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Default Environmental Ethics

Environmental Ethics
Editor: Ben A. Minteer,

What responsibilities do we have to wild species &
ecosystems & to present & future generations of humans
dependent on critical ecological services? How does the
recognition of rapid, global environmental change challenge
our traditional understandings of these obligations?
What does it mean to be "sustainable" & why do many believe
that achieving sustainability is an ethical imperative for
science & society in this century?

These questions, & others like them, are explored in this
series. Environmental ethics is a branch of applied
philosophy that studies the conceptual foundations of
environmental values as well as more concrete issues
surrounding societal attitudes, actions, & policies to
protect & sustain biodiversity & ecological systems. As we
will see, there are many different environmental ethics one
could hold, running the gamut from human-centered (or
"anthropocentric") views to more nature-centered (or
"non-anthropocentric") perspectives. Non-anthropocentrists
argue for the promotion of nature's intrinsic, rather than
instrumental or use value to humans. For some ethicists &
scientists, this attitude of respecting species & ecosystems
for their own sakes is a consequence of embracing an
ecological worldview; it flows out of an understanding of
the structure & function of ecological & evolutionary
systems & processes. We will consider how newer scientific
fields devoted to environmental protection such as conser-
vation biology & sustainability science are thus often
described as "normative" sciences that carry a commitment
to the protection of species & ecosystems; again, either
because of their intrinsic value or for their contribution
to human wellbeing over the long run.

The relationship between environmental ethics & the environ-
mental sciences, however, is a complex & often contested
one. For example, debates over whether ecologists & conser-
vation biologists should also be advocates for environmental
protection a role that goes beyond the traditional profile
of the "objective" scientist have received much attention
in these fields. Likewise, we will see that issues such as
the place of animal welfare concerns in wildlife management,
the valuation & control of non-native species, & the adoption
of a more interventionist approach to conservation & eco-
logical protection (including proposals to relocate wild
species & to geoengineer earth systems to avoid the worst
effects of global climate change) frequently divide environ-
mental scientists & conservationists. This split often has
as much to do with different ethical convictions & values
regarding our responsibility to species & ecosystems as it
does with scientific disagreements over the interpretation
of data or the predicted outcomes of societal actions &

The essays in this series illustrate the diversity of
environmental ethics, both as a field of study & as a
broader, value-based perspective on a complex web of issues
at the junction of science & society. To gain a fuller
understanding of the concepts & arguments of environmental
ethics, begin with this introductory overview. From here
you can explore a range of topics & questions that highlight
the intersection of environmental ethics, ecology, &
conservation science.
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