As environmental science and sustainability studies often involve finding an optimal balance between economic development, social equity, and environmental protection, ethics provide an important standard of conduct that empowers professionals in this field to work towards the good of society as a whole. Environmental ethics is a systematic and critical analysis of morality, which may change over time, in the relation between human beings and the environment.
In the context of vital sustainability, issues like climate change, ethical self-reflection, and perception are intrinsic and essential for professional scientists because normative terms like “ecosystem health” can be subject to interpretation. That’s why Ethical Practice and Policy is an important part of the professional skills core curriculum in Unity College’s sustainability science Master’s programs. It explores the role of science in society by analyzing ethically salient aspects of typically encountered events and scenarios.
The Growing Importance of Ethics in Environmental Science and Sustainability
Sustainability was arguably first brought to the world stage in 1987 in a study sponsored by the United Nations, published as “Our Common Future.” By addressing the relationship between economic development and the environment, a conceptual framework for coordinated action could proceed on global ecological issues while respecting the realities of social inequity.
As the wealthy consume a vastly disproportionate share of the world’s resources and the poor are often forced to consume resources in a short-sighted way, economic equality is a fundamental dimension of sustainability. Concern for future generations is an important aspect of sustainability, because natural resources are being consumed faster than they can be replenished and the accompanying escalations in climate change and pollution signify immense risks for the very survival of our species, let alone a reasonable quality of life.
The Role of Ethics in an Online Environmental Science Degree
Environmental science and sustainability professionals have an important role in our society, contributing their knowledge to communities about our interconnectedness with all life forms and sharing strategies for preserving biodiversity and ecosystem wellbeing. Amidst competing economic concerns, it’s easy to see how sustainability without its ethical dimension can be limited to self-interest, as in continuing business activities indefinitely.
Environmental ethics is the applied philosophy that considers our wider obligations to wildlife, land, and water, and the moral value of Earth’s non-human components. It’s a specific challenge to traditional anthropocentrism, calling into question the assumed moral superiority of human beings to other species.
Can we exploit as much as desired without infringing on future abilities to do the same, or should we exploit as little as necessary to maintain a meaningful life (as both are plausible definitions of “sustainability”)? These are the types of questions discussed in environmental ethics, and arguments that every environmental scientist should be aware of.
Environmental advocates and policymakers with a Master’s degree in Environmental Science have the responsibility of assessing the full long-term scope of ecosystem and wildlife management, and even representing the interests of voiceless animals, forests, and other nature. There may be no easy answers to many of these issues but the act of examining these ethical dimensions can help one become a more effective scientist.
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