Personal Ethical Evaluation

The rehabilitated land of a former coal mine

The rehabilitated land of a former coal mine

My position as an environmental stakeholder is one of a student in the process of learning, a lover of nature, and someone who hopes to cultivate positive attitudes towards nature and biodiversity into the future. I hold the environmental ethic that is closest to that of a Land Ethicist. Aldo Leopold, one of the most influential founders of environmental ethics, has a philosophy that rings true to me, as someone who grew up in an urban environment but wants it to change and change people’s opinions about their power to make positive change in wild places across the globe. This entire year has been eye-opening to me and has reshaped my feelings on the environment. I now know what I want for future generations: my children and my children’s children. I want a world for them to explore and get lost in, a wild, natural world that still has a strong hope for the future of humankind as well.

Bringing children to nature at a young age will possibly help them cultivate positive feelings towards nature

Bringing children to nature at a young age will possibly help them cultivate positive feelings towards nature

I reason that, as Leopold does, the land is more than just lifeless soil, inanimate trees and animals that do not have a spirit like humanity does. Nature is more than what anthropocentric, ethicists see. It is more than just rating the different organisms on their intellectual levels. We are more than our intelligence, as philosophers such as Tom Regan maintain. We have a basic creativity that perhaps even began the universe as well, according to Thomas Berry. I think that recognizing the inherent value of the multivariate natural world and treating it less as a disposable means and more as an end we can reach a higher life fulfillment as well. Basically my reasoning involves forgetting what humans have typically valued: power in the form of wealth, intellect and control and instead the basic value of treating others better.

As someone who is also an atheist I maintain that it is also not necessary to force a belief of God on the value of nature in order to value creation. In my opinion, the idea that there is no God is much a more wondrous idea. The randomness of the universe is the most beautiful concept I can conceive of, and makes nature and the random happenstance that humans even exist as sentient beings even less likely. In order to fulfill this reasoning it is important to respect all beings in a non-anthropocentric way, not necessarily valuing one species over another. I still have work to do myself with my own sentiments and consumer habits, but one day I hope to reflect my own feelings towards the environment in everything I do.

In an extension of my own atheist ethics, it is shown that you can be morally good without believing in a higher power

In an extension of my own atheist ethics, it is shown that you can be morally good without believing in a higher power

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My Semester at Saint Rose’s and New York City Environmental History

Despite New York City’s current image as a man-made environment of pollution and desiccated lands, it has a past of being a bountiful, wild environment and a possible future of sustainability. Fordham University’s Rose Hill campus in the Bronx is a subset of New York City that also has a past of being a lush environment before it became a more urban campus. In my time as an Environmental studies major in Fordham University I have worked to be more environmentally friendly through programs at Fordham university and internships in New York City that support a future of sustainability in New York City. With my work in Saint Rose’s Garden for the past year and my future internship at the Bronx River Alliance, I think that I will make a difference in the future of sustainability because I personally feel changed after having worked for an organization with a strong environmental ethic.

Fordham University in the Bronx is a lush campus but is less natural and more sculpted, man-made nature than anything

Fordham University in the Bronx is a lush campus but is less natural and more sculpted, man-made nature than anything

New York City, defined by the island of Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs of the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island was not always a concrete jungle but actually verdant forest and marshlands, and even coastal plains. When Henry Hudson sailed up what is now known as the Hudson River he saw a land filled with diverse creatures, inhabited by Native Americans and also full of ripe resources to exploit. Unfortunately this land would soon become decimated by European settlement and the subsequent founding of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. Environmental problems ran rampant in New York City and especially the Bronx area that surrounds Fordham until the late Twentieth century when people began looking at their neighborhoods in a new way, one that would ultimately change the idea of what sustainability in a major city can be.

The Manahatta project used satellite imagery to create an idea of what the island of Manhattan used to look like before Colonization

The Manahatta project used satellite imagery to create an idea of what the island of Manhattan used to look like before Colonization

For this fall semester, continuing from last semester, I spent my practicum in St. Rose’s Garden on the Rose Hill campus. St. Rose’s Garden works hard to bring a message of sustainability to the Last year I was elected to the E-board of the garden and thus have spent the time since helping the best I can to get speakers to the garden, posting for the garden on social media, and helping welcome students during meetings, among other tasks. St. Rose’s garden hearkens back to the time when the Rose Hill campus was run through by a babbling brook and had a pond to water cattle that grazed there. St. Rose’s garden today is a beacon of sustainability for the future of Fordham’s Rose Hill campus.

As the association University Leaders for a Sustainable Future declares there are universities across the country that are ready to teach students about sustainability, conduct outreach to communities and much more. Fordham University is not as close to that goal as it could be, they are not even on the list. The administration, although they cite their adherence to recycling, certain electric vehicles and some LEED buildings does not have the environmental ethic that one would associate with an institution looking to spread better practices to its students. I think that student associations such as Students for Environmental Awareness and Justice as well as St. Rose’s Garden are the true starting points for change in our university, which is why I am a part of them.

Saint Rose's Garden is a flagship of sustainability  on Fordham's Rose Hill campus

Saint Rose’s Garden is a flagship of sustainability on Fordham’s Rose Hill campus

My time spent in St. Rose’s garden has taught me much more than Fordham’s self-proclaimed sustainable policies have by far. I have learned about the potential for urban farms and community gardens, the processes of soil formation, the micro-cosm that is the garden’s ecosystem, and much more. Although I am critical of Fordham’s policies, which seem to me like an afterthought among the bulk of their Jesuit principles, there is potential in them to incorporate truly sustainable practices.

My practicum at St. Rose’s Garden as a Secretary of the garden and someone who helped maintain a compost pile as well as harvesting crops in an environmentally friendly way reflects this sentiment of looking to bring neighborhoods to a different level of sustainability unlike any that has been seen in New York for some time.

Believe it or not, Fordham’s Rose Hill campus used to be a working farm. Cattle grazed and crops were tilled for students and Jesuit priests alike. What is more remarkable is that this tradition lasted for quite a while until the college became too big to handle the commitment to sustainability and plowed fields were built over and roads paved. Today, St. Rose’s garden is looking to bring back that feeling of nature by providing students access to the experience they could have had seventy years ago: tending a garden on campus. In addition St. Rose’s partners with a CSA in order to have fresh vegetables delivered to students from local, upstate farms. This message of sustainability is vital in this day and age, especially if Fordham wants to become more environmentally friendly.

St. John's College, now known as Fordham University, five years after its founding

St. John’s College, now known as Fordham University, five years after its founding

Unfortunately Fordham is not quite as sustainable as it could be. According to the 2011 most recent College Sustainability Report Card Fordham as a C+ in overall sustainability with a grade of F in categories such as investment and disclosure. If Fordham wants to push the bar higher and make the grade, it needs to divest. One program that fellow environmental policy students are working on to fulfill that goal is a program called Fossil Free Fordham. They look to push the economic investment of Fordham towards companies that are environmentally and fiscally sustainable. If Fordham can prove that it is up to the challenge of becoming the green haven it once was then it can be placed in the ratings of such associations as The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education or University Leaders for a Sustainable Future. This is not only an environmentally responsible choice, but one that can give better press for the University as well.

An initiative taken up by Environmental Policy majors was the Fossil Free Fordham campaign to push Fordham away from a fiscal carbon footprint

An initiative taken up by Environmental Policy majors was the Fossil Free Fordham campaign to push Fordham away from a fiscal carbon footprint

If we examine the Land Ethic, one environmental ethic that I cite time and time again as being an all-around fulfilling ethic, then we can get an idea of what Fordham needs to do as an institution to step up its game as an environmentally ethical place. As discussed previously, Aldo Leopold’s Land ethic examines human relations with the environment and points out how humans are inextricably connected to Earth. Because of this, Leopold recommends that humans treat the Land as if it were a living organism and even an entity with certain rights. I think that there is honestly truth in the idea of the Land Ethic being applied to land like Fordham University’s. When Fordham was an area of rolling hills and pastoral fields there was more respect for the natural movement of streams, the interaction of predators and prey and the abundance of diverse species. This can happen again.

Central to Leopold’s philosophy is the assertion to “quit thinking about decent land use as solely an economic problem.”

Central to Leopold’s philosophy is the assertion to “quit thinking about decent land use as solely an economic problem.”

My practicum was, I felt, a learning experience associated with the Land Ethic and its implications in the real world. As I composted and planted seeds as well as taught others to do so, I gained a new respect for the land that I never had before, as someone who grew up in a very urban area. Hours spent weeding the garden in order to avoid pesticide use, or plucking fresh tomatoes from the vine gave me a new knowledge of the ideas of the Land Ethic and the effort required to feed ecosystems and people alike. Digging through the soil I found the organisms that make it up like worms and grubs, and the rich minerals and nutrients that course through the rich humus of the soil. I felt a deeper connection to the land that once sprawled across Fordham’s campus and in New York City as well.

The Bronx River Alliance is an organization devoted to cleaning up the portions of the Bronx River that have been polluted for decades, as well as educating adults and children alike of the unique ecosystem that riparian zones have surrounding them. Through their work they craft their own form of the Land Ethic to bring it to people of the Bronx. I mention this organization because in the coming semester I will be interning for the group and helping continue their work with communities as a non-profit organization. The Land ethic is found in their work bringing people not just to a beautiful view of scenery but also to a unique ecosystem that has been lost in the past centuries to industrialization and urban growth.

My work with St. Rose’s Garden has prepared me to look at the world in a new way. I personally feel kinship with the soil and the organisms that rely on it, since I ate from the vegetables that we grew ourselves. If more people had a connection to the natural world then perhaps one day we could be a more environmentally aware society and be more conscious of our actions. I hope to one day change people’s minds about what it is to be an ethical person and include the treatment of the environment and animals in this definition. This may take many years of work in order to accomplish but I think that there is hope for the coming decades, especially with the looming menace of global climate change at our doorstep. I have hope in the basic idea that people can change their minds about the environment and the importance to protect it, all they need is an informed opinion and they can begin to love the land they inhabit.

Works Cited

“ABOUT ULSF.” University Leaders For A Sustainable Future. Accessed December 16, 2014. http://www.ulsf.org/about.html.

“Fordham University College Sustainability Report Card 2011.” The College Sustainability Report Card. January 1, 2011. Accessed December 16, 2014. http://www.greenreportcard.org/report-card-2011/schools/fordham-university.html.

“Natural and Social History.” Bronx River Alliance. Accessed December 16, 2014. http://bronxriver.org/?pg=content&p=abouttheriver&m1=9.

“Environmental Studies Program.” Fordham University. Accessed December 16, 2014. http://www.fordham.edu/info/20920/environmental_studies.

“St. Rose’s Garden.” Facebook. Accessed December 16, 2014. https://www.facebook.com/StRosesGarden.

Animal Rights and the Land Ethic

This ecosystem diagram shows that without certain organisms in the diagram the whole ecosystem may fall apart

This ecosystem diagram shows that without certain organisms in the diagram the whole ecosystem may fall apart

Another strong Animal Rights reformist is J. Baird Callicott, who is a scholar of Aldo Leopold’s Land ethic and uses it in constructing his own environmental ethic.  For Calicott, coming to terms with creating an ethic for the environment is difficult because he feels that at a certain point giving rights to entities such as plants and streams is simply too absurd. Active in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s,  he brought experience from that activist period of time. Calicott developed his Ecological-Hierarchical Land Ethic during that time and came to realize that the most important principle for an environmental ethic is respect for the community and the health of the entire ecosystem.  His view is often called “eco-fascism” by Tom Regan due to its inclination towards humans as opposed to other species.

J Baird Callicott's Ecological-Hierarchical Land Ethic takes a pragmatic approach to an Animal Rights Ethic

J Baird Callicott’s Ecological-Hierarchical Land Ethic takes a pragmatic approach to an Animal Rights Ethic

Calicott breaks down the responses that critics have to Leopold’s Land Ethic in his quest for an ethic. He finds that those who believe in Ethical Humanism will not agree with the Land Ethic because in their view humans should be accorded the higher honor due to their rationality or capability of interests. To Calicott, the Ethical Humanists have an orthodox response to the Land Ethic and thus could not accept any ethic prescribing them to think outward.

The American Humanist Association is one of many Ethical Humanist associations that looks to better the world without God, and putting humanity front and center

The American Humanist Association is one of many Ethical Humanist associations that looks to better the world without God, and putting humanity front and center

He also looks at Humane Moralists of the animal liberation movement, who overall accept Leopold’s Land Ethic, as another kind of speciesists.  They regard humans who do not have the full capability of human behavior such as babies to be less than animals. He thinks that their qualification of sentience is simply another way to make a cut-off for the species of organisms that humans should respect.He maintains that if they even try to create animal rights based on an ignorance of sentience, using mentally debilitated humans as an example, they are committing a grave error. This part of the animal rights movement includes people such as Regan and Singer.

For Calicott, the Land Ethic implies that the biotic community is what must be saved and thus killing individual organisms for the betterment of the community is vital. Basically in Calicott’s view some organisms are more important than others. He would agree that factory farmed animals, removed from their ecosystem, are of little concern and keystone species in the wild are more important to worry about.  If domesticated animals were released and given rights, would the planet be better off? The betterment of the planet is what Calicott sees as the main concern for environmental ethics, not the suffering of animals.

“There is something profoundly incoherent (and insensitive as well) in the complaint of some animal liberationists that the “natural behavior” of chickens and bobby calves is curelly frustrated on factory farms. It would make almost as much sense to speak of the natural behavior of tables and chairs.”

Regan critiques Callicott, bringing up the fact that he is looking at issues from a perspective of human interest and thus all utility of animals is based in our use of them. To Regan, sacrificing human or nonhuman animals to the “state” is akin to fascism. Callicott maintains that “there can be no value apart from an evaluator, that all value is in the eye of the beholder,” so the fact that we put this value on organisms at all is only because of a subjective perspective and thus it is necessary to take this “fascist” view of the environment.  In his eyes the Land Ethic never meant to hold species equal, it simply is focused on maintaining the collective entity known as land.

Keystone species like the Gray Wolf are considered more valuable to Callicott's Land Ethic than domestic animals, due to their place in the ecosystem

Keystone species like the Gray Wolf are considered more valuable to Callicott’s Land Ethic than domestic animals, due to their place in the ecosystem

In the end, Calicott advocates for keeping animals domesticated and in enclosures despite their perceived comfort, continuing our omnivorous diet, as well as not banning hunting and fishing as long as it does no harm to the ecosystem.  One policy he introduces is the idea that it is okay to sacrifice the lives of human beings, in the form of birth control, for the sake of the health of the community.

Luc Ferry, a critic of “Deep Ecology,” also believes that the environmental movement is becoming something of a fascist movement in which rights are given to entities such as animals, trees and rocks as opposed to humanity.  To him,  deep ecologists draw parallels far too close in comparison to the Nazi party of Germany. Nazi Germany held animals and the environment prime in their consideration, and certain humans, such as Jews, less valuable than these entities.  He feels that the Deep Ecology movement also casts aside all thoughts of human autonomy and cautions that, if pushed to its extremes, deep ecology could threaten democracy itself.

Luc Ferry, a French philosopher, has written scathing critiques of the Deep Ecology movement

Luc Ferry, a French philosopher, has written scathing critiques of the Deep Ecology movement

Clearly Luc Ferry is opposed to both the Animal Liberation movement and the Land Ethic but does lend valid criticism to both. It does lend us to the question of how pragmatic are those who examine the Land ethic if it involves the possibility of limiting human life, and how democratic is the animal liberation movement if it is deciding the fates of animals over humans? I think that both Calicott and Ferry do not quite interpret the movements in the way that was intended by those who adhere to the philosophies but this is important because it opens up the movements to criticism.

I think that the suffering of animals, especially ones so close to us ancestrally like chimpanzees, is unjust because they are not simply objects but our biological family of a kind. Suffering should be included in the equation of whether employing certain practices is proper in this day and age.  I personally support animal rights reform despite the questioning of its practicality.  Calicott does raise important questions though: How would domesticated animals truly be freed if we let all of them free? Is the environment not as important as the individual rights of the animals involved in it? I cannot answer these questions, but perhaps one day they will be examined more thoroughly to avoid the impossibilities of animal liberation.

Climate Change and coming ecological disasters are human caused but they will affect all walks of life.  We must take this into consideration when we create an environmental ethic

Climate Change and coming ecological disasters are human caused but they will affect all walks of life. We must take this into consideration when we create an environmental ethic

How are we treating animals?

Pawel Kuczynski, an illustrator comments on the irony of how we treat certain animals differently than others

Pawel Kuczynski, an illustrator comments on the irony of how we treat certain animals differently than others

From even before humans have risen as a species with formidable intellect, creativity and dominance over all nature, there have been animals. Humans have always had a deep relationship to animals as they connect us to our past time with nature. In more recent times, however, many people have lost touch with animals in any way that is beyond our sheer domination of them and their natural habitats. As discussed in the film “Earthlings: Make the Connection,”  there are several parts of the oppression that humans put on animals in the present age in the areas of agriculture, entertainment and clothing. Some people choose to address these viewpoints and are intent on revealing the injustices done to the beings that they believe are deserving of better treatment than what they are submitted to in factory farms, fur farms and circuses. The positions that animal rights and welfare advocates hold vary and tend to range in their nuanced conclusions on animals’ moral standing and how they should be treated.

The film, Earthlings: Make the Connection discusses speciesism and its implications in modern society

The film, Earthlings: Make the Connection discusses speciesism and its implications in modern society

Cognitive ethology is the area of comparative cognition or animal learning that is both naturalistic in its emphasis and open to a consideration of several aspects of animal behavior. When species have their mental abilities evaluated and confirmed as being capable this gives bearing to how they are treated it is a branching off of Darwinian studies of animal evolution and psychology. Cognitive ethologists maintain that animals are not identical to humans mentally but nonhuman animals have rudimentary versions of almost all aspects of human behavior. With the proof of studies of chimps by Jane Goodall, as well as other researchers, there is clear evidence that the current treatment of animals is not up to stat for creatures that have emotions, desires and simple reasoning like humans.

Jane Goodall's interactions with chimpanzees have become great sources of information for the intelligence and social complexity of great apes

Jane Goodall’s interactions with chimpanzees have become great sources of information for the intelligence and social complexity of great apes

It is clear that agriculture is one aspect of human society today that involves the maltreatment of animals. Each year in the United States 11 billion animals are raised and killed for meat, eggs, and milk. As we have been revealed by cognitive ethologists these sentient animals have the ability to feel pain, frustration, joy and excitement and the conditions they are confined in are far from an ideal situation for accurate feelings to be expressed. Chickens raised for meat are unable to walk due to the crippling affects that rapid weight gain does to their bodies, cows that are milked are perpetually inseminated in order to induce milk flow and after an average of 5 years are killed since they have lost their productivity, and birthing sows are confined in tight spaces in order to be able to propagate even faster than before. All of these animals are submitted to the cruel lives of factory farms where they never see sunlight, feed on grains unnatural for their usual diet and are prevented from moving for their lifespan. For sentient beings, or any other beings, these conditions are unacceptable.

The varying positions on animal welfare and rights have differing positions on the situations that animals are in today. The position of Strong Anthropocentrism has continually advocated for humane treatment but only in certain areas such as experimentation.

Factory Farms such as this one would be considered morally right to a strong anthropocentrist

Factory Farms such as this one would be considered morally right to a strong anthropocentrist

Further on the spectrum is the Animal welfare movement represented by organizations such as the Humane Society which argue that animals should be treated humanely but are neutral on the question of the standing of animals.

Norton’s weak anthropocentrism, as we touched upon earlier, addresses the indirect duties that humans have for animals and is akin to the Animal welfare movement.

Weak anthropocentrism holds humans above other animals to the extent that animals are considered inferior but still should be looked after. Medical testing would be the exception to this idea

Weak anthropocentrism holds humans above other animals to the extent that animals are considered inferior but still should be looked after. Medical testing would be the exception to this idea

What comes next is the Animal Rights movement, represented by PETA, a more radical organization that believes that humans have direct duties to animals and that we must abolish the institutions that keep them shackled. Van De Veer believes in a Two Factor Egalitarianism in which there is a Moral Hierarchy that dictates that humans have direct duties to animals

PETA's provocative and controversial ads are often deleterious to the efforts of other groups that are looking out for the welfare of animals

PETA’s provocative and controversial ads are often deleterious to the efforts of other groups that are looking out for the welfare of animals

Finally there is the Land Ethic, which extends moral direct duties to the environment and to animals. In all of these views animals are considered, they are simply thought of in different ways.

Animal Rights and Animal Welfare are two distinctive movements that are necessary to be further discussed. Animal rights is the idea that some or all animals are entitled to the possession of their own lives and their most basic interest-an interest in not suffering-should be afforded the same consideration as that of human beings. In contrast, Animal welfare, or the well-being of animals, has numerous standards of what is qualified to be considered welfare but it is based on the idea that non-human animals are sentient and consideration should be given for their well-being or suffering. These viewpoints do clash at times but there is a generally accepted idea that animals, regardless of whether they are sentient or not, deserve a certain level of humane treatment.

Animal shelters such as the Animal Welfare Society support animals and are against euthanasia

Animal shelters such as the Animal Welfare Society support animals and are against euthanasia

In my opinion, I agree most with the Land Ethic. I also understand that for some there is gap that needs to be bridged in order to understand ecosystems and their part in the world. What people generally believe is that animals are a means to an end, as well as the environment. After examination of the ideas propounded by ethologists there can be no mistake that animals deserve better. As I watched the film, “Earthlings: Make the Connection,” I winced and grew alarmed at the casual infringement upon the health and rights that the system we have today has towards animals. The mere fact that I was upset does raise my hopes that perhaps that is the answer: humans feel empathy for things that are unjust and due to the fact that I and several of my classmates were reduced to angry exclamations and tears says a lot about humanity’s relations to animals. Animals garner empathy in humans so they must be moral beings worth protecting from ourselves.

It is difficult to picture a world so different from what exists now, one without animals enslaved to feed, clothe and entertain us with no compensation to them, but it is the vision of many who believe that humans treat animals unfairly. Can we apply the anthropocentric concepts mentioned earlier to the nonhuman animals in acknowledgment of their moral standing, or will we continue to treat them as ‘means to an end’ in the principles of strong anthropocentrism. As with other ethical problems I think that there is a middle ground for these solutions and that one day there can be a compromise. What needs to be asked now is, what new innovations can we come up with to save animals from their fate, will they be figurative or physical innovations? Will we one day have the ability to coexist peacefully? For the fate of our diverse, important brethren, I only hope so.

The Land Ethic

We will breifly revisit Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic to discuss some of its implications in the debate of whether or not people should be labeled or identify as consumers or citizens in environmentalism today. This whole debate centers on the ideas of environmental citizenship and whether or not citizens as citizens should adopt the land ethic instead of maintaining an anthropocentric stance on environmental issues. Aldo Leopold’s enlightenment to the wrongs committed by man is a main focus of the idea and is revealed in “Thinking Like A Mountain.”

In the book "Thinking Like A Mountain," Aldo Leopold discussed the importance of wolves in the western United States

In the book “Thinking Like A Mountain,” Aldo Leopold discussed the importance of wolves in the western United States

When we examine whether or not we should adhere to the belief that we should use the land ethic as a guide to life we must reexamine the land ethic. Aldo Leopold in “Thinking Like A Mountain,” discusses his thoughts prior to the encounter and then how they changed. Prior to his encounter Leopold “never heard of passing up the chance to kill a wolf,” and in fact thought that killing predators would do the mountain good. He soon realized he was wrong. When he killed the wolf he saw a “fierce green fire dying in her eyes,” which was something of a religious experience for Leopold. In the end he realized that humans must become citizens of the land-community and no longer be conquerors of the role, and even discussed the impossibility of conquerors existing at all, for once a person became a conqueror then they realize what makes the community tick and in that knowledge learn that their conquests had no purposes.

Leopold’s Land Ethic is, then, a biocentric ethic that “the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts,” and that you must suppress your instincts in order to yield to your ethics in order to cooperate. Historically, this has not been the case for an environmental ethic. Legislature to prevent damage to the environment began as Aldo Leopold wrote “A Sand County Almanac” in 1949, creating a new kind of conservation movement. This new way of looking at the land changed the previous goals of conservation of land space to preservation and then environmental regulations such as the Air Pollution Control Act and many more. This work to protect the environment was fundamental in saving many Endangered Species and creating a cleaner, more sustainable future, but it was also extremely anthropocentric. Although Aldo Leopold’s work did create a new precedent for ethics to follow it was not explicitly followed in terms of its purposes. Environmental citizenship was the name of the game.

The Aldo Leopold Foundation continues to instill the Land Ethic for future generations.

The Aldo Leopold Foundation continues to instill the Land Ethic for future generations.

Environmental citizenship is the idea that each of us is an integral part of a larger ecosystem, which is a similar concept to Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic. Environmental citizens realize that their future depends on each of them embracing the challenge and acting responsibly and positively toward our environment. Aldo Leopold describes something akin to Environmental citizenship as he describes the conqueror role turning to the citizenship role.
Inherent in environmental citizenship is the idea of citizen preferences overriding the terms of consumer-survey results by economics. The idea of environmental citizenship basically, is an inherent rejection of the initiative of private citizens to take matters into their own hands. Although it would seem that Aldo Leopold would be in favor of this environmental citizenship belief he in fact created the land ethic as a response to the failings that he saw in environmental citizenship. He discovered that if there was no land ethic or other force then it was necessary to assign more obligations to the private landowner.

As an Environmental Citizen you would be participating in events such as protests, as opposed to voting with your dollar

As an Environmental Citizen you would be participating in events such as protests, as opposed to voting with your dollar

What also differentiates the Land Ethic from the environmental citizenship view is that the environmental citizenship view is considered Anthropocentric, much different from the biocentric view of the Land ethic. As explained by Andrew Dobson in Citizenship and the Environment the primary objective of environmental citizenship is preventing harm to humans which is much different than the idea of maintaining a balance in an ecosystem. Ecological citizenship, a nickname that Dobson has for environmental citizenship, is responsibility not rights or duties. In the end, environmental citizenship is not a set of universal principles because the responsibility involves culture-specific teachings of ethics, virtues and values. Seen in this way, it also makes more sense to follow the Land ethic because it is more exact and considered to be composed of legitimate principles on its own.
Others also believe that there is merit to adhering to the Land ethic, even decades later. As interviewed in the documentary on modern day Land Ethics applications Green Fire, from ranchers out west who examine the relationships between parts of the ecosystem and then apply them to their grazing fields to communities in urban areas like Chicago who foster in their children a love of nature by building up their knowledge of it and allowing them to experience it as well. In this we also see organizations such as the Children & Nature Network which looks to bring urban children to wild, open spaces. Clearly, Leopold’s land ethic has not lost its allure and it has only been made more important due to disconnectedness with the outdoors and other generational problems.

The Film, Green Fire, explores modern day applications of Leopold's Land Ethic

The Film, Green Fire, explores modern day applications of Leopold’s Land Ethic

The question that remains is whether man can choose to continue its path as a conqueror or create a new path as a citizen of the environment. Due to the complicated connections that rule our world we may always be drawn to the call of the conqueror but perhaps with ethics and a new outlook there can one day be more people who value their roles as citizens more than anything else. As Leopold said, “man is, in fact, only a member of a biotic team,” perhaps it is about time that we become true team players.

The Land Ethic

Aldo Leopold, the founder of Wildlife Management, came up with the Land ethic

Aldo Leopold, the founder of Wildlife Management, came up with the Land ethic

Despite the plethora of ethical theories that revolve around an anthropocentric set of values, there are still strong believers in a non-anthropocentric value set. One example of a biocentric set of values is the Land ethic. Before we break it down, however, it is important to understand what an ethic is in the ecological sense. An ethic, ecologically, is a limitation on freedom of action in the struggle for existence.” This is usually contrasted with the definition of general philosophical ethics that works to “differentiate social from anti-social conduct.”

Land has been conventionally thought of as property  up until the Land ethic was created by Aldo Leopold and others. Before this time, there was no ethic that dealt with man’s relation between the land, and the animals that lived on it. Aldo Leopold, author of Sand County Almanac was influenced by his work in the National Parks to consider nature and the land as something more than just property. His ideas centered around the idea that we should have holistic, eco-centric ethics regarding the land. He felt that we should value those who were good ecological citizens, rather than those who were virtuous churchgoers.

When you plant a tree for the sake of the planet, you are helping contribute to the betterment of the land and upholding the Land ethic

When you plant a tree for the sake of the planet, you are helping contribute to the betterment of the land and upholding the Land ethic

All ethics we have discussed so far have only been based on the premise that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts in which to compete in for survival, but the land ethic changes this view and prompts individuals to cooperate within the environment instead of crushing the other interdependent players. The land ethic enlarges the community that the individual must cooperate with to include soils, waters, plants and animals-not just humans. It changes the role of Homo sapiens sapiens to a citizen of Earth from a conqueror. One way to rationalize this idea is to remember that science and human thought does not have everything figured out about what makes the environment work and thus it is important to simply solidify our role as cooperating parts of the ecosystem instead of determinants of its survival.

Neil Armstrong's famous  quote about Earth's sheer size shows his and many others views on the Earth.

Neil Armstrong’s famous quote about Earth’s sheer size shows his and many others views on the Earth.

There is one other important concept that needs to be understood to solidify people’s thoughts on the land ethic. This is the land pyramid, which is a biotic mechanism that is a symbol of land. A basic description of the land pyramid begins with the plants that absorb energy from the sun; the energy then flows through a system called a biota, or the layers of life on the pyramid from insects to birds and various other animal groups.

The Land pyramid diagrams the need of species to rely on one another for energy transference

The Land pyramid diagrams the need of species to rely on one another for energy transference

Each successive layer depends on those below it for food and often for other services, and each successive layer decreases in numerical abundance as well. Land is not outside of this food pyramid-it is made up of soils, plants and animals. It is also important to note that the more complex the structure of the community is, the more stable it is as well. When a change occurs in one part of the circuit then many parts must adjust themselves in order to survive, or risk going extinct as well.

In the process of finding a way to conserve the environment for all its inhabitants it is often difficult to get people to understand the importance of conservation of the environment. Although one would think that environmental education may be the solution to this lack of interest, the real answer may be simply to create empathy for the community members involved in forming our worldEducation is most importantly motivated by self-interest, and so it makes sense to cultivate an empathy for the land rather than just working to teach people about it. Unfortunately, despite the growing number of governmental conservation programs that educate the public, few teach land ethics and thus no ethical obligation towards the land is instilled in the people. It is not enough to force environmental problems to become obligations-natural resources must instead be looked at as more than just mere property to boost someone’s profit margin but an extension of our community.

This Park Ranger is educating children on nature, which  also may teach them to respect nature

This Park Ranger is educating children, which  may teach them to respect nature

Bucking the trend is the government of Ecuador which, in 2010, became the first country to declare constitutional rights to nature and codified a new system of environmental protection for it. According to the new constitution, nature has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structures, functions and its processes in evolution. There are, however, shortcomings with other laws that regulate industries within Ecuador. For example, the Mining Law has loop-holes that give giant earth-movers the right to drive through indigenous communities and habitats that harbor endangered species. There is work to be done to rectify these loopholes but it shows the progress made towards a future of conservation.

Chinese and Canadian transnational mining companies are looking to mine in Ecuador, which would be a clear violation of their new constitution, the Andean people protest this idea.

Chinese and Canadian transnational mining companies are looking to mine in Ecuador, which would be a clear violation of their new constitution, and so the Andean people protest this idea.

Another ordinance that set historical legal precedence in terms of moving the Land ethic to prominence was put into law in Shapleigh, Maine when a town’s citizens voted to endow all of the land’s natural resources with legal rights. Although the motivation for this unusual law was to protect its aquifers from the Nestle corporation, it still helps move us forward to being a more just society. I was excited to hear about this case as it is also a giant leap ahead for the fight for Water Rights as well. Many proponents find nothing strange about gifting nonentities like streams with legal rights, as other non-humans such as ships and corporations have also been granted similar rights.

Mitt Romney is one supporter of the idea that corporations are people.

Mitt Romney is one supporter of the idea that corporations are people.

Akin to that case, animals have also been represented by lawyers in order to sue their owners for mishandling them when they are represented by other humans. For example a chimpanzee held in Gloversville, NY called Tommy was entered in a lawsuit by animal rights lawyers in order to be released from the abuse of his owner. What one lawyer, Steven Wise, perceptively pointed out was that, judging from previous cases of Habeus corpus, a legal person does not necessarily have to be a full human. On the flip side though, he has often been cited as being speciesist, or favoring one species over another, towards only animals that have proven cognitive abilities. There is also great progress, however, in countries such as Spain which extended rights to non-humans, particularly great apes, in 2008.

Chimpanzees, for their incredible intelligence and reasoning, have begun to be considered legal persons

Chimpanzees, for their incredible intelligence and reasoning, have begun to be considered legal persons

Despite a seemingly united front, there is a certain division, called A-B cleavage, among conservationists in their ethical treatises and the land ethic is no different. One group of conservationists regards the land as soil and its function as commodity-production while another group regards the land as biota and realizes that it has a broader function. This cleavage also exists for forestry, wildlife and agricultural fields but throughout them there exists the idea of man as a conqueror pitted against man as the biotic citizen.

Despite the seeming lack of initiative found by economists to reduce the human impact on the environment without incentive, there are still many organizations that are dedicated to aiding in environmental preservation. One example of such a group is the Society for Conservation Biology, which is an international professional organization dedicated to promoting the scientific study of the phenomena that affect the maintenance, loss, and restoration of biological diversity. Their main vision is to help create “a society where people understand, value, and conserve the diversity of life on Earth.” I think that groups like this can pave the way for a true human empathy for nature.

We are far from instilling a land ethic into our collective conscience. Most of the time conservation is motivated by the cost that would be accrued if we lose ecosystem features such as healthy soil. This view may paint predators as not of value, even though they have the ability to thin the herds of endangered species and thus conserve valued game, or it marks trees out for the count because foresters did not find them viable as timber crops.

Grazing land is often valued for the service it provides for feeding cattle, but it also is a natural resource that is beautiful

Grazing land is often valued for the service it provides for feeding cattle, but it also is a natural resource that is beautiful

After I attended the lecture by Fr. Eduardo Scarel, O. Carm, an atmospheric scientist and priest, I learned that although you can understand the data and mechanisms behind the ecological problems it is not guaranteed that you will appreciate the Land ethic. Fr. Scarel feels that, above all, human life is most important and does not view the Land ethic as viable. Even spiritually he maintains that Earth and the land are not divine, only God is. He is all for saving the Earth, but his motivations lie elsewhere. There are, however, societies such as The Earth Charter Initiative and the Society for Conservation Biology among others who do stand up for the inherent rights that they believe ecosystems have.

Father Eduardo Scarel is a noted climate scientist who is not an advocate for Land ethics but is in support of saving the Earth from climate change

Father Eduardo Scarel is a noted climate scientist who is not an advocate for Land ethics but is in support of saving the Earth from climate change

It is important not to take for granted the interdependence of ecosystem members and it is vital to let go of the notion that economics determines all land use. Conservation is a viewpoint that is full of good intentions, but looking at the underlying motivations is just as important as fulfilling the obligations invested within it.

What moves us: The Ethics behind Environmentalism

Besides the actual, material, problems that environmentalism deals with there is also the troubling theoretical disputes between differing viewpoints of environmentalism, namely ethics which helps us realize whether or not we are obligated to have to take care of these issues and if so, how. There are particular moral decisions that those involved in environmental studies must make to create policies, economic decisions and more. An added problem is what many call Nature Deficit Disorder, or the idea that young children are not given appropriate playtime outdoors in any kind of nature, which also adds weight to certain arguments.

A humorous look at the lack of outdoors interaction that young children receive in particular circumstances

A humorous look at the lack of outdoors interaction that young children receive in particular circumstances

These conflicting viewpoints range from those who believe that nature is capital to be managed, to the idea that nature has a deeper reason for humans, to the view that all organisms are equal to humans and should be treated as such. I tend to fall in the middle view but examining the other views is certainly worthwhile in helping build a stronger understanding of ethics. One other concern which can be discussed is what nature really is-what makes something natural or synthetic-and is there such a difference. Giving equal measure to these views, I posit that everything is natural, but again I will give equal weight to each view.

A majority of people who are not involved with the environmental movement, and many that are, ascribe to the viewpoint that our planet is a vast depository of resources, and with our ingenuity we will never deplete them. This is called the Planetary management viewpoint, in which we manage life on earth mostly for our own benefit. Vaclav Smil, mentioned earlier, is one prominent proponent of this viewpoint, and backed it in his book The Earth’s Biosphere: Evolution Dynamics and Change.

The Stewardship viewpoint is ascribed to another part of the environmental movement which believes they have an ethical responsibility to be stewards of the earth. Success depends on how well we manage the earth’s life-support systems for our benefit and nature.

Some Christians believe stewardship is a logical step in their faith, as led by example in St Francis of Assisi

Some Christians believe stewardship is a logical step in their faith, as led by example in St Francis of Assisi

Environmental Wisdom, a minority in participants, is mainly comprised of those who ascribe to the land ethic and animal rights activists. They believe that all humans are a part of nature and exists for all species and our success depends on learning how nature sustains itself and integrating lessons into how we think and act.

Animal Rights groups that adhere to the Environmental Wisdom Viewpoint maintain that speciesism is prevalent in our society.

Animal Rights groups that adhere to the Environmental Wisdom Viewpoint maintain that speciesism is prevalent in our society.

Unfortunately, these viewpoints many times come at odds with one another when politics and economic decisions are made, something which will be explored at a later time, and leaves policy at a standstill. There are prominent supporters on every side, but one who I believe gives the greatest argument for the Land ethic created by Aldo Leopold, a kind of ethics that was revolutionary for its time. It gave the conservationists and budding field of environmentalism a voice, one that declared that

“All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts… a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

These, and other basic principles of land ethics revolutionized the way people thought about the environment. It no longer was this simple collection of capital to be mined, forested, hunted, and cultivated but something to be considered as beneficial in the sense of preserving for the myriad interconnected webs of organisms.

Aldo Leopold, founding creator of the Land Ethic

Aldo Leopold, founding creator of the Land Ethic

Environmental Justice, which grew from this new ethics, would begin to examine the effects that humans have on nature, not just examining the effects these same measures would have on humans. Measures like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act to maintain climate standards that would directly benefit humans’ living conditions were great, but soon the Endangered Species act was passed-categorizing animals into a range of threat based on the numbers of their population. People began to recognize that keystone species, like the shark mentioned earlier, should be preserved not only to maintain their numbers to be exploited by the market for shark fin soup, but also because there is an ethical responsibility to not endanger other species in their environment.

To back track a little, we can first examine the idea of what nature is in particular. Upon attendance of the lecture “Humans in Nature: The World as we find it and the world as we create it” with Dr. Gregory Kaebnick I learned of the question of whether or not we can still identify “natural” states of affairs in the world and in ourselves, particularly given how much we’ve already altered the world. Although debate was limited, he introduced two main competing viewpoints.

Dr. Gregory Kaebnick visited my university to facilitate discussion about the state of nature today

Dr. Gregory Kaebnick visited my university to facilitate discussion about the state of nature today

 

On the one hand there is a school of thought that sustains that labels of natural, unmolested wild does not include GMO‘s (genetically modified organisms), man-made structures, and forests that are replanted by humans. This endeavor of categorizing the varying degrees of nature is even harder below the surface as history has shown us that there is practically no landscape completely untouched by human influence. Even before the intense period of industrialization began, agriculture and selective breeding had already changed organisms and the environment into something entirely new.

This poplar farm is debated as being natural or synthetic

This poplar farm is debated as being natural or synthetic

The other viewpoint proffered, which I tend to agree makes much more sense and makes nature much easier to define, is that there is no real unnatural object created by humans. By this viewpoint you can recognize that regardless of whether one nucleus is injected into another cell’s or there is an open-pit mine that is dug and its coal burned for energy humans are still obeying the laws of physics, and every single compound involved has been found on Earth. This chain of thought may then seem to allow people to discount any action they make in the environment as natural and thus allowable, but this is not the case. Several members of the audience proffered the suggestion that there are always impacts that come from every action and it is be our duty to evaluate our decisions as harmful or neutral or beneficial to the environment. Much like the Environmental Wisdom Viewpoint discussed earlier.

What I learned from this lecture was the real question is how we go about doing this and why we should. In all, this lecture opened my mind up to what nature really is, and what we should do with this new found knowledge.

Under another viewpoint, this cityscape would be considered a natural landscape because it adheres to natural law and all materials have been found on Earth

Under another viewpoint, this cityscape would be considered a natural landscape because it adheres to natural law and all materials have been found on Earth

There is also the other point that environmentalism makes. Preserving the environment in order that future generations can live in a world where there is biodiversity, a plethora of aesthetic, natural beauty and sustainability in this world for years to come is vitally important. This brings us to the idea that there is a Nature deficiency in our society. Many argue, like Richard Louv the author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder,” that there needs to be some basic implementation of programs that allow for all children to find a place in nature.

Richard Louv identified the phenomena of Nature Deficit Disorder and introduced solutions as well

Richard Louv identified the phenomena of Nature Deficit Disorder and introduced solutions as well

With this new kind of education, environmental literacy would become more widespread, allowing children to grow into the next generation of adults who appreciate and understand the significance of environmental issues. His book also discusses that there is research to support the inherent benefits of those who play outdoors which may even be motivation for planners and architects to design green spaces. This becomes, then, something more important than allowing for green spaces just for the benefit of the resources available, or aesthetic reasons, or even the preservation of biodiversity, but instead for the basic benefits that are said to come with playing in this wild nature.

Inner city children brought to beautiful, natural places will develop a new appreciation for them

Inner city children brought to beautiful, natural places will develop a new appreciation for them

Hopefully some light has been shed on the nature of ethics found in the field of environmentalism, something regrettably neglected in many teachings. There is more to the motivation of environmental policy and studies than mere capital preservation and management, for many people. Spirituality, health, and the ecosystems’ rights should also be the motivations of policy towards protecting the environment. Nature itself may not be what it appears to us as, but as something more. This is something  else we should take into consideration when making these decisions. You are free to draw your own conclusions. Comments are welcome.