Chapter One

Dale Jamieson's Ethics and the Envrionment



1.       Terms ‘nature’ and ‘environment’ are used differently

          a.       Brain, bakery

          b.       Environment subject to our control, nature not (moon)



          a.       The environment includes the built environment, not just wild nature.

          b.       But environmentalism typically has in mind protecting special places (the Arctic Refuge) and distinguishing them from “mundane places that can be used for ordinary purposes”

          c.       Jamieson: p. 4: “Under pressure, enviros will agree that Harlem is as much a part of the environment as Kakdu National Park in Australia, but it is a plain fact that protecting Harlem is not what people generally have in mind when they talk about protecting the environment”

                    i.        But isn’t preventing air pollution in Harlem part of mainstream environmental protection?

3.       Critics: Environmentalism need to be about protecting more that special wild places

          a.       See Andrew Lights The Urban Blind Spot in Environmental Ethics

          b.       Env. historian William Cronon

                    i.        “Wilderness environmentalism idealizes and seeks to protect distant wildernesses (Arctic Refuge, Rainforest) and ignores threats to our local, less than completely pristine nature, the place we call home

                    ii.       Wilderness environmentalism privileges some parts of nature at expense of others

                    iii.      Wilderness environmentalism teaches us to be contemptuous and dismissive of humble places of local nature

                    iv.      We need to celebrate and protect local nature: such as roadsides, neighborhood trees and our backyards


          c.       Writer and farmer Wendell Berry

“A most persistent and dangerous assumption is that some parts of the world can be preserved while others are abused or destroyed. As necessary as it obviously is, the effort of "wilderness preservation" has too often implied that it is enough to save a series of islands of pristine and uninhabited wilderness in an otherwise exploited, damaged, and polluted land. And, further, that the pristine wilderness is the only alternative to exploitation and abuse. So far, the moral landscape of the conservation movement has tended to be a landscape of extremes, which you can see pictured in any number of expensive books of what I suppose must be called "conservation photography." On the one hand we have the unspoiled wilderness, and on the other hand we have scenes of utter devastation--strip mines, clearcuts, industrially polluted wastelands, and so on. We wish, say the conservationists, to have more of the one, and less of the other. To which, of course, one must say amen. But it must be a qualified amen, for the conservationists program has been embarrassingly incomplete. Its picture of the world as either deserted landscape or desertified landscape has misrepresented both the world and humanity. If we are to have an accurate picture of the world, even in its present diseased condition, we must interpose between the unused landscape and the misused landscape a landscape that humans have used well.”

                    Wendell Berry, Sierra (Sept-Oct 1995)



          a.       In some important ways yes and in some important ways no

5.       Yes, humans are part of nature

          a.       Commoner’s “1st Law of Ecology”: Everything is connected to everything else (includes humans)

          b.       Common env. slogan: Humans are part of nature

          c.       Original env. sin that caused env. problems is separating ourselves from nature

          d.       Trying to separate ourselves from nature is fatuous (smugly foolish) and destructive

          e.       Way to restore a healthy relation with nature is to realize that we are part of nature

          f.       Convincing people to live moderately may require them to see themselves as part of nature

          g.       Also, humans evolved on the planet like other species and obey the same scientific (biological, chemical and physical) laws as do other natural entities

6.       No, humans are not part of nature

          a.       “If humans and beavers are both part of nature, how can we condemn human deforestation and not condemn beaver cutting trees to build their dams?”

          b.       “How can we distinguish “natural” death of a person caused by an earthquake form “unnatural” death of a person caused by murder

          c.       “Judging people by a standard different fom natural events requires distinguishing people from nature”

          d.       Humans are moral agents (who are morally responsible for their actions) and this is one way we are different from other parts of nature (one way we are not part of nature)

          e.       Beaver dams can be adequately understood with the natural sciences; human dams can not be adequatley understood with the natural sciences, also need the social sciences (economics, politics, sociology, ethics)

                    i.        This is another way in which humans must be understood in a different way from other parts of nature (a way in which we are not part of nature)



          a.       Resilient/stable almost impervious to human insults (Gaia hypothesis: Earth is a self-regulating feedback system that is highly stable)

          b.       Delicately balanced and highly vulnerable to people disrupting the systems that make like on Earth possible

8.       Jamieson:

          a.       Both are “ultimate attitudes” (like religious commitments) rather than sober scientific claims

          b.       Doesn’t matter which, because even if stable and unlikely humans could collapse fundamental earth systems

                    i.        Environmental destruction can drastically reduce the quality of our lives, and

                    ii.       The consequences of a collapse are so devastating we should avoid that risk altogether


9.       Environmental harms include both harms to humans and to nonhuman nature

          a.       Attempts to see the harms to nonhuman nature really as harms to humans are unpersuasive

                    i.        E.g., Economists' “existence value” of endangered species to humans



10.     TECHNOLOGY: Role of technology (in causing and solving env. problems)

          a.       Technology a major cause: Victims of our own success

          b.       Examples of high tech solutions to env. problems

                    i.        Geo-engineering as response to climate change (Jamieson and Gardiner)

          c.       Why are high-technological solutions to environmental problems so attractive to many?

                    i.        Belief in the scientist and engineer as “can-do guy”

                    ii.       Promise solutions to env. problems w/o forcing us to chnage our values, ways of life or economic systems.


11.     ECONOMICS' role in causing and solving env problems

12.     Reals solution to env problems is changing economic incentives away from env harmful to env friendly behavior

13.     Env goods are inefficiently allocated (that is, they could be redistributed so that some are made better off w/o making anyone else worse off)
a. E.g., Cap and trade responses to controlling CO2 emissions

14.     Env. goods inefficiently allocated because they are “public goods” to a significant extent

15.     Public goods:

          a.       Non-rival: one person consuming it does not diminish another person’s consumption

          b.       Non-excludable: Available to everyone and can’t exclude people from benefitting from it even if they don’t pay for it

          c.       E.g., national defense or a (bird sounds from public park) or clean air

16.     “Env. good are relatively non-excludable, but significantly rivalrous”

17.     People use env goods, diminish their value to others (e.g., by pollution), without paying the full costs of their use


18.     Car example

          a.       If I want your car, I have to buy it from you (and if we trade, this increases efficiency)

          b.       But I get to drive it away and spew pollution out the tailpipe, causing air pollution (and harming many innocent people) and global warming, neither of which I have to pay for


19.     Markets allocate private goods well enough, but

20.     Public goods like the atmosphere will be overexploited

21.     Cost of consuming a public good is “externalized” onto the entire community

          a.       Full cost of using a public good not reflect in its price

          b.       So public goods like the env will be over-exploited

22.     Solution to internalize these externalities

          a.       By(1) making the public goods private

          b.       Or (2) regulating, taxing, or subsidizing them

          c.       Example: Which is cheaper? $5.00 for recycled paper or $4.00 for virgin paper?
Example: James Hanson's proposal for carbon tax and 100% dividend


23.     Objections to economic approach to solving env problems

          a.       Economic solutions can lead to env destruction

                    i.        If the interest rate in banks is higher than the growth rate of whales, it makes economic sense to stop harvesting whales sustainably and harvest them all (drive them to extinction) and put the money earned in the bank

          b.       Those who don’t/can’t participate in markets will be ignored by them

                    i.        Animals, plants (nature at large) and future generations

          c.       Use of discount rate to value preferences of future generation is problematic

                    i.        The benefits or costs in the further future will be ignored (because so greatly discounted)

                    ii.       Some economists think preventing the worst impact of a global warming that will be felt over centuries is not worth sustaining even a small loss to the economy today (because they discount future benefits or costs)

          d.       Lawrence Summer’s memo (need more pollution in developing world) and EPA on value of life


24.     RELIGION'S role in causing and solving env problems

25.     Lynn White’s “Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis” argued that

          a.       Env crisis is fundamentally a spiritual and religious crisis

                    i.        A rejection of both economic and technical explanations of env problems

                    ii.       It is people’s beliefs, values, and commitments that really matter

          b.       Source of this crisis is the exploitative attitude toward nature in the dominant strand of the Christian tradition

                    i.        Christianity is "the most anthropocentric (human-centered) religion world has ever seen"
a. Biblical quotes that support this interpretation: Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness". . . So God created man in his own image . . . and God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."

                    ii.       In Christianity, God became man in form of Jesus

                              (1)     This is anthropocentric!

                    iii.      A blasphemous idea to Judaism and Islam, which are “theocentric” rather than anthropocentric

                              (1)     For both, God utterly transcends the world; God is as radically distinct from humans as from nature; God made humans and nature but they are not divine

                    iv.      In Buddhism and Hinduism, divinity is manifest among all living things and goal of spiritual practice is often to realize the divinity within oneself.

                              (1)     One might call these religions Pantheism (divinity is in everything)

                    v.       All these traditions reject the anthropocentrism at the heart of the dominant form of Christianity

                    vi.      This anthropocentrism gave rise to development modern science and technology

                              (1)     Which are attempts to manipulate and control nature for human benefit

          c.       Science and technology have a central causal role to play in env crisis but the cause that underlies them is Christian anthropocentrism

                    i.       The new forms of plowing, irrigation and logging that arose in the late medieval period were developed and adopted because of the new philosophy coming out of Christianity that nature is there to be managed by humans for human benefit

          d.       While true that env. problems are serious in non-Christian parts of the world, Christianity is still responsible because even there the proximate cause is the science and technology Christianity spawned

          e.       Environmentally friendly minority tradition in Christianity (represented by views of 12th century saint, Francis of Assisi) that sees human transformation of the earth as expression of the sin of pride. See also Wendell Berry's "Christianity and the Survival of Creation"
We need some such change in our values (religious and otherwise) if we are going to successfully address env problems.


26.     Jamieson is a pluralist about the nature, causes and solutions of env problems, which are multi-dimensional

          a.       Economic, technological, religious and ethical approaches are all useful and needed

27.     Env. problems have an important ethical dimension

          a.       Env problems challenge our ethical and value systems