Essay, Research Paper: Environmental Ethics


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Establishing an environmental ethic is of utmost concern to the human species to
better comprehend our place in the world and our potentials for the future. In
doing so, we must extend our thinking of rights and responsibilities. I believe
we must incorporate not only a temporal component, but also a spatial
understanding of the world as an organic biotic community and how consumption is
a part of the natural order. Aldo Leopold believes that conservation ethics must
be rooted in a determination: "A thing is right when it tends to preserve
the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when
it tends otherwise." I would like to start with Leopold's statement, and
further explore how the definitions of integrity, stability and beauty can be
better understood given three corollary's: 1. All organic entities must consume
to survive it is not only a right, but a responsibility 2. There are limited
resources to be consumed by organic entities on the planet 3. The human species
has the ability, through rational thought, to conserve ever-depleting resources
Leopold's ethic attempts to extend what is of human, moral concern to include
animals, ecosystems, and endangered species. How can this concern be expressed
in today's society? I see one problem with this argument in that there is little
discussion about power and influence that is inherent in current definitions of
rights. Therefore, I will introduce the notion that organic entities, those that
depend on the consumption of energy for survival, must retain the right to
consume resources to survive. Notions of right and wrong now have no standing
it is a fact that organic entities must consume to maintain life. I will
turn to Callicott for some discussion of limits and to the Second Law of
Thermodynamics as a moral decree to conservation. The resources for survival are
diverse and limited, and we must explore more fully the components of a biotic
community as a whole to explore our moral limits. Community components Organic
entities exist (i.e. live) in an interdependent organic community. This
viewpoint will examine components of the world which are necessary to maintain
organic life. Biological entities are not the only things that require
consumption in these organic communities: Fire consumes oxygen as well as
organic entities, the atmosphere consumes radiation from the sun, water consumes
through the removal of essential oxygen to those that require it, and the earth
consumes through convection. The earth, itself, does nothing more than recycle
energy. Inorganic earth, water and air are also methods of transportation within
the consumption community. Temporally, to better understand the
interconnectedness with other entities we must look at humanities history
through the ancestry of the land. Leopold described the rings on a fallen tree
to show where, at different points in time, it may have been affected by other
forces of consumption. We can see this in a ring that is charred black due to a
fire over one hundred years ago, or where romantic lovers etched their names in
its sturdy frame. However, when we examine things at the microscopic level, a
rich picture emerges that relates our biological history with nature. Leopold
writes of this through the Odyssey of "Particle X": In the flash of a
century the rock decayed, and X was pulled out and up into a world of living
things. He helped build a flower, which became an acorn, which fattened a deer
which fed an Indian, all in a single year. The human sensory methods of
discovery tend to miss many relationships between organic entities. We tend to
miss a lot of things when we are not actually living in nature as well. The
modern market-driven consumer society is very different from the consumer
community of the totality of organic entities on the earth and quite
possible less complex. We tend not only to consume resources, but technology
allows us to build things that consume resources just in the production process
itself. These, in turn, produce forms of energy that can then be consumed by
human beings as a species. Finite energy resources Up until now, I have
neglected the inorganic life that abounds on the planet. I will now turn to the
Second Law of Thermodynamics which states that in any closed system, entropy is
always increasing. Organic entities require energy for survival, and entropy,
which is a measure of the amount of energy unavailable for work during a natural
process, is constantly increasing. That is, the more we consume, the more waste
is produced that is not available to organic entities to survive. Organic
entities and communities do nothing more than recycle energy throughout the
planet from the flower, to the wolf, to the ocean. It is our consumption, in
relation to the community as a whole, that we must keep in mind. Community
stability The stability of the land is crucial to maintain the recycling of
energy for living communities. We run into problems with the realization that
energy can take on different forms, and those types available may not be able to
be consumed by the individual entities that inhabit it. Reductions in the number
of species, and their interdependent relationships, over time will result in
unstable systems which can no longer recycle usable energy due to the lack of
entities that can consume it. The human relevance here is that our actions,
which are currently removing entire organic communities, will have dramatic
effects on the stability of the organic community. Here, it is important to see
that individuals contribute to and affect the stability of the community as a
whole. Community integrity The integrity of the organic community is a difficult
concept to address in an ever-changing natural world. I would like to relate it
to the spatial component of interconnectedness between organic entities within
and between the organic community. Here, organic entities are but a process
within the recycling process of the earth as a whole. The individual components,
aside from extremely damaging human events, will normally not put a dent in the
community as a whole. The recycling processes of the community here include
weather phenomena, natural land movements, and ocean sinks and these have little
concern for the individual entities of the organic community. It is the
integrity and interconnectedness of the whole that can be compromised most
easily by human hands. Community beauty "The trend of evolution is to
elaborate and diversify the land [sea and air] biota." Dr. Leopold
emphasizes the diversity of the landscape and its contribution to the beauty
that exists there. It is this component that combines the abstract and rational
thought in the human species. I believe the saying is beauty is in the eyes of
the beholder. This is probably the most difficult points to discuss because of
that. I don't believe beauty can be subjected to the objective sciences of
today, where it would just be thrown within the current institutional power
structure. We must come to grips with our consumption patters, in relation to
the amount of energy that is required for ourselves, and other entities, to
exist. Callicott believed that the scope and rate of extinction could be used as
well, by examining the rate of species extinction, and compare it with previous
sources of information on the subject. This diversification that Leopold
discusses can allow us to frame beauty in an energy-consumption view. The human
species, and its endless creation of energy consuming and transforming machines,
has found ways to take away the rights of other organic entities to consume. We
have removed not only energy sources for other organic entities, but have
removed the entities altogether. Ecological Education Beyond the ethical
prowess, and more importantly, we need to change how people think about the
environment through education. The citizen-conservationist needs an
understanding of wildlife ecology not only to enable him (her) to function as a
critic of sound policy, but to enable him (her) to derive maximum enjoyment from
his (her) contacts with the land. The jig-saw puzzle of competitions and
cooperations which constitute the wildlife community are inherently more
interesting than mere acquaintance with its constituent species, for the same
reason that a newspaper is inherently more interesting than a telephone
directory. It is only through this democratic education process that we can
truly, as a consumer species, come together in moral environmental thought. The
virtual realities available to us today only provide virtual experiences.
Leopold believed experiential learning was the only way to overcome and to do
this was to get out into nature and get first-hand experiences. "Schools
and Universities need nearby pieces of land on which conservation problems and
techniques can be shown, and researches performed." The Moral call This
process of consumption and waste production is repeated over and over until
there is no energy, usable by organic entities, left. The human species is the
only organic entity that can realize, through rational thought, this global
process which will result in the end of organic life on this planet. Really,
that is why this paper is being written! In essence, the amount of energy that
can be consumed is finite, naturally decreasing, and only realized by the human
species. It seems a fatalistic point of view, but in terms of human lifetimes,
the end of usable resources may still be thousands of generations away. A
re-examination of the primary consumption entities of today are not even
organic. They are mechanical devices, driven by a materialistic ethic, meant to
transform energy into types that our species can then consume. Cars consume oil,
power plants consume coal, and our packaging consumes trees. Not to mention all
of the conversions directly to unusable energy, such as plastics or even the
processes of material production itself. Of course, by removing the potential
energy base for other organic entities, this can lead to instability in the
organic community as a whole. Therefore, we must not ask too much of nature and
conserve the limited resources of the life giving Earth.
Leopold, Aldo. 1937. Teaching wildlife conservation in public schools.
Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, Vol. 30,
pp. 77-86.
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