J. Ronald Engel


                    With an Introduction by William E. Brown


Dr. Engel's paper provides a concise tour of ethico-religious traditions now struggling to reassert themselves constructively in a world drastically changed from their times of origins. He urges a mode for uniting their concerns under IUCN auspices so that adaptively relevant ethical engagement with world problems can be enhanced. He describes the problems under two major headings--the separation of man from nature and the separation of human groups one from another--all this in a world practically united by pervasive and ever-tightening interdependencies. His holistic message--derived from the ethical and scientific insights of enlightened leaders from the various traditions--illuminates a spacious ecumenism that would reunited man and nature, and reverse the deepening divisions in human society. Thus could common bonds of eco-centric thought and action flourish despite cultural diversity.

         It is a grand vision. One difficult to realize. Dr. Engel cites strategies for critical reconstructions adjusted to the world's evolved ethico-religious traditions. He shows that enlightened thought world-wide brings out inseparable linkage between social justice and ecological wholeness. He does not flinch from the need for radical shifts in social paradigms--from unlimited material progress to sufficiency and frugality--with insights from Native peoples, once considered primitive, as prime sources of instruction.

         To develop the common bonds that would focus the power of eco-centric ecumenism, Dr. Engel proposes an IUCN Task Force to foster dialogue on world-wide environmental ethics. The goal would be a new public vision for the 21st Century, mobilizing the adapted wisdom of ethical traditions that previously moved only fractions of humankind in geographies of isolation.

         Implicit in this proposal and the actions that might flow from it is a painful maturing of humanity--possibly before it's too late--with respect to selfish and destructive social, economic, and security arrangements, which, combined, now foreclose even reasonably healthy prospects in a world structurally strained by population/resource disparities that will endure at least several centuries.

         Why such a paper in The George Wright FORUM? Because lacking the reconstruction Dr. Engel advocates, the politics of scarcity, injustice, and desperation inevitably will destroy parks and reserves across the Earth, gradually or catastrophically. Because parks and reserves must be significant centers for perpetuating and propagating the public ethic that would nurture nature and bring people back home in the world.

         Dr. Engel invites comments from readers that might strengthen this paper, which he considers still to be in the draft stage.


     INTRODUCTION: ETHICS AND THE WORLD CONSERVATION                                            STRATEGY


The Need for Environmental Ethics


         The transformation in human civilisation required to implement the World Conservation Strategy (WCS) entails changes in all aspects of human life--economic, political, social, psychological and technological. Associated with all of these changes are questions of ethics and ethical behaviour. The WCS forthrightly recognises this need:

         "Ultimately the behavior of entire societies towards the biosphere          must be transformed if the achievement of conservation          objectives is to be assured. A new ethic, embracing plants and    animals, as well as people, is required for human societies to live          in harmony with the natural world on which they depend for          survival and bell being."(13-1)

         The meaning here is not that there should be a single ethic for all peoples, but that each society needs to develop and adopt a conservation ethic appropriate to its unique ecological context and in keeping with its particular cultural traditions. For many societies, this mean retaining ethical traditions that are being weakened under modern economic and cultural pressures.


The Contributions of Ethics


         A developing awareness of environmental ethics will increase the effectiveness of the WCS in two principal ways. The first is motivational. Widely accepted moral principles are essential to good public and official support for conservation. Ideas and symbols of the good and right have as much motivational power in today's world as they have ever had.

         The second way is informative and critical. There are numerous ethical issues involved in the problems addressed by IUCN--issues of the "rights" of other forms of life to continued existence, the just distribution of natural resources, the relative importance of individual freedom or group welfare under conditions of environmental stress, to name only a few. The better informed decision makers are about these issues, and the alternative grounds for resolving them, the better the choices that will be made.


The Importance of an Ethical Strategy


         The development and adoption of environmental ethics do not follow automatically from changes in more objective aspects of society, as important and necessary as these are. No amount of communication of scientific knowledge about the biosphere and our dependence upon it will lead inevitably to the adoption of right attitudes and actions toward the environment. Nor is any structural change--economic, political, or technological--sufficient in itself to create an adequate conservation ethic.

         It is therefore essential to the success of the WSC that the IUCN make the transformation of the ethics of modern societies a matter of distinct concern, and that it develop a specific strategy for its encouragement.


                          ETHICS, TRADITION, AND SOCIETY


Ethics and Tradition


         The sources of ethical principles and modes of thought are larger structures of meaning variously called traditions, ideologies, faiths, religions, philosophies, etc. Traditions synthesize through their systems of authoritative or sacred symbols a worldview (cosmology and ontology) and an ethos (ethics and esthetics). They sum up, in the words of cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz, "what is known about the way the world is, the quality of emotional life it supports, and the way one ought to behave while in it." Traditions are transmitted by one or more forms of specialised institutions--cults, schools, laws, associations--and involve "classic" texts or oral narratives, priestly and/or other forms of specialised leadership, and more or less well defined criteria of membership. It follows that transformations in ethics depend upon transformations in human traditions.


The Variety of Traditions


         The great variety of world traditions may be divided into two broad classes, religious faiths, which seek to ground the ultimate meaning of life in an extra-mundane, supernatural, or theistic reality, and secular traditions, which establish a heirarchy of values within a humanistic and/or totally naturalistic framework.

         Examples of religious faiths include (1) native, primarily oral traditions (animistic religions and other indigenous and tribal religions), and (2) historic literate religions (including the classic faiths and the so-called "new religions").

         Secular traditions include (1) a variety of hnumanisms (liberal, evolutionary or scientific, Marxist, existentialist), (2) various political, economic and national ideologies, and (3) forms of belief that may be called ecocentric, where the evolutionary and ecological process is taken to be the proper object of humanity's ultimate commitment.


The Failure and Promise of the World Traditions


         Modern traditions play an ambiguous role in the evolution of environmental ethics. It is likely that all traditions can be shown in some ways passively collaborating with, and in other ways, actively encouraging the non-sustainable exploitation of the Earth. Yet there are emerging signs of resistance to such exploitation and a desire to develop a responsible conservation ethic among Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and other groups.

         There is also new appreciation for the values of older human traditions. Many native religions, the worldviews of which seemed only a few decades ago hopelessly ill-adapted to the demands of the modern world, now appear in the context of scarcity as potential bearers of wisdom for human survival. The values many of these religions share--reverence for nature, human solidarity, usufruct, reciprocity between human and natural cycles--are suggestive for reconstruction of modern traditions.


The Morality of Societies


         While ethical principles and images have their source in distinct traditions, and intimately influence the behavior of their adherents, they have their widest effect when they enter the public realm and become part of the governing morality of whole societies. In this way various ethics and traditions combine to create public philosophies or what is sometimes referred to as "civil religions." For example, the notions of human rights that inform the collective aspirations of many societies today are derived from a variety of religious and secular traditions. This is obviously true of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. These motions remain a vital part of their original traditions. But they also function in public discourse more or less independently of those traditions and appeal to common human experience and reason for societal legitimation. Public ethics are important for conservation ethics because environmental policies typically involve who populations of a given territority and political entity, and not only the adherents of a particular tradition.


The Interaction of the World Traditions


         In the contemporary world most traditions are undergoing change through interaction with other traditions, and most societies are governed by moreal codes to which a variety of traditions have contributed. For some time there have been interactions of secular and religious traditions throughout most of the world, as well as interactions of Western, Eastern and native traditions. Today, however, the pace and intensity of interaction is increasing. This is true not only between major traditions but within them as well.

         Many of the world's political and environmental problems are products of this interaction and its consequent social dislocations and value conflicts. On the other hand, as the Declaration of Human Rights and the World Charter for Nature exemplify, much of what is best in the modern world is also due to this interaction. IUCN assumes that it is possible for the secular scientific and humanistic traditions that led to the WCS to have positive impact upon native and historic religions and vice versa.






         The development and adoption of environmental ethics by the diverse peoples of the world depend upon constructive ethical responses by each of the world traditions to the challenge of the environmental crisis, and productive public dialogue between these traditions on common environmental ethical principles at all societal levels--international, national and local.




--      To strengthen ethical and cultural diversity and mutual          understanding,

         To promote creative initiatives within each religious and secular          tradition that lead toward the development and adoption of          environmental ethics,

         To increase the capacity for ethical reflection on environmental          issues by multi-faith international, national and local          communities,

         To establish new networks of cross-cultural, multi-disciplinary          cooperation, especially across the gap separating the environ-          mental sciences and the major world religious traditions.


An IUCN Task Force on Environmental Ethics


         The Task Force should be composed of persons able to commit significant portions of time to the work of the IUCN because of convergence between their professional interests and the objectives of the WCS. It should be small enough to constitute a functional working group that can meet regularly (9-10 members). Membership should include an ecologist and resource specialist thoroughly acquainted with the WCS, social scientists concerned for the relation of values to development and conservation, and scholars in comparative ethics, environmental ethics, history and philosophy. Membership should be international in scope, but it would be disadvantageous to try to include spokespersons for all the world religious traditions in the Task Force membership.


Activities of the Task Force


         Critical reflection on the ethical assumptions and implications of          the WCS, the World Charter for Nature, and related documents          that seek global consensus on conservation principles,

         Counsel for the IUCN staff, commissions, and membership          regarding ethical issues faced in the implementation of the WCS, and emerging issues in the field of environmental ethics,

         Opening of channels of communication between the IUCN and the    institutional and intellectual leadership of major national and    international religious traditions in order to begin a process of          sustained dialogue hopefully resulting in various kinds of          cooperative activity, including formal endorsement bvy many          organisations of the WCS,

         Research and publication on the historic roles of the world          traditions in development and conservation, past and present          interpretations of the place of nature in these traditions, and new          meanings of environmental ethics now being developed by these          traditions,

         Sponsorship of regional (supra or sub-national) conferences and    workshops for representatives of relevant religious and secular          traditions and IUCN members, in order to develop consensus on a   societal environmental ethic for the region as well as practical          programmes in the field,

         Representation of IUCN environmental ethical concerns in          academic and public policy forums and international multifaith          organisations,

         Cooperation, where appropriate, in joint projects with IUCN          commissions, interested international agencies, and various          centers for advanced study.




         One or more published documents providing an exposition of the    "Ethics of the World Conservation Strategy and the World Charter          for Nature"

         A series of background papers analysing basic ethical issues          involved in the work of IUCN and the implementation of the WCS

         Endorsement of the WCS by religious organisations and their          cooperation in the implementation of the WCS

         A series of publications describing how each world tradition is          constructively responding to the need for environmental ethics and          the history of each tradition's attitude toward nature

         Position papers articulating public ethical commitments by a       variety of traditions with memberships in crucial ecological and          cultural commitments in local communities


                     PHASE I:  PROGRAMME FOR 1985-1987




         It is proposed that the Task Force on Environmental Ethics be established on an initial three-year basis. However, it is understood that substantial progress on a problem of this magnitude will require a much longer time frame. It is also likely that revisions will need to be made in the goals of the Task Force and that new and possibly more productive directions of activity will emerge as work proceeds.

         The chief task of the 1985-1987 period will be to explore the possibilities of this topic in order to discover what tangible good can result from this kind of activity and what specific benefits can be generated for the membership of IUCN. By 1987, measurable progress should be evident in achieving the stated objectives and outputs.


Indicative Budget (annual)


Meetings of the Task Force (2)                     US$ 12,000.00

Travel to open communication of IUCN with

         centres of world traditions and centres

         for advanced study                                    10,000.00

Research and publication                                      5,000.00

Secretarial support                                              6,000.00

Consultancies                                                     20,000.00

         Total                                                   US$ 53,000.00





                 ETHICS AND THE 21ST CENTURY:





This paper addresses the question of the role of the world's major historic traditions in the development and adoption of effective environmental ethics by describing four steps that creative individuals and groups have taken in recent years: (1) recognition of the responsibility of the traditions for the environmental crisis and for environmental ethics, (2) critical reconstruction of the traditions in light of the world situation and the information of the ecological sciences, (3) consensus on an ethics of eco-justice, and (4) a readiness to expand the multi-faith dialogue on human rights to include environmental values. These steps provide the basis for a productive engagement of IUCN with the traditions, leading to further progress by the traditions, and support for the World Conservation Strategy.




The Problem


         The problem of how to create viable ethical attitudes toward the environment by and for the 21st century is of immense scope. The solution will require many kinds of approaches and will take many different social and cultural forms.

         The specific aspect of the problem addressed in this paper is the question of the development and adoption of environmental ethics by the world's major historic traditions. In what ways do these traditions inhibit and in what ways do they promote environmental ethics? How might the international conservation community encourage more positive contributions from the traditions?

         The historic traditions are those generally recognized as providing explicit and rationally systematic ethical guidance to human societies. These traditions attempt to find a pattern for human choice and action that stands outside the flux of change and yet within the bounds of human knowing. They appeal to a substantial body of authoritative writings. There are two primary kinds of historic tradition: the great religious faiths of Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism; and the secular philosophies of liberal humanism and Marxism (Smart 1976).

         In the course of presentation, the contributions to environmental ethics of the less well-known so-called "eco-centric" traditions will also be discussed.


The Thesis


         In recent years, positive steps have been taken by the historic traditions in response to the environmental challenge. On the basis of this progress, the engagement now of IUCN with the traditions could improve their capacity to develop and adopt effective environmental ethics and provide new support for The World Conservation Strategy.

         This paper describes four of the most important of these steps: (1) recognition of the responsibility of the traditions for the environmental crisis and for environmental ethics, (2) critical reconstruction in light of the world situation and the information of the ecological sciences, (3) consensus on an ethics of eco-justice, and (4) a readiness to expand the multi-faith dialogue on human rights to include environmental values.

         It should be noted that these steps are being taken by creative individuals and groups within the traditions, often very small minorities. The capacity of this leadership to effect major transformations in the traditions as a whole should not be overestimated.


The Meaning of Effective Environmental Ethics


         By "environmental ethics" is meant not a single ethic for all peoples, but the development and adoption by each tradition of an environmental ethic appropriate to its circumstances. However, there are ways in which the traditions may be integrated with one another and with other sectors of society. They may respond to a common vision of a just and beautiful world, share the common purpose of implementing the World Conservation Strategy, address common issues raised by the relationships between science, technology, and public policy, recognize agreement on common principles such as those of the World Charter for Nature, and participate in dialogue about human rights and environmental ethics. In an interdependent world these kinds of relationships will sustain the plurality of the world's traditions and contribute to the adoption of more effective environmental ethics by each tradition.

         By "effective" environmental ethics is meant ethics that motivate persons to adopt the goals of the World Conservation Strategy and the principles of the World Charter for Nature, and provide guidelines for their implementation. The assumption is that such goals as ecosystem maintenance, preservation of genetic diversity, and sustainable utilization of renewable resources are ethical as well as management imperatives. The challenge to the traditions is to enrich understanding of the ultimate commitments that motivate persons to pursue these goals, the kinds of values that are at stake, and the kind of choices that will achieve the goals in the most humane way possible.


The Role of IUCN


         This paper is written to provide background for a Proposal to the IUCN entitled Promoting the Development and Adoption of Environmental Ethics. The Proposal includes an argument for the formation of an Environmental Ethics Task Force within IUCN and a suggested set of objectives and activities for the Task Force.

         The time has come for IUCN scientists, conservationists and policy-makers to make deliberate links with scholars and leaders of the world's ethical traditions. The gap that separates these two sectors of world culture inhibits the development and adoption of environmental ethics (Snow 1961). When the gap that separates empirical and normative studies has been bridged in other areas, for example, in medical ethics, important progress has been made. The programs of the IUCN provide practical opportunities for a similar integration of ecological science and values.

         The following four steps that have been taken by the traditions give reason to think that cooperative relationships can be established, and that the traditions can contribute significantly to the development and adoption of effective environmental ethics for the 21st century.




The Failure of the Historic Traditions


         Thoughtful people throughout the world now recognize the failure of the major historic traditions to provide an adequate environmental ethic for modern civilization. This widespread recognition first occurred in the 1960s as a result of a quest in the industrialized countries for causes and cures of the newly perceived "environmental crisis." Every aspect of modernity--science, technology, capitalism, democracy, nationalism--came under scrutiny in the search for the sources of the failure of contemporary societies to live within the finite limits of the Earth (Moncrief 1970). Linked to an awareness that, along with political, social and economic factors, the worldview and ethics of a culture play a crucial role in how well human societies adapt to the natural environment (Rappaport 1979), an awareness grew that the historic traditions of West and East bear responsibility for the contemporary situation (Deer 1973; McHarg 1973; Passmore 1974:3-27).

         By ignoring the ethical importance of humanity's relationships to nature, many traditions have passively collaborated with behavior that is destructive of species and habitat, and with development that is non-sustainable. The Western traditions have actively encouraged the destruction of the environment by legitimating imperialistic forms of nationalism and economic growth and by teaching that humanity's mission is to conquer nature (Leiss 1972). This belief is characteristic of religious and secular traditions of capitalist as well as socialist countries. Asian traditions also share responsibility by failing to provide guidelines for alternative forms of social and economic development that are ecologically sustainable (Finn 1983).


The Success of Eco-centric Traditions


         In contrast to the failure of the major historic traditions, a variety of marginal religious and secular traditions, which may be called eco-centric or "life-centered," have been important contributors to modern conservation movements. For example, many leaders of environmental reform in Australia, Europe and North America have drawn upon such traditions as:

1.      literary naturalism: the Romantic tradition of Geothe and          Wordsworth in Europe, the Transcendentalist tradition of Emerson, Thoreau and Muir in the United States (Nash 1967).

2.      pantheism: such as Schweitzer's philosophy of "reverence for life," and Ouspensky's scientific mysticism (Fox 1981).

3.      modern interpretations of Asian religions, especially Zen          Buddhism and Taoism (Watts 1968).

4.      Native American religions (Deloria 1973).

5.      various kinds of holistic natural philosophy and ethics associated with the rise of the ecological sciences, and often propounded by ecologists themselves, for example, Haeckel's ecological religion (Worster 1969), Huxley's evolutionary humanism (Huxley 1928), Leopold's "land ethic," and most recently Naess's "deep ecology," Lovelock's Gaiahypothesis, and Wilson's faith in the                               sociobiolgical



         It has been argued that only the development and adoption of a new ecocentric religion can save human civilization (Toynbee 1972). Since new religions and ideologies do arise and do change the course of history, calls for a new ecological faith cannot be dismissed. It is possible that one or more of the eco-centric traditions will take its place in the pantheon of the world's post-modern faiths. But it is unlikely that any new eco-centric faith will sweep the world by the 21st century. Probably the most important impact of the eco-centric traditions will be their effect upon the reformation of the historic traditions.


The Challenge to the Historic Traditions


         A realistic assessment of the situation suggests the need for the historic faiths to acknowledge their failures and take responsibility for developing effective environmental ethics. Several judgments converge in this assessment.

         First, in spite of their failures, the traditions do motivate many conservationists. Second, there is no indication that the vitality of the historic traditions is seriously eroding. Scholars of secularization no longer see modernization as antithetical to religion. Indeed, evidence now suggests that religious ideologies of all kinds thrive in urban, industrial and scientific cultures, and those that are prospering most are modern off-shoots of the historic traditions (Davis 1980).

         Third, the historic traditions potentially bring to the task of environmental ethics profound symbolic, intellectual and institutional resources. They are repositories of moral wisdom on how human beings can cooperate when knowledge, intelligence, sympathy and natural resources are scarce (Little and Twiss 1978:24). The importance of the historic traditions in human evolution cannot be underestimated. In the view of a number of natural and social scientists, religion functions as the chief means by which basic, long-range values are remembered in human cultures (Burhoe 1981). The historic traditions have evolved in such a way that the values they transmit are co-adapted with the genetically programmed goals of human populations. For over 100,000 years, religion has been an integral element in the formation of successfully competing, viable social systems. It is therefore essential to human and ecological survival that the historic traditions respond successfully to the new conditions and information of the late industrial age (Huxley 1968).




Strategies of Critical Reconstruction


         Creative individuals and groups within the historic traditions have responded to the need for environmental ethics by undertaking extensive criticism of their traditions and then seeking to reconstruct them. In this way, they have tried to make the traditions both more true to their authoritative teachings and more adequate to the problems of the contemporary world.

         A variety of reconstructive strategies are being pursued (Smith 1974). On the critical side, there are attempts to eliminate distortions in the tradition due to the influence of alien elements, to identify misinterpretations of authoritative teachings, and to expunge teachings that are erroneous in the light of contemporary knowledge. On the constructive side, there are attempts to emphasize different themes from among those available in the contemporary understanding of the tradition, to return to the foundational writings for a fresh retrieval of first principles, and to selectively incorporate new elements, often from other sources, into the tradition.



The Interaction of the Traditions, Science and Technology


         The strategy of selective incorporation is especially important because all historic traditions are increasingly in interaction with one another, with modern science, technology and philosophy, and with Native, non-literate traditions throughout the world. The result is a frequent blending of the traditions, evidenced, for example, in the new syncretistic religions of Africa, Asia and Latin America. In this blending, eco-centric values from animistic traditions and modern natural philosophies are sometimes incorporated into the historic traditions.

         The interaction of the Western scientific worldview and the mythic cosmologies of the historic religious traditions is complex (Lovin and Reynolds in press). In some cases, the traditions seek merely to use the results of modern science and technology; in other cases, to critically incorporate theories and values of modern science into the tradition; in other cases, the tradition is stimulated to develop its own understanding of science; and in still other cases, convergences of scientific worldview and mythic cosmology are claimed. Very different interpretations of the meaning of reason and science among the traditions, with differing implications for environmental ethics are the result (Callahan and Engelhardt 1981).


Critical Reconstruction in Christianity


         Examples of these critical and reconstructive strategies may be found in the Christian tradition.

         Some scholars have argued that the source of Christianity's failure to provide effective environmental ethics is due to the fact that modern technology and science were conceived in the Medieval period as the means by which humankind might implement the injunction of Genesis 1:28 to replenish the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over all living things (White 1967). Others have found distortions of Christianity in the adoption of Greek philosophical views that the physical universe exists solely for human use (Shepard 1967:214-237). Virtually every aspect of past and present Christian belief--for example, the desacralization of nature, the Protestant ethic, belief in a monotheistic God--has come under scrutiny for its possible contribution to environmental degradation (Elston 1981).

         With critical re-evaluation has also come reconstruction. The previously sub-dominant themes of Franciscan piety toward all creation, or Benedictine stewardship, are proposed as bases for a new environmental ethic (DuBos 1972). There has been widespread retrieval of Genesis 2 with its charge to humankind to dress and keep the Garden of the Lord, the basis for an ethics of stewardship (Passmore 1974:28-42). Some theologians are seeking to incorporate more eco- centric philosophical and religious systems into the tradition, for example, the process metaphysics of Whitehead (Birch and Cobb 1981), the philosophy of Heidegger (Winter 1981), and the Eastern traditions of Buddhism and Taoism (Schumacher 1975; Graham 1965).

         These reconstructive efforts are reflected in important doctinal reformulations, for example, Pope John Paul II's encyclicals Redemptor Hominis and Laborem Exercens, the 1979 Puebla document of the Episcopal Conference of Latin America (Jakowska), and the Report of the World Council of Churches' Conference on Faith, Science and the Future in 1979 (Shinn 1980).


Critical Reconstruction in Humanism


         Both liberal and Marxist forms of humanism have been criticized for their excessive faith in technological forms of reason, and for their anti-Nature attitudes, evident in their common insistence that to be saved nature must be useful to human beings (Ehrenfeld 1978). Even the "humanities" have been subjected to this kind of analysis (French 1981). The historical roots of humanism in classical Greece and the European Enlightenment have been critically evaluated (Hughes 1975).

         At the same time, the view of Marx that humanity is dialectically related to nature, that nature is humanity's "body," and only distortions in economic development alienate humanity and nature (Parsons 1977); the view of the American liberal philosopher, Dewey, that the continuity of experience and nature is the first principle of pragmatic philosophy (Engel 1978); and the view of Locke that private property rights are justified on the condition that there by "enough and as good left in common for others" (Shrader-Frechette 1983), are sources for constructive environmental ethics in the humanist tradition.


Critical Reconstruction in Other Traditions


         Muslim scholars have criticized their tradition for its other- worldliness and excessively ritualistic and personal ethical emphases in the modern period, and then shown how correct readings of the Quran and Sunnah teach that the right relationship of humanity to nature is one of sustainable use, enjoyment, and contemplation (Husaini; Zaidi 1981).

         There are also indications that reconstructive work in environmental ethics is being done at the theoretical level by Buddhists, Confucianists, Hindus, Jews and Shintoists.

         Jewish scholars are using the full range of authoritative writings in the tradition to correct misunderstandings of the dominion doctrine (Helfand), and this recovery of the authentic tradition is being used to legitimate important initiatives in public policy, such as the proposed Jerusalem Convention for the Humane Treatment of Wild Animals. The Hindu reform movements led by Aurobindo, Gandhi, Tagore and Vivekananda, have implications for constructive environmental ethics in the Hindu tradition (Gostling 1976). Scholars in the new Buddhist and Shinto religions of Japan are exploring the religious bases of environmental ethics (Tazawa 1984). Scholars of Chinese religion and culture are seeking to understand the reasons for environmental destruction in China on a scale comparable to the Mediterranean civilizations in spite of the apparently ecologically positive attitudes of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism (Ma and Noble 1979; Tuan 1968).




         A critical evaluation of the adequacy of most historic traditions has been made in a very short period of time. This is a remarkable fact. The results of the process seem clear. First, each of the historic traditions examined is inadequate with regard to certain aspects of its environmental ethic.

         But there are also significant, often prophetic, life-affirming sources for environmental ethics in the historic traditions. Environmental ethics are not new to the traditions. The traditions have functioned to provide direction on the relationship of humanity to nature throughout much of their histories. This does not mean the wisdom of the past is adequate to today, nor, in retrospect, given the ecological catastrophes of the past, that it was adequate then. It does suggest that the widespread neglect of environmental concern in the modern period is in many ways an aberration. Creative scholarship has demonstrated that there are many ways of taking responsibility for the ecological well being of the Earth, and that the historic traditions share the capacity for reform and new intellectual leadership.




The Consensus on Eco-Justice


         Progress also has been made in recent years in defining the character of effective environmental ethics. There is increasing consensus, especially among the Western traditions, that social justice and ecological wholeness require one another. This does not mean that there is agreement on why this principle is true or necessary, on the precise meaning of social justice and ecological wholeness, or on how it is possible to achieve them together.


The Eco-centric/Homo-centric Debate


         The consensus on eco-justice means that the chief debate in environmental ethics in recent years is being resolved. This is the debate between advocates of eco-centric ("life-centered") and homo-centric ("human-centered") values (Rolston 1975). Eco-centric ethicists stress the objective value of the holistic nature of the biosphere and the right to existence of all of its interdependent parts, human beings, animals, plants and the physical landscape. The most famous American statement of the eco-centric view is that of Leopold: "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise" (Leopold 1949:224). Homo-centric ethicists, who include representatives of most of the major Western traditions, stress the special place of human beings in the total scheme of nature.

         As noted earlier, the eco-centric view was prominent in the environmental awakening of the 1960s, and it had long inspired movements for the preservation of wilderness and the protection of endangered species. But as the social implications of environmental legislation became apparent, and questions of the just distribution of environmental costs, benefits, and risks were raised, spurred by the challenge from developing countries at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment at Stockholm in 1972, the homo-centric view became increasingly relevant. Representatives of traditions such as Christianity that set a high priority on social justice, and that had the intellectual tools to analyze the ethical issues of just distribution of resources, were quick to point out that the needs of the poor are as important as the needs of the environment (Shinn 1980; Smith 1974).

         Parallel to the progress that conservationists have made in resolving the conflict between development and preservation through strategies of ecodevelopment (Boardman 1981:67-72), progress has also been made in transcending the terms of the eco-centric/homo-centric debate, or at least moving the debate to new ground. It is now widely acknowledged that both the "integrity, stability and beauty" of the ecosystem and the imperative of social justice must be affirmed.


Ethical Convergence


         Several factors are responsible for the emergin consensus on eco-justice. One factor is a convergence in ethical reconstruction. Eco-centric ethicists are developing the social implications of their positions, retrieving the democratic and egalitarian strains of their traditions. This means, for example, recoving the full scope of the thought of Thoreau, which was radical in both its social and ecological implications, as Gandhi and Martin Luther King have shown; uncovering the connections between the movement for the humane treatment of animals with 18th and 19th century English social reform; and retrieving the arguments of conservationists such as Olmsted that parks are necessary to the development of citizenship, as good citizenship is necessary to the preservation of nature (Sax 1980).

         One result of the critical reconstruction within the historic traditions is that home-centric emphases have been qualified by the recovery and incorporation of holistic elements. An example is the retrieval of the covenantal tradition in the Hebrew scriptures. The prophet Isaiah demanded economic justice for the poor. But he did not approach nature as a thing, simply to be used by human beings for economic development. Isaiah looked for a Kingdome of peace and justice in nature, the wolf dwelling with the lamb, nature's own bondage redeemed. In the authentic biblical view, God has a covenant with both nature and humanity, both are part of the drama of salvation (Santmire 1970). In the Christian tradition, Paul perpetuated this theme in his view that all forms of existence wait with longing for "liberation from the constraints that do violence to them" (Romans 8).




         A second factor is the recognition that humanity faces not an environmental "crisis," a situation that will pass, but a permanent structuring of the future. For the rest of human history on Earth there probably will be problems of population, resources, pollution, and species preservation. Human history and natural history are intertwined in one destiny. Inevitably, the issues of environmental ethics are involved in social ethics. It is increasingly hard to make a sharp distinction between values "for nature" and values "for people" because in the long run the most meaningful good of humanity and the good of nature must coincide (Shrader-Frechette 1983:17). To accept the fact of a shared destiny with the rest of creation is to accept the reality of reciprocal interdependence and co-evolution.


The Liberation of Creation


         Another factor that has led to consensus on the principle of eco-justice is the large number of analyses that point to the common origin of social and environmental oppression. For example, it is claimed that the subjugation of women and the rape of nature are causally, as well as metaphorically, related (Ruether 1975). The root source of oppression is variously identified as human aggression, pride, ignorance, greed, free market capitalism, totalitarianism, class conflict, the idea of heirarchy, the denial of Otherness--the refusal to let the Other (human or non-human) be (Heinegg 1979). These and other factors are proposed as reasons for the repeated necessity to choose between equally unacceptable alternatives: devastation of land or people. By this analysis, to struggle against the common source of oppression is to struggle for the liberation of creation--the liberation of nature and the liberation of humankind.


Shift in Social Paradigms


         The modern Western industrial paradigm with its expectation of unlimited material progress, Newtonian mechanistic science, goal of mastery of nature, and values of competition and individualism, has been widely held responsible for social injustice and environmental destruction alike.

         Today philosophers and theologians in many traditions see a shift away from this paradigm to a post-industrial model that affirms material sufficiency in the satisfaction of basic needs, frugality in resource use, cooperation and community solidarity, concern for social rights and benefits, and long-term, global values (Barbour 1980:310). The values of Native peoples are often cited as models for the new paradigm (Bookchin 1982). Another major source is the "dynamic/systems" view of reality, which Capra describes as "an awareness of the essential interrelatedness and interdependence of all phenomena--physical, biological, psychological, social, and cultural" (Capra 1983:265). Each of the historic traditions has unique ways of justifying the new paradigm (Birch and Cobb 1981).

         While most discussion of the topic is over-simplified, and there is little hard evidence that a major shift of this kind is occurring in more than a limited portion of the world, to the degree that it does happen there will be new legitimation for ethics of eco-justice.


Practical Experience and Implementation


         Conservationists working in the field have the advantage of seeing first hand the connection between social justice and ecological wholeness. It is difficult in practice to find actions that do significant harm to the environment that do not also harm human beings, and hard to find actions that result in social injustice, especially poverty, that do not harm the environment. The positive statement of the relationship--that movements for social justice and movements for conservation complement one another--is one of the great ethical insights behind many contemporary strategies for world conservation.

         In recent years, the historic traditions have been learning from experience in developing countries, and this is an important factor in their increasing commitment to eco-justice. Examples of projects sponsored by religious traditions that seek to implement eco-justice in local communities include: the Buddhist-informed Sarvodaya movement for community development and appropriate technology in Sri Lanka; the Catholic-informed work in environmental and social development in the parish of San Jose de Ocoa in the Dominican Republic; the Hindu-informed integrated village upliftment programs of the Ramakrishna Mission and the movement for land reform spearheaded by the Bhoodan movement in India.

         Many other projects under religious auspices are modeled on the principle of eco-justice. These include initiatives supported by the World Council of Churches' commitment to a "just, participatory and sustainable society"--the work of the Church and Society Committee of the Federation of Evangelical Churches, German Democratic Republic; the Pesticide Action Network International, with participation from the Mennonite Central Committee of Brazil; and the recently established Eco-justice Working Group in the Division of Church and Society of the National Council of Churches, U.S.A.




The Mandate of the World Charter for Nature


         The historic traditions are now poised for a dialogue on environmental ethics comparable to that which has been in process since the 1940s on human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provided the mandate for the discussion on human rights; the World Charter for Nature now provides a mandate for a dialogue on environmental ethics.

         Evidence that there is a readiness among the traditions for such a dialogue is found in the fact that prominent theologians are calling for it (Lash and Tracy 1983); that there is a shift within the human rights dialogue from a focus on individual political and civic rights to social and economic rights and this prepares the ground for consideration of the ecosystemic context in which all rights must be realized (Swidler 1982); and that the dialogue already has begun in certain limited ways, for example, among the members of the World Council on Religion and Peace (Jack 1979) and among limited circles of professional scholars in the field of environmental ethics. The variety of dialogues now in process between Buddhists, Christians and Marxists in various parts of the world, and the kind of discussion taking place among representatives of many traditions in the International Association for Religious Freedom are other reasons to think such a dialogue is imminent.


Public Ethics


         How can the public benefit from such a dialogue? To begin with, it is the quality of public ethics in each of the cultures of the world that will ultimately decide the fate of the Earth (Hill 1979). Public morality is the result of many factors outside the influence of the historic traditions, but under the right circumstances the traditions may contribute substantially to its formation. Most public discussion takes place in terms of an instrumental view of reason--that is, the discussion is about means, not ends. Ethics and worldviews are matters chiefly of private belief and practice. This must necessarily remain the case if the only alternative is a reconciliation of all ethics and worldviews in some consistent and coherent unitary frame of reference. However, if attention is placed on what is potentially public about the teachings of the traditions, and there is a willingness to accept slow and uncertain progress in widening areas of common purpose and understanding, dialogue that enriches public understanding is possible.

         What are the benefits dialogue between the historic traditions on environmental ethics might have?


The Ethical Advantages of Ethical Diversity


         Ethics is not an exact science and this means there is no one, all-purpose ethical system. This is one reason why there is such a diversity of ethical approaches in each of the great historic traditions. A liberal humanist, for example, may draw variously upon utilitarian, neo-Kantian, pragmatic, social contract, or libertarian principles. Depending upon the moral problem, one or more of these approaches will have a certain superiority of analysis and prescription, and it is therefore advantageous overall to have a variety from which to choose. It follows that public environmental ethics also will be improved if there are a variety of ethical approaches available.

         In some cases, appreciation and understanding of this variety will be enhanced by dialogue between different strands within a common major tradition, such as the dialogue in process among Catholic and Protestant Christians. In other cases, especially in highly pluralistic societies, in societies where syncretistic religious blendings are occurring or in inter-national programs, multi-faith dialogue is desirable. Any single society can tolerate only so much diversity, but identifying the diversity that exists and making it available for public use and discussion is a way of making wide ranging differences manageable.


Functional Interdependence


         Dialogue also may be productive by promoting the functional interdependence of different approaches to value in the political process. Each of the ethical traditions, religious and secular, may have a distinct role to play in the process of bringing the various sectors of society to understand environmental issues and act well regarding them.

         For example, in the Anglo-American context, those who have especially strong environmental concerns, often derived from a strong ethical base, usually begin the process by raising public consciousness (Ashby 1978). Scientists and economists are then called upon to make a series of factual and value judgments concerning whether the means available can achieve the desired end and whether costs outweigh benefits. Finally, political leadership must draw these different kinds of judgments together and make a policy-choice on the basis of a presumed consensual public ethic.

         The interplay between various kinds of ethical judgments will be different within each society, but it may be assumed that there is a similar kind of functional interdependence between ethical approaches in each setting. Dialogue between representatives of the traditions, scientists, economists and public leaders could clarify these relationships and help make them mutually productive.


Public Vision


         Finally, dialogue among the traditions can lead to an improvement in the shared public vision of each society. This is possible because the teachings of the various traditions, while private and particular in origin and expression, are public in their effects (Tracy 1983). The teaching of any particular tradition opens possibilities for new understanding available to all. Persons may respond variously to these possibilities. They may experience feelings of rejection, curiosity, resonance, or transformance. The result in each case is enhanced understanding of the human situation and its prospects.

         It is at the level of shared vision that the dialogue on environmental ethics would have the most to offer. The aim of the great dialogue on human rights is to understand the genuine meaning of human solidarity and the dignity of every person. If the traditions were to act on the mandate of the World Charter for Nature and initiate dialogues on the full range of environmental ethical concerns, this aim would be enlarged. They would be seeking to understand not only the meaning of human solidarity and individuality but the solidarity of humanity with the rest of nature and the respect due to every creature.






         This paper has traced four major steps that have been taken by members of the world's major historic traditions in developing and adopting effective environmental ethics.

         The first step was the recognition that the historic traditions have a responsibility for the environmental problems of our time, and that their response is crucial. The second step, still very much in process, was the attempt by scholars to discover the ideological causes for past failure, and to develop constructive environmental ethics. A third step was the consensus that is emerging that an effective environmental ethic must be an ethic of eco-justice. Finally, the fourth step is the apparent readiness by the world's traditions for an extended dialogue on environmental ethics.

         It has been stressed throughout the discussion that these signs of progress are limited to creative individuals and groups within the traditions, and do not yet represent fundamental changes in the traditions themselves.


The Challenge to IUCN


         Each step discussed suggests productive results could result from an engagement by IUCN with the traditions.

         The response of the historic traditions depends upon direct challenges; there is no evidence that they are yet prepared to take the kind of major initiatives in the area of environmental ethics that they have in human rights. The IUCN has a crucial role to play in continuing to press the traditions to recognize their responsiblity for changing environmental attitudes.

         Because of the reconstruction that has already occurred, however, there are now significant resources in the traditions for environmental ethics, and IUCN is now challenged to use these resources in the implementation of the World Conservation Strategy. The development of the principle of eco-justice is an important example of the kind of ethical support IUCN may receive for its programs. In addition, the practical initiatives of the traditions at local, national and international levels provide opportunities for effective cooperation.

         It is clear that world conservation would gain immeasurably if IUCN were to help facilitate a dialogue among the world's traditions on the full range of environmental values.


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J. Ronald Engel, Professor of Social Ethics, Meadville Theological School of Lombard College (Affiliated with the University of Chicago), Chicago, Illinois