Zee Pitch for Zee Environment

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.

MaggieInLausanne

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[1].

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?”

                “Correct.”

                 “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.

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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[2]. 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?”

 

10273659_10152825978499392_2046664844340311806_n

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[3], every living being has value for its own sake[4]. 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.

 

Cheers,

Maggie aka Maggs aka MJ

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Riders-Storm-Ethics-Climate-Change/dp/1599822180

[2] . 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.

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

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14 thoughts on “Zee Pitch for Zee Environment

  1. Ryan

    Value aside, do you believe that the world will ever be permitted to move away from fossil fuels before they are actually used up? History is littered with visionaries and inventors who have tried to create this movement or have actually developed the required technology to make this move only to be smeared out of the market or killed

    Liked by 3 people

    1. maggjones

      Ryan, thanks for your reply. The United States ruled an emissions standard for auto manufacturers to raise their CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards to 42mpg, and although this upcoming election may bring the States closer to farther away from the Paris Agreement* we signed last winter to agree to curbing our greenhouse gas emissions, regardless there will be international pressure from airlines and automobile exports. In short, the world will be asking for stricter regulations and once oil is priced accurately, then that fuel source could be transferred to other kinds. This is something I am quasi-working on, albeit a small scale.

      I agree that currently, yes, oil is priced too high and will smear out other fuel sources from becoming a major slice of the fuel source pie. The answer to this is a combination of technology, economy, and policy in a different mindset than what we started with (i.e. away from mass-consumption).

      *The Paris Agreement is a commitment to stay below 2 degrees the global average temperature from pre-industrial levels. The world then cannot use more than 80% of its reserves if that is to happen.

      Like

  2. 1st of all – love Dr. Henning! (and you’re not bad either!) Dr. Henning gave a guest lecture on environmental sustainability (and please excuse me, i’m recalling this from over two years ago) in my international ethics class. I asked him what are the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions and he broke them down by category: agriculture, transportation, airplanes (be careful with all your flights around the world!) and others – a refresher is much needed here! In order to cultivate a healthy environment, I believe we need to look at the producers of these, ask if there are healthy and sustainable alternatives, and implement them!

    One area where I think your argument could use more clarification (which I now see you have a disclosure statement for upon already writing this!) is “There is no attribute that humans possess and non-humans do not possess”. Does this mean I should be charged with petty theft if I take an egg from a chicken? I believe humans will more or less believe themselves to be “enlightened” or “divinely inspired” or to remove any existential meaning – the dominant species on Earth. I guess with great power comes great responsibility.

    I want to thank you for your article as it presents an underreported and under appreciated perspective for sustainability in our world and challenges many of our culturally normal or accustomed behaviors, which I think is needed. Living local has always been a challenge for me and finding both meaning and fulfillment through a reduced or simplified lifestyle may be the position the world needs to elicit for a more sustainable future. I suppose if the alchemist had any indication, the treasure is already at home!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. maggjones

      Rob!! Thanks for your reply. An ethic is not directly tied to institutional regulations like laws and company ethic rules. I do not go through this work with the goal to only create actions that can be made into religious or governmental laws. I believe moral integrity is what leads towards happiness, and when we are our true selves then we are truly happy so this exercise is valuable for how I hope it shapes my behavior. Additionally, our laws presuppose a dichotomy between humans and property and thus, anything that is not human is owned by a human according to laws.

      I agree that the part about distinguishing the differences and similarities between humans and animals needs some flushing out. Perhaps I mean that there is no difference in scope of moral concern between individual humans and animals. Thanks again Rob!

      Like

      1. Rebecca Croy

        @maggjones I totally get what you’re saying about ethics not being directly tied to laws and such but… shouldn’t that be the aim? Why have an ethic and share that ethic with others if the goal isn’t to create a world following said ethic? If you don’t want your environmental ethic to manifest as policy…it sounds like there are aspects of your ethic you don’t fully agree with/might still need to tease through? Not sure just a thought!

        As for laws only being about humans/human owned things, what about the Endangered Species Act? That act is not only about humans or human owned things but yet it has had a huge impact on the nation and funding towards conservation projects. I myself work for a program that receives about a half a million each year to study and support endangered Chinook populations.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I like how you draw conclusions from testing in the field… having conversation with a diverse range of people from all over. How do people with an ethical imperative towards valuing non-human life convey their values to those with differing beliefs? How do we start this conversation? Most importantly, how can we use this communication to change perspectives? These questions need to be answered and this is a great start! Environmentalists, conservationists, and scientists all need to be better communicators.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hi Maggie, thank you for sharing your travel stories and insight. I concur with you in that there is an alternative route to voluntary simplicity. Although simplicity sounds rather simple, I have come to realize that it is one of the most difficult things to implement in life. I’d love to learn about steps you have taken or intend to take in the future in order to simplify your life in relation to your environmental ethic.

    After some thoughts, I am still struggling to accept that “living things are capable of moral decisions”. I will appreciate if you can elaborate on that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. maggjones

      Satish, thanks for replying! I think voluntary simplicity comes with removing ourselves from comfortability. I need to be less comfortable. I’ve been trying to seek how to do this. For example, I called up Richland Mobile Home which is closer to work than my parents’ home. I can’t live there in a tent unfortunately, and I would need a trailer according to city laws. My parents’ home is very pleasant, and I worry it is too pleasant. I don’t know how to approach this well, because I don’t want to become ungrateful or unappreciative for what they have given and provided me. I asked my friend if I could live in his storage shed close to work, but he said I need to pay rent. Am I willing to rent a space that is priced the same, but is not as nice? In other words, would I be willing to pay to rent a mobile home home if it is the same price as an apartment with a gym? This is my current moral dilemma, and I dont think so yet.

      I, too, struggle with living things being capable of moral decisions. Allow me to flush that out. At the University of Washington, they found that crows used association to determine whether someone was dependable*. If crows can determine whether someone treats them as they should, are they capable of making moral decisions themselves? I think they can distinguish between good and bad decisions. I do not know if they are capable of distinguishing morally good or bad decisions within themselves.

      * http://www.washington.edu/news/2012/09/10/crows-react-to-threats-in-human-like-way/

      Like

      1. Rebecca Croy

        I LOVE that your definition of voluntary simplicity speaks to removing ourselves from comfortability. Many aspects of the “American Life” which make us more comfortable come at the cost of the environment. To be uncomfortable for the sake of the environment not only reduces your negative environmental impact but also, I think, builds character. It’s an intentional sacrifice for something you care for. That being said, I do not think being uncomfortable for the sake of being uncomfortable makes much sense. If living in a shed significantly improves your carbon footprint by reducing your gas emissions to and from work—go for it! But, if you can find a nicer apartment that is nearly the same distance from your work.. why not stay there? I see no shame in getting the most for your money as long as it doesn’t wrong anyone or anything. Or, if it’s cheaper for you to live at home, you can always stay there and then put the money you would have spent on the shed rent towards an environmental non-profit of your choosing to offset your transportation emissions.

        On a side not, your conversation with the fisherman and your desire to be uncomfortable reminds me of a journey my brother went through when he was essentially homeless for two years as he traveled around the states and Central America. After years of shunning money and feeling ashamed for having an easy life, nice things (think Alex Supertramp) my brother finally decided that there was nothing wrong with having money or nice things. Rather, it is what you do with them, how you use them, and your mindful consumption that really matters. I tend to agree. 🙃

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Evan

    I like to remind people Mother Nature does not care if our planet is a cold dead rock or a vibrant living planet. We can make our plans, laws and excuses, but Mother Nature always wins. Just ask the dinosaurs. Nature is not moral, just chemistry, biology, and physics.

    Species can exhibit human emotion and empathy
    https://www.sciencenews.org/article/rats-feel-regret-experiment-finds

    People believe in dinosaurs and their extinction, but not climate change. Consider adapting to climate change as insurance, which everyone buys. It is best to make small investments now to avoid a catastrophe.

    By the way, New Zealand is already putting a value on its environment.
    http://www.stats.govt.nz/environment/

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Laura Marck

    Maggie, I really appreciated that you came from the post grad perspective and beginning to see how difficult it can be to discuss ideas you have learned when you are not able to still be fully immersed in the learning processes. It is really cool that after you spent some time after school traveling and getting to see how different areas of the world connected to her degree. In many ways, I can easily see myself being in a very similar position in less than a year. That being said I was also impressed that you managed to find people who were so open to talking with you about anything to do with value systems. My difficulty is that most of the people around me feel need to be “convinced” of the negative impact of their actions don’t want to hear it. Over this past thanksgiving my grandmother discovered that I had been vegetarian for the past three years, and her immediate reaction was “isn’t that stupid.” I laughed it off and explained that there was actually a lot of educated thought behind the decision if she wanted to hear about it. She told me that she didn’t. There are a hundred cases like that. People have firm opinions or simply aren’t interested in hearing a new perspective because they do not want to change. People don’t want to be told that they are living incorrectly or that their actions are causing negative consequences, especially if their actions provide them with the potential for some kind of pleasure. This is the main hurtle that I do not know how to get over, even if you do take into consideration the things that other people care about or where their value systems lay. Some people simply don’t want to get into the conversation, but what is so difficult is that those tend to also be the people who would most largely benefit from engaging in a philosophical environmental discussion.
    ~Laura

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Geoffrey Boulger

    Maggie,
    I really enjoyed reading what you had to say about your environmental ethic and your experiences sound incredible! Regarding your discussion of “voluntary simplicity” – the self-imposed, stress-relieving method of reducing one’s environmental impact; I am curious how beneficial such a method can realistically be on a grand scale. I do not question for one second, the strenuous sacrifices this method requires of the undertaker. However, the lack of any serious motivation/impetus outside of one’s own resolves to lessen their impact makes me think that this practice would have a difficult time finding mass support and follow-through. When individuals (especially the booming populations in less developed countries) have an opportunity to make their lives better immediately, even if it involves the use of fossil fuels or other unsustainable and damaging activities, is it not safe to say that they would want to leave voluntary simplicity behind? These people are trying to escape involuntary simplicity and this is asking individuals to revert back to simpler means because it’s what our environment needs. For those individuals living in developed nations, we’re all aware that some amongst us don’t see the blindingly obvious need for this sort of action. While I absolutely think this is an admirable and commendable undertaking for individuals to pursue to lessen their own footprints, I am curious what your thoughts are on implementing stricter rules, standards, fines, etc. in order to strengthen the external motivation to lessen our individual impacts (especially now that on a federal level we’ve dropped out of the Paris climate agreement). I understand that this question deviates from your desire to have this be an ethics-based conversation and I do apologize for that. Thanks for your time and thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

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