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 The study of moral issues concerning the environment, and
 A moral perspective, belief, or attitude concerning those issues.
The Invisible Hand and the Commons
Two powerful metaphors have dominated thinking about the environment: the invisible
hand and the tragedy of the commons. Both metaphors are used to highlight unintentional
impacts of the marketplace on the environment, but one is optimistic and the other is
cautionary about those impacts. Each contains a large part of the truth, and they need to be
reconciled and balanced.
Invisible hand- The ways in which pursuing self-interests in the competitive marketplace
promotes the public good, for example, by providing quality products at lower cost, jobs, and
wealth and philanthropy.
Tragedy of the Commons-The ways in which the marketplace harms public goods such as clean
air and water by creating unintended “externalities” that is, harmful effects such as pollution
that are not factored into the cost of products.
Engineers: Sustainable Development
According to Ansari, central to the engineering view is “technothink”, which implicitly
assumes that things can be understood by analyzing them and, if something goes wrong, can be
fixed”. In contrast, “green philosophy” demands humility, respect and sensitivity towards the
natural word”.
Individual engineers, like other professionals, differ in their views, including their broader
holistic views about the environment.
What is important is that all engineers should reflect seriously on environmental values & how
they can best integrate them into understanding & solving problems.
Moreover, Sarah Kuhn points out that engineers should also be able to “work in an
organizational context in which an eco-friendly approach is valued & supported with tools,
information & incentives necessary to succeed. Beyond that, they must work in a market that
rewards sustainable products & processes, and in a policy context that encourages
environmental protection”.
In 1977, The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) introduced to its code the statement:
“Engineers should be committed to improving the environment to enhance the quality of life.”
“Should” indicates the desirability of doing so, in contrast to
“Shall” which indicates something mandatory or enforceable.
Two decades later, in 1997, ASCE’s fundamental canon has changed from recommendations
(should) to requirements (shall):
“Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health & welfare of the public and shall strive to
comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their professional
“Sustainable Development”
- Put negatively, the term was invented to underscore how current patterns of economic
activity & growth cannot be sustained as populations grow, technologies are extended to
developing countries, & the environment is increasingly harmed.
- Put positively, the term implies the crucial need for new economic patterns & products
that are sustainable, that is, compatible with both ongoing technological development &
protection of the environment.
- As such, the term suggests compromise instance between advocates of traditional
economic development that neglected the environment, & critics who warned of an
environmental crisis: economic development is essential, but it must be sustainable into
the future.
In Our Common Future, sustainable development is defined as:
“Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of
future generations to meet their own needs”
This statement emphasizes international justice which means balancing the needs of living
populations against those of future generations.
ASCE defines Sustainable development as:
A process of change in which the direction, of investment, the orientation of technology, the
allocation of resources, and the development & functioning of institutions is directed to meet
the needs & aspirations without endangering the capacity of natural systems to absorb the
effects of human activities, and without compromising the ability of future generations to
meets their own needs & aspirations.
Government: Technology Assessment
Government laws & regulations are the lightning rod in environmental controversies.
Engineers, it is sometimes said, are apt to find the right answers to the wrong questions.
According to economist Robert Theobald, many of the questions we should be answering are
not yet known. Unfortunately, the process required for discovering the right questions is totally
different from the process of discovering the right answers.
Distilling & Applying Knowledge
The difficult task of technology assessment & environmental impact analyses is to explore the
extent of this spread & to separate the more significant among the possibly adverse effects.
The danger in any assessment of technology is that some serious risks can easily be overlooked
while the studies & subsequent reports, properly authenticated by the aura of scientific
methodology, lull the decision maker to believing that nothing is amiss – or perhaps that
perceived risks are more serious than they really are.
Our contention remains that engineering must be understood as social experimentation & that
the experiment continues, indeed enters a new phase, when the engineering project is
implemented. Only by careful monitoring will it be possible to gather a more complete picture
of the tangled web of effects encompassed in figure 8-2 within the inverted, lower funnel.
Communities: Preventing Natural Disasters
Communities have special responsibility to conserve natural resources & the beauty for
future generations.
Four Sets of Measures to Mitigate Disasters:
1. Restrictions or requirements imposed on human habitat
2. Strengthening the lifelines for essential utilities
3. Special-purpose defensive structures like dams, dikes, barriers etc..
4. Assuring safe exits like escape roads & passages, emergency shelters, adequate clinical
facilities etc.
When disasters do occur, lesson can be learned, rather that shrugged aside by disbelief that
the event can occur again.
“Lightning never strikes twice in the same place”
“Another 100-year old flood is about that far away”
Market Mechanisms: Internalizing Costs
In describing how efficient & cheap many of our products & processes are, the figures usually
include only the direct cost of labor, raw materials & the use of facilities; on the otherhand,
The true cost would have to include many indirect factors such as the effects of pollution,
depletion of energy & raw materials, disposal, & social costs.
Social Activism by concerned citizens is important in raising public awareness.
The environment is no longer the concern of an isolated minority. Engineers,
corporations, federal & state laws, local community regulations, market mechanisms, & social
activities are among the many influences at work.

Individual engineers can make a difference. Although their actions are limited within
corporations, they share responsibility with many others– they are uniquely placed to act as
agents of change, as responsible experimenters.
Doing so requires personal commitments that are often rooted in wider moral or religious
Human-Centered Ethics
• Human-centered or anthropocentric environmental ethics
- Focuses exclusively on the benefits of the natural environment to humans &
the threat to human beings presented by the destruction of nature.
• Rights ethics
- argues that basic rights to life & to liberty entail a right to a liveable environment
• Duty Ethics
- urges that respect for human life implies far greater concern for nature than has been
traditionally recognized.
• Virtue Ethics
- draws attention to such virtues as prudence, humility, appreciation of beauty, &
gratitude toward the natural world that makes life possible, and also the virtue of stewardship
over resources that are needed for further generations.
Sentient-Centered Ethics
One version of nature-centered ethics recognizes all sentient animals as having inherent
worth. Sentient animals are those that feel pain & pleasure & have desires.
Peter Singer on his influential book –
Animal Liberation, believes that animals deserve equal consideration, in that their interests
should be weighed fairly, but does not mean equal treatment with humans.
Biocentric Ethics
A life-centered ethics regards all living organisms as having inherent worth.
Albert Schweitzer set forth a pioneering version of this perspective under the name of
“reverence for life”.
He argued that our most fundamental feature is not our intellect but instead our will to live, by
which he meant both a will to survive & a will to develop according to our innate tendencies.
Empathy, if we allow it to emerge, grows into sympathy & compassion, gradually leading us to
accept “as good preserving life, promoting life, developing all life that is capable of
development to its highest possible value.
Paul Taylor provides extensive discussion of four duties:
1. Nonmaleficence
2. Noninterference
3. Fidelity
4. Restriction
Ecocentric Ethics
In contrast to sentient-centered & biocentered ethics, ecocentric ethics locates inherent value
in ecological systems. This more holistic approach was voiced by the naturalist Aldo Leopold
(1887-1948), who urged that we have an obligation to promote the health of ecosystems.
In one of the most famous statements in the environmental literature, he wrote:
“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.”
Religious Perspectives
Each world religion reflects the diversity of outlooks of its members, and the same is true
concerning environmental attitudes.
Moreover, these religions have endured through millennia in which shifting attitudes have led a
mixed legacy of concern and callousness, with large gaps between ideals and practice.
Nevertheless, the potential for world religions to advance ecological understanding is
enormous, and we briefly take note of several examples
• Judeo-Christian traditions begin with two contrasting images in Genesis, first chapter
portrays God as commanding human dominion over the earth while the second chapter
commands “stewardship over all the earth”, suggesting the role of a caretaker.
Asian religions such as Zen Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism, emphasize images of unity with
nature, which is distinct from both stewardship and dominion.
Themes of unity are also familiar in nineteenth-century English Romanticism and American
The most deeply rooted American themes of unity, however, are found in American Indian
thinking and rituals. Nonhuman animals have spirits. They are to be killed only out of necessity,
and then atone for and apologies made to the animal’s spirit. In addition, the identity of tribes
was linked to features of the landscape.