ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS II
Australian philosopher, Richard Routley, suggested in 1973, that anthropocentrism, which he called “the dominate western view”, was in effect “human chauvinism”. This view, he argued, is just another form of class chauvinism. He went on to recognize that natural things have intrinsic value and require respect. Holms Rolston III in 1975, argued that the deliberate destruction of a species would show disrespect for the very biological processes which make possible the emergence of individual living things. In 1972, Christopher Stone professor of law, proposed that trees and other natural objects should have at least the same standing in law as corporations. Stone reasoned that if trees, forests and mountains could be given standing in law, they could be represented in their own right in the courts. The late 1970’s focused the attention of philosophers and political theorists firmly on the environment. Environmental ethics was providing a deeper understanding of the natural world and the human dependency we have on this world. These new debates raise serious questions about the adequacy of the management principles of “preservation” and “conservation”. Neither system is capable of meeting the human demands for the future! Earth is crying out for help from the dominant species!
Feminist theories began to influence environmental ethics and concerns about the natural world in the mid-1970’s. Susan Collins in 1974, argued that male-dominated culture or patriarchy is supported by four interlocking pillars: sexism, racism, class exploitation and ecological destruction. In 1989,Ynestra King suggested human exploitation of nature may be seen as a manifestation and extension of the oppression of women, as it is the result of associating nature with the female. Feminism theory argues that the “logic of domination”, dictates that those on the superior side (men, humans and rational beings) are normally entitled to dominate and utilize those on the inferior side (women, irrational thinkers and non-human species). It has been suggested that the projection of domination requires the suppression of our own human nature. We must replace domination with stewardship! Some have argued that a flourishing human life requires the moral capacities to value, love, respect and care for the non-human natural world as an end in itself.
Despite the variety of positions in environmental ethics developed over the last thirty years, environmentalists have focused mainly on issues concerning wilderness and the reasons for its preservation. Concerns over humanity’s requirements from our natural world demand much boarder considerations. Will designating a few acres as Wilderness provide any real value to future generations? The first 65 years of management of the national forest system lands, by the Forest Service, focused on Gifford Pinchot definition of forestry, “growing trees as crops”. The late 1950’s early 60’s saw a rise in several environmental preservation groups, which initiated pressure on the U.S. Forest Service to set aside areas where timber harvesting and road access would not be allowed. The Agency’s long history of supporting timber industry, created a lack of trust by many within the preservation community, thereby resulting in elevating the issue to the political arena. This resulted in the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the start of a nationwide effort to identify and designate 447 areas (36,106,078 acres) of national forest system lands as “Wilderness”. A discussion of the value and need to preserve Wilderness raises a number of concerns; does the experience of wilderness change or enhance people’s valuations of nature and the natural world, is a wilderness experience available to most people or only the more affluent, what impact does mass human access to the wilderness have on these areas, does aesthetic appreciation for nature truly enrich or re-enchant human life and what results will the aging of these areas have on the ability to provide the life sustaining elements required for the future. Hugh Stretton in 1976, argues the enjoyment of wilderness by “natural aristocrats” and more generally the life styles of many people in the affluent countries, seems implicated in the destruction and pollution which has provoked the environmental problems in the first place. Others believe just knowing wilderness areas exist provides an aesthetic peace of mind about the natural world. Is this simply a means of feeling good about and justifying our alienation from the natural world due to industrialization and urbanization?
What does all this mean as we search for a desirable future for humanity? An expanding worldwide population and more affluent life-styles for people in developing countries will stress Earth’s ability to provide food, shelter and energy. More tillable acres of land will be required, thereby requiring continued deforestation. The ability of our remaining natural world to supply the life-sustaining elements, only it can provide, will reach its limits. When will this happen? Possibly sooner then we expect!
Next time; Environmental ethics – Sustainability and Climate Change