Humans and Nature - Environmental Ethics

Jin-Bao Lin, Secretary Genera, The Society of Wilderness, Taiwan

Global warming and climate change are current issues the world is facing today. These issues are threatening and influencing the whole Earth in life, social-economic, ecological environment, poverty, health and diseases. With the deteriorating natural environment, frequent disasters around the world, when human beings faced all the disasters and crisis, people began to reflect on simplicity and truth; human beings are looking for answers to solve the dangerous situation from the wisdom of ancestors.

The ancestors of humans had spent millions of years in the wilderness. They relied on their instinct, intelligent and bravery to survive the harsh competition in nature. Later on, due to the development of technology, humans were able to dominate the Earth, to live in a self-defined so called “ plentiful, comfortable, and convenient” life style. However, the human race did not get more happiness and joy. In the process to pursuit a higher material standard of living, humans not only spent more time and energy but also lose their ability to get along with nature (Hsu, 1995). The development of human civilization also affects the experiences of the interactions between man and nature. Urbanization have increasingly caused the isolation of human life from the mother natural, the disability to adapt or deal with nature, and the alienation with nature . As Mander (1978) put it, when mankind moved to live in totally artificial environment, the direct contact and the knowledge we have being posses about the earth will be cut off and cut out- just like the astronauts floating in the space.

In the past, human beings rely on the Earth's rich natural resources and lives in the world to survive and thrill. In fact, this is a fact that cannot be changed even with the future progresses of science and technology. Since the Industrial Revolution, the take-off of technology and economic, the rapid growth of population, coupled with excessive claims for the material needed all make the rational use of nature resources into abuse and overrun which have contributed to the result of habitats and species collapses, and natural resources depletion. Human beings began to reflect on the relationship between humans and nature and on the values of natural. Since then, ”ethical relationship” has evolved from the relationship between “human and human" into the relationship between “human and society" , and further more expanded into the relationship between ”man and earth" -- the third relationship (Leopold, 1988) the so-called “environmental ethics”, which will extend the relationship from between humans into between humans with all the other organisms and with the natural world.

In 1949, Leopold made the statement of land/environmental ethics that the scope of human community should be expanded to cover the soil, water, flora and fauna, that means the earth as a whole. The human being, who is just one of the members of this community, must respect all the other existing members. In nature, all members have their right to live, and this right is not bestowed by human. The theory of land ethics claims a real environmental ethic, that the nature itself has intrinsic value, rather than because of its meaning for human survival and well-being. Moreover, human beings have ethical responsibility for the natural world. Based on the view point of Leopold, the belief of land ethics (same as environmental ethics) is to change the view point of human beings. Mankind should stop depending on themselves as conquerors or superior species on the planet. Humans should treat themselves just as a member of the community of life. And that the need to understand its mode of operation of the ecosystem will lead to understand the truth of everything is related. With particular emphasis on human beings flow in the biological pyramid of energy flow and is part of the food chain, while the energy cycle routes will be spontaneous changes in the so-called “evolution”.

However, for a long time, human beings have considered themselves the masters of nature; relationship between man and nature is the relationship of the conquerors and the conquered. Such thinking caused the result of alienation, misunderstanding and even hostility with the natural which in terms resulting in a lot of natural hazards that harmed human itself. Over the past few centuries, western scholars began to think about the positioning of human beings in the environment, as well as man and the relationship between the natural world. They also have being promoting the ethical believes to bridge the huge gap that the human-centered attitude has created between humans and non-human natural world. The human-centrism (anthtopocerntism) which emphasis too much on human evolution in the natural environment as the leading role, ignoring the existence and evolution of the natural laws of its own. The Eco-centrism emphasis on go beyond human-centered thought, into an ecological, holistic environment, all species as the center, the whole ecology of interaction contemplation way of thinking, advocates the natural Eco-system has its own value, and its independent value apart from human beings .

From the development context of environmental ethics leads to the formation of human faith in the ethical of nature now. For centuries, industry and technology were developed for the sake of survival. However, human and nature have been alienated. The symbiotic ethic relationship between humans and natural has long been forgotten. As Leopold (1949) appealed:“Today we are facing with the problems that when people have forgotten the existence of the land, or when education,culture, and land have virtually no connection at all. How do we keep the human and the land in harmony? Also think that would not help if people do not embrace the land with love,with respect and with appreciation; or do not attach importance to the value of land, then the ethical relationship between people and their land can not exist. "Even made a statement:" the biggest obstacle in the development process of land ethic is perhaps our education and economic systems,which are leading people away from a strong sense of the land. "So, such as environmental education researchers Yang Jen-Guan (1998) put it: most of the environmental problems are prompted by the deviation of human behavior and thinking. Only through education to subtly and gradually inspire or through effective teaching to adequately change human thought and behavior toward nature.