Recently graduating from Gonzaga University (’16) in biology and environmental studies, I traveled to be with other parts of the world this past summer with the only intent to experience different things and learn about the sustainability in each city. When I asked the locals about their town’s green scene, I was struck with the inability to summarize my environmental position that I wrote in Dr. Henning’s Environmental Ethics course. I have a paper written about it, but no conversational piece or ‘elevator pitch’ to facilitate a fruitful conversation about one of my biggest passions. This is what started the idea of this blog, with the hope that past students from the course will continue working with their environmental ethic and newcomers can start their own.
Here we see me contemplating an ‘environmental ethic elevator pitch’ in Lausanne, Switzerland. Even the title of the short piece is a mouthful, golly.
I had conversations with people on all spectrums of opinions regarding the environment, from environmental advocates to those who did not believe in climate change. The science of climate change points that greenhouse gases emitted from anthropogenic fossil fuel use has increased the average global temperature. This effect impacts weather in many different ways, as weather is defined as short-term, small-range fluctuations that are rather unpredictable. Climate refers to long-term, world-wide trends of these fluctuations which can be predicted using tree rings and other fossil records to determine past atmospheric conditions.
One of the stickier pieces was to sum up whether value should be owed to non-human beings, how deep and how much, what I am doing about it, and what I want to be doing about it. One hole in the pitch has me falling from the start: basically anyone who did not take an environmental philosophy class would not think to match the environment with axiological opinions. A conversation about the root of what someone values could start in a multitude of ways, and you might not know the person’s interests yet. This blog’s co-author had told me that I need to speak in their language and adjust the verbiage and direction of conversation towards their biggest interests. Once their values are identified, then questions can start. This can get hairy because it can get into family and passions. I think a sweet spot is not too far into something the person would stake their life on, but not too abstract that they give an indifferent opinion just to “throw you a bone”. Let’s say the person views that environmental issues are occurring, but are not a big deal and we should not spend money on it because humans have been altering the land and species go extinct all the time. The conversation may go as such:
“Do you view that value can exist outside of humans?”
“Well I mean polar bears are cute, but if its between me and the polar bear then I
would say my life is more important.”
“To reiterate, the human must live and the polar bear will die?”
“Yes, I love the clarity. Thank you for that. Smudged answers can be difficult for
both parties. Did value exist before you came to the earth?”
This is where the conversation I had with the English caddy had stopped unfortunately because I had to pull the plug and take a nap for the last fifteen minutes on the plane.
This is me taking a snoozer on a ledge in Brussels. All of these mini naps were saviors. This ledge, believe it or not, was much more comfortable than the nap on the plane.
Let’s pretend I hadn’t fallen asleep on the plane and continued the conversation. If he had said yes, then I think the elevator pitch could start. If he said no, more questions would probably need to follow.
Stemming from a value-perspective view with regards to non-human beings, every living being deserves value for its own sake. My reason is two-fold: there are no qualities that distinguish human nature from other beings besides the definition of what determines a species and that value exists outside of humans. Value exists outside of humans because value existed before I was born. This must be true then for humanity. Value existed before humans came to the earth. The beings on earth then have capacity to have value for their own sake. This is the language I had learned to use, but I am interested in tweaking the verbiage. Concern for the earth should not be a duty or an obligation. It seems intuitive to view concern for the earth as an obligation, but it is not always helpful. It carries weighty guilt from past generations and imminent responsibility for all of living things present and future. This is a bit much for one person and even one generation. These feelings of obligation may be what is turning people away from environmental enhancement, and personally the probing guilt at a certain point is debilitating. I had a conversation with a fifth-year generation fisherman when I was studying the marine life of Turks and Caicos a couple years ago, which is a small developing island in the Caribbean. He was telling me his childhood and I started tearing up. The conversation went something like this:
“Why are you crying?”
“Well, I just… I have never known that hardship before. I just feel bad because I
don’t know what that is like.”
“You do not need to feel bad or guilty because you came from a different background.
Should I be embarrassed where I have come from?”
(shocked) “No way! No way.”
“If you feel embarrassed where you had come from with the money and stability and
support, then that is pretty disrespectful towards your parents ya?”
Here is part of my marine biology program with Rico the fisherman on the left. This was our going-away party as a gift from the island to us. More were posing, but the photographer couldn’t quite get everyone in.
This is likewise with our past generations. We shouldn’t feel embarrassed or feel guilty that our society had created, and we are continuing to create, energy as cheap as possible to make lives suitable. The past generations were making the best decisions they could at the time through fossil fuel use. No shame in that. We thank them for raising many people and my family towards a financially suitable place where I have the opportunity to contemplate these questions which were brought from my college education. Now looking towards the future, we need to move away from fossil fuel use while at the same time making a priority to consume and waste less because this leads for a healthier lifestyle for the individual and ecological society at large. This can be done through voluntary simplicity, which is the recognition of true need and true urgency. First this requires acknowledgement of what is really important. Food, shelter, and social structure. That’s all a person needs in the current reality on earth. Ok, so you have a body to feed. As much as media tries to tell me, I don’t need at-home weight equipment and weight loss shakes and a personal trainer to be in shape. I just need my body, which requires listening to it. Through eating locally grown and non-processed food and moving when my body wants to move, I find my shape. The healthy range is pretty forgiving, and everything within that is a personal preference. This voluntary simplicity process reduces stress and anxiety on the person and society. This is not, certainly not, and definitely not, to say this process is easy. We were never told that life would be effortless, so let’s just throw that “waiting for life to be easy” message out the door as soon as we can. It will try and come back, but I don’t think it is a very helpful message.
To give an outline of my environmental ethic, every living being has value for its own sake. There is no attribute that humans possess and non-humans do not possess. Value exists outside humans. Living things are capable of moral decisions. This value attribution can leave one with a sense of weighty obligation, but there is an alternative route of voluntary simplicity. Through directing our actions away from fossil fuel use, we will need to consume and waste less. This allows for a healthier lifestyle.
There are many explanations left unsaid, but this piece is getting long. If you have any questions, if something is unclear, or you find a hole in my argument then please do not hesitate to comment on this piece. That is how environmental ethics are developed, through personal examination and then dialogue with both like-minded and non-like-minded.
Maggie aka Maggs aka MJ
 . I find these the strongest points, but an additional one can be made. living beings have capacity for moral decision-making. Let’s look at a puppy. A puppy obeys his mother, or the puppy does not. The question is whether this delivers anthropomorphic attributes towards the puppy. This section needs to be developed more, so fellow readers please help.
 Which was the point of this piece and there might be parts that seem like they don’t fit, but that is because I am doing philosophical work. Philosophical work requires unraveling in order to ravel a new cloth in one’s mind, and bring about a new perspective that had not developed.
 Although I think every being deserves value for its own sake and I want to include nonliving beings, but I do not have the argument for that yet. I am not ready to develop it because I want my practice to catch up with my theory.