Ethics & The Environment


Environmental Ethics: An area of ethics that has emerged in the 1970s in which philosophers focus on the rights, duties, and values we have in relationship to the world, especially as this concerns human population growth, future generations, the human impact on non-human animals, the atmosphere, oceans, and the biota and abiota that make up our planet.  In this area, we consider whether some non-human animals suffer, endure pain and have a good that deserves our moral attention.  Is our use of animals as food, clothing, various products, as well as their use in science and medicine justified?  Why or why not?  When should human activity be curtailed when it causes a loss in biodiversity?  How might our cities, parks, suburbs be shaped in ways that are more environmentally friendly?  What should guide us in our agricultural policies?  What levels of pollution are permissible and why?  What is a wilderness area and how should it be managed? When are farm subsidies of American farmers responsible for deprivations in developing nations?  We also consider deep ecology, ecofeminism, environmental racism and justice, environmental law, and ethical issues involving deep space (the UN’s Moon Treaty).

When considering environmental ethics from the standpoint of religious values, most textbooks in the field (sadly) only include Lynn White’s famous essay on Christianity and the eco-crisis.  Students often appreciate this essay, but so much has been done on behalf of a Christian stewardship ethic, that the White essay is quite dated.  For Christian environmental literature, you may wish to consider the work of Homes Rolston, Andrew Light, Wendell Berry, Frank Jackson, and others.  There are sound treatments of environmental ethics in Hinduism, Buddhism, Chinese traditions and Africa, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity in Dale Jamieson’s A Companion to Environmental Ethics.