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Environmental Ethics Essay

4805 words - 20 pages


We are enveloped and immersed in a world comprised of air, earth, waters, plants, animals and constructed artefacts. It is both animate and inanimate. The environment, then, may be loosely defined as that which constitutes and makes up our surroundings. As we occur in the world together with our surroundings, acting upon it and being acted upon, we form part of the environment. Located within this environment, humankind has grown and developed socially and economically to a point that if present trends continue the earth’s natural systems will be impoverished within less than a century (Pierce & Van De Veer 1995: 37). This situation can be ...view middle of the document...

A popular option is to turn to science, which helps provide adequate material needs for everyone and also extends the richness of our non-material lives. Playing such a socially prominent and important role, science constitutes a major element of the "cultural filter" through which Western society views the environment (Pepper 1996: 240). Classical science, which is still very dominant, has developed into a dualist paradigm in which the scientific observer is separate and distinct from his or her observations. This has contributed to a conception of the world consisting of independent material objects, each having independent properties, with the behaviour of the whole explainable by the behaviour of its constituent parts. Nature is viewed as separate from humanity, machine-like and reducible to basic components, which can be known objectively and predicted. This science represents the source of absolute truths on which to base decisions and is often regarded as the most respectable way to know nature.
The dimensions of environmental issues are seldom, if ever, restricted to the specific parameters of any one scientific discipline (Des Jardins 1997:5). Moreover, most major issues facing humanity stretch beyond being mere scientific problems, involving as they do, society, politics, law, economics, etc. Covering such a broad spectrum, it is evident that science, widely distinguished by the compartmentalisation of knowledge, cannot deliver comprehensive solutions to global issues (McMichael 1993: 326). The task of assessing the impacts of ecological imbalances and disruptions on human and other life forms entails significantly more than the classical scientific paradigm of hypothesis formation, data collection and data analysis. Leaving environmental problems in the hands of science would, therefore, effectively result in a narrow understanding of the problem at hand, and by correlation a limited and short-sighted solution. Furthermore, classical science asserts that "scientific knowledge equals power over nature" (Pepper 1996: 240), and that the manipulation of nature can be used for social progress. This has resulted in science being used in many modern developments, of which some exert a negative impact on the environment (e.g. inorganic fertilisers, pesticides, industrial processes, nuclear energy, and nuclear threat, to name but a few). In this light, science should not be viewed as the ultimate source of hope for the future, and clearly should not be given full responsibility for addressing the environmental crisis.
Fortunately paradigm shifts are occurring within the field. Classical understandings of the world consisting of "independent particles" are being reassessed and replaced by a more holistic and ecologically informed understanding that all things are inseparable from the greater whole that is the universe (Pepper 1996:247). In this sense current science can be useful in developing a more encompassing understanding of the...

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