Dale Jamieson

Ch 1: Environment as an Ethical Question, pp. 1-13


1.      Terms ‘nature’ and ‘environment’ are used differently

         a.      Examples:

                   i.       Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Harlem, neurons in brain, bakery, Saturn

         b.      Environment

                   i.       “That which surrounds”

                   ii.      Includes natural as well as built environment



         a.      The environment includes the built environment, not just wild nature

         b.      But environmentalism typically has in mind protecting special places (the Arctic Refuge) and distinguishing them from “mundane places that can be used for ordinary purposes”

         c.      Jamieson: P. 4:

                   i.       “Under pressure, enviros will agree that Harlem is as much a part of the environment as Kakdu National Park in Australia, but it is a plain fact that protecting Harlem is not what people generally have in mind when they talk about protecting the environment”

3.      Isn’t preventing air pollution in Harlem part of mainstream environmental protection?

4.      Critics: Environmentalism need to be about protecting more that special wild places

         a.      See Andrew Light’s The Urban Blind Spot in Environmental Ethics

         b.      Environmental justice, urban pollution and traffic

         c.      Env. historian William Cronon (to be read later in semester) argues that “wilderness” environmentalism (an environmentalism that focuses on protecting wild nature)

                   i.       Idealizes and seeks to protect distant wildernesses (Arctic Refuge, Rainforest) and ignores threats to our local, less than completely pristine nature, the place we call home

                   ii.      Privileges some parts of nature at expense of others

                   iii.     Teaches us to be contemptuous and dismissive of humble places of local nature

         d.      Cronon and others: We need to celebrate and protect local nature (as well as distant wild nature)

                   i.       The roadsides, neighborhood trees, our backyards, and our cities



         a.      In some important ways yes and in some important ways no

6.      Yes, humans are part of nature

         a.      Commoner’s “1st Law of Ecology”: Everything is connected to everything else (includes humans)

                   i.       “Holistic ideal”

         b.      Common env slogan: Humans are part of nature

         c.      Separating ourselves from nature is a root cause of env problems

                   i.       Trying to separate ourselves from nature is fatuous (smugly foolish) and destructive

                   ii.      Way to restore a healthy relation with nature is to realize that we are part of nature

                   iii.     “Convincing people to live moderately may require them to see themselves as part of nature”

                            (1)    Why?

         d.      Also, humans evolved on the planet like other species and obey the same scientific (biological, chemical and physical) laws as do other natural entities–in this sense we are clearly part of nature

7.      No, humans are not part of nature

         a.      “Judging people by a standard different from how judge natural events requires distinguishing people from nature”

         b.      “If humans and beavers are both part of nature” (to be understood and evaluated in the same way)

                   i.       “How can we condemn human deforestation and not condemn beaver cutting trees to build their dams?”

                   ii.      “How can we say the predator-prey relationships of the African Savanna are valuable wonders of nature while at same time condemning humans who poach African elephants?”

                   iii.     “How can we distinguish “natural” death of a person caused by an earthquake from “unnatural” death of a person caused by murder


8.      Two features distinguishing humans and nature

         a.      Moral agency: Humans are moral agents (who are morally responsible for their actions) and this is one way we are different from other parts of nature (one way we are not part of nature) and this matters for moral purposes

         b.      To understand humans (but not nature) we need the social sciences in addition to natural sciences:

                   i.       Beaver dams can be adequately understood with the natural sciences; human dams cannot be adequately understood with the natural sciences, also need the social sciences (economics, politics, sociology, ethics)

                   ii.      This is another way in which humans must be understood in a different way from other parts of nature (a way in which we are not part of nature)

                   iii.     To insist that humans are just as natural as anything else in the world risks reductionism (=idea that human behavior is no different from the behavior of nonhumans and can be explained in the exact same way, that is, via natural science).



         a.      Environmental crisis: Jamieson thinks we are in early(!) stages of environmental crisis we’ve caused

                   i.       E.g., Mass extinction, climate change

         b.      Science skeptics: Problems not serious as environmental science is “a bunch of hooey”

                   i.       Jamieson response: No alternative than to act on the basis of the best available science

         c.      Things are getting better: London air pollution (1952: killed thousands in 4 days, today1/10th the level and only hundreds in a year)

                   i.       Jamieson response: Progress in addressing environmental problems patchy and incomplete (in last 5 years air pollution in cities in India and China was worse then London of 1952)

         d.      Nature can handle it: Nature is resilient and has feedback looks that make it stable; one species can’t upset basic functioning of Earth system

                   i.       E.g. Some use Gaia hypothesis as support (Gaia hypothesis: Earth is a self-regulating feedback system that is highly stable)



         a.      Resilient/stable almost impervious to human insults (Gaia hypothesis self-regulating feedback system that is highly stable)

         b.      Delicately balanced and highly vulnerable to people disrupting the systems that make like on Earth possible

11.    Jamieson’s view: Both are “ultimate attitudes” (like religious commitments) rather than sober scientific claims

         a.      Doesn’t matter which, because even if stable and unlikely humans could collapse fundamental earth systems

                   i.       Environmental destruction can drastically reduce the quality of our lives, and

                   ii.      The consequences of a collapse are so devastating we should avoid that risk altogether




13.    TECHNOLOGY: Role of technology (in causing and solving env. problems)

         a.      Technology a major cause: Victims of our own success

         b.      Examples of high tech solutions to env. problems

                   i.       Geo-engineering as response to climate change

                            (1)    Gardner on geo-engineering

         c.      ***Why are high-technological solutions to environmental problems so attractive to many?

                   i.       Belief in the scientist and engineer as “can-do guy”

                   ii.      Promise solutions to env. problems w/o forcing us to change our values, ways of life or economic systems

         d.      Recent emphasis on “green energy” is a technological approach to solving env. problems

Study questions, Jamieson, Ch 1, 1-13

1.      Explain the distinction between protecting nature and protecting the environment, using Harlem as an example.

2.      Explain some of William Cronon’s criticism of “wilderness environmentalism” (the tendency in environmentalism to focus on protecting special wild places). Do you agree with Cronon?

3.      Are humans part of nature or not? Explain the considerations on each side of this issue and develop your own views on it. Discuss whether our environmental problems are due in part to people’s mistaken answer to this question.

4.      Explain the difference between the idea that earth and its ecosystems are stable and the notion that they are delicately balanced. Which of these (if either) do you accept and why? What is Jamieson view on this matter?

5.      In your own mind how important is technology as a cause of environmental problems and as a possible solution to them?