What is environmental ethics? Environmental issues: –Pollution –Depletion of natural resources –Impact of overpopulation on ecosystems How do ethical systems respond? –What is of value? Just human beings? Just individuals or also species, ecosystems, natural objects (rivers, mountains)? –How should we make decisions about these issues?
Our question Which effects of pollution, depletion of natural resources, overpopulation, matter morally? Do only human beings ‘count’, or do effects on the environment matter as well? Why?
Hedonist utilitarianism Only pleasure and pain matter morally. So plants, ecosystems, natural resources, landscapes and species don’t count. Oi! That hurts!
Hedonist utilitarianism Environmental issues should therefore be decided on the basis of their effects on individual animals and human beings – particularly human beings – alone.
Preference utilitarianism The right thing to do is to maximise preferences. People have preferences about things they don’t experience, e.g. the desire that the rainforests continue to exist ‘unspoiled’. I want lakes to be unpolluted. Pollution? Wha’sh that, then?
Preference utilitarianism But the environment, species, resources, etc. still only has (and as much) value as we give it in our preferences.
Arguing in the opposite direction The predicted effects of environmental problems won’t be that bad; and technology will help fix problems. Preferences for preserving the environment are very weak compared to the need to use it. Discounting: uncertain bad consequences in the distant future don’t count as much as certain benefits now.
Virtue ethics Is not polluting the environment and conserving natural resources part of a virtuous life? Virtuous people respect what has value. But does anything apart from human well-being have value? But I’m having a wonderful life, darling.
Virtue and the self Destruction of the environment, like vandalism, displays a bad character, e.g. greed, inability to appreciate beauty. Being human involves a relationship to the environment – both physical and ‘spiritual’, as shown in our aesthetic and personal relationships to animals, plants, landscapes, and in science.
Virtue and the self But why single this out as important to a good human life? It is just as human to treat nature as an object to be mastered.