My college education provided the knowledge required to manage the renewable natural resources from the forests and the variety of silvicultural systems that had been developed for treating the forest communities. I learned the scientific names of the various tree species, how to read aerial photographs and survey land units, the variety of measurement systems for determining lumber volumes and the agricultural processes used to grow trees as a crop. I was ready to become a forest land manager, or so I thought! Just 2 months after graduation, I received a permanent appointment with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service; and realized my education was inadequate and I was about to begin a long journey of advanced education based on observation and experiences. After thirty-four years, I was left with a successful career and many questions and concerns about the science I had dedicated my life to. I had achieved my personal goals, had a wonderful family with a wife that had provided the strength to succeed in my chosen career and retirement seemed to be the next step. I was not however, ready to forget about the concerns developed through empirical observations I had developed during my working years. Retirement offered time to analyze and study issues and concerns which required a much deeper understanding then I possessed at the time.
My first thoughts were with the scientific theory itself, but soon realized it was a people problem and the cultural values humanity had developed. I was still frustrated with the difficulty of understanding why issues and concerns were so complex, until I realized previous actions had failed to consider the connections our natural world shares with humanity. Everything is connected, from the smallest micro-organisms to the advanced human species. Decisions cannot be made on scientific knowledge alone, but require an in-depth discussion and understanding of the relationships and impacts that will affect living organisms. Past actions have actually resulted in the extermination of some species. Today, we have the power and knowledge to do the same for human beings. This is the concern that has led me to search for a deeper understanding of humanity’s connection to the natural world.
Philosophy and environmental ethics seem to offer at least part of the wisdom I have been searching for. Environmental ethics analyses human being’s ethical relationship with the natural environment. Science has taught us how to put humans on the moon, construct weapons of mass-destruction, remove fossil fuels from a mile beneath the surface of the ocean, fill the sky with satellites and the list goes on. The next thing will be the development of artificial intelligence to replace humans. All these great discoveries will accelerate the destruction of our natural world. What will all this advanced technology do to the mental and emotional stability of the human species? The answer is simply we, as human beings, will perish if we fail to constrain our demands we are placing on nature.
It may be acceptable for individual scientists to focus on developing new information about their specialized subject, but decision makers and managers are responsible for a much broader understanding of the impacts their decisions will have on humanity! A decision-maker must have access to scientific data, the ecologist’s understanding of relationships within the non-human life systems and the ethicist’s appreciation for the moral relationships of human beings to the values and status of the environment and non- human contents. Leave anything out and the future will suffer. Many of the concerns we have regarding the environment, are serious concerns because of the way they can affect human beings. This helps explain the major concern I have been focused on from the beginning, (our focus on profitability rather than the impacts on human requirements and their destiny)! In other words, an anthropocentric ethic claims that we possess obligations to the natural world for the sake of our individual well-being and prosperity. What about future generations? Some philosophers actually deny that human beings in the future have moral standing because they can give us nothing in return, and certainly non-human species have no standing based on biblical teachings. Maybe this helps explain our reluctance to change our life-styles and demands for the limited resources provided by Mother Earth! The fact is our actions will impact those who will exist in the future! Brian Barry (1999) has argued that our obligations lie with ensuring we do not prevent future generations their basic needs!
What does all this mean? It is apparent, my quest for a deeper understanding and appreciation for the value and necessity of our natural world has not concluded, even in retirement. My continued interest has led to philosophy and environmental ethics, which has provided insight into humanity’s relationship with the natural world and has provided considerable personal insight. I now see the responsibility of leadership and management requiring a much deeper knowledge base then had been defined before. A degree in forest science, or any natural resource science, does not prepare a person for a leadership and decision-making role in managing our natural world. The future of our human species depends upon our ability to radically overhaul prevailing philosophical perspective and ideology of the western society. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service must play a critical role in this overhaul effort, as forest management of our public forest covered lands, needs to set the example for managing our remaining forests worldwide. Forest science and academia must cast aside the concept of growing trees as crops and introduce new principles that amplify the availability of life sustaining elements required by humans and non-human species for the next generation of life! We must start by recognizing that as human beings we are not removed from nature, but are interconnected with it. Richness and diversity of life forms allow life systems to function, and humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity for future generations! The foundations of the environmental crisis lie in the dominate ideology of modern western society, and demand a radical overhaul of this ideology! Do we live for today or do we have obligations to the future?