Environmental Ethics

Environmental ethics is the part of environmental philosophy which considers extending the traditional boundaries of ethics from solely including humans to including the non-human world. It exerts influence on a large range of disciplines including environmental law, environmental sociology, Eco theology, ecological economics, ecology and environmental geography. There are many ethical decisions that human beings make with respect to the environment. For example:

Should we continue to clear cut forests for the sake of human consumption?

Why should we continue to propagate our species, and life itself?

Should we continue to make gasoline powered vehicles?

What environmental obligations do we need to keep for future generations?

Is it right for humans to knowingly cause the extinction of a species for the convenience of humanity?

How should we best use and conserve the space environment to secure and expand life?

The academic field of environmental ethics grew up in response to the work of scientists such as Rachel Carson and events such as the first Earth Day in 1970, when environmentalists started urging philosophers to consider the philosophical aspects of environmental problems. Two papers published in Science had a crucial impact: Lynn White's "The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis" (March 1967) and Garrett Hardin's "The Tragedy of the Commons" (December 1968). Also influential was Garett Hardin's later essay called "Exploring New Ethics for Survival", as well as an essay by Aldo Leopold in his A Sand County Almanac, called "The Land Ethic," in which Leopold explicitly claimed that the roots of the ecological crisis were philosophical (1949).
The first international academic journals in this field emerged from North America in the late 1970s and early 1980s - the US-based journal Environmental Ethics in 1979 and the Canadian-based journal The Trumpeter: Journal of Ecosophy in 1983. The first British based journal of this kind, Environmental Values, was launched in 1992.


Marshall's categories of environmental ethics:
Some scholars have tried to categorise the various ways the natural environment is valued. Alan Marshall and Michael Smith are two examples of this, as cited by Peter Vardy in "The Puzzle of Ethics". According to Marshall, three general ethical approaches have emerged over the last 40 years: Libertarian Extension, the Ecologic Extension and Conservation Ethics.
Libertarian extension:
Marshall's Libertarian extension echoes a civil liberty approach (i.e. a commitment to extend equal rights to all members of a community). In environmentalism, though, the community is generally thought to consist of non-humans as well as humans.
Andrew Brennan was an advocate of ecologic humanism (eco-humanism), the argument that all ontological entities, animate and in-animate, can be given ethical worth purely on the basis that they exist. The work of Arne Nass and his collaborator Sessions also falls under the libertarian extension, although they preferred the term "deep ecology". Deep ecology is the argument for the intrinsic value or inherent worth of the environment - the view that it is valuable in itself. Their argument, incidentally, falls under both the libertarian extension and the ecologic extension.
Peter Singer's work can be categorized under Marshall's 'libertarian extension'. He reasoned that the "expanding circle of moral worth" should be redrawn to include the rights of non-human animals, and to not do so would be guilty of speciesism. Singer found it difficult to accept the argument from intrinsic worth of a-biotic or "non-sentient" (non-conscious) entities, and concluded in his first edition of "Practical Ethics" that they should not be included in the expanding circle of moral worth. This approach is essentially then, bio-centric. However, in a later edition of "Practical Ethics" after the work of Nass and Sessions, Singer admits that, although unconvinced by deep ecology, the argument from intrinsic value of non-sentient entities is plausible, but at best problematic. Singer advocated a humanist ethics.


Ecologic Extension:
Alan Marshall's category of ecologic extension places emphasis not on human rights but on the recognition of the fundamental interdependence of all biological (and some biological) entities and their essential diversity. Whereas Libertarian Extension can be thought of as flowing from a political reflection of the natural world, Ecologic Extension is best thought of as a scientific reflection of the natural world. Ecological Extension is roughly the same classification of Smith's eco-holism, and it argues for the intrinsic value inherent in collective ecological entities like ecosystems or the global environment as a whole entity. Holmes Rolston, among others, has taken this approach.

This category might include James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis; the theory that the planet earth alters its