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1. Environmental Ethics: Volume > 42 > Issue: 1
News and Notes
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from the editor
2. Environmental Ethics: Volume > 42 > Issue: 1
The Beginning of a New Beginning
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features
3. Environmental Ethics: Volume > 42 > Issue: 1
Allen Thompson Adaptation, Transformation, and Development: Environmental Change and the Rethinking of the Human Good
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It is widely accepted that we must adapt to climate change. But we sit on the edge of radical, unprecedented, and rapid anthropogenic environmental changes that are driven by many factors in addition to greenhouse gas emissions. In this way, we occupy a unique and precarious position in the history of our species. Many basic conditions of life on Earth are changing at an alarming rate and thus we should begin to transform and broaden our thinking about adaptation. The conceptual history of climate adaptation intersects with conceptions of human development and sustainability, which provides a framework for adaptation in how we think about human flourishing and, subsequently, what it is to be human in the Anthropocene. If sustainability is about maintaining human welfare across generations but we acknowledge that climate change may undercut our ability to deliver as much and as good total or natural capital to subsequent generations, we have a residual duty to otherwise positively affect the welfare of future generations. A subjective, preference-based conception of human welfare is compared to an objective, capabilities-based approach and, while some adaptive preferences are unavoidable, embracing an objective theory of human flourishing provides a superior approach for meeting the residual duty we have to future generations by beginning the process of adapting our conception of human natural goodness, or what it is to be a good human being.
4. Environmental Ethics: Volume > 42 > Issue: 1
Russell C. Powell Transforming Genius into Practical Power: Muir, Emerson, and the Politics of Character
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John Muir can be interpreted to have employed a similar strategy in his earliest conservation advocacy writings as the strategy Ralph Waldo Emerson employed to overcome the public futility of his personal ideals. Like Emerson, Muir came to offset the despair he felt at the political impotence of his conscience with a positive outlook on his potential to embody his subjective ideals both in his personal character and in his contributions to concrete forms of social practice. Muir thus can be shown to have standing in the environmental virtue ethics tradition by dint of his appreciation for the necessity of virtuous political participation in movements for social reform.
discussion papers
5. Environmental Ethics: Volume > 42 > Issue: 1
Benn Johnson Abiotic Ecosystems?: A Critical Examination of Arthur Tansley’s Ecosystem Definition
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Arthur Tansley first defined the term ecosystem in his seminal work “Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts,” as an improved way of viewing the relationships between plants and their physical environments. However, his definition, while widely influential, privileges the living components over nonliving components of ecosystems, and has thus been unable to fully overcome the biocentrism of early plant ecologists. Moreover, the binary between life and nonlife is untenable, and serves only as a marker of the underlying biocentric values of a researcher. Drawing from Donna Haraway’s argument for situated knowledges, one can critically examine the biocentrism implicit in much of ecology (and conservation), and reconsider our definition of ecosystem in order to highlight our devaluation of the nonliving, and expand our normative universe.
6. Environmental Ethics: Volume > 42 > Issue: 1
Steve Bein, James McRae Gorillas in the Midst (of a Moral Conundrum)
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In 2016, a Cincinnati Zoo worker shot and killed a Western lowland gorilla to protect a three-year-old boy who had fallen into the animal’s enclosure. This incident involves a variant of the classical trolley problem, one in which the death of a human being on the main track might be avoided by selecting an alternate track containing a member of an endangered species. This problem raises two important questions for environmental ethics. First, what, if anything, imbues a human child with greater value than a member of a critically endangered species? Second, is it ethical for zoos to house species such as gorillas? With regard to the first question, at a minimum, it is not obvious whether a human child or a gorilla has the greater value (i.e., that whatever evaluation one wishes to make, it requires an argument beyond simple speciesism). With regard to the second question, an appeal can be made to Japanese environmental philosophy, particularly the ethical paradigm of kyōsei (symbiosis) and the aesthetics of Yuriko Saitō. Members of endangered species have intrinsic value, which entails human obligations to protect the species as a whole and minimize harm to its specimens.
7. Environmental Ethics: Volume > 42 > Issue: 1
Zhihe Wang, Meijun Fan, John Cobb, Jr. Chinese Environmental Ethics and Whitehead’s Philosophy
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Environmental ethics is a major topic of discussion and enactment in China. The government is committed to work toward an “ecological civilization,” a society in which concerns for a healthy natural environment are interwoven with concerns for a healthy human society and healthy human relations with nature. Whereas in the United States concern for the environment is rarely consciously philosophical, Chinese history has made people aware that philosophy underlies and shapes public policy. Whitehead’s thought has been welcomed as a way of clarifying and supporting the commitment to ecological civilization, which has been strongly reemphasized by President Xi. It also helps in reviving and incorporating classical Chinese thought without threatening the great advances China has made in science. This organic thinking has expressed itself in government policy in shifting from the industrialization of agriculture to support for eco-villages and in dethroning GDP as the measure of progress. The interest in Whitehead is expressed by thirty-six universities setting up Centers for Process Studies, extensive discussion of a process book—Organic Marxism—and numerous other publications.
book reviews
8. Environmental Ethics: Volume > 42 > Issue: 1
Thomas H. Bretz John Basl: The Death of the Ethic of Life
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