Environmental problems come in many forms and affect everyone in society. From one side of the world to the other, we all share the same air, water, and natural resources of the land. When those natural resources are not treated with respect it can result in harm to the human population. Environmental Ethics is focused around the relationships that we humans have with our natural environment. Environmental Ethics help determine our duties and responsibilities in regard to the natural world in which we inhabit. There are no global laws regulating environmental issues so that is why Environmental Ethics play such an important role in society. Most environmental problems are the direct result of unethical decisions from major organizations or even single individuals.
One of the biggest man made environmental catastrophes occurred on December 2nd, 1984. Many residents in Bhopal, a town in India were put to death while they slept. A toxic gas that is used to create pesticides leaked out from a tank at a nearby plant. Three years later the death toll was at 3500. However, when you count the people who later died due to health complications as a result of the gas leak, the death toll reached well over 10,000. Around 40,000 people were permanently disabled. (Vinay, n.d.)
There are plenty of other environmental issues that need to be addressed even though they do not share the severity of the above mentioned scenario. One example is how we pollute the air we breathe. Many things affect the air we breathe from smoking on public streets to smog that is emitted from cars. While many choose to point fingers at the major companies when it comes to environmental problems, the truth is we create many environmental problems ourselves. We often go about our day doing as we please with little to no thought about the consequences of our actions.
Environmental Ethics were not officially a field of study until the late 1970’s. (Brennan, 2009) Only then did this field open up the opportunity to explore how we humans are destroying the very planet that we inhabit. Many people associate environmental ethics with the first “earth day” that took place on April 12, 1970. Now on this day each year people rally about the importance of preserving the environment and its natural resources. Though the first day took place here in the United States, it later spread around the world. The start of that should be studied, learned, and applied to our daily lives.
Perhaps the most powerful influence for “earth day” was American naturalist Aldo Leopold. Leopold fell in love with nature as a youngster and began to understand the impact of humans on the world. A year after he died Leopold’s work A Sand County Almanac was published. In his work he argued his defense for the environment and pointed out that a new philosophy needed to be created that focused around man and nature. This is what Leopold would call environmental ethics. Leopold’s teachings were passed down through generations. Two Decades later earth day was developed. (Environmental Ethics, n.d.)
Environmental ethics brings up many ethical questions when it comes to the environment that one must ask theirself. One of these questions is, “do we have an obligation to future generations.” The simple answer to that question is yes. To our knowledge earth is the only planet that is able to sustain life. If we continue to damage the planet the human species could very well become extinct. Life will cease to exist as the result of poor human decisions. The first key in preserving the earth is the education that environmental ethics will provide. One hundred years ago people really had no knowledge about how decisions they were making then could affect the earth for future generations. Now that we have this knowledge it is our responsibility to make sure that we do all that we can to cease the damage we our doing to our earth. There are several little things you can do to ensure your part in helping protect the earth from further destruction. One of the very basic things you can do is recycle. This is just a simple process of separating your garbage into paper, metal, and glass. If you do not recycle factories have to process more raw materials that lead to more heat being released into the environment. You can also reuse anything that is reusable such as food containers and shopping bags. The destruction of our earth is a result of unethical decisions from individual people as well as major corporations. If we want to see a change it has to start with you.
Brennan, Andrew, Lo, Yeuk-Sze, “Environmental Ethics”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
Environmental Ethics (n.d.)
Vinay, L. (n.d.) Bopal and the crime of union carbide.