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- Biodiversity Loss, the Motivation Problem, and the Future of Conservation Education in the United States
- The purpose of this dissertation is to make sense of two sets of reactions. On the one hand, Americans can barely lift a finger to help threatened and endangered species while on the other, they routinely come to the aid of human victims of disaster. I argue that in contrast to cases of human tragedy, for the biodiversity crisis conservationists are faced not only with the familiar yet arduous task of motivating the American public to care for living other-than-humans, but they are also saddled with having to overcome the motivation problem of future ethics. The motivation problem consists in eliminating or bridging a motivational gap that lies between knowledge of the effects of our actions on future generations and action taken based upon such knowledge. The gap exists because motives that typically move people to action are either ineffective or unavailable. What is more, the gap influences not only our ability to care for future humans, but it affects our ability to care for future other-than-humans as well. Biodiversity loss is in fact a subset of the problem of future generations, an identification hitherto little appreciated. I argue that conservationists can overcome the motivational gap not by appealing directly to the value of species or biodiversity, both of which are temporally distant, abstract and general moral patients, but indirectly, by focusing on the concrete and particular lives of extant and near future moral patients. By applying techniques that have been developed to overcome the motivation problem as it pertains to distant future human generations, conservationists have additional resources to draw upon in their efforts to motivate American citizens to preserve biodiversity. This dissertation’s contribution to the fields of environmental philosophy and conservation biology is both theoretical and practical. It is theoretically significant to elucidate the nature of moral failure for biodiversity conservation. In terms of broader impacts, identifying the basis of moral failure for biodiversity conservation allows me to assess educational campaigns and environmental policy, and to suggest solutions for bridging the motivational gap.
- Disturbing Nature's Beauty: Environmental Aesthetics in a New Ecological Paradigm
- An ecological paradigm shift from the "balance of nature" to the "flux of nature" will change the way we aesthetically appreciate nature if we adopt scientific cognitivism-the view that aesthetic appreciation of nature must be informed by scientific knowledge. Aesthetic judgments are subjective, though we talk about aesthetic qualities as if they were objectively inherent in objects, events, or environments. Aesthetic judgments regarding nature are correct insofar as they are part of a community consensus regarding the currently dominant scientific paradigm. Ecological science is grounded in metaphors: nature is a divine order, a machine, an organism, a community, or a cybernetic system. These metaphors stimulate and guide scientific practice, but do not exist independent of a conceptual framework. They are at most useful fictions in terms of how they reflect the values underlying a paradigm. Contemporary ecology is a science driven more by aesthetic than metaphysical considerations. I review concepts in the history of nature aesthetics such as the picturesque, the sublime, disinterestedness, and formalism. I propose an analogy: just as knowledge of art history and theory should inform aesthetic appreciation of art, knowledge of natural history and ecological theory should inform aesthetic appreciation of nature. The "framing problem," is the problem that natural environments are not discrete objects, so knowing what to focus on in an environment is difficult. The "fusion problem" is the problem of how to fuse the sensory aspect of aesthetic appreciation with highly theoretical scientific knowledge. I resolve these two problems by defending a normative version of the theory-laden observation thesis. Positive aesthetics is the view that insofar as nature is untouched by humans, it is always beautiful and never ugly. I defend an amended and updated version of positive aesthetics that is consistent with the central elements of contemporary ecology, and emphasize the heuristic, exegetical, and pedagogical roles aesthetic qualities play in ecological science.
- The Environmental is Political: Exploring the Geography of Environmental Justice
- The dissertation is a philosophical approach to politicizing place and space, or environments broadly construed, that is motivated by three questions. How can geography be employed to analyze the spatialities of environmental justice? How do spatial concepts inform understandings of environmentalism? And, how can geography help overcome social/political philosophy's redistribution-recognition debate in a way that accounts for the multiscalar dimensions of environmental justice? Accordingly, the dissertation's objective is threefold. First, I develop a critical geography framework that explores the spatialities of environmental injustices as they pertain to economic marginalization across spaces of inequitable distribution, cultural subordination in places of misrecognition, and political exclusion from public places of deliberation and policy. Place and space are relationally constituted by intricate networks of social relations, cultural practices, socioecological flows, and political-economic processes, and I contend that urban and natural environments are best represented as "places-in-space." Second, I argue that spatial frameworks and environmental discourses interlock because conceptualizations of place and space affect how environments are perceived, serve as framing devices to identify environmental issues, and entail different solutions to problems. In the midst of demonstrating how the racialization of place upholds inequitable distributions of pollution burdens, I introduce notions of "social location" and "white privilege" to account for the conflicting agendas of the mainstream environmental movement and the environmental justice movement, and consequent accusations of discriminatory environmentalism. Third, I outline a bivalent environmental justice theory that deals with the spatialities of environmental injustices. The theory synergizes distributive justice and the politics of social equality with recognition justice and the politics of identity and difference, therefore connecting cultural issues to a broader materialist analysis concerned with economic issues that extend across space. In doing so, I provide a justice framework that assesses critically the particularities of place and concurrently identifies commonalities to diverse social struggles, thus spatializing the geography of place-based political praxis.
- Sustainable Environmental Identities for Environmental Sustainability: Remaking Environmental Identities with the Help of Indigenous Knowledge
- Early literature in the field of environmental ethics suggests that environmental problems are not technological problems requiring technological solutions, but rather are problems deeply rooted in Western value systems calling for a reorientation of our values. This dissertation examines what resources are available to us in reorienting our values if this starting point is correct. Three positions can be observed in the environmental ethics literature on this issue: 1. We can go back and reinterpret our Western canonical texts and figures to determine if they can be useful in providing fresh insight on today's environmental challenges; 2. We abandon the traditional approaches, since these are what led to the crisis in the first place, and we seek to establish entirely new approaches and new environmental identities to face the environmental challenges of the 21st century; 3. We look outside of the Western tradition for guidance from other cultures to see how they inhabit and interact with the natural world. This dissertation presents and evaluates these three options and ultimately argues for an approach similar to the third option, suggesting that dialogue with indigenous cultures and traditions can help us to reorient our values and assist in developing more sustainable environmental identities.