Environmental Ethics

Is your life more valuable than the life of one bee🐝? Is your life more valuable than the lives of all the bees? Your answer to this question will change based on what you value and how you value it. In environmental ethics, there are three main perspectives to the question of how we should value non-human life. The first is biocentrism which says that all life is valuable and shouldn’t be treated by humans as a means to an end. Biocentrism generally say bugs rule, and people suck if and when they mess with ants🐜. On the other hand, anthropocentrism says only humans are morally significant.

Basically, people rule, so tough luck, bugs. The third view is that value exists in the relationships between organisms, or between organisms and their nonliving context. This view is called ecocentrism. In other words, snails🐌 rule, people👫 rule and we need to protect the relationship they share.

Understanding the three general branches of environmental ethics can help you make decisions about your diet, your appreciation of nature, your place in nature, and understand policies and decisions that directly affect you and/or nature. Interestingly enough, each of these branches leads you to care about climate change, so you should do your part!


  • Philosophy and Environmental Policy

    Eric Thomas Weber and Anthony Cashio

  • Philosophy Bites: Dale Jameison on Green Virtues

    Dale Jameison

  • Animal Rights and Human Wrongs

    Philosophy for Our Times


Pop Culture Examples

  • If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (2011)

    Unrated, 1h 25min

    Learn More
  • Pom Poko (1994)

    PG, 1h 59min

    Learn More
  • An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

    PG, 1h 36min

    Learn More
  • Wall-E (2008)

    G, 1h 38min

    Learn More
  • Okja (2017)

    TV-MA, 2h

    Learn More
  • First Reformed (2017)

    R, 1h 53min

    Learn More
  • Watership Down (1972)

    Novel by Richard Adams

    Learn More

Questions to Think About

  • What animals should we or should we not eat?

  • How do you compare the value of humans, animals, and ecosystems?

  • How should policies be written with regard to animals, people, and ecosystems?

  • Whose interests are more important — species we admire that are endangered like pandas, or species that are important to maintaining ecological balance within the local area like bats?

Key Thinkers

  • Aldo Leopold

  • Arne Naess

  • William Baxter

  • Paul Taylor

  • Karen Warren

  • Vandana Shiva

  • J. Baird Callicott

  • Holmes Rolston III

“Leopold family at the Shack” by Region 5 Photography is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/. https://www.flickr.com/photos/39108150@N05/5441675385

“Arne Næss” by Ole Kristian Losvik is licensed with CC BY-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/. https://www.flickr.com/photos/losvik/5222367816 

“File:Dr. Vandana Shiva DS.jpg” by Augustus Binu/ facebook is licensed with CC BY-SA 3.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35027640 

“J. Baird Callicott talks about the earth ethic” by Center for the Study of Ethics at UVU is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/. https://www.flickr.com/photos/20606230@N00/8638752036 

“File:Holmes Rolston III.jpg” by Flickr user: David Keller is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7178476 

Key Texts

Key Terms

  • Anthropocentrism
    “human-centeredness” or the view that only humans have moral significance
  • Biocentrism
    the view that living beings and living parts of nature are morally significant (plants, humans, animals)
  • Deep ecology
    branch of environmentalism that is not just concerned with pollution and conserving the planet for people’s sake, but for the betterment of the earth and the environment itself
  • Ecocentrism
    view that all natural things on earth (including ecosystems, ‘non-living’ things such as bodies of water, rocks, mountains, etc.) are all equally inherently valuable and morally significant
  • Sentientism
    the view that beings who can experience pleasure and pain are morally significant, such as humans and non-human animals
  • Ecofeminism
    combines ecological and feminist concerns; ties together society’s treatment towards nature and how this is related to society’s treatment towards women

Similar Starter Packs

All Resources