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Environmental Ethics

Volume 1, Issue 3, Fall 1979

R. V. Young, Jr.
Pages 241-254
DOI: 10.5840/enviroethics19791313

A Conservative View of Environmental Affairs

The contemporary debate over man’s relation to his natural environment raises many complex issues which have thrown our familiar liberal and conservative political alignments into disarray. Although ecology is now generally regarded as a liberal cause with conservatives supporting commercial and industrial expansion, until very recently liberals almost unanimously championed industrialization and technological advance. Resistance to “progress” was the folly of only the most eccentric conservatives. Today, both liberal proponents of environmental protection and conservative defenders of business and industry argue on merely prudential grounds: each side maintains that only the adoption of its own program can save human civilization from collapse, or even the race from extinction. Extremely radical environmentalists have based their arguments on nloral principle: humanity is just one species among many, and men are, therefore, morally obligated to respect the rights of other organisms and of the ecosystem as a whole. This position, however, is ultimately reducible to a self-contradictory utilitarianism. It is the reverent attitude of traditional conservatism - that man is superior to other creatures as the steward of creation, holding it not as absolute possessor but only in trust from his Creator - that promises both the most moral and the most sensible approach to environmental affairs.

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