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Environmental Ethics: History, Current Events


Environmental ethics is one of the branches of philosophy; it is concerned with the moral responsibility of human beings to the natural environment. It assumes that that all forms of life have an essential right to be and exist in the natural environment. It also assumes that just like humans all plants and animals have to be considered significantly and therefore human beings have a responsibility towards maintaining all forms of the environment. A lot of people agree that there should be some general rules about how individuals interact with each other and their surroundings. This general rules are common ethics or principals that define the right and the wrong that most people agree upon and is followed in their lives. Environmental ethics is looks at how human actions either right or wrong affect the natural world we live in.

People in earlier times cared little about how their activities affected the environment this was because they were not educated about environmental ethics. Thus people continued with their lives routinely and never stopping to think how their activities affected the environment e.g. carelessly turning the light on and off, leaving water taps running, cutting trees, among other little thing.


Environmental ethics as a discipline of philosophy is a recent development and came about to respond to the growing threat to the natural environment we live in. Most of the global environmental problems came about due to the rapid growth to the human population worldwide. A lot of recourses are needed to cater for the high population and this affects the environment e.g. a lot of oil is needed to drive more industries to cater for the population, a lot of trees are cut for the population to build with. This leads to massive pollution of the air, water and soil due to depletion of important resources.  

The concerns about the environment have been there in the 19th and the twentieth century however environmental ethics as a branch of philosophy was developed in the 1970’s. This was developed by events such as the first Earth Day in 1970 and works of scientists such as Rachael Carson. Rachael was a scientist who’s writing e.g. Silent Spring of 1962 caused environmental concerns to a large population in America. The writing talked of how DDT a synthetic pesticide used in farming had an effect on the food chain. This led to the banning of the insecticide.

It was a task for environmentalist to convince the philosophers to consider the philosophical aspects of the environment. But several works by renowned environmentalist helped in this cause e.g. Lynn White wrote “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis” in 1967. Mr. White puts forward an argument that the stand of Judeo-Christianity thinking which stated that man had authority over all the other forms of life found in the earth and also the whole nature was created for the use of man as he wished was wrong. He argued that mans arrogance and perpetuation of the Judeo – Christianity ideology was contributing to the exploitation of the environment. Also Garret Hardin writings “The Tragedy of the Commons” In 1968 also contributed in the growth of Environmental ethics. In his writing Hardin argued that people face great danger by innocent behavior of individuals acting alone without a control, thus the need to establish ethics. Other environmentalists include Stanford ecologist, Paul Ehrlich among others.

International journals on Environmental ethics were published in 1979 in US called Environmental Ethics and in 1983 in Canada called The Trumpeter: Journal of Ecosophy also the British published a journal in 1992 called Environmental Values.

Current Events.

Current events have clearly emphasized the importance of the Environmental ethics in the society. Increase in tragedies such as Floods, mud slides, heat rush, droughts among other tragedies are mostly contributed by the destruction of the environment by humanity. These tragedies have brought untold suffering to humanity and animals; they have led to huge losses in human casualty, loss of property and destruction of the ecosystem. Most of these tragedies are side to be caused by global warming which is mostly caused by emission of green house gases.

Other current events like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill have caused a lot of problems like loss of livelihood to people, death of fish and other marine life, birds, plants and loss of human lives and loss of a lot of resources. This event has caused destruction in the ecosystem that will take very many years to recover.

Also there is danger of extinction of a lot of plants and animals due to either poaching or cutting down of the plants for agriculture. There is a danger that the rhino is in danger of extinction also a lot of indigenous rain forest are being logged and converted into farms.

The future

Due to the current challenges facing man caused by environmental destruction, man has to find enforce the Environmental ethics more strictly or the tragedies will increase in magnitude. Alternative sources of clean energy have to be developed and encouraged e.g. use of solar and wind energy. Green house gas emissions by developed nations have to be cut significantly. Increase in the forest cover has to be encouraged. Every individual has to become conscious of the environmental ethics.

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