Adapting Environmental Ethics to Rapid, Anthropogenic, and Global Ecological Change

Adapting Environmental Ethics to Rapid, Anthropogenic, and Global Ecological Change

H.J. Andrews Forest Research Station

Blue River, Oregon

JULY 10-13, 2019

Conference report by Emma Marris

This July, environmental ethicists from around the world gathered under 500-year-old Douglas-firs and hemlocks at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon to share their work. The 16th annual ISEE Summer Meeting featured several papers touching on environmental policy, environmental psychology, and the role of the philosopher in the ongoing climate and biodiversity crisis—a practical bent that perhaps reflects an increased sense of urgency and momentum in the world of environmental activism. In that vein, the meeting closed with a strategy session, led by Eugene Chislenko of Temple University, in which the assembled philosophers shared insights on how they could fold climate activism into their work. 

Over the course of three days, the group worked through 18 draft papers on topics ranging from bees as symbols of neoliberal environmental thought to the role of gene drives in conservation to legal strategies for holding climate emitters responsible for losses and damages resulting from their actions. The keynote address, by Katie McShane of Colorado State University, took up perhaps the most central of all environmental ethics questions: how are we to value the natural world? McShane argued for a value system that goes beyond welfarism—what is good for an entity—and embraces values derived from appreciative attitudes like “respect, awe, wonder, admiration, interest, attachment, and aesthetics.” She gave as an example the wonder she feels when contemplating a neutron star—the collapsed core of a giant sun—despite the fact that the unimaginably distant object can be of no practical benefit to her.

Between papers, conference-goers chatted over delicious meals cooked up by two chefs who noted that the group had the most vegans they had ever cooked for. The chefs rose to the challenge, and one vegan attendee remarked that he wasn’t used to having so many choices! One evening, conversation continued after dinner at a cheerfully crackling campfire. Two children notably polished off almost an entire bag of marshmallows, with just a little help from the philosophers gathered around the fire. 

Attendees were also treated to a personal tour of the experimental forest by the principal investigator, Micheal Nelson of Oregon State University, himself a philosopher, and Fred Swanson, a geologist and ecosystem scientist with the US Forest Service who has studied the forest for decades. Together, the two sketched out the research conducted at the site and the food web of an old-growth forest, highlighting the surprising role of nitrogen-fixing lichen, which make the nutrient available to the trees after they fall from the canopy and rot into the soil. As the philosophers listened, mosquitoes flitted among them, weaving them into the food web by sucking their blood. The circle was completed when the humans nibbled on the red huckleberries that thrive in the understory. 

Another highlight was a lecture by owl expert Tim Fox, an archaeologist for the U.S. Forest Service who studied spotted owls earlier in his career. Fox shared stories from his time in the field, owl calls, and his thoughts on the current strategy for protecting the spotted owl, which includes shooting barred owls that have been making their way from the east coast and out-competing the smaller endangered owl for territories. It is the kind of ethical puzzle that cried out for analysis by environmental ethicists—a case study just waiting under the trees for the philosophers to take a crack at. 

The ethicists left the meeting with new knowledge, new ideas, new professional relationships, new mosquito bites, and the pleasant odor of campfire-smoke woven into their clothes.

Matteo Andreozzi Publishes a Book and Launches a Journal

MATTEO ANDREOZZIISEE member and Italy representative Matteo Andreozzi (Università degli Studi of Milan) recently edited the book Etiche dell’ambiente. Voci e prospettive, which includes contributions from Ralph Acampora, Carol Adams, Matthew Calarco, J. Baird Callicott, Warwick Fox, Greta Gaard, Holmes Rolston III, Peter Singer, and numerous Italian scholars.  A brief introduction to the book, in English and Italian, can be found at the Relations: Beyond Anthropocentrism website.

Relations, Beyond AnthropocentrismMatteo has also just launched the journal Relations. Beyond Anthropocentrism, a peer-reviewed journal focusing on trans-anthropocentric ethics and related topics.  Using Marc Bekoff’s The Emotional Lives of Animals (2007) as a starting point, the first volume focuses on animal emotions, offering examples of the intersection of scientific attitudes and ethical concerns toward nonhuman animals.  In the first issue of the volume, the authors describe the consequences of the recognition of animal lives on laws and policies, while the second issue will concentrate on the application of the idea of the emotional lives of animals.

Matteo can be reached at matteo.andreozzi@unimi.it. His website is http://matteoandreozzi.it.

Martin Drenthen Awarded Prestigious Research Grant

July 10, 2012

Martin Drenthen (Radboud University, Nijmegen), ISEE’s representative for The Netherlands, has been awarded an Innovation Research Incentive Grant by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research for his 5-year project “Reading the Landscape: A Hermeneutic Approach to Environmental Ethics.”

The purpose of the grant is to examine how philosophical hermeneutics can contribute to environmental ethics, and to test the usefulness of the hermeneutic perspective in environmental ethics in the evaluation ecological restoration projects.  Martin will put together a four-person team to test a theoretical framework he develops based on the study of seminal works in philosophical hermeneutics.  A postdoctoral project will critically reflect on existing legitimization strategies by conservationists and restorationists, and explicate, articulate and examine the implicit moral narratives about the human-nature relationship which motivate actual restoration projects today.  Two PhD projects will study concrete cases of conflicting landscape interpretations.  The first will focus on conflicts about “rewilding” projects, where natural processes and entities are deliberately introduced in cultural landscapes.  It will examine existing attempts to recognize the importance of elements of heritage landscapes for identity in the design of ecological restoration projects, and explicate and articulate normative motives at play.  The second project will examine how spontaneous natural developments can challenge perceived notions of identity by addressing controversial cases where the recurrence of predators and other “inconvenient” species is perceived by some as threat or nuisance, and welcomed by others who consider them as to “belong” in a certain place.  All projects will explicate and articulate existing underlying moral experiences that can explain the relation between landscape interpretations and notions of self between conflicting parties, with the aim of broadening the perspective and deepening the moral debate about the landscape.

To learn more about Martin’s work please visit his website at  http://home.xmsnet.nl/drenthen/.