Introduction to Ethics & Social Responsibility
April 1, 2010
Environmental Ethical Issues
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 nonhuman contents (Brennan &Lo, 2008). Traditionally, environmental ethics put human being as the only living things with any intrinsic value, an end in itself. The earth and everything on the earth was strictly meant for the benefit of human beings. All other beings were regarded as having instrumental value; furthering some other ends. This theory or way of thinking is referred to as anthropocentric. In the last decades of the twentieth century this human centered theory was confronted with a new environmental ethical theory where humans were not the only living beings being considered to have intrinsic value. This new theory became one of importance because of the growing number of threats to the environmental condition of the world that we human beings live in. As human beings, the only ethical choice regarding the environment is to care for and preserve our environment so that we have an environment in which to prosper in the future.
In a essay written by historian Lynn White jr. on the historical roots of the environmental crisis, he argues that “the main strands of Judeo-Christian thinking had encouraged the overexploitation of nature by maintaining the superiority of humans over all other forms of life on earth, and by depicting all of nature as created for the human use” (Brennan & LO, 2008). These anthropocentric theories were originated from verses in the Bible where man is described as dominion over the earth and he should flourish and multiply. Judeo-Christian thoughts that lead humans to believe and live anthropocentrically are directly related to the environmental crisis that we face today.
In 1968, Stanford ecologist Paul Ehrlich Published The Population Bomb, “warning (humans) that the growth of human population threatened the viability of planetary life systems” (Brennan and Lo, 2008). This caused people to look at the environment differently, in a non-anthropocentric manner. People began to realize that if they continued only respecting the rights of human beings and continued to disregard the importance of the earth and all other beings, it was going to negatively affect the environment, which they needed to survive. People became aware that if the world population continued to rise at such alarming rates, the environmental problems caused by overpopulation would increase in both number and seriousness. With the increased population and the anthropocentric manner of thinking, problems such as pollution and depletion of much needed natural resources would plague the humans of the world.
Realizing what they stand to lose and at what financial costs has lead people to a thought process that resembles a non-anthropocentric view. It is not that all people have adopted a deep ecology belief, where they believe that all life forms have an intrinsic value and they as humans have a direct responsibility to maintain the environment for all life forms, but most humans now share the belief referred to as shallow ecology. This belief is that as humans, we have to protect the environment so that it can continue to support human life now and for future generations of human beings. Preserving what we have is exceptionally more cost effective that replacing it in the future.
Currently “sixty countries have lost virtually all of their forest cover, more than three quarters of the world’s fish stocks (providing food for two billion people) are in steep decline, nearly one third of the globe’s cropland has been abandoned in the last forty years due to erosion, and the world has lost half of its wetlands and one third of it’s coral reefs (Adams, J., 2010, para. 4). According to these numbers, we are in the middle of an...