Ethical Considerations

I think that when we default to one-size-fits all policies for environmental conservation we begin to have ethical concerns. We can consider these policies “world-making projects” or “global conservation.” If outside organizations and large corporations are using these world-making projects then often times, there are consequences to the local people and environment that many consider to be unethical. Often times, these organizations and corporations are using these same policies because they do not want to spend the time and resources to reinvent new solutions and they want to minimize risk while maintaining profits. In the example of the Masaai people of East Africa, some people would feel that pushing those local people off of their land is unethical. So before we go into anymore detail, what is ethics? Richard McNeil quotes Cunningham and Saigo (1990) when defining ethics as “…a branch of philosophy concerned with morals (the distinction between right and wrong) and values (the ultimate worth of actions or things). It considers the relationships, rules, principles, or codes that require or forbid certain conduct.”

There are five primary ethical theories: Consequentialism, Rule-Based Theories, Rights-Based Theories, Intuitionism and Virtue Ethics. Richard McNeil discusses these further but I think consequentialism is the one most appropriate for the case of one-size-fits-all conservation policies. This theory focuses on which action is expected to bring the most good to the most people. For example, if setting up an ecotourism conservation site creates a way to conserve the natural environment and wildlife but displaces a group of local people then is it worth it? That’s when one has to consider if conserving that area brings enough good to outweigh the negative of displacing the local people. In the cases of outside organizations going into rural areas of low income and resources then the locals are not moral agents. They do not have the capacity to make the decisions regarding what is right or wrong and are forced to follow suit of the outsiders who have the power and the resources. These, to me, are some unethical consequences of using the one-size-fits-all policies. It is not possible to use one, or even a few, strategies for environmental conservation for the entire world. Each environment is different and the way the locals interact with it is different, meaning that we need different techniques for conservation. Some experts suggest looking at these projects through a “cultural lens.” That means considering the impact the local communities have on the environment and the impact the environment has on the local communities before implementing any projects.

James Carrier writes an article about how to protect the environment by being an ethical and moral person. This means bringing ethics into the equation of environmental conservation by leading moral lives and putting pressure on larger corporations to stop damaging the environment for a profit.