UPSC Ethics Simplified: What is Environmental Ethics?

Ethics is a branch of philosophy that defines what is right and what is wrong. We follow ethics everywhere, we follow moral values ​​and code of conduct, and we are guided since birth by these to decide what is right and what is wrong. It is the desired behavior that is expected from us. Now, when it comes to the environment and when it comes to environmental ethics, there should also be certain moral values ​​and certain code of conduct with regard to our relationship with nature.

What is meant by ‘Environmental Ethics’?

Environmental ethics is a branch of applied philosophy that studies the moral and ethical relationship of human beings to the environment. Environmental ethics helps to define man’s moral and ethical obligations toward the environment.

Why is it important to study?

With the deterioration of ecological systems and the worsening of environmental issues, humans have realised that they cannot fix environmental pollution and ecological imbalances just by economical, technological, and judicial means. Only after adopting a proper attitude toward nature and forming a new ethical relationship between humans and nature, we will be able to automatically love and appreciate nature, as well as cope with challenges like pollution and ecological imbalances. In this context, environmental ethics and practices can play a critical role in ensuring that our lives function smoothly and that humans and other beings in our environment are treated equally.

Discuss any one environmental issue from the viewpoint of environmental ethics.

Excessive global warming has come out to be a major problem and in 2022 Global warming and Climate Change has tremendously impacted everyone across the globe including India. The recent Heatwave in North India or the Devastating floods along prolonged with landslides in Assam are the severe outcome of climate change in India.

The Unmindful development and ignorance towards environment have now raised ethical issues for human race: The upcoming and younger generation are the least responsible for climate change, yet they will bear the greatest burden of its impact.

Environmental Ethics vs Development:

The world’s population was said to be around 2.5 billion during 1950’s. By the year 2050 it is expected to have grown to between nine and 10 billion. As the population is increasing, infrastructural development is essential to accommodate the growing demand, a major burden of which will fall on the environment. Mostly, development takes place at the cost of environment. For instance, a developmental project like Ken Betwa River linking project, ever since it was proposed by the National Water Development Agency in 1995, has been considered unviable by several experts for its immense environmental cost. In 2011, then Environment Minister rejected the project. In August 2016, an Environment Ministry panel cautioned that the Ken Betwa Linking project “may not be the best possible option for addressing livelihood and development of the region” — and “it would be best to avoid such project, when it runs the risk of providing justification or unhealthy precedence for more such developmental projects within the protected areas. It will not be in the interest of wildlife and the overall well-being of the society in the long term.”

Policy Challenges Infront of Policy Makers with respect to Environment Ethics

The environment is no longer to be considered as a sector to be managed exclusively by the environmental authorities, but rather a theme to be incorporated into different policy areas – whether energy, transport, agriculture, industry, or trade. For instance in India, to balance the development and environment, the policymakers have established institutions like NGT, Central Pollution board, National Ganga River Basin Authority, National Biodiversity Authority, and many others. Also, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is made mandatory for various projects such as mining, thermal power plants, river valley, infrastructure (road, highway, ports, harbors, and airports), and industries including very small electroplating or foundry units to get environment clearance. For policymakers the major challenge is that the clearances through these institutions are very time-consuming, this leads to some bottlenecks, which hampers the whole execution process. Sometimes the projects have to be stopped in between due to these clearance issues, which leads to financial loss to the government exchequer also. The major challenge in front of the policymakers is to reduce the time in taking environmental-related clearance and reducing the litigation arising out of it.

Environmental Ethics and Sustainable Development:

Creating a healthy balance between development and environment is the major factor for obtaining the sustainable development goal. Sustainable development implies harmony on human-environment interactions and inter-generation responsibility, with emphasis on a harmonious relationship among population, resources, environment and development. The role of environmental ethics toward sustainable development is that it not only harmonises the relationship of population, resource, environment and economic development, but also guide behavior selection, push social and political system transformation, strengthen the legal system, and raise environmental awareness of the public.

Sustainable Development recognises that all development decisions must simultaneously consider aspects of Economy, Environment, and Equity. If future generations are to enjoy a high quality of life, then this generation’s plans must guarantee the integrity of our natural resources.

Viewing sustainable development from an environmental ethics perspective, extends the emphasis of sustainable development from the traditional understanding, to take into account ethical issues relating to a wide range of economic, social and cultural factors which helps achieve the ethical values ​​of equity, justice, temperance and wisdom in the choices we make concerning the environment.

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