Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Environmental Ethics (Excerpts)

Excerpts from  Environmental Ethics 
By: John O'Neill, Andrew Light & Alan Holland © 2012 Nature Education Citation: O'Neill, J., Light, A. & Holland, A. (2012) Environmental
Ethics. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):7 

What ethical perspective should inform environmental policymaking in areas such as climate change and biodiversity? Is an economic approach founded on utilitarianism ethically defensible?

The ethical framework that is being invoked here has its roots in utilitarianism. Classical Utilitarianism claims that the right action is the one which brings about the greatest total well‐being of affected agents. We can understand the limitations of this view by breaking it down into its three independent components: 
1. Welfarism: The only thing that is good in itself and not just a means to another good is the well‐ being of individuals. 
2. Consequentialism: Whether an action is right or wrong is determined solely by its consequences. 
3. Maximising of value: One should choose the action that produces the greatest total amount of good. 

All have problematics. e.g., welfarism with its foundation where well-being is understood hedonistically un terms of psychological states, or the absence of virtue ethics in consequentialism, etc.

Now about maximizing values… 
Excerpts about ‘Maximizing Values’:

➵ Environmental problems have a strong distributional dimension. For example, the negative effects of climate change will fall disproportionately on the poor in current generations, and on future generations who are less responsible for greenhouse gas emissions as they accrue. Standard economic approaches to policy-making tend to exacerbate those problems. 

➵ (…) for the utilitarian, the distribution of goods has only instrumental value: we should choose that distribution of goods that maximises the total amount of well‐being. 
It is from this perspective that problems of justice arise. For example, displacing a population in order to build a dam might cause a great deal of misery for the worst off, but if it produces a marginal gain for a larger population who are already well off then, on a utilitarian calculation, the policy is justified provided the population is great enough. 

➵ A second potential problem for the assumption of maximising aggregate value is that of value commensurability (O'Neill et al. 2008). Does there exist a common measure of value through which different options or states of affairs can be ordered? One answer that is assumed in standard cost-benefit analysis is that a person's willingness to pay at the margin for some good provides a measure of the expected improvement in well‐being that she will gain from a good. The proper response to environmental problems on this view is to extend the measuring rod of money to include environmental goods that are currently unpriced. Thus TEEB is attempting to put a price on ecosystem services and biodiversity. 

There are a number of objections to this approach. First, some affected parties — future generations and non‐human animals — cannot express a willingness to pay. Second, what a person prefers as a private consumer of goods can depart from the values they express as a citizen in public deliberations (Sagoff 1988). Finally, many ethical commitments are constituted by a refusal to put a price on them (Raz 1986, O'Neill 1993, Spash 2008). If I care about something, then one way of expressing that care is by refusing to put a price on it. 


Sagoff, M. The Economy of the Earth. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988. 

Raz, J. The Morality of Freedom. Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1986. 

O'Neill, J. Ecology, Policy and Politics: Human Well‐Being and the Natural World London, UK: Routledge, 1993. 

O'Neill, J., Holland, A. & Light, A. Environmental Values. London, UK: Routledge, 2008. 

Spash, C. L. How much is that ecosystem in the window? The one with the bio‐diverse trail. Environmental Values 17, 259‐284 (2008). 

TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity). Mainstreaming the Economics of Nature: A Synthesis of the Approach, Conclusions and Recommendations of TEEB. Malta: Progress Press, 2010. 

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