Links between ecology and ecophilosophy, ethics and the requirements of environmental management



Abstract This paper concerns the ways that our philosophical attitudes to the environment can influence the appropriateness of methodologies for solving environmental problems. Sometimes a public perception is expressed that science takes scant regard of the concerns of the people affected. Is it possible for scientists and managers to respond to such concerns and still fulfil the logical and methodological rigour that their discipline demands? I believe we have to address fundamental issues of definitions and meaning before useful debate can occur among parties interested in environmental decision-making. Delving into the ideas behind our everyday practices of environmental management should promote re-evaluation of our beliefs, attitudes and concerns about nature.

I examine environmental science from both ethical and managerial perspectives. I explore how our assumptions and attitudes might influence ecology, in particular issues raised by environmental impacts and conservation. The major points argued here are:

  • 1 Any legal requirements of environmental investigations must be met, but perhaps we should act more in line with the spirit of legislation.
  • 2 The managerial imperatives of environmental investigations need to be examined closely because of widely perceived problems with the use of science in impact assessment. We must change either our methods of assessment or the regulations and administration of environmental impact assessment (EIA).
  • 3 Science is not paramount in the processes of environmental decision-making. We need to be aware of how psychosocial factors affect the ultimately political decisions about environmental problems.
  • 4 Philosophy and ethics offer a range of perspectives that may benefit ecology. Scientists need to be aware of these just as they should be of their own leanings about how we treat nature.
  • 5 Scientists need to translate social concerns or demands about the environment into properly defined scientific questions, and then study them as a matter of urgency.
  • 6 Ecology needs to guide ecophilosophers and environmental ethicists as to how nature works, why we expect variability in ecosystems, what is naturalness, and other issues where a scientific understanding of nature has progressed beyond the point where these observers of ecology have so far taken inspiration.