At the beginning of the year, I was somewhat accurate with what I first thought environmental ethics was. I first wrote that it was, “the moral aspects of the decisions we make regarding the environment, taking into account the people, the locations, costs, and reasons that are involved in environmental decisions.” I thought that we would be looking more into the post decision ethics, or basically the moral effects of our day to day lives. I have come to find out though that ethics comes way before the decision-making process. One should know their ethical standpoint before they make any major decisions, which in environmental ethics could be based in anthropocentrism, sentiocenstrism, biocentrism, or ecocentrism.
I imagined that this class would look more into society’s decisions and current processes, as well as the ethical implications behind those. For example, I wrote “I feel like many of the ethical environmental decisions made in life are out of my control (energy, water supply, waste management, etc.).” I was expecting to perhaps see a case study of the current state of energy within the United States, and our ethics behind this. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that environmental ethics is way more individual oriented. I was challenged to personally reflect on my own environmental ethics each day throughout the course which I enjoyed much more than simply studying other examples. For me, a class is far more tangible and enjoyable when it relates to me personally. What do I really care about, as opposed to what others say I should care about? What can I do personally to act upon this? Why do I care about these things? These were questions I was confronted with consistently.
I was also thinking way more small scale than what I found to be the focus of the class. I had imagined the basic, easily changeable behaviors that we hear about in our day to day lives; using less water, turning off lights, recycling, etc. I was once again pleasantly surprised to discover that ethics is deeply engrained in pretty much any choice that we make. It is not just the small things within my daily life that make me ethical or not, but rather the reasons behind my actions. Sure, I could stop eating meat. But why? Because someone told me it’s better for the environment? Or because I care about the emotional well-being of the animal, believe it is deserving of direct duties, want to have a smaller ecological footprint, and am in pursuit of better health? There are much larger “whys” than I had anticipated, far more than the simple answer “because it is ethical.”
Possibly the largest part of the course that I could not have expected at the beginning is that ethics involves way more than just humans. Most often in my previous philosophy courses, we had only ever considered humans and how we can treat them all ethically (anthropocentrism). It had never occurred to me to treat animals, plants, or ecosystems ethically. I embraced the discussions of reasons why we should or should not extend direct duties to other living things because it forced me to reorient my thoughts. I was no longer just thinking about human actions and their effect on other humans, but instead was thinking about the effect on almost every other organism as well. There are reasons behind each decision regarding every piece of dirt, plant, and animal. I really enjoyed reflecting upon many of these reasons, and look forward to continuing my understanding of myself.