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Environmental Ethics

2023 DEC 9

Mains   > Environment & Ecology   >   Biodiversity   >   Conservation methods


GS 4   >   Environmental Ethics


‘Ecocide’: How war and climate change are often linked: The link between climate change and war has been a running theme at COP28, highlighting how many countries suffer from both deadly conflict and environmental disasters.


Environmental ethics is a philosophical discipline that examines the ethical relationship between humans and the environment. 

It addresses how we should value and interact with the natural world. This field challenges human-centered perspectives, advocating for the recognition of the intrinsic value of all components of the environment, whether living or non-living.


Environmental ethics emerged as a distinct field in the early 1970s, a period marked by increasing awareness of environmental issues. Pioneers like Aldo Leopold, with his "land ethic," and Rachel Carson, through her seminal work "Silent Spring," brought attention to the impact of human activities on nature. This era saw a shift from viewing nature merely as a resource for human consumption to recognizing its inherent value.


  • Conservation Ethics: This approach values the environment primarily for its utility to humans, focusing on conserving natural resources for future human generations. It has led to the establishment of national parks and wildlife refuges and initiatives for ethical use of non-renewable resources??.
  • Libertarian Approach: This perspective argues for equal rights and freedoms for all elements of the environment, human and nonhuman. It emphasizes that it's unjust to judge the natural world solely based on its economic value to humans??.
  • Ecological Perspective: This view recognizes nature's own mechanisms and life-support systems, highlighting the interdependence of all biological and abiotic entities. It raises concerns about the ability of ecosystems to recover from climate changes and environmental damage??.
  • Utilitarian Approach: This approach considers the distribution of goods and resources to maximize overall well-being, often leading to justice issues. It raises questions about the fairness of decisions that may benefit the majority at the expense of the least fortunate??.
  • Feminist Environmental Ethics: Feminist theories have contributed significantly to environmental ethics by linking the domination of nature to patriarchal modes of thinking. They argue that the oppression of women, people of color, animals, and nature share a common ideological structure of domination and exploitation?


  1. Redefining Human-Nature Relationship: Environmental ethics challenges the anthropocentric view that nature exists solely for human use. By advocating for intrinsic value in nature, it fosters a deeper respect for the environment, leading to actions and policies that prioritize the protection and preservation of natural habitats and species. Ex: Events like the 2019 Australian bushfires and the rapid melting of Arctic ice, highlight the need for an ethical approach to reduce carbon emissions and protect vulnerable ecosystems.
  2. Promoting Sustainable Practices: It encourages sustainable practices by emphasizing the moral responsibility of individuals and societies to use natural resources judiciously. This ethical standpoint supports the development of renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and conservation efforts, reducing the human impact on the environment that leads to ecocide. Ex: The alarming rate of species extinction, as seen in the decline of bee populations globally, underscores the importance of environmental ethics in preserving biodiversity for ecological balance and food security.
  3. Guiding Policy and Legislation: Environmental ethics informs policy-making and legislation, leading to stricter environmental laws and regulations. For example, laws against deforestation, pollution, and wildlife trafficking are influenced by the ethical principle of respecting and preserving nature. Ex: The severe air pollution in cities like Delhi, India, demonstrates the need for ethical policies and practices to control industrial emissions and urban pollution for public health and environmental quality
  4. Fostering Global and Community Action: This discipline underscores the interconnectedness of global ecosystems and the collective responsibility in protecting them. It encourages international cooperation, as seen in agreements like the Paris Agreement, and community-led initiatives for conservation and sustainable living.
  5. Education and Awareness: By integrating environmental ethics into education and public awareness campaigns, societies can cultivate an ethos of care and responsibility towards the environment. This awareness is crucial in changing behaviors that contribute to ecocide, such as overconsumption and waste.
  6. Corporate Responsibility: Environmental ethics also extends to the corporate world, advocating for corporate social responsibility. Companies are encouraged to adopt environmentally friendly practices, reduce carbon footprints, and engage in sustainable resource management to prevent environmental degradation.
  7. Science and Ethics Collaboration: The collaboration between environmental science and ethics provides a holistic approach to understanding and solving ecological problems. Scientific findings, when interpreted through an ethical lens, lead to more effective and morally sound solutions to environmental issues.





  1. Policy Implementation: The challenge of implementing environmental policies is evident in the slow progress of many countries in meeting their Paris Agreement commitments.Ex: In case of Australia, despite abundant renewable resources, the country has been slow to reduce its reliance on coal and implement significant climate action policies.
  2. Economic vs. Environmental Interests: Balancing economic growth with environmental preservation remains a challenge, as seen in the ongoing deforestation of the Amazon for agricultural expansion.
  3. Global Cooperation: International disagreements, like those witnessed in various climate summits, hinder unified global action on environmental issues.Ex: Lack of consensus in INC-3 meeting about plastic pollution treaty.
  4. Technological Limitations: Developing and deploying green technologies at scale is a challenge, as shown by the slow adoption of electric vehicles due to infrastructure and cost barriers.
  5. Public Awareness and Participation: Involving the public in environmental conservation is crucial but challenging, as seen in the resistance to recycling programs in many communities due to lack of awareness or convenience. Ex: In countries like the United States, only about 32% of waste is recycled, partly due to lack of awareness and convenient recycling facilities.


  • National Biodiversity Strategy: Over 25% of Costa Rica's land is designated as national parks or protected areas to conserve its rich biodiversity.
  • Renewable Energy: Costa Rica primarily uses renewable sources like hydroelectric, wind, and solar energy, achieving over 98% renewable energy usage.
  • Reforestation and Carbon Neutrality Goals: The country engages in extensive reforestation efforts, aiming to achieve carbon neutrality.
  • Eco-Tourism: Costa Rica promotes eco-tourism, which supports both the economy and environmental awareness, benefiting local communities.
  • Environmental Education and Policy: Environmental awareness is integrated into the country's education system and public policies, fostering a culture of environmental stewardship.


  1. Ethical and Policy Frameworks: Developing ethical guidelines and robust environmental policies that prioritize sustainability, alongside enforcing regulations such as carbon pricing and waste reduction mandates.
  2. Technological Advancements and Integration: Promoting investment in and adoption of green technologies, including renewable energy and sustainable agriculture, coupled with integrating these technologies into existing systems for broader environmental impact.
  3. Global Cooperation and Community Engagement: Strengthening international collaboration through environmental agreements and treaties, while also engaging local communities in conservation efforts and sustainable practices.
  4. Public-Private Partnerships and Collaborations: Encouraging collaborations between governments, businesses, NGOs, and other stakeholders to implement sustainable solutions and innovations at various levels, leveraging both global and local resources.
  5. Individual Responsibility and Public Awareness: Enhancing public awareness through education campaigns about environmental issues, promoting individual behavioral changes like waste reduction and sustainable consumption, and encouraging advocacy and volunteerism for environmental causes.

Thus, environmental ethics is instrumental in preventing ecocide by fostering a shift in how we value and interact with the natural world, influencing personal behavior, policy decisions, and corporate practices toward more sustainable and respectful approaches to the environment.


Q: What is environmental ethics? What do the ongoing wars teach us about environmental ethics?(10marks, 150words)