Environmental Ethics


published on November 17, 2020

Alexander Lee, Alex Hamilton, Benjamin Hale

Conservation Floors and Degradation Ceilings
A Justificatory Architecture for Constraints in U.S. Environmental Policy

U.S. conservation policy, both in structure and in practice, places a heavy burden on conservationists to halt development projects, rather than on advocates of development to defend their proposed actions. In this paper, we identify this structural phenomenon in several landmark environmental policies and in practice in the contemporary debate concerning oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The burdens placed on conservation can be understood in terms of constraints—as conservation ‘floors’ (or minimum standards) and degradation ‘ceilings’ (or upper limits). At base, these floors and ceilings emerge out of underlying consequentialist commitments that assume that our environmental activity can be justified by appeal primarily to ends. A series of intuition pumps guides our argument to instead shift the conservation discourse away from these consequentialist commitments to more widely justify activities on our public lands.