The science fiction writer Harlan Ellison wrote a story called "Phoenix without Ashes". Upon discovering the destruction of the entire planet, humanity had to build a massive Ark called Earthship Ark (50 miles wide by 200 miles long). It was composed of many biospheres that mimic the environments of the earth, and selected representatives of its people; their goal is to find and seed a new world of a distant star.

I find such a fate frightening and unacceptable. Isn't it time we all start looking after our planet before our planet stops looking after us? My question is this, as we are all moral agents, do we not all owe duty to protect our environment - for both ourselves and our children? I might think I'm just a drop in the ocean, but if everybody thought that way, we shall continue to dump huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the air and global warming is going to make the movie "Soylent Green" seem like a holiday feast.

  • 1
    I'm not seeing the philosophical question here... mostly I'm not seeing an answerable question nor one answerable in terms of philosophy.
    – virmaior
    Jun 22, 2014 at 2:17
  • 1
    It is a frightening prospect - but its a SF story dramatising the destructive effect of technology on the biosphere; how do you see philosophy addressing this question? Do you feel that it has a role to play? Jun 22, 2014 at 3:16
  • 4
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about a particular scenario described in a science fiction work, and the work does not pose that scenario explicitly as a philosophical problem.
    – Rex Kerr
    Jun 22, 2014 at 3:23
  • 1
    The SEP has an entry on environmental ethics; and although originally this was polemic rather than a question, the OP has altered it so that it leads upto a question: do we have a duty of care to the environment - this is the question that opens the entry:"Environmental ethics is the discipline in philosophy that studies the moral relationship of human beings to, and also the value and moral status of, the environment and its nonhuman contents." I'm voting to re-open. Jun 23, 2014 at 17:22
  • 3
    @Lee: it isn't an off-topic question - environmental ethics is a central and growing part of ethical thinking in philosophy; its more that it looks like an opinion, or a piece of polemic or rhetoric which has its place; but as this site is about questions and answers one should at least have a question in there - and the one question you have asked is polemical; which personally I don't find problematic, but some do; a tone of objectivity does help; still Nietszche & Deleuze wrote their philosophy in polemical style. Jun 23, 2014 at 18:23

1 Answer 1


This isn't a modern concern - for example the Jains, an Indic dharma (religion) consolidated by Mahavira at about the same time that the Buddha was around have a principle called ahimsa, meaning non-violence, and this is as much towards our fellow-men, as it is to all of Nature. The attitude is of reverence towards life. They would agree with you that 'we owe duty' to the environment; similar statements have been made by other major religious bodies as this book by the social anthropologist Victoria Finlay.

Isn't it time we all start looking after our planet before our planet stops looking after us?

Christopher Stone,a professor of Law proposed that trees and other natural objects should have the same standing in law as Corporations - an argument he had developed for a case by the Sierra Club, which in fact failed at the Supreme Court - but the dissenting opinion by

justices Douglas, Blackmun and Brennan mentioned Stone's argument: his proposal to give legal standing to natural things, they said, would allow conservation interests, community needs and business interests to be represented, debated and settled in court.

The planet is a big place, there is a tremendous amount investment in the current energy regime; there is also a political, economic & social cost associated with both preventative and adaptive technology. Victoria Finlay mentions that the Sikhs measure time in periods of three hundred years - the last one being that of the Sword which came to a close recently; the next three hundred years is dedicated to the environment - its on these kinds of time-scales that these kinds of forces operates, which is one reason that they remain invisible (apart from media reporting).

  • That idea is brilliant; a legal standing for natural things -- there's explicit precedent in international law on space; and there's presumably an implicit framework present in conservation law such as it is that could be mobilized too. Michel Serres talks about a 'natural' contract as an extension of the social contract, now that nature and history have intermingled and become "co-equal" powers on the planet (while we struggle with one another, not noticing we are sinking deeper and deeper into the mud...) --I wonder how this question might be able to be reframed...
    – Joseph Weissman
    Jun 23, 2014 at 22:51
  • @weissman: I wasn't aware of any 'explicit standing in international law' - do you have a link? I think it is a great idea, but I thought it didn't have any legal standing; if one can give rights to corporations then surely the planet is the greatest corporate body of all... Jun 24, 2014 at 0:01
  • @ullah e.g., en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Joseph Weissman
    Jul 3, 2014 at 19:45

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .