Environmental ethics is a new sub-discipline of philosophy that deals with the ethical problems surrounding environmental protection. It aims to provide ethical justification and moral motivation for the cause of global environmental protection.
There are several distinctive features of environmental ethics that deserve our attention.
First, environmental ethics is extended. Traditional ethics mainly concerns intrahuman duties, especially duties among contemporaries. Environmental ethics
extends the scope of ethical concerns beyond one’s community and nation to include not only all people everywhere, but also animals and the whole of nature
– the biosphere – both now and beyond the imminent future to include future generations.
Second, environmental ethics is interdisciplinary. There are many over lapping concerns and areas of consensus among environmental ethics, environmental politics, environmental economics, environmental sciences and environmental literature, for example. The distinctive perspectives and methodologies of these disciplines provide important inspiration for environmental ethics, and environmental ethics offers value foundations for these disciplines. They reinforce, influence and support each other.
Third, environmental ethics is plural. From the moment it was born, environmental ethics has been an area in which different ideas and perspectives
compete with each other. Anthropocentrism, animal liberation/rights theory, biocentrism and ecocentrism all provide unique and, in some sense, reasonable ethical justifications for environmental protection. Their approaches are different, but their goals are by and large the same, and they have reached this consensus: it is everyone’s duty to protect the environment. The basic ideas of environmental ethics also find support from, and are embodied in, various well-established cultural traditions. The pluralism of theories and multicultural perspectives is critical for environmental ethics to retain its vitality.
Fourth, environmental ethics is global. Ecological crisis is a global issue. Environmental pollution does not respect national boundaries. No country can deal with this issue alone. To cope with the global environmental crisis, human beings must reach some value consensus and cooperate with each other at the personal, national, regional, multinational and global levels. Global environmental protection depends on global governance. An environmental ethic is, therefore, typically a global ethic with a global perspective.
Fifth, environmental ethics is revolutionary. At the level of ideas, environmental ethics challenges the dominant and deep-rooted anthropocentrism of modern mainstream ethics and extends the object of our duty to future generations and non-human beings. At the practical level, environmental ethics forcefully critiques the materialism, hedonism and consumerism accompanying modern capitalism,
and calls instead for a ‘green lifestyle’ that is harmonious with nature. It searches for an economic arrangement that is sensitive to Earth’s limits and to concerns for quality of life. In the political arena, it advocates a more equitable international economic and political order that is based on the principles of democracy, global justice and universal human rights. It argues for pacifism and against an arms
In short, as the theoretical representation of a newly emerging moral idea and value orientation, environmental ethics is the fullest extension of human ethics. It calls on us to think and act locally as well as globally. It calls for a new, deeper moral consciousness.