American Environmentalism: Values, Tactics, Priorities

By Joseph M. Petulla | Go to book overview
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Environmental Ethics

THE term environmental ethics usually refers to Aldo Leopold's "land ethic," which prescribes that nature should be granted rights on an equal status with humans. Writers on the environmental crisis have often taken their cue from Leopold, who deprecated the human "failure to accord to all life and to the environment itself an ethical status comparable to that which he normally accords to his fellow man. It follows that any meaningful long-term corrective to environmental abuse depends on ethical evolution. People have to grow up, ethically, to a realization that the concepts of right and wrong do not end with man-to-man relationships."1

Leopold attempted to illustrate that ethics has evolved from rights given by individuals to one another and step by step expanded to include one's family, tribe, region, nation, race, all races, some animals (SPCA), and thence all life ( Schweitzer); his point was that ethics should continue to include the entire natural world, including plants and rocks. Although Leopold's perspective is, from an environmentalist point of view, beyond reproach, the argument breaks down at many stages. Tribal morality, for example, undoubtedly pre

R. Nash, "Environmental Ethics", in Environmental Spectrum, ed. R. O. Clark and P. C. List ( New York: Van Nostrand, 1974), pp. 142-143, quoted in R. E. Dunlap and K. D. Van Liere, "Land Ethics or Golden Rule", Journal of Social Issues 33 ( 1977): 1-11. See also I. Barbour, ed., Western Man and Environmental Ethics (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1973); and D. H. Strong and E. S. Rosenfield, "Ethics or Expediency: An Environmental Question", Environmental Affairs 5 ( 1976): 255-270.


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