Book review - Ecological Ethics: an introduction

The Environment
World of Diversity
Image of trees looking upwards from the ground
Patrick Curry

Review of 2006 edition by Michael Miller

As the author states, the aim of this book is to outline “a reasonably coherent set of ethical principles, based on ecocentric values, which could make a positive contribution to life – including, but not only, our life – on earth.” Beginning with an outline of the state of the natural world (eg the current world human population of over 6.5 billion is increasing by 250,000 per day whilst there are only about 400,000 great apes of all species left; at present extinction rates 12% of bird species and 25% of mammalian are likely to be eliminated within 30 years), the author proceeds to outline different schools of ethics based on virtue, rights and consequences and then to examine varying levels of  “ecological ethics”, from the “light green”, anthropocentric level which assesses the value of nature only in terms of its utility to mankind, though to the “dark green” which has a holistic concern for nature, including non-living aspects, such that “it must be able to recognise the value, and therefore support the ethical defence, of the integrity of species and of ecosystemic places, as well as human and non-human organisms” ie it accepts that there will be occasions when human interests must be considered as secondary to those of other species or to plant habitats. 

He then examines different varieties of ecocentrism including, for example, Gaia Theory, Left Biocentrism and Ecofeminism, ending with a chapter on Green Citizenship and an excellent case study on Human Overpopulation – “humanity’s current ecological footprint already exceeds the Earth’s long-term carrying capacity by as much as 40 per cent” – including awkward questions such as whether it is ethically defensible for the ecological foot print of a country to exceed it’s own borders? Or to encourage ideas, values and/or activities that collectively entail exceeding the carrying capacity of the Earth as a whole?

If you want to think about why we should be “ecocentric” then this is the book for you. One final quotation cited in the book: “”if you see the world as simply yours to exploit ‘and you have an advanced technology, your likelihood of survival will be that of a snowball in hell’” (taken from Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind,1972)

Polity Press
Resource Type
Books and book reviews