Environmental ethics is the discipline that studies the moral relationship of human beings to, and also the value and moral status of, the environment and its nonhuman contents. It is the part of environmental philosophy which considers the ethical relationship between human beings and the natural environment. It exerts influence on a large range of disciplines including law, sociology, theology, economics, ecology and geography.
There are many ethical decisions that human beings make with respect to the environment. For example:
• Should we continue to clear cut forests for the sake of human consumption?
• Should we continue to propagate, when our planet is already 2/3 above its maximum carrying capacity?
• Should we continue to make gasoline powered vehicles, depleting fossil fuel resources while the technology exists to create zero-emission vehicles?
• What environmental obligations do we need to keep for future generations?
• Is it right for humans to knowingly cause the extinction of a species for the (perceived or real) convenience of humanity?
Environmental ethics is concerned with the issue of responsible personal conduct with respect to natural landscapes, resources, species, and non-human organisms.
"Moral responsibility" normally implies knowledge, capacity, choice, and value significance. That is to say, if a person is morally responsible to do something, then he (a) knows of this requirement, (b) is capable of performing it, (c) can freely choose whether or not to do it, and (d) the performance thereof affects the welfare and/or liberty of other beings. Because one's response to these requirements reflects upon his value as a person, we say that this response has "moral significance." This analysis of "moral responsibility" might help to explain why "environmental ethics" has only recently attracted the attention and concern of moral philosophers. Quite simply, until recently our effects upon the...