Establishing an environmental ethic is of utmost concern to the human species to better comprehend our place in the world and our potentials for the future. In doing so, we must extend our thinking to include rights and responsibilities. I believe we must incorporate not only a temporal component but also a spatial understanding of the world as an organic biotic community and how consumption is a part of the natural order. Aldo Leopold believes that conservation ethics must be rooted in a determination: A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.”
It is wrong when it tends otherwise. I would like to start with Leopold’s statement and further explore how the definitions of integrity, stability, and beauty can be better understood given three corollaries: 1. All organic entities must consume to survive. It is not only a right but a responsibility. 2. There are limited resources to be consumed by organic entities on the planet. 3. The human species has the ability, through rational thought, to conserve ever-depleting resources. Leopold’s ethic attempts to extend what is of human moral concern to include animals, ecosystems, and endangered species. How can this concern be expressed in today’s society? I see one problem with this argument in that there is little discussion about power and influence inherent in current definitions of rights.
Therefore, I will introduce the notion that organic entities, which depend on the consumption of energy for survival, must retain the right to consume resources to survive. Notions of right and wrong now have no standing. It is a fact that organic entities must consume to maintain life. I will turn to Callicott for some discussion of limits and to the Second Law of Thermodynamics as a moral decree for conservation. The resources for survival are diverse and limited, and we must explore more fully the components of a biotic community as a whole to explore our moral limits.
Community components: Organic entities exist in an interdependent organic community. This viewpoint will examine components of the world that are necessary to maintain organic life. Biological entities are not the only things that require consumption in these organic communities. Fire consumes oxygen as well as organic entities. The atmosphere consumes radiation from the sun. Water consumes through the removal of essential oxygen for those that require it. The earth consumes through convection.
The earth recycles energy. Inorganic earth, water, and air transport within the consumption community. To better understand interconnectedness with other entities, we must examine humanities history through the ancestry of the land. Leopold described the rings on a fallen tree to show where it may have been affected by other forces of consumption at different points in time. We can see this in a ring charred black by a fire over one hundred years ago or where romantic lovers etched their names. Examining things at the microscopic level reveals a rich picture that relates our biological history with nature.
Leopold writes about this in The Odyssey of Particle X.” In just one century, the rock decayed and X was pulled up into a world of living things. He helped build a flower that became an acorn, which in turn fed a deer that fed an Indian, all within a single year. Human sensory methods of discovery often miss many relationships between organic entities. We tend to overlook a lot of things when we are not living in nature.
The modern market-driven consumer society is very different from the organic community on Earth and may be less complex. We not only consume resources but also use technology to create things that consume resources during production. These products generate energy that humans can use. However, finite energy resources are a concern. I have not yet mentioned the inorganic life on the planet. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy always increases in a closed system. Organic entities need energy to survive, but entropy, which measures the amount of energy unavailable for work during a natural process, is constantly increasing.
That is, the more we consume, the more waste is produced.