The Ethical Basis for Ecosystem Management
Ecosystem Management: The Human Dimension
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 of 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 corollary’s:
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 that is inherent in current definitions of rights. Therefore, I will introduce the notion that organic entities, those that 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 to 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.
Organic entities exist (i.e. live) in an interdependent organic community.
This viewpoint will examine components of the world which 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 to those that require it, and the earth consumes through convection. The earth, itself, does nothing more than recycle energy. Inorganic earth, water and air are also methods of transportation within the consumption community.
Temporally, to better understand the interconnectedness with other entities we must look at humanities history through the ancestry of the land. Leopold described the rings on a fallen tree to show where, at different points in time, it may have been affected by other forces of consumption.
We can see this in a ring that is charred black due to a fire over one hundred years ago, or where romantic lovers etched their names in its sturdy frame. However, when we examine things at the microscopic level, a rich picture emerges that relates our biological history with nature. Leopold writes of this through the Odyssey of “Particle X”:
In the flash of a century the rock decayed, and X was pulled out and up into a world of living things. He helped build a flower, which became an acorn, which fattened a deer which fed an Indian, all in a single year.
The human sensory methods of discovery tend to miss many relationships between organic entities. We tend to miss a lot of things when we are not actually living in nature as well.
The modern market-driven consumer society is very different from the consumer community of the totality of organic entities on the earth – and quite possible less complex. We tend not only to consume resources, but technology allows us to build things that consume resources just in the production process itself. These, in turn, produce forms of energy that can then be consumed by human beings as a species.
Up until now, I have neglected the inorganic life that abounds on the planet. I will now turn to .