Concept of Environmental Ethics
Have you heard of the word “anthropocentricism”? It means human centred. Human beings consider themselves superior to all the creatures in the world and that they are the roof and crown of all creations. It is an illusion that has led to all the perils and destruction in the world. Now we have realised the dangers of such false dogmas. The world has be-gun to think of Environmental ethics that studies the moral relationship of human beings to, and also the value and moral status of, the environment and its non-human contents. The unit will shed light on different concepts like Biocentrism, Ecocentrism, Eco-feminism, Environmental Equity, and Environmental justice.
Environmental ethics, Anthropocentrism, Biocentrism, Ecofeminism, Environmental equity, Food security.
4.1.1 The Concept of Environmental Ethics
What do you mean by ethics? Is there a need for ethics in environment?
Environmental ethics is the part of environmental philosophy which considers extending the traditional boundaries of ethics from solely including humans to including the nonhuman world. It exerts influence on a large range of disciplines including law, sociology, theology, economics, ecology, and geography. Environmental ethics says that we should base our behaviour on a set of ethical values considering other living beings in nature. It is about including the rights of nonhuman animals in our ethical and moral values. Environmental ethics believes that humans are a part of society just like other living creatures, which includes plants and animals. Environmental ethics is a key feature of environmental studies that establishes the relationship between humans and the earth. With environmental ethics, you can ensure that you are doing your part to keep the environment safe and protected.
We humans believe that we are above all the other creatures. Do you think it is correct?
Anthropocentrism refers to a humancentred, or “anthropocentric,” point of view. In philosophy, anthropocentrism can refer to the view that humans are the only, or primary, holders of moral standing. This is a basic belief in many western religions and philosophies. Anthropocentrism regards humans as separate from other organisms and superior to nature. According to this, humans alone has the intrinsic value for life.
Thus, anthropocentric views can be used to justify unlimited violence against the nonhuman world. However, it should also be noted that such violence does not follow as a logical necessity.
Some environmental ethicists argue that critics of anthropocentrism are misguided or even misanthropic. They contend: first that criticism of anthropocentrism can be counter-productive and misleading by failing to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate human interests. Second, that humans differ greatly in their environmental impacts, and consequently, addressing human inequalities should be a precondition for environmental protection. Third, since ecosystems constitute the “life-support system” for humans, anthropocentrism can and should be a powerful motivation for environmental protection. Fourth, human self-love is not only natural but helpful as a starting point for loving others, including nonhumans.
Biocentrism is the ethical perspective holding that all life deserves equal moral consideration or has equal moral standing. Although elements of biocentrism can be found in several religious traditions, it was not until the late decades of the 20th century that philosophical ethics in the western tradition addressed the topic in a systematic manner.
In order to promote environmentalism, it is crucial to understand how moral standing can be linked with values related to preserving the natural world. First, biocentrism results from a desire to avoid hurting sentient beings (those organisms which can perceive pleasure and pain) (e.g., harbouring concerns about killing animals). Second, biocentrism originate from a desire to uphold purity in nature. Avoiding harm and preserving purity have been identified as two separate forms of moral concern that rely on functionally distinct systems of cognitive and emotional processing.
When biocentrism is focused on avoiding harm, it is primarily aimed to protect sentient and humanized entities rather than other non-human entities, Biocentrism operates on general level rather than focussing on individual entities. A purity-based biocentrism is moderated by individual differences in spirituality and individual tendencies to treat certain objects as possessing more inherent value. In 1986, Paul Taylor published ‘Respect for Nature’, a treatise that is considered to be the first rigorous, philosophical defence of biocentric ethics. This book provided four basic principles that outline what Taylor termed a ‘bio-centric outlook’ on life:
- Humans are equal members of the earth’s community of life.
- Humans and members of other species are interdependent.
- All organisms are centres of life in the sense that each is a unique individual pursuing its own good in its own way.
- Humans are not inherently superior to other living things.
Ecocentrism is the belief that ecosystems, including all things (living and nonliving), have inherent value regardless of their usefulness or importance to human beings. There-fore, ecocentrism recognizes a nature centred system of values. It recognizes the value of biodiversity over the value of single species. Similar to biocentrism, ecocentrism opposes anthropocentrism. However, unlike bio-centrism and anthropocentrism, ecocentrism tends to include abiotic factors in the eco-systems under moral consideration. In other words, ecocentrism places importance on the ecosystem as a whole. It considers both living components and non-living components equally important, especially when making decisions regarding the environment. Unlike anthropocentrism, it places no special importance on human beings. Ecocentrism is only concerned with humans when considering how human beings influence the ecosystem as a whole. If we take the above example of climate change again, ecocentrists might also consider changes in abiotic factors like changing seas levels, ocean acidity, and weather patterns. Ecocentrism has a more holistic approach than biocentrism as it gives value to species, ecosystems, or the environment as a whole. In contrast to biocentrism, ecocentrism also uses abiotic factors or ecological components in nature to demonstrate the importance of non-living elements of the environment.
Does our society give equal rights to women? What do you think?
The term eco-feminism was coined by Françoise d’Eaubonne, a French writer in 1974. This concept basically can be divided into two words namely ‘eco’ and ‘feminism’. The term eco is related to ‘natural’ or ‘environment’ whereas the term ‘feminism’ is related to women. Eco-feminism put forward the idea that nature and women are significantly related to each other in terms of the similarities that they display.
The fundamental features of eco-feminism are as follows :–
- Women and nature share a special relationship. Hence women have an important stake in ending the exploitation of nature and con-serving the environment.
- There are important connections between the domination over women and the exploitation of nature.
- These connections can be traced ideologically to patriarchal thought which sees nature as inferior to culture. Since women are identified with nature, they are considered inferior and men identified with culture, are considered superior.
- This change can be brought about through a reconceptualization of the relations between women, men and nature in non-hierarchical ways.
There are certain important similarities between women on one hand and nature on the other hand. Eco-feminists believe that both women and nature possess a reproductive or a regenerative capacity. In other words, a co-relation is taken into consideration between the life support system of nature and women’s in-born life support systems. Another important similarity between nature and women is the nurture that they provide, women are largely responsible for the upbringing of children by providing them with love and care. In the same manner nature is also responsible for providing maintenance and survival to its different components. Apart from these two similarities, a third important source of the similarity between nature and women lies in the exploitation of both by men. It is human being and especially men who have been responsible for the degradation and exploitation of nature or environment. They have placed nature on an inferior level. Similarly, women have also been dominated and exploited by men and are given inferior status in the society. It is this similarity between the nature and women which lead to the emergence of the concept of eco-feminism.
The important fundamentals of eco-feminism are:
- There is an important connection between the exploitation of women and exploitation of nature. The central insight of ecofeminism is that a historical, symbolic and political relationship exists between the degradation of nature and women.
- Because women are identified with nature, women and nature have special relationship. Hence women have an important role in ending the degradation of nature and conserving the environment.
- The suppression of women and nature can be understood in terms of the patriarchal ideology. According to it, nature is considered inferior to culture. Women are identified with nature and hence are considered inferior. On the other hand, men are identified with culture and therefore are considered superior.
- The feminist movements and the environmental movements then become co-related because both stand for egalitarian (equal) and non-hierarchical principles. If they work together and develop a common perspective, changes can be brought about in the relationship of men with both nature and women. Since women and nature are placed below men, it is necessary to bring about a change. According to eco-feminism it is necessary for women and men to re-conceptualize their relations with one another and to nature in non-hierarchical (not divided into various layers of importance) ways.
- Eco-feminism represents the combination of a radical ecology movement known as the deep ecology on one hand and feminism on the other. Deep ecology focuses on the destructive human patterns related to nature and replaces it with an constructive culture. Feminism also concentrates on eliminating the destructive cultural norms and practices, norms related to women and replacing them with freedom, individualism and democratic right for women. It is necessary to create consciousness regarding male monopolization of resources and power and replacing it with an egalitarian approach. Thus, feminism and deep ecology show interconnectedness.
- The males are associated with aspects such as rationality, assertiveness, culture autonomy etc. On the other hand, the females are associated with aspects such as emotions, connectedness, nature, respectively. All these assumptions are result of a patriarchal mentality where the aspects associated with men are considered superior and those associated with women are considered as inferior. The patriarchal tendency also believes that nature and women are to be controlled by the males.
4.1.6 Environmental equity and justice
Do you think our society is providing equal rights to all classes?
Environmental Equity is the equitable distribution of the environmental burden, disaster hazards and pollution on all forms of social, economic and political sectors. This concept evolves on the premise that no single community should have privilege over other communities in facing environmental disturbances or crisis. The concept of Environmental Equity is derived from two words; Environment and Equity. Environment means the sum total of the surroundings of a living organism. The environment provides development and growth for both living and non-living beings. Equity is linked with Equality and it is based on the concept of an Egalitarian society. Thus, Environmental Equity is based on the principle that all people in this world are equal and de-serve equal rights and opportunities to enjoy the benefits of the environment around us regardless of any disparity. Environmental equity is a basic human right.
Environmental equity can be broken down into two categories-fair treatment and meaningful involvement. Fair treatment means that no single sector of the population should be disproportionately affected by environmental crises as a result of laws or policies. Meaningful involvement means that groups can offer input regarding decisions that affect their health or their environment. This involvement also means that their input will be taken seriously and considered when making said decisions.
Environment Justice is a basic human right. The goal is just and fair treatment and involvement of all the people of all the communities in implementation and development of environmental laws, rules and policies regardless of origin, race, class, and nationality. The goal of environmental justice is achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection against environmental hazards, pollution and each individual has a role in decision making which is significant for protecting the environment. The health of a community suffers when people do not have access to a healthy home, food, transportation fresh air, etc. Environmental Justice is important because it is a human right and everyone in this world de-serves to live a healthy life. It is also the process of setting standards and laws for protecting the communities which are at risk due to the dumping of toxic waste and pollutants in their nearby locality. It also provides grants to the organizations that act on protecting these communities from risk.
Food security and social security
Food insecurity refers to both the inability to secure an adequate diet today and the risk of being unable to do so in the future. Food Security means that all people at all times have physical and economic access to adequate amounts of nutritious, safe, and culturally appropriate foods, which are produced in an environmentally sustainable and socially just manner People are able to make informed decisions about their food choices. Food Security also means that the people who produce our food are able to earn a decent living. At the core of food security is access to healthy food and optimal nutrition for all. Food access is closely linked to food supply, so food security is dependent on a healthy and sustainable food system. The food system includes the production, processing, distribution, marketing, acquisition, and consumption of food.
Sustainable Food Systems
A healthy, sustainable food system is one that focuses on Environmental Health, Economic Vitality, Human Health & Social Equity.
- Environmental Health – ensures that food production and procurement do not compromise the land, air, or water now or for future generations.
- Economic Vitality – ensures that the people who are producing our food are able to earn a decent living wage doing so. This ensures that producers can continue to produce our food.
- Human Health & Social Equity –ensures that particular importance is placed on the health of the community, making sure that healthy foods are available economically and physically to the community and that people are able to access these foods in a dignified manner.
4.1.7 Social Security
Social Security is a concept comprising a menu of policy instruments that addresses poverty and vulnerability. It represents basically a system of protection of individuals who are in need of such protection by the State as an agent of the society. Such protection is relevant in contingencies such as retirement, resignation, retrenchment, death, disablement which are beyond the control of the individual members of the Society. Humans are born differently, they think differently and act differently. State as an agent of the society has an important mandate to harmonise such differences through a protective cover to the poor, the weak, the deprived and the disadvantaged. The concept of social security is now generally understood to mean protection provided by the society to its members through a series of public measures against the economic and social distress ‘Social Security’ has been recognized as an instrument for social transformation. Social security organised on a firm and sound basis will promote progress, since men and women benefit from increased security and are free from anxiety, they will become more productive. There is considerable controversy about the social and economic effects of social security, and most of the current debate is focused on its supposedly negative effects. Social Security is said to discourage people from working and saving and to encourage people to withdraw from the labour market prematurely. On the other hand, social security can also be seen to have a number of very positive economic effects. It can help to make people capable of earning an income and to increase their productive potential; it may help to maintain effective demand at the national level; and it may help create conditions in which a market economy can flourish, notably by encouraging workers to accept innovation and change. Social Security in India was traditionally the responsibility of the family/community in general. With the gradual process of industrialization/urbanization, breakup of the joint family set up and weakening of family bondage, the need for institutionalized arrangement to address the problem in a planned manner.
Objective type questions
Answer to Objective type questions
Self Assessment Questions