Ecoethics: Now Central to All Ethics

  • Paul R. EhrlichEmail author


A few years ago, I wrote on the need for expansion of the environmental areas of bioethics, and covered some of the topics touched on here. Sadly, although it is possible to find some notable exceptions, bioethics does not provide much of an ethical base for considering human-nature relationships. Here I’m not going to deal with these philosophical issues or others about the nature of ethical decision-making. The rapid worsening of the human predicament means that applied ethical issues with a significant environmental connection (what I call “ecoethics”), must be dealt with without waiting for the more interesting theoretical issues to be resolved. I define ecoethics very broadly to deal with dilemmas over a vast range of scales, and believe they now should penetrate virtually all areas of human activities. Ecoethics must struggle with issues of intra-generational (and interperson/group/nation) equity and the dilemmas of discounting by distance (valuing distant persons/events/costs/benefits less than those closer to the observer in physical or mental distance). Ecoethics also deals with the difficult dilemma of inter-generational equity—of discounting the future. That is especially troublesome when actions today can have significant environmental consequences 50 or more generations from now. Here I would like to highlight the ubiquity of those questions and the importance of seeking answers.


Conservation Sustainability Ethics Intrinsic value Public intellectual 



This paper has benefited immensely from thoughtful comments by Kai Chan, Partha Dasgupta, Shamik Dasgupta, Anne Ehrlich, Rob Irvine, Simon Levin, Stuart Pimm, Rob Pringle, Debra Satz, and Kyle Van Houtan. Anne was especially helpful in debating points and editing. I, of course, remain guilty of all sins of omission, commission, or whatever. This work has been supported by funds from the Mertz-Gilmore Foundation and Peter and Helen Bing.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Center for Conservation BiologyStanfordUSA

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