Robbins et al.’s Environment and Society presents a thorough and multidimensional analysis of the interdependence of humanity, culture, and the natural environment. Though we have addressed many of the topics in this book before, I was happy to revisit many of such issues, particularly where resource management and ethics were concerned. With regard to the former, I have long been an advocate for market solutions to environmental degradation. Specifically, I have supported the use of pollutant permits to control carbon emissions, as was done successfully with acid rain in the 1990s. In part, this is due to my general skepticism of central government solutions. After all, I consider myself as some variant of a left libertarian. However, Robbins et al. present a strong argument for why government intervention is increased by a pollutant exchange system. As Robbins et. al state, “a market based approach…may demand an extension of state regulations, with increasing numbers of state scientists and monitors…assuring legitimacy of transactions in the market” (Robbins et al. 42). Fortunately, the authors do suggest an anti-authoritarian, decentralized way by which resource management decisions can be effectively made. For example, they cite the self-regulation of lobster fishermen in Maine as among a number of real-world examples of this.
An additional section of the textbook that I found intriguing was, as stated earlier, the chapter on environmental ethics. One of such ethical approaches that they mentioned was a set of maxims laid out by forester Aldo Leopold. Specifically, they cite his so-called dictum of “The Land Ethic.” As framed in the book, this can be defined as “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” (Robbins et al. 74). While this might seem noble and altruistic in theory, it is ultimately sheer pathos and nothing more. Indeed, this is true even in the case of Locke’s apparently utilitarian approach to nature. All moral or ethical propositions are incapable of being facts about the world, for there is no steady criterion or criteria by which said propositions can be classified as true or false. When we speak of ethical rules, these are merely an attempt to articulate and validate our visceral emotional reactions to certain behaviors. Consequently, there is no factual way to speak of how we ought to treat the natural world. We merely shape nature, and people react according to their own psychological dispositions. This point is important because it suggests a limitation to our ability to relate and interact with nature. When it comes to ethics, we are inaccessible to nature; in fact, we can’t even speak of it meaningfully.
According to a piece in the Guardian, the EPA prevented three scientists from speaking at a discussion about the environmental health of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay Estuary. The report on the estuary that was supposed to be discussed at the event detailed how the consequences of climate change had led to a warming of the estuary’s water, a rise in the sea level of the estuary, and stressors being placed on the fish population there.