Is clean energy worth any price? Certainly, it is worth a high price to lower the human footprint on the earth, both for us living today, and for future generations. But is it worth the destruction and loss of ancient culture, heritage, archeological sites, or the displacement of indigenous people? Like so many environmental issues, this question is complex and seems to present an ethical dilemma.
The Land Conservancy of West Michigan (LCWM) announced in 2011 the successful completion of a project which transferred 173 acres of land on the coast of Lake Michigan from private ownership to the city of Saugatuck. This project will prevent development and ensure the preservation of this land which is home to endangered species of plants and animals, and provide a place in nature for human recreation (naturenearby.org). Along with the obvious environmental benefits of land preservation, there are many philosophical theories about the value of nature which make land preservation a valuable pursuit. Whether concerned with plant and animal life, human life, or with a more ideological perspective on the inherent value of nature, the preservation and conservation of land should be viewed as a good to be sought after.
The formulation of a meaningful environmental ethics is an ongoing philosophical endeavor that has been marked by historical influences and attempts to apply earlier theories to problems on a scale never faced by humanity (Kottak, 2006, p. 41). While these theories have much to offer, it is doubtful to me if any of them are wholly adequate, without some adaptation, to be applied to the complex environmental issues we face today. In my opinion, the inadequacy of earlier ethical systems seems to lie in their attempts to determine the value of some thing. In environmental ethics, this is formulated through attempts to ascertain whether nature has inherent value or purely instrumental value (Simmons, 2006, p. 53). A further question of environmental ethics is on how much future generations should be worthy of moral consideration – if they should play a role in our determination of how to conserve the environment (Pojman, 2008, p. 11). These questions provide an inadequate basis for approaching the environmental crises. In spite of these inadequacies though, I find many of the ideas put forth in earlier ethical theories, especially those of Heidegger, are at least partly valid and provide the beginnings of a foundation to and formulation of my relationship to the environment, and offer a more adequate ethical theory, based on the value of life, for the contemporary human interaction within the environment in general.