Environmental Ethics in Canada

Maple LeafEnvironmental ethics and philosophy is taught in all major Canadian universities, as well as in many smaller institutions. This area of philosophy became a focus of interest in Canada since the 1960s and 1970s, in conjunction with other environmental disciplines and in interaction with environmental activism. Canadian environmental ethicists have been active participants in ISEE since its founding in 1990 (Laura Westra was the Society’s first Secretary and Peter Miller its first Treasurer). Canadian environmental philosophers often also support environmental studies and environmental education programs and participate in respective environmental organizations, such as the Environmental Studies Association of Canada (ESAC) and the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication (EECOM).

Contributions include the work in environmental aesthetics by Allen Carlson (see his Aesthetics and the Environment: The Appreciation of Nature, Art and Architecture, 2000). Laura Westra has advanced the concepts of environmental integrity (Just Ecological Integrity: The Ethics of Maintaining Planetary Life, 2002) and environmental justice (see her Environmental Justice and the Rights of Unborn and Future Generations, 2008). Peter Penz drew attention to global ecological justice (see his Political Ecology: Global and Local, 1998). Andrew Brook addressed crucial issues in environmental ethics and policy (see his “Waste management: Examples from the nuclear fuel cycle,” 1997). Alan Drengson supported the Deep Ecology movement by founding The Trumpeter: Journal of Ecosophy. Stan Rowe brought to bear his background in ecology to the development of a place-based environmental ethics (see Home Place: Essays on Ecology, 1990).

A recent sampling among Canadian environmental philosophers shows that even if there is no unique “Canadian” approach to environmental ethics or philosophy, three themes seem to be of particular concern as a result of Canada’s specific geographic and socio-political situation: ethical responsibilities for our contribution to climate change, environmental issues relating to First Nations, Inuit and Métis people, and the iconic role of “the wild” or “the northern wilderness” for Canadian identity. Further exploration of Canadian perspectives on environmental ethics and philosophy is presently under way.

ISEE Representatives

Thomas Heyd
Email: heydt@uvic.ca
Department of Philosophy, University of Victoria, PO Box 3045, Station Central, Victoria, BC, V8W 3P4, Canada
Nathan Kowalsky
Email: nek@ualberta.ca
St. Joseph’s College University of Alberta Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2J5, Canada

The majority of universities in Canada offer courses in environmental ethics or philosophy. Similarly, most Canadian graduate and doctoral programs in philosophy would offer the opportunity to specialize in environmental ethics or environmental philosophy at the MA or PhD level, provided the prospective student secures a faculty member with expertise in the area to supervise research. Moreover, many Canadian universities offer interdisciplinary Humanities and Social Science-based undergraduate and graduate degrees in Environmental Studies, which include a philosophical and/or ethical component.

Recent News

Thom Heyd, long-time member of ISEE and co-representative of ISEE in Canada, has organised a Colloquium to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Alexander von Humboldt. The aim of the event is to open a discussion on the importance of Humboldt’s integrative approach to science and the planet at this time when we try to confront the reality of the Anthropocene. It takes place on 13-14 September 2019 at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Further information may be found at https://www.uvic.ca/socialsciences/geography/assets/docs/von-humboldt-anthropocene.pdf.

Schools, Programs, and Degrees

Capilano University is preparing to offer a BSc in Environmental Stewardship and a BA in Environmental Health in the near future.Douglas College offers an Associate of Arts Degree with an emphasis on Environmental Studies and an Associate of Science Degree in Environmental Science.

McGill University, Department of Philosophy, offers its PhD students the opportunity to participate in the School of Environment’s Environment Option.

Ryerson University, Environment and Urban Sustainability Program, offers a four-year undergraduate degree.

Saint Mary’s University, School of the Environment, offers several BA and BSc degrees in environment related programs, with the participation of the philosophy department.

Simon Fraser University, Faculty of the Environment, offers a course taught by the department of   philosophy in connection with its degree programs in Environmental Science and in Resource and Environmental Management.

Trent University, Environmental Resource Studies Program, offers BA, BSc, and Bachelor of Environmental Science/Studies degrees, which include courses in environmental ethics and environmental law, as well as an interdisciplinary MA in Theory, Culture, and Politics.

University of Alberta, Faculty of Arts and Faculty of Agricultural, Life, and Environmental Sciences, jointly offer a BA in Environmental Studies, which requires a course in environmental philosophy as part of its core.

University of Ottawa, Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics,  offers bilingual undergraduate and graduate degrees that integrate values, science and policy perspectives. Teaching staff include members from different faculties including arts, law, natural and social sciences. Core faculty includes experts in environmental ethics, environmental governance, environmental health, aboriginal studies and northern studies, as well as human and physical geography. Students are housed in the most interdisciplinary department on campus.

University of Victoria, School of Environmental Studies, offers undergraduate and graduate degrees which integrate ethnoecology, ecological restoration, and political ecology. The university also offers the Human Dimensions of Climate Change Minor at the undergraduate level, and the interdisciplinary Cultural, Social and Political Thought Program at the graduate level. Members of the Department of Philosophy contribute to all three programs.

University of Waterloo, Faculty of the Environment, offers the Bachelor of Knowledge Integration (BKI) which has close links to philosophy, including environmental ethics and philosophy of science.

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Centres, Organizations, Journals, Networks

Simon Fraser University, Institute for Values in Policy and Science, provides a university-wide forum for discussion and research on values within the sciences and public policy. Scientists engage with ethicists, philosophers, policy-makers, economists and others to address pressing moral issues, including sustainability, climate change and population growth.The Trumpeter is one of the oldest environmental philosophy journals in the world, and pays special attention to deep ecology and other forms of ‘radical’ environmental theory. It was founded in 1983 by Alan Drengson of the University of Victoria, and is currently published by Athabasca University Press.

University of Alberta has an Arts Environmental Studies Consortium, which includes environmental philosophers as well as faculty and students from other disciplines within the liberal arts whose interests converge on the environment.

Université de Montréal and McGill University collaborate on the “environment axis” of a new multi-university “Centre de Recherche en Éthique” (CRÉUM).

University of Victoria is home to the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions. It offers internships and fellowships for research on climate change impacts, mitigation and adaptation to faculty and graduate students, as well as to visiting and postdoctoral researchers, from the sciences and humanities.

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