Environmental ethics is a discipline that studied the concepts of moral relationships between human beings and the environment (Keller, 2010). It is a philosophical disciple that involves a study of moral relationships, values and status of environment, and its non-human contents. In the recent past, the literature behind environmental studies, the distinction between intrinsic and instrumental values has gained significant importance. This is as a result of massive human activities, which pose adverse effects to the environment (Carnegie and Griffith University, 1996).
Instrumental values, in environmental ethics, can be explained as the valuation of things or activities, which form means to further some other ends. Intrinsic values, on the other hand, refer to the valuation of things as ends regardless of whether they support ends or other means (Ip, 2009). For instance, some wild plants have instrumental values since they provide ingredients to medicinal products. However, the plants also have independent values to their species since they act as means to further some ends such as human health and aesthetic pleasure. This means that they possess an intrinsic value.
Environmental ethics emerged as a discipline in philosophy in early 1970s. The aim of the discipline was to challenge traditional anthropocentrism. The discipline questioned the assumptions made by traditional anthropocentrism, which assumed superiority of human beings to other living species. Secondly, the discipline investigated all possibilities of rational arguments, which could assign intrinsic value to both natural environment and non-human contents. Some environmental theorists referred to this new development as non-anthropocentric theory of environmental study (Keller, 2010).
The 21st century has been marked with growth in industrialization, agriculture, manufacturing, and housing sectors among other sectors. The world has suddenly turned into a globalized market where production, manufacturing, and consumption processes rule. This has led to increased rates of urbanization, population, dependency ratios, and congestion. The growth process has led to the introduction of environmental adverse contents in the air, water, and land. Pollution mainly from industries has contributed to deterioration in the state of soil, atmosphere, and land (Carnegie and Griffith University, 1996). The results are reduced agricultural productivity, negative effects on aquatic life, and effects on human health. Underlying all these effects are global changes in climate due to global warming developing from release of toxic gases in the atmosphere.
In the 21st century, environmental ethics are characterized by individual awareness on the connection between them and the environment. The moral imperative of environmental ethics is to support regenerative capacities of nature while at the same time restraining, and controlling excessive demands of every consumerist culture. The discipline advocates for a line of distinction been drawn between innovation, which add value to the environment, those that extend the life from technologies, and those that are ecologically expensive to produce as compared to the value they add to human life (Ip, 2009). The adverse effects brought about by climatic changes on human and non-human content are irreparable. The concern is on how to minimize more effects as compared to what is currently present. For instance, it may be difficult for hurricanes victims to recover what was destroyed, but it is possible to improve vulnerable populations to a better and decent life.
Ethics is all about lifestyle improvement from being environmental sensitive. Human beings have the greatest responsibility towards environmental ethics, and effects of environmental degradation. Environmental ethics advocate for a better understanding of the consequences of ethos i.e. ways of living and dealing with environmental friendly human activities, with a disposition that only human beings cultivate a variety of ethos (Keller, 2010).
In the 21st century, environmental ethics involve a disposition of written down codes of behavior, expectations, regulations, and prohibitions. The discipline has shifted from traditional anthropocentrism where there were lots of blame games on environmental degradation to a modernized form of establishing sustainable solutions. The critical element of environmental ethics in the 21st century is to reflect on what human beings can do in order to regenerate the life giving powers of nature. Human activities have revealed what human beings can become. This implies that to develop a sustainable environment there is the need for development of a code of conduct that is more positive to humanity (Ip, 2009). This can only be achieved by being temperate and generous towards environment. This is what is advocated for in environmental ethics.
The ethics start from the minor activities, which most human beings tend to be ignorant about (Keller, 2010). For instance, most human beings do not see the relevance of dust bins located in most streets in cities. Most of them litter the streets with sweet wrappings, tissue papers, ropes, papers etc. most of these waste is non-biodegradable, and this implies environmental degradation. In the 21st century, most environmentalists have developed means of creating individual awareness on the effects that such small acts may have on the future environmental status.
Climatic changes experienced in the 21st century like acidic rainfalls, hurricanes and changes in weather pose ethical problems since they threaten human rights. This is because the formulation of adequate solutions towards these changes stretches to international policy makers who sometimes allocate burdens of implementing solutions to local communities. Whenever such policies impact on human rights, environmental ethical standards are compromised and put at stake. The 21st century has been faced by this problem
of policies interfering with human rights. There is, therefore, need to reflect on ethical requirements on the legitimacy in governance in addressing these challenges.
Environmental ethics create a transition for changes in culture and attitude from culture of materialism to a culture of spiritualism. The ethics require human beings to change their actions and conscience from being ego conscious to being eco conscious towards the world. In the 21st century, the discipline encompasses more on social, economic and institutional environmental dimensions of society, than in traditional anthropocentrism where ethics were measured in an individual benefit perspective (DesJardins, 2012).
This dimension has adapted a more supportive and collaborative environmental responsibility that has enabled sustainability. Environmental sustainability in this case has been used to refer to upholding of prosperous and civilized humanity that is environmental conscious. For a sustainable future, environmental ethics hold that human beings must live according to the following principles: Social peace and equity, appropriate development, democracy, and conservation. These are the basics of environmental ethics in the 21st century (Ip, 2009).
Currently, there lacks respect of peace and survival of human beings as a result of human activities, which threaten commitment to humanitarian ethics and values. Nature and natural resources have been destroyed from human ignorance, lack of respect to nature and greed of wealth (Carnegie and Griffith University, 1996). This threatens the future generation since it will inherit a degraded planet, and restructuring it might be close to impossible. Environmental ethics are, therefore, a means of creating sobriety among human beings by making them aware of the consequences that their activities have on their generation, and to the future generation.
Environmental ethics remind all human beings to be cautions on their activities. In the last 30 years, for instance, there has been a tremendous growth in the circle of ethical concerns (Keller, 2010). This has been inspired by environmentalists who urged philosophers who were involved on environmental focus groups, in 1970’s, to shift from this traditional anthropocentrism and shift to concerns of ethics in environment. Currently, philosophers are on the frontline in matters of nature and ecosystems.
One of the means that these philosophers have used in the creation of awareness on environmental ethics is by helping people understand the current environmental status, and how to establish better ways to live. This includes use of environmental friendly products, and use effective means of production that are environmental sensitive. Some measures advocated for in environmental ethics include recycling and reuse, use of degradable products, and minimal use of chemicals in agricultural production. There has also been policy measures put forward by the Federal government in enhancing minimal environmental pollution from industries. Chemical producing industries are expected to use modernized technologies of production, and participate in the efforts of Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA) in working towards environmental sustainability. Companies are expected to be socially responsible in educating communities on environmental concerns, and participating in the clean environment movements and practices (Ip, 2009).
Most environmentalists link the connection between widespread environmental degradation to recent human activities on the use of fossil fuels for production (DesJardins, 2012). Most energy producing companies use fossil fuels as they are considered cheap, efficient, and have available raw materials. Scholars in this case have taken an initiative to increase awareness on the damaging consequences that fossils have on the environment as well as on individual health. In doing this, scholars have advocated for three strategies to improve on environmental ethics. One of the strategies is in curtailing the economic activities, which lead to environmental degradation.
An example is on curtails imposed on tobacco products. Curtailing such activities may have negative effects on economic growth, but this is considered to last for short run since environmental growth is also a part of economic growth. Secondly, environmentalists have addressed a variety of economic activities on a case by case basis (Carnegie and Griffith University, 1996). For example, environmentalists view that global warming can be alleviated by reducing CO2 emissions, and eliminate CFC’s. Finally, environmentalists strategize on breaking the link between ecological degradation, and economic growth. Presently, the substitution of fossil fuels by clean energy has been viewed as a solution to break this link.
Human values have eroded at a significant rate in the 21st century resulting to vast decline in qualities of life. The world needs observance to environmental ethics and sustainability to be at peace with every human being and in the creation of a manageable future. Over the last 40 years, the average global temperatures are said to have impacted massively on climate. According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a branch of UN, global warming remains a global threat to sea levels, thermal expansion, and melting of glacier. In 2007, IPCC revealed that if the present rates of global warming are not controlled, the world will no longer be in existence after 2030 (DesJardins, 2012). Much as this revelation may be horrifying, it is the absolute truth. Ethics need to be adhered, and looked upon as referential points to rebuild environmental structures, and prevent further damage (Keller, 2010).
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Carnegie, K. L., & Griffith University. (1996). Environmental ethics: The corporate challenge of the 21st century.
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DesJardins, J. R. (2012). Environmental ethics. Belmont, Calif: Wadsworth.
Ip, K.-T. (2009). Environmental ethics: Intercultural perspectives. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
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Keller, D. R. (2010). Environmental ethics: The big questions. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley- Blackwell.
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