It is very difficult to figure out Environmental problems in ethical terms since there are many different viewpoints involved in the natural capital degradation of Earth’s resources. Environmental history from conservationism to environmentalism has revolved around the idea that humans have had a significant impact on the rest of Earth’s history-even to the depths of the Geological Time scale. Many people, however, still choose to deny these problems.
Much of the time we try to value the harm that was done to the environment so we look at natural resources in terms of ecosystem goods or services (despite this being a rather coldly calculating method). An individual can even measure their own “ecological footprint” to see their impact on the earth’s natural capital. But what is important to realize is that their motivations can also be judged based on a given ethical view. Such motivations may include: preserving natural capital because of the inherent good that it provides or preserving natural capital in order to save money or preserving natural capital to help future humanity. These motivations are neither good nor bad to hold but they are motivations behind why someone will join an environmental movement and thus should be understood.
The Anthropocene era, or the era that human activity had an evident and extensive global impact on Earth’s ecosystems, is widely accepted as a new era in the geological time scale- but what caused it in the first place? Good reasons or bad?
First, it is evidenced as a time period when conditions for biological diversity on earth were generally worse. In addition Natural Capital, or the natural resources and services that keep us and other forms of life alive and support our human economies, and ecosystem services have been degraded. Second, Scientists that have worked on the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment have concluded that 60% of the origins of natural capital has been degraded to the point where immediate attention is needed. Finally, there are clear indications that the Earth’s global climate as well as chemical cycles have been changed perhaps irreversibly. Clearly the Anthropocene era was and remains to be a period of time that is detrimental, not positive, for Earth’s inhabitants other than humans.
I like to think of myself as a preservationist due to my ideas on the value of life on Earth and my excitement about sustainability, but taking a quiz to determine my ecological footprint I determined that 20.2 global acres are needed to sustain my lifestyle. My viewpoint does not match up with my actions. In contrast, the 20,330 pounds of CO2 released in my household at home is a third of what the average American’s household emissions are, which indicates I am clearly trying at the least to make a difference. I am not, fortunately, in the majority of people who are disadvantaged enough to be feeling the effects of ecological degradation but I hope to adjust my lifestyle to take the pressure off of those that are.
This is exemplary of yet another ethical conundrum: humans selectively feel the effects of global ecological problems and thus not every human is fully convinced that it is even in their best interest to conserve the planet as they are well off by themselves. What those in first world countries need to realize is that they are not the only ones- there are humans that are feeling even more of the effects of climate change and ecological crises. More so are terrestrial animals and ecosystems feeling the pressure, but with the difficulty of seeking supporters it is probably best to take it one step at a time when it comes to peoples’ ignorance of environmental issues.
Despite massive denial and opposition to the conclusions that are made from them, these problems are definitely human caused and require the immediate attention of the population to address them. Humans are a part of all ecosystems and the changes that happen in ecosystems will inevitably also effect human well-being. Obviously though, there are social, political, cultural and economic factors that complicate matters of environmental problem decision-making. Problems that are actually vital to address will not always be addressed in such a timely matter.
Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about. -Union of Concerned Scientists
101 Nobel Prize winners that signed the “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity,” all agreed on one thing-that the validity of the environmental problems is not even necessary to be acknowledged any longer, but that there is a clear and present danger and a genuine ethical problem. The question that many ask is, why is Earth worth saving? And there are a variety of different answers. Many believe that human life is principally the most important and we must treat natural resources as what they are-resources to perpetuate human existence. On the flip side, many recognize terrestrial life and the natural systems of Earth as equally important to human life.
In my opinion the reality is that “human life is derivative and Earth is primary,” as Thomas Berry has reiterated. Without Earth there could be no birth, culture, technological innovation, and any aspect of human creativity. This does reflect a more Environmental Wisdom worldview but also partly a Stewardship view. It is difficult to picture life on Earth without Earth. I agree that our primary goal in stopping the degradation of Natural Capital is to save the Earth’s systems-not just for future human generations but also for the beautiful diversity of life on Earth, the unique place in the Universe that Earth is in and because humans, as parts of Earth, should naturally preserve their home.