Rational agents and their obligation to the environment Essay

Submitted By Shadowsubtle
Words: 1824
Pages: 8

The University of Notre Dame Australia Ethics – ET 100 “Rational agents have a moral obligation toward the environment” Word count: 1726

While humans undoubtedly constitute part of the environment, it is our intelligence, innovation and rationality that have defined us as the dominant species. These qualities are what enable us to be the only agents that can, and must, protect and conserve the environment as a collective whole. My first argument in justifying my claim is one of an anthropocentric position, that for the sake of our own continued growth and well being we must have an inherent need to care for the environment. I will continue my argument with Aldo Leopold’s environmental ethics, in particular his ‘land ethic’ and ‘land pyramid’. It stands to reason however, that anyone’s position on a matter is subject to challenge or criticism. Taking this into consideration I will explore Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism and it’s potential to challenge my thesis on our moral obligation to the environment. While I find the anthropocentric view selfish in nature, it can be used to great effect to justify my claim. Anthropocentrism puts forward the claim that humans are at the centre of nature, and in order to sustain our existence and continue to advance, every living thing and resource exists solely to serve that purpose (Cochrane, 2007). Yet this does not imply that we should mine every mineral and strip every tree, for if we were to consume and take every resource to meet the demands of our ever advancing and growing civilisation, the planet would be devoid of all resources that humanity cannot exist without. An anthropocentric might well interject here, and perhaps claim that utilising these resources over years and years would allow mankind to develop and advance so much so that other planets that have the potential to sustain life would be subject to colonisation. Such an eventuality is far too vague and complex to be explored in this essay however. If we are truly to sustain our existence then that does not simply involve finding and consuming available resources as we see fit, but to ensure that there will still be adequate resources available for use in the future. It is ironic that the greedy consumption and utilisation of resources have in fact created global problems that not only affect nature, but humanity itself (Gaston, 2005). Consider climate change, a major problem that poses catastrophic consequences to humanity as a whole and is a problem for which humanity is greatly accountable (Andaregg, 2010). For example, the rising ocean levels – a major factor of climate change. In a study conducted by Church and White (2006), ocean levels increased by 17 centimetres throughout the previous century. They deduced however, that in the previous decade alone – 1996 to 2006 – ocean levels rose by twice that number. If we imagine the possible destruction and loss of life that will occur due to circumstances we are responsible for, it can then be said that we would have failed to sustain our existence. In order to secure our existence and the existence of future generations we are obligated to care for and conserve the environment. This does not imply that we should begin living simple, rudimentary lives in order to preserve the environment but rather to take only what is needed, and not to satisfy personal interests or meaningless pursuits of knowledge. So despite the human-centeredness nature of anthropocentrism, it still calls for an inherent need to protect the environment in order to provide prosperity and content for current and subsequent generations. While I have explored and put forth the reasons of an anthropocentric for their obligation to the…