei-fdposition CO slinjie sociely and d k c t tlie riatural eiiviinriiiierit. Tlic privileges resiiliirig
iii ;1
h r i i

pi-ofessiond power

also bring etliical respoiisibilities to snciety 3 s 3

wholc, iii xltlition to pt-iwitc dntius as professiuii,ils. Clioiccc aboirt tcCbIlolOhy ItlVolVcl 2 widc wngc of ctliical : i d othcr issiizs, i:elatirig to whose iritcruw t d Burial ground for disposal of solid, low-level radioactive t1ology shou Id s c r w atid nuclear waste (Photo: US Dept. of Energy/Science views of the ippe or Reference Library) future sucietv techlolclgical devtlopinciw .;hoirld coiitr-ibiicc to sliqiiiig. Mirmkeii a i d innpproprixtc lccl-iriological chnizcc arc also widely iiiiplicnred iri tlie eiivilnriiiieiiml probleiiic ll~lll7:lll~ty fiiccs. Tlicrc arc a n u m b u r of iiifforccnt ctliical thcorics cif appropriate pinfkssionnl a r i d personal coiidircr arid ~ h c w be dividcd into virlur cclrics, i i ~ i l i ~ ~ i . i ; i r i i s i i ~ , cnii diity cthics arid rights ctliics"'.'*V IMtorinrzisni only cotisicicrs conscqiiciiccs arid niaintaitis that actions sliould result in the gruatcst good for tlic iirost ~iuuplv. 111 coiilrxt, B t y rdiia foncuscs 011 actions rathcr tliari coiicequriices a n d i s liasril o i i the idei o f duties 0 1 rcrpcmibilitics and respect for pcr~oiis. ti(q/zts d i k s considors actions t o Iw wrong if tlicy violatc fiindamcntal i~ior~il riglit< a n d 'trirtrrc ctjrics supports actions which Ixiild good uliaracrcr, limvcvcr LIICSL' cheorics should I x scci~ cotiiplcnicntarp to each other, rnther as Environmentalethics d ~ a n ~ i i u i u a l l yexclusive nlrn-natives. 111 p:wi(:ular, ns rtilic u~ilitai.ia~iism* arid iict utiIitariariirmt arc c l c d y r:omplcriicntnry sincc hrith nicam arid cnds, i.e. Lictioiis tlicmsclvus aizri rlicir likcly consuqucnccs, ncud to bu coiisitlercd iu ordcr to ,act ctliic;illp. Utiltt;rri~iriis~n c:iii III' divided Lirrlier inr:o positive arid iieptive iitilicari;iirisrii". I'ocitive utilit;~r-iariisiii sssesccs riew tci.linologics iii tcrms of'thcir- t w i e f i t < apinst thc ricks and costs, ai approxli whicli generally hvoiirs new tcchriologics and coixidcrs cht. risks oT, fool. instalice, dcstrirctioti of ccocystcnis to hc I V I ~ ~ O C Ut i d distaiir. a Nqytive ril.iliarint~isiii is i i i s i d y coricerrierl witli oftsictting or mitigntirig prcsciit or htiirc Iinriiis w d is iiiorc olwiously coiiiptti1,lc wid) eiiviroiiriiei~tnlethics considein~ioris iiiid nlsrr with tlir precxitiiuinry

MI S550000 as well ns possilile loss ofli-ieriils nriil oilier persoiinl costs'".". hi tlic USA wliistlrblower-5 havc srme statutory protcction tllroirgll die Wliistleblowei-s Act ,198'3, biit tlmc ia stilt no otiicial legal protcction
foi~ethic;>I tiiigiiiccn in the UIC". Tlicrc lins huct-i a

telldctlcy to k l C U S on thu iririividiial ricspciiisiibility of cnginccrs atid nttiui:~, in isohtior1 fro111 t1i:it of tlie firiris ; i i i d sucietv of

principle 4 1 ~ ~ .
Ethical thcorics gciicrally rccognisc that iriclividuals

I-Iowevei , traditional cdiical theorics of the nntural ctiviroiiiine~~t: only rccogniscd huiiiariity ns IiavIng have intriiisic wnrdi a i i d 1i:ivc corisidrrcd thc ciiviruilineiit to have value solely due to its usefulncss to huiuaiiity. 0ttit.r npproacches to e~iviroiiiiicntnlctliics rtcogriisc all seiiiicix a n i d s o - all living organisn\s AS l w i n g l iri~ririsic worth or eveii righrs. Ecoccntred nppinaciws I i ~ v c a holistic prrspectivc bnscd 011 ecological s y s t e ~ i ~ "This has the advnntagc. of focusirig on . corjriect.ioiis and iiitcI.:IctioIis arid is tlicrefore iiiorc likely to lend to awnrcims of long-term ntirl indirect ConscqIiciiCes t h i iiiorc iiidividiidistic approaches. This typc of spproacli IS also relemrlt to cnginccriiig mci wuiilil irivolvc iiitcgratiun cif crivirotioictit:i1 cotaidci:atioiia iinm all aspects of engiriecritig arid :ill arcas uf ckciqioii making, d i c r tlian treating tlieiii
scpalatcly, so that stcps to iiiiprovc mviroiiiiieiital quality iii oiic arc9 arc iiot underrimed by mforeseeri side e k t s 01- contradicted by actiaii takori iri auotlw arca , Other iinportant COnSideT;:hIS ofciivirol~~licnral ctliics which s h o u l d inforin etiginccriiig tbirikirg arc tlic prcvcritioti, precautionary arid pdiutcr--p;iys pei nciplcs';. Btirrii:oiiriiciltal ethics caii pi:ovide a franic\vork to rccolvc potcntinl coiiflict5 bctwcciz envirniii~iontal i m othcr acpcctq and iriipacts of onginocririg work. It c a n i11sn motivm tlic devclopnicnt of lorig-term local, regional, national a n d iritei-natiniial technology xnd infiastructurc poticks, including cncrby ai i d transport policies, 2nd provide a fi-micuwk to support the ilevclopnicnt of such policics. Thiis rnviroiimcntnl ethics for engineers rhuuld address both morn1 issiies which affect iiidividual ciigiiieei~atid witlei: issiies rclating to teclmnlngy policy fori\luliltiotl. d e s of eriviroiinicntal cthics should iacilitntu ioti inakiiig in die hllowing arcas: thc moltition uf coriflicts of intcrest hehvccn eijvironmcntd atid other aspccts uf engiiieeriiig cotiflicts bctwccn duties to a n ciiipluyer arid CO socicty :IS 2 wlinle, for iiistancc c)n diaclosurc of potcntid cnviroiiiriental damage rlccisioiis by iiidivirlual crigirieeis as to whctlier to work iu pnrciciilar arcas, siicli as niiclcar powei- and tiiilitnry tcctinolo6y life-style choiccs rclatirig to work, i~icliidiiig trailsport cimiccs atid how they impact on clioicc nf job and wha-e to livc i1ccisioiis by wcicty :IS to whx lppcc of teclwology to piwiiotc a i i d wllether i discontiiiw tecliriology o dcvclopiiiuits iri m a s such as iiiicleni- power and military tt-chtidogy thc rolc of tcchnolo~yIn society, including tlie for I iiiilatiot i o f c r itcr ia for d c c idi rig ho\v tc ch nolohy ahoulil be dweloped and uscd m q " c levels nf rick a n d criteria for tlic ncccptaticc of tcciiuology wlicn the risks are either not fully kuowii or iiicoiiiplctuly iniderstood tlic fi~rmi~latioii r~eclntiolo~y d arici iiifrasmcttirc


i.athcr tlian trcsting tlicm as ficc goods, as iii thc past equity aiid distriburiotial issues at tlic r i a t i o i i a l a d iiircl-iinhiial lcvcls and bctivccti guncrations the pr-niiiotinnofco-opci2tivc mtlicr thnti coinpctitive strategies, which cari lead tn syiicrgctir hetiefits and [he sliariiig of experietws, costs arid beliefits.

It tiiay not bc imiiicdiatcly app:iruit that eriviruriniental considcixtioIis arc a very iniportarit ;iqxct uf ;dl the abovc issues. I-Iowcvcr, for iiistxice, dcciuions oil dit. r d c of tdiiiology in socicty, niid iri particular whether l tcchtiological devrlopliIerit s l ~ n ~ i l rbe plnririrtl arid txgcted :it the resoliiriori o f social probleiiis, will 11iwc signifcnrit effects on the eiiviroiiiiieiit. In addition tn tlic otlier ctliicnl issi.ics associacrd with work on riiilitary teclinology, it is resource iiiterisivc arid, if used, iiiay lead to ruidesprucrd eiiviiwiiiriciital dcvxitatioii. Awaren e s s of equity a n d distributional iwics is part of tlie coiiiiiiitriicnt to sustninablc cicvclopmunt arid thc link already ~ I S C L I S bchrrccri huiiiari rlevclopincnt atid thc S ~ ~ eiivimlit I 1en t. llius the approach tn crivinin~iicntal cthics pi~rseiitedlieir firiiily plnccs crtiicnl issues relating to t l i e envimtmientd itiipxrr of ceclniology within thu cniitext of thc wider dobatu o n the ~I~vu1opiiicnt d an application of technology. l l i c r e is iticrcasing awarciiess that society lix clcvulopcd tcchnologically iiiucli faster tliari it has dcvelopd etliicnlly aiid that rlicre is a lack of tools to inakc ~ i i m y tlie cthical of dccisioiis wliich cliatigiiig tcchtiology prcscnts tc socieiy. Eiiginrrrs have geiieially devclnpcd techiiology aud o f i k d it to the piiblic iii XI uricr-itical wiy T licy 1I w c h:d little i iivol vci I lei1t iI I c:niisi dei~nti i oI i)i which teclmological pinbleuis should be solvcd niid liow tlicil crc,itivity s h i l r l b e npplietl to developiiig new ~ > r o d ~ m s pioccsse< and resolving liumani~ys md pmldciiis. A well derdopcd systcm of cnviroiimciital cthics for cngiiiccrs could siippr)rt a new approach to tcchriologicai dcvclopmciit in which cngiriccrr take :I irwcli IIIOLCactive role in dccidirig wliicli techiiologies should bc dcvclopccl to bcncfit socicty globally and to iiiinimisc rlaniagc to thc ~.iwironmciit, :ippmicLi iii NI potential ciiviruiimciital which considcixtioii of ~ l i c conscqncnccs of n e w tcclinologics in the long :IS well a s tlic short tcrtii is prioritised.

control group, cvcn wlicn: thcorcticnlly possible, could raise rtliicd qimtimx of, for iristaiicc, cxpusirig intlivitli;ils to systcms or tccliiiologics which arc: lcss safe than thc inaxiirmin possible, a n d bc cxcludcd oii thcw grolllldS. In the context o f (eriviroritiieri~al) ctliics the social rxprritiirricatioti approach to mgiiierriug pi-ojects has the advxitnge of making explicit the iiiiportntice of iriforiiied comeiit. Tliis rcqiiii-es subjects to liave siificierit ni )(I q q m p - i n t t . ii I ~ O I - I I xiti o n to iii;tke properly iuforiried decisioiis a i d to pwticipate voluntarily without any kind ofcoercioii or tlrceptinri. Sincc such dccisions dtcn invnlvc complex tcditinlogics, iii tlic longer tcrin this will requirc i i i q m I c n t iii thc geiwal lcvcl nT technic;il cducation, to irinkc thc argutticnts atid issues iiinrc accessible, as well ns in thc coiiniiuiilc;itioii skills of crigineei-s arid scientists, so tl1;it they arc b c t t c r able to txplairi issues to thc gcircral public. Infornicci consclit alsu requires geriuiric iiiidcrst:iIiciiiig oftlic lcvc4 ofrisk involvcd anti dccisicin.;about :icucptancc trflr!vcls of risk for particular benefits. In soiiic cases arritudus tr) risks by thc gciicral pul>lic difFer finin those or experts or rchpilntury bodies, or tlicrc iiiay bc Iittlc popiilar iotcrcst i n tlic assuciatctl benefits. This raises tlic qucstion of how acccptabllc lcvcls of risk tbr difccrcnt activities should be detcrrniueti :iud implies tlint the prcsciit approaches by experts id iegiilatory bociics i i ~ i ybc i1i;idetpiate i n etliicnl terms. The high degree of uncertainty i n cvaliiatiiig thc risk asrocintcd with many ticw tcchnologics also ixiscs cttiical qucstions.

l ) ; l r d c h exarii1)lt.s iricliide riucleai- enerm arid genetically modified foods (see Cxr: Study 2, hotli ) o f which can bc considcrcd sncial cxperitrienis with uiikrio~vrioutcoiiies :ind possibly uiifureseeable Longtcriii corisuqucnccr. Ethical coiisidcratioiis require die pinvisioti oE unbiascd infortnation. However ttic dismissal of public c o i i c c r ~by politicians and cxpcrts i~ :IS beitig u~iirifunnetl :itid contrwy to tlic sciciitifc eviderrce is methicnl, ns are any attenips to distort tlic evidence or to try to mislead the piiblic with scientific evidence it is unable to unclerstarid. Iinpwitioti of a tcclmdogy iri tlic f X c of public opitiion bccausc tlic cxpcrts bclievc it to bc bcncficial amo~uitr cocrcion to m r l is rlierehre unetlIical, regiirclless of whcthcr or not
the cxperts are otjectivcly correct.
Another iiiiporcniii iwie is that of disseniiiig minorities. [<cspo~isiblc cxpcrimc.ntatinii wnuld rcquiw inforiiied C ~ I I S C Thy all pal-cicipaiits. This does I~ not raisc any prooblcitis in thc c w of rhe p t ~ a , w of individual pinclucts, but is mnrc protdeiiiniic iiittic case of, for- illstatice, ettergy trchiiologics whicli nftect wliolc nrcas o population and wlici~cit i s uiilikely tn i be possible to exclude iiidividtids who do riot C O I I F ~ I I ~ . Eriviroi~mcntal ctliics sliould ptnvidc gtiidcliiics to cthical dccisio~i-niakingin such cases.

Engineering as sociat experimentation

111 xlditiur I to the e q w i i u rii btioii iiivolvcd a I various stages orthe design p s < , cngineeriiig projccLc or tlic iiirrnduction of iiew tcch~iohgicscan tlieinsclvus bc comidered 3s experitiierits, since tlieir nutcnriies Are geiiei~illyiiiice~~ain; possihle nutcomcs may iioe ewii be kiiown aiid cveii seciiiiiigly h c n i p projccrc cui hwc (uiicxpcctod niid s c ~ w c risksI2. I l o ~ ~ ~ udiku iiiaiiy ) ~vw, r~tlicrtypos cif cxpcriiiiciitation, cnginccring projects gcncr;iliy rlo not Iimc control groiips, :is thcir cxpcrinicntal siibjccts :irc liuiiiaii bciiip who iiiakc thcir own choiccs un the iisc o l prorliicts. In the cnbe of rlic dcvcloptiicnt of new tcclinologics, the tiw of a

Codes of ethics
Many profession< have codcc t o guidc tlic nctions of