Dale Jamieson

Ch 1: Environment as an Ethical Question


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

          a.       Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Harlem, brain, bakery, Saturn

          b.       Environment

                    i.        “That which surrounds”

                    ii.       Includes natural as well as built environment



          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:

                    i.         “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”

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

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

          a.       Environmental justice, urban pollution and traffic

          b.       Env. historian William Cronon (to be read later in semester) argues that “wilderness” environmentalism (an environmentalism that focuses on protecting wild nature)

                    i.        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.       Privileges some parts of nature at expense of others

                    iii.      Teaches us to be contemptuous and dismissive of humble places of local nature

          c.       Cronon and others: We need to celebrate and protect local nature (as well as distant wild nature)

                    i.        The roadsides, neighborhood trees, our backyards, and our cities



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

6.       Yes, humans are part of nature

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

                    i.        “Holistic ideal”

          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”

                    i.        Why?

          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

7.       No, humans are not part of nature

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

          b.       “If humans and beavers are both part of nature” (to be understood and evaluated in the same way)

                    i.        “How can we condemn human deforestation and not condemn beaver cutting trees to build their dams?”

                    ii.       “How can we say the predator-prey relationships of the African Savanna are valuable wonders of nature while at same time condemning humans who poach African elephants?”

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


8.       Two distinguishing features humans and nature

          a.       Moral agency: 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) and this matters for moral purposes

          b.       To understand humans (but not nature) we need the social sciences in addition to natural sciences: Beaver dams can be adequately understood with the natural sciences; human dams cannot be adequately 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.       Environmental crisis: Jamieson thinks we are in early(!) stages of environmental crisis we’ve caused

                    i.        E.g., Mass extinction, climate change

          b.       Science skeptics: Problems not serious as environmental science is “a bunch of hooey”

                    i.        Jamieson response: No alternative than to act on the basis of the best available science

          c.       Things are getting better: London air pollution (1952: killed thousands in 4 days, today1/10th the level and only hundreds in a year)

                    i.        Jamieson response: Progress in addressing environmental problems patchy and incomplete (in last 5 years air pollution in cities in India and China was worse then London of 1952)

          d.       Nature can handle it: Nature is resilient and has feedback looks that make it stable; one species can’t upset basic functioning of Earth system

                    i.        E.g. Some use Gaia hypothesis as support (Gaia hypothesis: Earth is a self-regulating feedback system that is highly stable)



          a.       Resilient/stable almost impervious to human insults (Gaia hypothesis 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

11.     Jamieson’s view: Both are “ultimate attitudes” (like religious commitments) rather than sober scientific claims

          a.       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




13.     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

          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 change our values, ways of life or economic systems

          d.       Recent emphasis on “green energy” is a technological approach to solving env. problems


14.     ECONOMICS (Role of economics in causing and solving env. problems)

15.     Real solution to env. problems is changing economic incentives away from env. harmful to env. friendly behavior

          a.       Env harmful examples: One price for as much garbage as you can produce versus charging by the amount of garbage (size of trash can)

                    i.        Also, cheap gas, free subsidized roads, subsidies for use of public lands (artificially low prices for grazing, timber, mining leases)

          b.       Env friendly examples: Tax credits for hybrid cars, subsidized inexpensive rail and bus systems

16.     Env good are inefficiently allocated

          a.       (That is, they could be redistributed so that some are made better off w/o making anyone else worse off)

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

18.     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 such goods even if they don’t pay for them

          c.       E.g., national defense or a public park or clean air

19.     “Env. good are relatively non-excludable, but significantly rivalrous” (in many cases)

          a.       It is hard to exclude people from using them, but this use often diminishes another’s ability to use

          b.       Example: People’s use env. goods (e.g., air as a pollution sink), diminishes their value to others (e.g., polluted air less valuable) without paying the full costs of their use

20.     Car example

          a.       If I want your car, I have to buy it from you (and this increases efficiency–we are both better off)

          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

21.     Public goods like the environment will tend to be over exploited

          a.       Markets allocate privately onwed goods (cars, houses) well enough, but

          b.       Public goods like the atmosphere will be over-exploited

          c.       Cost of consuming a public (environmental) good is “externalized” onto the entire community

                    i.        Full cost of using a public (environmental) good not reflect in its price

                    ii.       So public goods like env will be over-exploited

22.     Solution to internalize these externalities

          a.       By making the public goods private

                    i.        E.g., End species sold to highest bidder, privatize national parks (harming them would be to violate private property rights)

          b.       Or by regulating, taxing, or subsidizing them

          c.       Example: Which is cheaper? $5.00 for recycled paper or $4.00 for virgin paper?


23.     Objections to economic approach to solving env problems

          a.       Economic solutions can lead to env destruction

                    i.        “Clear cut economics”: 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 and put the money earned in the bank

          b.       Those who don’t participate in markets are ignored:

                    i.        Animals, plants (nature at large), poor, and future generations (ignored except to extent valued by current people)

          c.       Use of discount rate to value effects on future generation is problematic (p. 19)

                    i.        The benefits or costs in the further future become trivial (worth almost nothing now)

                    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

                              (1)     Because discounting future costs makes them of little value today

          d.       Economic rationality can be morally irrational

                    i.        Lawrence Summer’s memo (need more pollution in developing world)

          e.       Some costs not compensable at all


24.     RELIGION/VALUES/IDEAS/WORLDVIEWS (role in causing and solving env. problems)

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

26.     Env crisis is fundamentally a spiritual and religious crisis

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

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

          c.       “Ideas have consequences”

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

          a.       “Christianity is the most anthropocentric (human-centered) religion world ever seen”

          b.       Bible quotes that support this interpretation

                    i.         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."

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

                    i.        This is anthropocentric! (= human centered)

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

                    i.        For both, God utterly transcends the world; as radically distinct from humans as from nature; God made them but they are not divine.

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

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

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

28.     Christian anthropocentrism gave rise to development of modern science and technology

          a.       Which are attempts to manipulate and control nature for human benefit

          b.       “Science and technology are themselves expressions fo the dominant tendencies within Christianity”

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

          a.       The new forms of plowing, irrigation and logging that arose in the late medieval period were developed and adopted

          b.       Because of the new philosophy coming out of Christianity that nature is there to be managed by humans for human benefit

30.     While true that env. problems serious in non-Christian parts of the world,

          a.       Christianity is still responsible because even there it is the science and technology Christianity spawned that is causing the problems

31.     Environmentally friendly minority tradition in Christianity

          a.       Represented in 12th century saint, Francis of Assisi

          b.       Sees human transformation of the earth as expression of the sin of pride

          c.       For a modern day expression see Wendell Berry, "Christianity and the Survival of Creation"


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

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

34.     Env. problems have an important ethical dimension

          a.       Env problems challenge our ethical and value systems

Study Questions, Jamieson, Ch 1: Environment as an ethical question

1.       Explain the distinction between protecting nature and protecting the environment, using Harlem as an example.

2.       Explain some of William Cronon’s criticism of “wilderness environmentalism” (the tendency in environmentalism to focus on protecting special wild places). Do you agree with Cronon?

3.       A good essay question: Are humans part of nature or not? Explain the considerations on each side of this issue and develop your own views on it. Discuss whether our environmental problems are due in part to people’s mistaken answer to this question. Where does Callicott stand on this issue and do you agree with him?

4.       Explain the difference between the idea that earth and its ecosystems are stable and the notion that they are delicately balanced. Which of these (if either) does Jamieson accept and why?

5.       In your own mind how important is technology as a cause of environmental problems and as a possible solution to them?

6.       In your own mind how important is economics as a cause of environmental problems and as a possible solution to them?

7.       Explain the following concepts and given environmental examples of each: public goods, externalities, internalizing externalities, discount rate.

8.       Do markets work well in allocating public goods? Why or why not?

9.       Why did Larry Summer’s argue that we need more pollution in the developing world?

10.     What did Lynn White argue in the “Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis?”

11.     In what way is Christianity anthropocentric (human-centered) and Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism not?

12.     Does White think technology has nothing to do with the env. Crisis? How does he respond to the objection that non-Christian countries have greatly exploited their environments (and why might someone think this is an objection to his view?)

13.     In your own mind how important is religion as a cause of environmental problems and as a possible solution to them?

14.     Which (if any) does Jamieson think is key in causing and solving env. Problems: technology, economics, religion/values?