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Werhane_EnviroSustain

Werhane_EnviroSustain - From Michael E Gonnan Matthew M...

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Unformatted text preview: From Michael E. Gonnan, Matthew M. Mehalik, and Patricia Werhane. Ethical and Environmental Challenges to Engineering. (Englewood Cliffs: PrenticeHall, 2000). ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY WT ,l , aw“? -. f:- ‘1 9., we” r, ‘5 5mg“ *3 ‘1 t i l l P HOW HELQTED Fall A062 5 “‘5 f“) r", r“ '1 From very early civilizations we have inherited a vision of the planet as a virtually illimitable space where expansion, production, consumption, and unrestrained growth are positive paradigms for the progression of civilization. This view is in the process of revision. Since the end of the Second World War, perhaps beginning with the explosion of the first atomic bombs in 1945, there has been an increasing concern for maintaining, protecting, and improving, or, in a word, “sustaining” the environment. This concern has become pronounced in industrial countries such as the United States, Canada, nations in Western Europe, and in the Pacific Rim that use vast amounts of natural resources and whose industries and technologies have had lasting effects on the envi- ronment. A _ This interest in sustaining the environment arises from what is often called a “spaceship” analogy of planet earth. We have begun to think of the earth as a closed or finite system—la small globe with finite resources and limited possibilities to develop regeneration technologies. It is as if we are on a spaceship that has escaped the gravita- tional pull of our galaxy and is sent off to outer space with no chance of rescue or return. Under such conditions, those of us on the ship need to set into motion steps to preserve, recycle, and reuse what we have so that we and future generations may sustain the spaceship and survive on the planet.1 The term “environment” refers to one’s surroundings, in the context of this note, to nature. Environmentalists use the term “ecology,” to refer to the study of the relation- This note was prepared by Patricia H. Werhane, Ruffin Professor of Business Ethics. Copyright ©1996 by the University of Virginia Darden School Foundation, Charlottesville, VA. All rights reserved. Environmental Sustainability ’ 63 ships between organisms and their environment. The term “ecosystem” refers to inter- relationships between particular kinds of organisms and the environment, to particular ecosystems, to the interrelationships between human beings and the environment, or more generally, to the whole of nature, including human beings. “To sustain” something means to keep a phenomenon in existence, to prolong existence, to maintain, nourish, or encourage a phenomenon, and/or to strengthen or improve it. Environmental sustainability involves protecting the environment, prevent- ing further harms to nature, cleaning up pollution and other harmful emissions. con- serving and recycling, maintaining the ecosystem, improving the environment, and/or restoring the ecosystem to a former pristine, or prehuman condition. There are a number of reasons why sustaining the environment is important, not the least of which is for the survival of our own and future generations. The first aim of environmental sustainability is to interact with the environment in such a way as to pre- vent further harm or degradation. This goal is important not merely to preserve what is left, but also to avoid further irreparable damage that decreases the ecosystem’s ability to sustain life and to allow regeneration of life forms compromised by excessive pollu- tion and use of natural resources. The second aim of most environmentalists is to clean . up the environment. Thus most propose that, in addition to avoiding further harms to the environment we need to: i 1. reduce waste emissions and pollution to the amounts that we can clean up, reduce waste emissions and pollution to levels that are within the assimilative capacity of the environment, 3. reduce waste emissions and pollution levels at which these emissions do no further harm to the environment. Is.) In addition, a number of environmentalists argue that we need to conserve and nurture the ecosystem through activities such as: ‘ 1. recycling, 2. using renewable resources only within their regeneration abilities, 3. using non—renewable resources only at the rate at which renewable substitutes can be developed, 4. maintaining the present “capital” of the ecosystem in at least three ways: a. maintaining present rain forest, Wilderness areas, tundra, plains, and other uninhabited areas, . b. protecting biodiverse species of plants and animals, c. maintaining the prescnt level of natural resources. ‘ The foregoing spell out principles underlying the promotion of “environmental health,” an environment in which human beings may thrive for an extended period of time.2 Some environmentalists go further, however. and argue that the ecosystem is of value in its own right and thus is worth preserving and restoring for its own sake. We are members of that ecosystem, but we have no special claims as human beings. For cen— turies we have used the ecosystem for our own ends as if we had special rights to exploitthe environment. Because we have exploited it, we now have duties to improve, Environmental Sustainability _ 63 ships between organisms and their environment. The term “ecosystem” refers to inter- relationships between particular kinds of organisms and the environment, to particular ecosystems, to the interrelationships between human beings and the environment, or more generally, to the whole of nature, including human beings. “To sustain” something means to keep a phenomenon in existence, to prolong existence, to maintain, nourish, or encourage a phenomenon, and/or to strengthen or improve it. Environmental sustainability involves protecting the environment, prevent- ing further harms to nature, cleaning up pollution and other harmful emissions. con— serving and recycling, maintaining the ecosystem, improving the environment, and/or restoring the ecosystem to a former pristine, or prehuman condition. There are a number of reasons why sustaining the environment is important, not the least of which is for the survival of our own and future generations. The first aim of environmental sustainability is to interact with the environment in such a way as to pre— vent further harm or degradation. This goal is important not merely to preserve what is left, but also to avoid further irreparable damage that decreases the ecosystem’s ability to sustain life and to allow regeneration of life forms compromised by excessive pollu— tion and use of natural resources. The second aim of most environmentalists is to clean . up the environment. Thus most propose that, in addition to avoiding further harms to the environment we need to: i 1. reduce waste emissions and pollution to the amounts that we can clean up, reduce waste emissions and pollution to levels that are within the assimilative capacity of the environment, 3. reduce waste emissions and pollution levels at which these emissions do no further harm to the environment. .tx) In addition, a number of environmentalists argue that we need to conserve and nurture the ecosystem through activities such as: - 1. recycling, 2. using renewable resources only within their regeneration abilities, 3. using non—renewable resources only at the rate at which renewable substitutes can be developed, 4. maintaining the present “capital” of the ecosystem in at least three ways: a. maintaining present rain forest, Wilderness areas, tundra, plains, and other uninhabited areas, . b. protecting biodiverse species of plants and animals, 0. maintaining the present level of natural resources. ‘ The foregoing spell out principles underlying the promotion of “environmental health,” an environment in which human beings may thrive for an extended period of time.2 Some environmentalists go further, however. and argue that the ecosystem is of value in its own right and thus is worth preserving and restoring for its own sake. We are members of that ecosystem, but we have no special claims as human beings. For cen— turies we have used the ecosystem for our own ends as if we had special rights to exploit'the environment. Because we have exploited it, we now have duties to improve, 64 Environmental Sustainability reconstruct, and restore the ecosystem to its previous, pristine, less humanized state. To achieve these ends these environmentalists recommend the following: a. use only resources or materials that are recyclable, b. stop all uses of nonrenewable resources, c. halt all technologies, manufacturing. production, or services that pollute or produce waste emissions. d. restrict uses of renewable resources only to the present regeneration rates. They also argue that we should not merely protect but actually restore more of the planet to its original state, and that, where possible, we should work to reintroduce Vir- tually extinct animals and plants back into their original habitats. ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY AND MORAL THEORY Let us look at environmental sustainability from the point of View of moral theory. From a utilitarian perspective, environmental sustainability—at least in the sense of maintain- ing the present state and cleaning up pollution is necessary for the survrval and well— being of present and future generations. It is not merely because of the obvious fact that we cannot survive for very long without clean water, clean air, and tillable soil. People in less developed countries (LDCs) also need opportunities to share in the development of natural resources so that they, too, can enjoy a better standard of living. Preserving biodiversity is critical not only for species survival but also because of the possibility of finding new uses for natural resources. Moreover. wilderness areas, rain forests. prairies, lakes, and oceans are part of our natural capital that needs to be preserved for future generations. It would be unfair if we left nothing of nature for the future. What is more difficult to assess is how to achieve these utilitarian ends. It is tempting to argue that those in industrialized countries should simplify their lives, return to a less environmentally threatening way of life, so that resources can be shared more evenly by people throughout the world and saved for future generations. Minimally, we must continue to seek ways to clean up pollution and emissions, recycle, and reuse, renew. or replace natural resources. These goals, the goals of envi- ronmental health, however, require technology we do not yet have: we have not yet per- fected pollution and emission controls or found viable ways to clean up waste or replace used—up resources. Returning to an earlier, simpler lifestyle, cannot preclude the contin- ued exploration of new technologies. That would be to our peril, because undoubtedly we have created some environmental hazards not yet recognized, whose clean-up will require new technologies. So the survival of present and future generations requires us both to preserve natural capital and to develop technology. Additionally. it is uncon- scionable from a utilitarian perspective to stop economic growth worldwide if that will preclude development in LDCs. A utilitarian would argue that we should rethink the notions of environmental sustainability so that it is compatible with advanced technol- ogy and economic growth. , From a human rights perspective, if each of us has certain inalienable rights. and if these rights include the rights to live and survive, it follows that each of us has a right 64 Environmental Sustainability reconstruct, and restore the ecosystem to its previous, pristine, less humanized state. To achieve these ends these environmentalists recommend the following: a. use only resources or materials that are recyclable, b. stop all uses of nonrenewable resources, c. halt all technologies, manufacturing. production, or services that pollute or produce waste emissions. d. restrict uses of renewable resources only to the present regeneration rates. They also argue that we should not merely protect but actually restore more of the planet to its original state, and that, where possible, We should work to reintroduce vir- tually extinct animals and plants back into their original habitats. ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY AND MORAL THEORY Let us look at environmental sustainability from the point of View of moral theory. From a utilitarian perspective, environmental sustainability—at least in the sense of maintain- ing the present state and cleaning up pollution is necessary for the survrval and well- being of present and future generations. It is not merely because of the obvious fact that we cannot survive for very long without clean water, clean air, and tillable soil. People in less developed countries (LDCs) also need opportunities to share in the development of natural resources so that they, too, can enjoy a better standard of living. Preserving biodiversity is critical not only for species survival but also because of the possibility of finding new uses for natural resources. Moreover. wilderness areas, rain forests. prairies, lakes, and oceans are part of our natural'capital that needs to be preserved for future generations. It would be unfair if we left nothing of nature for the future. What is more difficult to assess is how to achieve these utilitarian ends. It is tempting to argue that those in industrialized countries should simplify their lives, return to a less environmentally threatening way of life, so that resources can be shared more evenly by people throughout the world and saved for future generations. Minimally, we must continue to seek ways to clean up pollution and emissions, recycle, and reuse, renew. or replace natural resources. These goals, the goals of envi- ronmental health, however, require technology we do not yet have: we have not yet per— fected pollution and emission controls or found viable ways to clean up waste or replace used-up resources. Returning to an earlier, simpler lifestyle, cannot preclude the contin— ued exploration of new technologies. That would be to our peril, because undoubtedly we have created some environmental hazards not yet recognized, whose clean-up will require new technologies. So the survival of present and future generations requires us both to preserve natural capital and to develop technology. Additionally. it is uncon- scionable from a utilitarian perspective to stop economic growth worldwide if that will preclude development in LDCs. A utilitarian would argue that we should rethink the notions of environmental sustainability so that it is compatible with advanced technol- ogy and economic growth. From a human rights perspective, if each of us has certain inalienable rights. and if these rights include the rights to live and survive, it follows that each of us has a right Enwronmenta/ Sustainability 65 a livable, safe, and healthy environment. This much is obvious. What is less obvious ' is the extent of those rights. If we all have rights to survive, do we also have rights to 'CCess to resources that enable our survival? These rights have not been enjoyed equally, particularly in LDCs. Can we balance LDCs’ rights to economic development gainst environmental sustainability and these against everyone’s right to a livable envi- j: nment? Along with these rights claims, each of us has duties to respect the rights of each ther. This is because we are all part of a world community and are dependent on one mother for our very existence and well—being. Thus no one person has more in the way (if rights than any other. Avoiding polluting, cleaning up, recycling, conserving, replac- :ifig, and restoring make sense because these activities enable us to replenish ecosystem capital that has been used more by some people than by others. The challenge is, How do we do that? Might it be possible to invent new technologies to achieve these ends, » technologies that create economic growth as well? Rights talk raises another issue. Do we have rights to enjoy nature as well, or only to be able to live in an environmentally nonthreatening world? Those with a more deon- tological perspective often argue that nature has value in itself. Human beings are part of nature, but they have no special claims as a species, so valuing the ecosystem and biodiversity is important in its own right. Indeed, restoring the ecosystem to its original condition, preserving and enhancing biodiversity,_and appreciating nature are moral obligations, obligations, some argue, that are on a par with obligations to human beings. But these arguments have their own difficulties. ‘It is highly unlikely that we can restore the earth to its “original” or “pristine” condition or that we can even restore parts of it to that condition. Human beings have interfered with. or “humanized” nature for our own ends to such an extent that we can neither restore nor resurrect its original con- dition. Humans has been interfering with nature since the first cave person scratched on the cave walls, cut down trees, picked berries, built fires, grew plants, and tamed, grazed, and bred animals. Indeed, terms such as “nature,” “earth,” “biodiversity,” “ecosystem,” and “natural or original condition” are humanized concepts. We conceive and think about the ecosystem through language and culture, and the meanings of terms We use to describe nature cannot be stripped of the humanized, even socio-political-eco- nomic, framework in which they evolved. Rather than, attempt to restore the ecosystem to its original prehuman state, per- haps we should think of how we can preserve and restore the ecosystem to long-term viability, given its present condition. That viable condition is defined by human inter- ests, needs, and values. That enterprise involves prizing nature for its own sake, but that sort of valuing, is also an inescapably human phenomenon. We might also think about environmental sustainability from the perspective of virtue. It is somehow thought not virtuous to be selfish, gluttonous, wasteful, messy, hurtful, or destructive, all adjectives that describe the environmental habits of some individuals, institutions, and industrial economies. The virtues of parsimony, thriftiness, cleanliness, respect for others, and fairness are demands of environmental sustainabil— ity. Notice, however, that they are demands of ordinary life as well. So it appears that practicing the virtues of environmental sustainability is not much different from being a generally virtuous person, an admirable institution, or a just political economy. "0 Enwronmenta/ Sustainability 65 to a livable, Safe, and healthy environment. This much is obvious. What is less obvious s the extent of those rights. If we all have rights to survive, do we also have rights to access to resources that enable our survival? These rights have not been enjoyed qually, particularly in LDCs. Can we balance LDCs’ rights to economic development "ainst environmental sustainability and these against everyone’s right to a livable envi- onment? Along with these rights claims, each of us has duties to respect the rights of each then This is because we are all part of a world community and are dependent on one another for our very existence and well-being. Thus no one person has more in the way of rights than any other. Avoiding polluting, cleaning up, recycling, conserving, replac- ing, and restoring make sense because these activities enable us to replenish ecosystem Capital that has been used more by some people than by others. The challenge is, How "do we do that? Might it be possible to invent new technologies to achieve these ends, r technologies that create economic growth as well? " Rights talk raises another issue. Do we have rights to enjoy nature as well, or only to be able to live in an environmentally nonthreatening world? Those with a more deon— tological perspective often argue that nature has value in itself. Human beings...
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