Let’s get serious about (Un)Sustainability (Or is it already too late?)

Rees, William E.
Natural Resources & Environmental Studies Institute Occasional Paper No. 2, March 2008, University of Northern Prince George, B.C., Canada

The Millenium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) issued a “stark warning” to world leaders – indeed, to all of us: “Human activity is putting such a strain on the natural functions of the Earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.” In this paper I examine the biological, cultural and biophysical factors that have driven modern society to the point where such “stark warnings” have become necessary. I then show why concepts and policies currently advanced under the rubric of “sustainable development” are so generally ineffective. Finally, consistent with biophysical and human behavioural reality, I outline a minimal set of ecological and socio-political conditions that would have to be met for true sustainability.

The Ethical Relevance of Earth-like Extrasolar Planets

Cockell, Charles S.
Environmental Ethics Vol. 28/3 (2006), pages 303-314

The discovery of Earth-sized extrasolar planets orbiting distant stars will merit an expansion of the sphere of entities worthy of moral consideration. Although it will be a long time, if ever, before humans visit these planets, it is nevertheless worthwhile to develop an environmental ethic that encompasses these planets, as this ethic reflects on our view of life on Earth and elsewhere. A particularly significant case would be a planet that displays spectroscopic signatures of life, although the discovery of many lifeless planets might itself intensify the value of life on Earth. A derivation of Schweitzer’s general principle of “reverence for life” and similar frameworks are appropriate ethics with which to view extrasolar planets. The development of an ethical framework for extrasolar planets might provide a means to fashion a deeper and more effective environmental ethic for Earth’s biosphere.

The Value of Microorganisms

Cockell, Charles S.
Environmental Ethics Vol. 27/4 (2005), pages 375-90

Environmental ethics has almost exclusively been focused on multicellular organisms. However, because microorganisms form the base of the world’s food chains, allowing for the existence of all higher organisms, the complexities of the moral considerability of microorganisms deserve attention. Despite the impossible task of protecting individual microorganisms—the paradigmatic example of the limitations to a Schweitzerian “reverence for life”—microorganisms can be considered to have intrinsic value on the basis of conation, along with their enormous instrumental value. This intrinsic value even manifests itself at the individual level, although in this case the ethic can only be regulative (an ethical principle). Biocentrism is the most appropriate ethical framework for microorganisms, and the most useful normative framework for implementing the preservation and conservation of microorganisms. This ethic has implications for how we deal with disease-causing microorganisms.

Extinction, Restoration, Naturalness

Elliot, Robert
Environmental Ethics Vol. 16/2 (1994), pages 135-144

Alastair S. Gunn has argued that it is in principle possible to restore degraded natural environments and to restore their full value, provided that species distinctive to them are extant. I argue, first, that the proviso is unnecessary. More importantly, I claim that full value cannot be restored because restored environments lack the relational property of being naturally evolved. I delineate and explain the structure and detail of the theoretical bases for this claim and show that Gunn’s reflections do not rule out the view that full value cannot be restored.

Valuing Predation in Rolston’s Environmental Ethics: Bambi Lovers versus Tree Huggers

Hettinger, Ned
Environmental Ethics Vol. 16/1 (1994), pages 3-20

Without modification, Rolston’s environmental ethics is biased in favor of plants, since he gives them stronger protection than animals. Rolston can avoid this bias by extending his principle protecting plants (the principle of the nonloss of goods) to human interactions with animals. Were he to do so, however, he would risk undermining his acceptance of meat eating and certain types of hunting. I argue, nevertheless, that meat eating and hunting, properly conceived, are compatible with this extended ethics. As the quintessential natural process, carnivorous predation is rightfully valued and respected by such environmentalists as Rolston.
Because the condemnation of human participation in predation by animal activists suggests a hatred of nature, the challenge for Rolston’s animal activist critics is to show that one can properly appreciate natural predation while consistently and plausibly objectig to human participation in it.