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"Discuss critically religious and secular ethical arguments about environmental issues"

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Introduction

"Discuss critically religious and secular ethical arguments about environmental issues" In his book, 'The End Of Nature', Bill McKibben highlights the fact that we are destroying the natural environment at an increasing rate, for our own short-term gain. Since the day that man created agriculture, and industrialisation to follow, the imbalance between man and nature has been growing[1/2]. This has been accompanied by a massive population increase, tripling in the twentieth century alone[3]. Human pressure on nature has never been so great. Such pressure has resulted in 'environmental issues', ranging from global warming and eutrophication, to the depletion of natural resources and an increase in the number of landfill sites. A distinction must be drawn between 'anthropogenically created' environmental issues, and 'natural' ones. The extinction of most of the dinosaurs more than 65 million years ago was not caused by man, but rather an entirely natural disaster, perhaps a meteor or extreme tectonic activity. It is difficult to apply any man-made ethic to situations that are not man-made, so for the purpose of this essay, 'environmental issues' will be taken to be current issues actively cause by human beings. During the last few decades, many thinkers from different disciplines have been searching for a new ethic to confront environmental issues with - an 'environmental ethic'. Whether religious or secular in nature, this must be able to define the environment and the proper relationship that should exist between human beings and the natural world. The stance that one takes concerning environmental issues, whether from a secular or religious position, is firstly affected by what they consider to be 'rights'. ...read more.

Middle

The former natural law concept (that all life exists to be of use to man) may be seen to correspond with a purely secular branch of environmental ethics termed 'conservation ethics'. According to this approach, the natural environment should be conserved if it is a benefit to mankind. Nature does not have inherent value, but preserving it is instrumental to our continued existence. Some of those who choose to follow Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill's utilitarianism believe that the natural environment has no other purpose than to serve us, as human beings, and provide us with happiness or pleasure. Other animals, plants, and environmental entities do not have rights or intrinsic value, but should be preserved only in order to produce pleasure for the greatest number of human beings. The environment is a means to an end rather than being an end in itself[8/9]. For example, a conservation ethicist might campaign for the preservation of a woodland not because they believe in the actual value of the trees as living organisms themselves, but because they have realised that the forest helps maintaining human life in various ways. Equally, though, they may support the destruction of the forest in order to provide timber and land for human use. As with the natural law approach, a utilitarianist may also consider environmental issues in the opposite fashion. That is, as a species living on this planet, we require a healthy environment in order to be happy. Consequently, to gain this healthy environment, we must take care of the earth, rather than exploit it.[10] The Hebrew ideas that modern western tradition has incorporated stem mainly from the Bible. ...read more.

Conclusion

In the end, we depend on the Earth and it's atmosphere to keep us alive, to provide us with food and materials. We need the world for our continued existence, but the world does not need us. As with many other theories, for an environmental ethic to function at it's full capacity, every person must adhere to it's rules. Personally, I believe that it would make sense to alter our lifestyles in almost insignificant ways in order to try and preserve the planet now and for the future, for ourselves and our descendants, but also for other organisms with which we share this planet. Unfortunately, this ideal seems to be lost in the ever-present disagreements between and within religious and secular theories. The approaches of the Christian and the atheist both undoubtedly carry value, but the failure to reconcile any concept with the other party appears to hinder a mutual agreement. ENDNOTES 1. Joe Jenkins - "Ethics and Religion", page 73/74. 2. Peter Vardy and Paul Grosch - "The Puzzle Of Ethics", page 215. 3. Bill McKibben - "The End Of Nature", page 13. 4. Universal Declaration of Human Rights - http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html. 5. Peter Singer - "Practical Ethics", page 280. 6. Bill McKibben - "The End Of Nature", page XV. 7. Aristotle - "Politics", London, 1916, page 16, in Peter Singer's "Practical Ethics", page 267. 8. Alan Marshall - "Journal Of Applied Philosophy", 1993, Vol.10, No.2, in Peter Vardy and Paul Grosch's "The Puzzle Of Ethics", page 217/8. 9. Joe Jenkins - "Ethics and Religion", page 74. 10. Joe Jenkins - "Ethics and Religion", page 76. 11. http://www.theholybook.org/TheHolyBook.html 12. Mencius I.A.3 - http://nothingistic.org/library/mencius/mencius01.html 13. http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/featured_articles/980928monday.html 14. Joe Jenkins - "Ethics and Religion", page 75. ...read more.

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