Five Key Lessons

Environmental Philosophy and Ethics

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Taught at the College of Natural Resources by Professor Carolyn Merchant since 1979, Environmental Philosophy and Ethics begins with a background on the history of philosophy. The course then investigates our current global ecological crisis, dips back into ethical systems of the past, and applies new ethical and philosophical approaches to today’s problems. In addition to common environmental themes like population and sustainable development, students discuss such topics as genetic engineering, ecofeminism, deep ecology, and Eastern philosophy—all with an awareness of how race, class, and gender play a part. These five key lessons guide students as they each form a personal environmental ethic.

  1. Explore your ethics. Informing every decision, every negotiation, and every approach to a major environmental issue is an ethical stance: What is good? What is right? How ought we to act? In turn, all ethics have philosophical principles, histories, and assumptions at play. Learn to identify the underlying ethics of your colleagues and fellow negotiators, as well as how to apply your own.
  2. Choose to care. Whatever your occupation, choose an environmental issue you care deeply about and devote time and energy to solving it.
  3. Creativity is critical. Think about new approaches and new angles on resolving environmental problems.
  4. We are all one earth. We share this planet with all living and nonliving beings. Considering the interactions among all of them is crucial to how we move forward.
  5. Race, gender, and class matter. Consider these factors when examining any environmental issue. Propose gender-based, socially sensitive solutions to environmental problems.