Workshop: Principles of Ethical Decision Making in Environmental Practice

Humanity is facing more challenging environmental issues than ever before. At the same time, actions to address environmental issues often generate significant controversy, demonstrating a diversity of beliefs about how we should relate to the environment and the most appropriate actions to protect it. Given the urgency of most environmental problems, established ethical methodologies are needed to aid people in quickly coming to ethical solutions.

In recent years, it has been argued that more pluralistic and context-sensitive approaches are needed which can capture the concerns of the various people engaged in ethical dilemmas. One such method of applied ethics which has been particularly influential in the medical field is that of ‘principilism’, whereby several mid-level principles are specified and weighed against each other in particular situations to determine the ethically appropriate action. By using mid-level principles, debates about the correct higher-order theory are avoided, while still capturing the different values that ordinary people hold. While principilism has proven a valuable approach in biomedical ethics, no similar framework has yet become widely influential within the field of environmental practice.

The purpose of this workshop is to discuss the application of a similar principles-based approach to environmental dilemmas, and to identify what kind of ethical principles (whether in the context of a principlist approach or not) are relevant for environmental practice. In particular, we wish to discuss the principles of the SNSF project hypothesis ‘Principles of Ethical Decision Making in Environmental Practice’. These are the polluter-pays principle, the ability-to-pay principle, the equal-per-capita principle, and the principle of procedural involvement.

The workshop will begin with a methodological panel and then will focus on three topic-areas. The first topic-area is climate change, in which all four of the principles mentioned above are already established. The second is biodiversity conservation; here it will be tested whether the hypothesis principles apply to these questions as well, or whether they are better supplanted by other principles. Lastly,  questions concerning our treatment of wild animals will be discussed. Taken together, the different parts of this workshop will investigate what practical ethics needs and what principilism can offer to specific questions in environmental ethics.

Coordinator: Dr. Laura Garcí

For questions concerning the panel on biodiversity conservation Shea McBride, for the panel on wildlife contact Tristan Katz.