Environmental Ethics & Human Values: Definition & Impact on Environmental Problems

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  • 0:06 The Environment
  • 0:55 Environmental Ethics
  • 3:53 Impact
  • 5:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Environmental ethics take into consideration the moral obligations human beings have concerning the environment. Learn how environmental ethics and human values affect our ability to understand and solve environmental problems.

The Environment

Did you notice that the world is getting smaller? I don't mean it is physically shrinking in size, but there's no denying that in today's modern world we are more keenly aware of the fact that an event or action that happens on one side of the globe can impact what happens on the opposite side.

Things like the Internet, a more globalized economy, and widespread changes in climate draw our attention to events happening around the world, and with this new awareness comes some ethical questions regarding the responsibilities humans have with respect to the care of the planet. In this lesson, we will discuss environmental ethics and human values and describe how they affect our ability to deal with the environmental problems that our world faces.

Environmental Ethics & Human Values

Environmental ethics is the philosophical discipline that considers the moral and ethical relationship of human beings to the environment. In other words: what, if any, moral obligation does man have to the preservation and care of the non-human world?

While ethical issues concerning the environment have been debated for centuries, environmental ethics did not emerge as a philosophical discipline until the 1970s. Its emergence was the result of increased awareness of how the rapidly growing world population was impacting the environment as well as the environmental consequences that came with the growing use of pesticides, technology, and industry.

Environmental ethics helps define man's moral and ethical obligations toward the environment. But human values become a factor when looking at environmental ethics. Human values are the things that are important to individuals that they then use to evaluate actions or events. In other words, humans assign value to certain things and then use this assigned value to make decisions about whether something is right or wrong. Human values are unique to each individual because not everyone places the same importance on each element of life. For example, a person living in poverty in an undeveloped country may find it morally acceptable to cut down the forest to make room for a farm where he can grow food for his family. However, a person in a developed country may find this action morally unacceptable because the destruction of forests increases carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, which can negatively impact the environment.

Environmental ethics, along with human values, make for challenging philosophical debates about man's interaction with the environment. Water and air pollution, the depletion of natural resources, loss of biodiversity, destruction of ecosystems, and global climate change are all part of the environmental ethics debate. And we see that within the discipline of environmental ethics there are tough ethical decisions humans must consider.

For example: is it acceptable for poor farmers in undeveloped countries to cut down forest to make room for farmland, even if this action harms the environment? Is it morally wrong for humans to continue to burn fossil fuels knowing that this action leads to air pollution and global climate changes? Is it ethically permissible for man to build a hydroelectric dam knowing that this will disrupt the migration pattern of certain fish, leading to their extinction? Does a mining company have a moral obligation to restore the natural environment destroyed by their mining techniques?

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