Environmental Ethics is a field that focuses on the intersection between environmental science and philosophical ethics. Through this lens, all aspects of environmental issues are seen as important, with both the planet and its inhabitants holding equal moral value. Environmental Ethics can be applied to help determine one's moral obligations regarding environmental issues, with the underlying idea that all living things have worth and value. The application of these ideas can help to find a middle ground in environmental issues, reducing interpersonal conflict that gets in the way of progress.
Typically, environmental issues are extremely complex, with many multifaceted influences and effects. It is often difficult to determine a solution to an issue that benefits every living thing involved, and there is rarely a clear “right answer.” When studying natural resources and their protection, a distinction must be made between things with instrumental value and those with intrinsic value. There are several differing perspectives which are commonly held regarding this dilemma, specifically around whether humans or nature hold the most value.
These perspectives exist on a spectrum. At one end, those with strong anthropocentric views believe that all sacrifices of natural resources are worthy if they benefit humans more than they hurt it-–in other words, they view the environment as providing instrumental value. Under this view, someone would choose to build a housing project where a valuable animal habitat once lay, as the detriment to the animals would be outweighed by the benefit of more housing for humans. On the other side of the spectrum, those with strong ecocentric beliefs hold a more nature-centered point of view and believe that natural resources hold intrinsic value. An ecocentric person would choose to preserve the habitat rather than build housing, as the benefits of preserving the animal habitat would outweigh those that would come with building the housing development.
A major drawback of these definitive perspectives is that they can cause disagreements, which hinder progress. These perspectives are extremely binary, so it can be difficult to find a middle ground for many environmental issues and move from debate to action. Environmental Ethics can help to determine solutions that satisfy both anthropocentrism and ecocentrism, with the ultimate goal of creating positive change and preserving the environment as a whole. In regard to the housing development dilemma, Environmental Ethicists would work to determine all of the myriad factors which comprise the issue rather than just viewing it as a black-and-white issue of humans vs. animals. Under this view, one would take into consideration whether displaced animals have another accessible habitat and whether the housing development could be built in a less ecologically valuable area. Ultimately, when all important factors are considered, a decision can be made which meets the needs of both sides.
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