This [1] site (there are probably hundreds) lists several ecological-preservation-environmental french certifications. Looking at the contents of some of them, it would appear that they agree on certain principles, which are not necessarily valid in order to preserve human life on the planet.

In fact, is preserving human life on the planet what environmental protection is about? Some require to "save the planet", others to "save life", others to "take care of the environment", "preserve species", "preserve the environment", reduce population, avoid planetary heating, etc. What's the philosophy behind all such ideas?

The SEP states the following: ...the inability to draw general philosophical conclusions about ecology is at least as much due to the relative lack of philosophical scrutiny of ecology as it is due to the nature of the subject. Even within the philosophy of biology, ecology has received little attention compared to other sub-disciplines of biology, especially evolution, and, lately, development. Ecology deserves better. (from 2005)

So, my question is: what are the currently accepted philosophies of ecological and environmental preservation (and which ones are we following)? Or are we completely lost and just profiting of the ecological issues as an excuse to increase development without any environmental consideration (in such case, is there some recognized philosophical approach to that)?

[1] https://www.notre-planete.info/ecologie/eco-citoyen/labels_ecologiques.php

  • 2
    The question seems to be about values that motivate environmental protection, and SEP links to Environmental Ethics in the same section you are quoting. As usual in ethics, "we" are not following any one thing, but varieties of non-anthropocentrism and prudential anthropocentrism that inform current discussions are amply referenced there.
    – Conifold
    Oct 31 '20 at 8:26

Philosophy, is different to practice. It may inform and guide, but it can't be expected to prescribe.

Darwin shifted the understanding of extinction, and the idea of positive action to avoid extinction could be considered the beginning of ecology, the understanding of ecological systems so as to be able to take informed actions affecting them.

Peter Singer is notable for seeking to shift away from anthropocentric ethics. EO Wilson focused on sociobiology and eusociality, leading to multi-level selection as a challenge to neo-Darwinism. Margulis and Lovelock developed a system of ideas including symbiogenesis, autopoesis, and Gaia theory, which also challenged conventional ideas about ecology. These are philosophical developments, shifting the groundwork and framing definitions of biology and ecology.

Extinction Rebellion represent a modern iteration of environmental activism, along with school-strikes led by Greta Thunberg. These seek to shift environmental action to centre stage of government action, in response to the science. Extinction Rebellion advocate the philosophical step of reforming decision making with citizen assemblies, a type of sortition, or jury service, where a representative group are presented with evidence to make an informed decision on topics too complex for a population to have enough knowledge to make informed voter decisions about, or that has become too partisan for politicians to make practical compromises on.

Ecological science can provide information, like understanding that more species-diverse grassland is the more resilient to changes in climate, that relying on only 4 species for half of human calories while allowing their wild ancestors to dissappear is problematic, or by framing ecosystem services with ideas like blue and green infrastructure.

But where we put the balance between human and animal interests, environmental consequences to rich vs poor, what attitude we take to risks of irreversible changes like extinction and ecosystem collapse, must be the result of decision making by politicians and electorates, that depend on their whole cultural and philosophical framing. As Benatar notes, invariably at least until recent times, that has been focused on human needs, interests, and wellbeing as the arbiter, and this when examined is not flattering about human nature or our likelihood of creating a net-positive future for sentient beings, or even any future for large regions of humans.

It is interesting to note the expansion of granting legal personhood from chimps and dolphins as advocated by Singer, to environmental personhood, and growing calls for ecocide to become a globally recognised crime. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund in the US has helped support a series of these grants of personhood since 2006 including a Lake Eyrie bill of rights. Ecuador granted rights to nature in a 2008 referendum, which has been used to succesfully allow a river to act as plaintiff against a government highway project. And Maoris and Hindus have given rivers such protection in the last 5 years. This is part of a wider movement of rights of nature.

Astrobiology and leaving Earth, is likely to throw a sharper spotlight on how we are interpendent with other species, for instance when colonising Mars. Kim Stanley Robinson explores in his book Red Mars whether even without life the landscape of Mars might have some rights. And it's interesting to consider whether a future ecosystem there might attain legal personhood, and on what basis.

As we become able to perform genetic engineering, especially since CRISPR/Cas9, boundaries between species may reduce, including digital and biological transhumanism. This tends to support our knowledge of Earth's biology as an evolved toolbox, as a resource where it's worth preserving diversity for that sake, even where no current applications are known.

  • 1
    Nice. I don't mean practice, but philosophy (which would determine any practice). You can add degrowth to your list: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Degrowth
    – RodolfoAP
    Nov 3 '20 at 6:54
  • @RodolfoAP: I guess in that context, also doughnut economics, and other sustainable economics.. Not sure explicity ecological. Permaculture, the design methodology for achieving permanently-sustainable-culture, encompasses both economics & ecology
    – CriglCragl
    Nov 3 '20 at 15:01

It's a good question, and I believe there is indeed a kind of lacuna here in the philosophical traditions. The main reason for this is obvious. The whole issue only arises with the advent of industrialism and a subsequent reframing of "nature" as an object and artifact.

Strangely, the word "ecology" derives from oikois, the Greek for household, from which "economy" also derives. So the former is the "logic of" and the latter the "laws of" a human habitation. As far as I know, there isn't any school of ancient philosophy that proposes the "preservation" of "nature" through limitations on human activity. Though an Aristotelean, Epicurean, or Stoic emphasis on balance and moderation might vaguely and anachronistically qualify.

In Christianity there is a "dominion" over the earth and life, which implies some care and responsibility, but this turns almost explicitly hostile in the early enlightenment with Bacon and, as he gleefully put it, the "torture of nature" by science. Again, we don't really have an "ecological" problem prior to industrialization.

So, the first critical trends towards what we might think of now as ecological concerns arise with Romanticism, both the anti-progressive ideas of Rousseau and the turn towards "nature" in Wordsworth and many others. But now the odd twist. While conservatives like Burke or Hume might might favor "conservation" of traditions and culture, as far as I know, this never spilled over into "conservation" of nature. Only the "sublime" and aesthetic issues.

Meanwhile, the philosophical heirs of Romanticism such as Kant, Hegel, and then Marx were more focused on man's liberation from "nature" and "human nature," so that even Marxism is notoriously lacking in references to the industrial pollution then quite evident.

While the "Satanic Mills" were oft noted by utopians, I don't think they were regarded as an existential crisis. I don't know if there was anything proto-environmentalist in, say Schelling or Novalis or Herder. I hasten to add that I am no expert in this area!

Anyway, I don't think philosophy has shared a conception of "nature" that would make ecological issues central, and many philosophers actively eschewed any "romanticization" of nature as a whole in relation to mind. Jumping ahead, there are ecological concerns in Heidegger and, today, such new terms as "hyperobject," dealing with, I think, epistemological-ontological issues in such data-produced entities as "global warming."

  • Anything based on objection to the destruction/degradation of aesthetics and nature as one?
    – ptyx
    Nov 3 '20 at 16:18
  • Not sure what the question is, but if you are asking about such "objections" in the philosophical tradition, I don't know, apart from the Romantics. I am sure there must have been such arguments in philosophy after industrialization, but I don't know any to cite. In philosophy, the relation to "nature" was largely seen through a scientific and instrumental gaze as the opposite of "man." Nov 3 '20 at 17:20
  • Sorry, I should have articulated that better. Agreed on your points. However, I was wondering if there was any work on nature and aesthetic - which could in turn support ecology as preservation of beauty. I found some references there: plato.stanford.edu/entries/environmental-aesthetics/… . It looks fairly recent, and I'm not familiar with any of those authors.
    – ptyx
    Nov 3 '20 at 17:59
  • 1
    Sorry, at a quick scan, I'm not familiar with those titles. Good list though. I do think aesthetics is a good way to approach ecology, though practical arguments easily fall into relativism. A Kantian approach might help there, but I don't think Kant thought of aesthetics as applying to nature. The architect Christopher Alexander has attempted a somewhat Platonic "universal" aesthetics of landscape and building. But no single book comes to mind. Nov 3 '20 at 19:04

The only "current ecological trend" I'm aware of is ever increasing exploitation and ruin, which is based on the philosophy of greed.

Or are we completely lost and just profiting of the ecological issues as an excuse to increase development without any environmental consideration . . . ?

I think that statement pretty much sums it up.

The global marketplace is largely controlled by the U.S. and China, both of which can be described as corporate conglomerates with little regard for the environment. The U.S. is increasingly seen as a puppet of Israel, which is nicknamed "The Startup Nation."

The environment is facing ruin on an unprecedented scale.

In fact, is preserving human life on the planet what environmental protection is about?

Some may argue that, but I think most philosophers would make a distinction between environmental stewardship and issues focusing solely on the preservation of human life. The most immediately threats to our survival are war and runaway technology.

Environmental destruction is a threat to human survival as well, but many other species have already become extinct and many more will join them before humans exit the scene.

Moreover, survival isn't our only goal. Quality of life is also tied to the environment. Hunger, poverty and tyranny are all likely to be enhanced by climate change alone.

Bear in mind that corrupt corporations and the governments they control aren't the only threats to the environment.

Ordinary citizens are increasingly urban, cutting them off from the environment. They are also commonly brainwashed by governments and media.

On top of all the above, the situation is becoming more desperate as our growing problems continue to pile up. Right now we're in the midst of a global pandemic, with simultaneous nationwide protests in the U.S. Until recently, the West Coast was also gripped by a heat wave and record fire season.

We're also struggling with a deranged trade war against China, evidence of our increasingly corrupt and deranged government. It's also an election year.

And let's not forget those melting glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica or our national debt (now $27 trillion).

Unfortunately, a growing army of homeless people, along with people who are on the edge of homelessness, have other priorities than the environment.

Incidentally, I attended an environmental school in the late 1970's. Though I'm not intimately familiar with the current literature, my general perception is that the environmental movement has petered out.

As they say, music died in the 70's...

Note that I'm not arguing against a need for philosophical interest in environmentalism. Quite the opposite.

However, the public is largely sabotaged by apathy, ignorance or the inability to fight the corporate titans that surround us. During the 1960's, we had environmental heroes, like Rachel Carson, Edward Abbey and Greenpeace. (Abbey's comparison of culture and civilization is one of the most inspirational philosophical discussions I've ever read, by the way.) Today, we have...?

  • Try the writings of Arne Naess, good philosopher, great ecologist; The Ecology of Wisdom: Writings by Arne Naess.
    – user37981
    Oct 31 '20 at 18:01
  • 1) Thanks for your answer, but it is mostly opinions; not that they are not valid, but they are ideas from here and there, yes, they can be updated. 2) don't understand how "ever increasing exploitation and ruin" could be an environmental or ecological improvement trend.
    – RodolfoAP
    Nov 1 '20 at 6:19
  • I don't see the word "improvement" in your question. You asked about "current ecological trends," and the only "trend" I see is environmental ruin. If anyone else is aware of more positive "current ecological trends," I'd love to hear about them. In the meantime, overpopulation, climate change, fracking, genetically modified food, etc. don't appear to have many serious challengers. Nov 1 '20 at 10:19
  • Puppet of Israel? What a ludicrous claim.
    – CriglCragl
    Nov 2 '20 at 16:56
  • Type "puppet of Israel" into Google and see how many other people believe that "ludicrous claim" - and why. Nov 2 '20 at 23:40

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