Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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"The Other Profession




Environmental Studies as a Liberal Art

Ernest Partridge

Adapted from the First Annual A. D. and Elizabeth Andersen Hulings Lecture,
"If Environmental Education is the Answer, then What is the Question?"
The lecture was presented at Northland College, on February 15, 1995.


A well-conceived and executed program in Environmental Studies, like the ecosystem which it studies, is a integrated whole comprised of interdependent parts. Among these parts are the facts and methods of the sciences, the insights and values of the humanities, and the aesthetic expression of the arts. All are indispensable components in the formulation of an appropriate environmental ethic and policy, which is to say, an appropriate articulation and execution of humanity's responsibility to nature and the future.

Accordingly, Environmental Studies, properly conceived, is what institutions of higher learning have come to call a "liberal art" -- "liberal" in the sense of "liberating." Environmental education can thus "liberate" us, first, by identifying the historical, technological and ideological factors that have brought on the environmental crisis. And with the identification of these factors, along with an articulation of our fundamental values, a well-conceived environmental education can suggest solutions to these problems and steps toward a sustainable future for our human and natural communities.

In this essay, I will explore the role of environmental studies in the general education of a college student -- as a part of his and her "liberal arts" foundation, and moreover a part that is designed to be relevant to the environmental crises that this student will face as a global citizen. To begin, I will review the trends in higher environmental education, since the first Earth Day, twenty five years ago. I will come to the sad conclusion that the most important lessons are to be gained not from the success but from the failure of this educational experiment. I will then look separately first at "Liberal Arts" education, then at science as an historical and social force, and then at their integration in the development and assessment of public environmental policy. I will suggest that moral philosophy has an inalienable place in the formulation of environmental policy. Upon this foundation, I will examine the role of our colleges and universities in preparing environmentally literate leaders and citizens.

Now to our first question: How did Western civilization fall into the environmental trap in which we now find ourselves? Briefly, we did so by allowing our cleverness to outpace our intelligence, our facility to outdistance our foresight, and our decision-making procedures to evolve without moral charts and compasses, secure in the belief that our lives and institutions were being moved by such benign "invisible hands" as consumer preferences, market forces, and cultural drift. (These forces, qua "invisible," and in addition beneficial in the short term, to the powers that be, have been largely unexamined and thus uncontrolled). And finally, our public, given the choice between belief in comforting fantasy on the one hand, and troubling but verified reality on the other -- well, we all know the rest.

We've heard all this before, of course. What is startling is that this rhetoric of "environmental sustainability and renewal" is repeated and agreed to without these maxims having an appreciable effect upon public policy and thus without significant alteration of the velocity or the direction or our headlong race to the precipice. The warnings of the scientists are met with uninformed sophistry, or still worse are totally ignored by those we entrust with our collective lives and welfare. Case in point: in the so-called "Contract With America," proposed by the leaders of the present Congress, the words "environment" and "education" are totally absent. I know -- I looked meticulously, without finding them.

For all this evasion, the facts are stark and compelling: The resources of the Earth are finite, though Julian Simon would deny this, and they are being depleted at an accelerating rate. The long-term yield of our agriculture is being threatened by our alteration of the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere, though Rush Limbaugh would have us believe otherwise. And the world population continues to grow exponentially and thus unsustainably, though Ronald Reagan and George Bush gave no evidence of being aware of this, much less disposed to act appropriately.

The picture is bleak, which is why so many of our compatriots are disinclined to acknowledge it, contemplate it and respond appropriately. Disaster lies ahead, unless we slow the juggernaut and steer it away from inevitable collision with the physical and biotic limits of our home planet. What is the answer? In large part, Environmental Education is the answer.

I can well anticipate the readers' complaint: "Oh no, not another environmental Jeremiad!" We've all heard too many, most of us share these concerns, and there is no point in enduring still another recitation of horrors. Surely the reader deserves to hear a new perspective on the planetary emergency, and at least some sketches of a map out of our collective morass. That map will attempt to identify some of the false paths that got us here, and some of the traps that lie ahead as we try to escape and move toward a sustainable future.

Whatever Became of Survival U?

Didn't environmental education enjoy a spectacular launch with the first Earth Day, eight years ago? Yes it did, but to say the least of it, environmental education has not transformed our attitudes toward the land nor significantly deflected our course into the future. Indeed, our deliberate attempts to inculcate an ecological conscience may be more significant for the counter-reactions. For notice: the first responses were quite hopeful. The same year as Earth Day, 1970, the Clean Air Act was passed by Congress. Then, two years later, the Environmental Protection Agency was established, and then the Clean Water Act enacted.(1) But then, eleven years after Earth Day, James Watt was Secretary of the Interior, and Anne Gorsuch the Administrator of the EPA, and the dismantlement of the Environmental Decade was under way. As for higher environmental education, the recent trends have been similarly disheartening.

This section of the essay gains its title from a 1969 article in Harper's magazine, by its editor, John Fischer: "Survival U: Prospectus for a Really Relevant University."(2) In that article, Fischer proposed an "experimental university," which would "... look seriously at the interlinking threats to human existence, and ... learn what we can do to fight them off." He continued:

Let's call it Survival U. It will not be a multiversity offering courses in every conceivable field. Its motto ... will be: "What must we do to be saved?" If a course does not help to answer that question, it will not be taught here...

Neither will our professors be detached, dispassionate scholars. To get hired, each will have to demonstrate an emotional commitment to our cause. Moreover, he will be expected to be a moralist; for this generation of students, like no other in my lifetime, is hungering and thirsting after righteousness. What it wants is a moral system it can believe in -- and that is what our university will try to provide. In every class it will preach the primordial ethic of survival.(3)

Two years later, John Fischer reported that he had found "Survival U," "alive and burgeoning," specifically, at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. Following a visit to the Green Bay campus, he wrote: "I came away persuaded that it is the most exciting and promising educational experiment that I have found anywhere... It is a truly radical innovation, not only in purpose but in its internal structure and methods of teaching..."(4)

So whatever became of "Survival U?" To answer that question, I examined the current UWGB Catalog, and then looked up the names of some faculty members that I had met twenty years earlier. To my delight, one of them was still there and near his phone. My delight at finding him was quickly dispelled by his message. To my question, "What happened to Survival U?" his reply was immediate: "Reagan happened." As he continued, he pointed out that a combination of political indifference, career concerns, and a lack of community support, had led to a shrinkage of the campus-wide "environmental mission" into two ordinary academic departments: Environmental Science, and Environmental Policy. In the latter, courses in "Environmental Economics and Law" are prominent, and courses in Environmental Ethics totally absent -- as in fact they are absent from the entire University. There is a single course in Environmental Education, and none in Outdoor Education or Interpretive Naturalism. Most new faculty members, my source tells me, are completely unaware that the University ever had a campus-wide environmental mission.

Aside from that conversation, a couple of years ago I had a fortuitous opportunity to sample the state of college level environmental education. I was then asked to review applications from forty-two colleges seeking to join the Environmental Studies Project of the Council of Independent Colleges. I was struck by how conventional and unimaginative were the "environmental studies programs" (if any) of most of the applicants. There appeared to be little impact of "the environmental revolution" here! I was reminded of the words of John Fischer, published in 1971: "underneath the cosmetics, the bone structure of the university, the traditional departments, remain much as they were fifty years ago..." Then, looking ten years ahead to 1981, he predicted that "in the old universities, the situation is likely to remain much the same. For they are like the Galapagos tortoises: slow-moving, shell-encrusted survivors from an earlier epoch..."(5) Time, alas, has validated Fischer's prediction.

Why hasn't higher education in the United States responded appropriately to the environmental emergency which, ironically, has been so persuasively validated and eloquently proclaimed by the scientists and scholars within? I detect four trends which have contributed to this troublesome outcome:

  • In a few cases, environmental studies programs have been dominated by new-age romanticism, and with it a rejection of science and intellect in favor of mysticism and emotivism, combined with loss of sales-resistance to exotic cults. The virtues of tolerance and humility, unconstrained, have led to radical moral relativism and skepticism. (I have been especially struck by the frequency of these sentiments in numerous manuscripts that I have refereed for educational journals). Thus, as many environmental educators have willingly alienated themselves from the traditions of scholarship and collegial inquiry, their programs have either been discontinued or marginalized into insignificance.. (More about this in the next section).


  • Rather than integrating the disciplines, many "Environmental Studies Programs" have simply replicated, in miniature, the disciplinary boundaries and loyalties found on the campus at large. For example, for the first ten years of its existence (1970-80), each and every faculty member of the Environmental Studies Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, held a joint appointment with another academic department (I was the first exception). And that "other department" held the passport to career advancement. Thus "interdisciplinary studies" were not rewarded, to say the least. This was typical of other Environmental Studies Programs in the University of California system, and beyond in the other state universities. (More about this when we critically examine education and careers in the sciences.)


  • When serious inquiries are made into environmental values and responsibility, the investigators are sternly reminded (by senior colleagues or administrators), that such investigations are "not scholarly," since science and scholarship, qua "objective," are "value free." If their interest is in the analysis of public environmental policy, they are then urged to pursue these inquiries in a mode that is appropriately quantitative and "value-free." As we shall see, this is an impossible requirement, since the term "value-free policy science" is oxymoronic -- incoherent by definition.

  • Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the Environmental Sciences Programs have been captured and co-opted by those very forces that they were formed to criticize and counteract: economic interests, government agencies, and policy-making bodies both private and public. These interests, of course, are represented among the Trustees of the Universities and Colleges; they hire the graduates, and they supply the research grants. In return, these interests expect validation, not criticism -- which, however, subtly and even inadvertently, they punish.

Well, we never expected the task to be easy. And so we persist. For if disciplined scholarly and scientific inquiry is not to find our way out of our trap, what is? And if informed and applied intelligence is the key, how are we to gain it, if not through responsible and dedicated instruction of the succeeding generation and of the public at large?

"Liberal Arts" as The Art of Liberation.

As the very term suggests, the purpose of "the liberal arts" is liberation -- to lead the student toward freedom, responsibility and autonomy. But now we immediately encounter a paradox. For in this blessed "land of the free," founded with a declaration of the "inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," the liberating arts struggle against competing demands of "career" and "practicality" for attention and even for justification in the higher education curriculum.

Yes, our public philosophy celebrates freedom, but do we accept it as private individuals? Well, yes and no, depending upon what we mean by "liberty" and "freedom." We cannot unravel this conundrum unless we first recognize that these words "liberty" and "freedom" are not synonymous, and that they are both ambiguous. Only then can we begin to understand that while we will fight and die for liberty, freedom can be an onerous burden that we will willingly, even enthusiastically, surrender. Dostoyevsky pointed this out, when he had his Grand Inquisitor tell the returning Jesus:

Didn't you often tell them that you wanted to make them free? Well then ... now you have seen free men... For fifteen hundred years we were pestered by that notion of freedom, but in the end we succeeded in getting rid of it, and now we are rid of it for good... [Yet] this very day men are convinced that they are freer than they have ever been, although they themselves brought us their freedom and put it meekly at our feet... Man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born.

So it appears, at the outset, that all varieties of "freedom"might not equally deserve to be cultivated by the liberal arts, and furthermore, that some liberties may deserve no cultivation whatever.

My argument rests upon a fundamental distinction between what might loosely be called "liberty" and "autonomy," which I will call, respectively, "Hobbesian freedom" and "Kantian freedom." (As we shall see, a more familiar distinction between "negative" freedom from, and "positive" freedom to does not serve my argument, since both "liberty" and "autonomy" have negative and positive elements.)

"Hobbesian freedom" ("liberty") belongs to the person who can do what he pleases and have what he wants, unconstrained by frustration, conflict, deferred gratification or mental and emotional anguish. The song in Damn Yankees epitomizes it perfectly: "What Lola wants, Lola gets!" The paradigm of Hobbesian freedom is the "couch potato" who (fortunate fellow!) is unfrustrated and content, for the simple reason that his aspirations are relatively simple: he desires no fame or fortune, aspires to no personal excellence, has no interest in leaving any hint that his life had lasting significance. His income is secure from a modest inheritance. All that he wants is on the screen in front of him, and if not right now, then he'll find it with a couple of squeezes on the remote. "A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, Oprah, Seinfeld and Letterman is paradise enough!" Dosteyevky's Grand Inquisitor offered the people, miracle, mystery, and authority in exchange for their freedom. Today's inquisitors offer us the tube! -- and with it, a repertory of pre-selected and pre-defined "wants"

Is this freedom? Consider: the libertine has "freedom to" have whatever he wants. He also has "freedom from" frustration and anguish. What more might a person want? And if nothing more, what need is there for the "Liberal Arts," which can only succeed, at best, in admonishing the spud to get off his butt, expand his horizons and, in short, to amount to something. But do such admonitions expand freedom? Not the freedoms of the Hobbesian sort, for, if successful, these moral preachments only add the burdens of guilt and shame to this otherwise unfettered life.

Obviously, we have arrived at a conclusion ad absurdum. This is not the sort of freedom worth fighting and dying for. This is not what Jefferson, Madison and Lincoln had in mind. In particular, it is not the freedom that Immanuel Kant had in mind. To see what I mean, let's return to Lola.

What are the sources and the validations of "Lola's wants"? Are they reasonable? Are they attainable in a society of Lolas with comparable wants? Do these wants expand, or contract, her menu of tastes and potential enjoyments? Do they expand or contract her repertory of options, and with it her capacity to deal with the problems that such a vegetative or self-indulgent life is sure to engender? And finally, are these wants really Lola's, or are they instead imported into her bubble-head from self-seeking "want-makers" on the outside who engineer and exploit her "wants" to their own advantage? That last question, in Immanuel Kant's language, is this: Are Lola's wants "autonomous" or are they 'heteronymous"?(6)

It is the task of the Liberal Arts to cultivate the freedom of Kantian autonomy which obtains when our reason and intellect become the springs of our action and the determiners of our own life. This is to be contrasted with what Kant called "heteronomy," which describes the condition, so rampant in our mass culture, when our tastes, goals, values, and even our self-concepts, are imported intact and uncritically from without, and thus are not, in any authentic sense, our own. Freedom as autonomy is very difficult to accomplish in our age of mass-media and pop culture, when our attention is bombarded by the taste makers, when non-conforming behavior is regarded with suspicion, and when the life of the mind and the skills which lead to autonomy are not cultivated or encouraged.

That cultivation of autonomy is the objective of the Liberal Arts; we gain through literature a variety of perspectives and options on life; we enrich, through the arts, the menu of aesthetic satisfactions; and we learn, through philosophy, the skills of critical thinking and experience the adventure of ideas. Through these and other humane disciplines we acquire the means to define and plan our lives, assess our place in the human adventure and thus act responsibly as a citizens of our human and natural communities.

While Hobbesian liberty avoids constraint, Kantian autonomy embraces it. Unlike couch-potato libertines, autonomous individuals recognize that duty may demand that they do what hey would prefer not to do. Libertines are moved by their desires or "preferences," as the economist prefers to call them. In fact, they are a virtual exemplar of that strange abstraction, "economic man" -- in the jargon of the discipline, a "preference utility maximizer." Kantian moralists, in contrast, have second-order desires regarding their desires, and second-order preferences regarding their preferences. For example, so long as recovering alcoholics' second-order desires prevail over their first-order desires to drink, they will remain sober. In this realm of "second-order" reflection reside values and conscience -- terms systematically eliminated from economic policy talk, yet integral to moral reflection.(7)

Those individuals who have, through reason, recognized and integrated the ruling precepts of their lives, learned the fundamental conditions of the natural world they inhabit, and acknowledged the intrinsic worth of other persons, become the initiator of their own acts, and thus responsible for their own behavior -- they are, in a single Kantian word, "autonomous." Thus enabled to act consistently, effectively and reasonably toward the realization of their highest aspirations and values, such individuals become, in the fullest sense, "free."

"Autonomy" need not and must not imply privatism and social irresponsibility. Quite the contrary. We are fundamentally social creatures. As George H. Mead and John Dewey convincingly argued, our minds, selves, thoughts, consciousness, and eventually our consciences, emerge with language, which in turn emerges from social activity. And "liberation" is attained, not only through the recognition and celebration of our autonomy, but also through the recognition of and respect for the autonomy of others, whereby we constrain our own actions to allow like freedom of others. This mutual acknowledgment of each others' autonomy and moral agency constitutes the foundation of what John Rawls calls "the morally well-ordered society."

Accordingly, a liberally educated individual, who has learned to recognize and to celebrate the autonomy within and in others will relentlessly resist the objectification, depersonalization and alienation that is so characteristic of our contemporary world -- a trend which, as Mark Sagoff sardonically puts it, "treats people as of equal worth because it treats them as of no worth, but only as places or channels at which willingness to pay is found."(8) Otherwise, absent the resistance of a liberally well-educated public, we will move ever more toward a mass-culture which treats members of the public as cash-cows, studied and surveyed in the quest for the broadest common taste and fascination, the better to be milked for their cash. We will endorse a culture which treats workers as disposable parts in the mass consumption machine -- a system which portrays in the mass media, human bodies as objects of lust and violence, rarely portraying the souls within. Such objectification of humanity goes hand-in-glove with the "commodification" of nature, about which Aldo Leopold warned us.

In closing this section on the Liberal Arts, I would like to draw attention to two widespread campus attitudes which can undermine autonomy, and to which a Liberal Education is an effective antidote. These attitudes are radical relativism and radical skepticism, both of which are polar opposites to another enemy of liberal education and autonomy: namely, dogmatism. (See also, "Yes, Virginia, There is a Real World," this web-site).

One cannot teach the humanities in any institution of higher learning, except perhaps a seminary, without encountering that universal undergraduate shrug, "Who are we to say?" For example, I have often asked my students, "Is it true, as the seers of India claimed, that the Earth rests on the back of an elephant?" "Well," they reply, "its true for them!" That response, affirming what is not at issue, namely an ancient belief system, totally evades the issue and even the concept of objective truth. Or again, "The ancient Aztecs thought it was their civic duty to sacrifice their first-born sons to the Sun God. Was this Good?" Reply: "Well, it was good for them!" Again, while we agree that the Aztecs approved of sacrifice, the relativist abolishes the issue of morality by fiat -- paradoxically exhibiting a kind of dogmatism by means of relativism.

When I encounter such radical relativism and skepticism, I think of Aristotle's ethics, wherein virtue in excess can become a vice. From this perspective, an exuberant youthful rejection of dogma combined with an unconstrained embrace of the virtues of humility and tolerance, can lead to a denial of all knowledge, and of all grounds for preferring one course of action to another. But of course, radical relativism and skepticism are more than undesirable: they are impossible. The most determined skeptic applies the brake, not the accelerator, when he chooses to stop his vehicle, and everyone has some pattern to his preferences, which is to say at least a rudimentary ethic.(9)

Of late, I have become much more tolerant of radical relativism and skepticism, as I have come to regard them a useful stages in intellectual growth -- awkward, painful, but instructive nonetheless. But let us be alert: there is a danger that by opening one's mind, one's brains may evaporate. Radical skepticism and radical relativism, as final states of mind, are not expansions of the intellect: they are abdications of intellectual responsibility and integrity. If they fail to move on, the students' relativistic shrug, "Who are we to say?" is a cop-out -- just a precarious step away from "Frankly, I don't give a damn!" since to give a damn is to have, at least implicitly, an ethic. If I were an exploiter of the Earth I would ask no greater favor than that all my environmentalist enemies be radical relativists. For then my opponents would have no ground whatever on which to stand, and no leverage of argument from which to demand reform. If there is no reform, then things stay just as they are and continue in the same direction, and this is all that the exploiter asks for -- to be left alone.

The liberal arts teach us that there is an Aristotelian mean between the extremes of dogmatism and relativism, as well as a mean between ignorance and arrogance. That mean resides in what the American philosopher Charles Peirce called "fallibalism," whereby we claim entitlement to our beliefs if they are grounded in evidence and strong inference, and if we are in principle prepared to admit ourselves wrong in the face of better evidence. The fallibilist position is available to us as we become acquainted with scientific method, with the canons of critical thinking, and come to appreciate the progressive liberation and expansion of the human mind through the course of history. All these lessons and skills are securely sited in the tradition and curriculum of the liberal arts. Fallibilism, which is both a product of liberal education and, as we shall see, a fundamental tenet of scientific method, appropriately liberates us from the opposing traps of close-minded dogmatism and rudderless relativism.

To summarize this section: a Liberal Arts education celebrates the exuberant diversity of humanity, in culture, the arts, literature and philosophy. It "liberates" by multiplying options and expanding perspectives, from the personal to the social to the global. Yes, freedom is much more than simply "being let alone." But this richer dimension of freedom must be nurtured and cultivated through education.

Two Cheers for Science

With characteristic eloquence, the poet Robinson Jeffers articulates the environmentalists' distrust of science:

Man, introverted man, having crossed
In passage and but a little with the nature of things this latter century
Has begot giants; but being taken up
Like a maniac with self-love and inward conflicts
cannot manage his hybrids.
Being used to deal with edgeless dreams,
Now he's bred knives on nature turns them also inward:
they have thirsty points though.
. . . . .

A little knowledge, a pebble from the shingle,
A drop from the oceans: who would have dreamed this
infinitely little too much?

And in an admiring meditation on shamanism, Theodore Roszak writes:

... we must be prepared to consider the scandalous possibility that wherever the visionary imagination grows bright, magic, that old antagonist of science, renews itself, transmitting our workaday reality into something bigger, perhaps more frightening, certainly more adventurous than the lesser rationality of objective consciousness can ever countenance.

... the shaman cultivates his rapport with the non-intellective sources of the personality as assiduously as any scientist trains himself to objectivity, a mode of consciousness at the polar extreme from that of the shaman. Thus the shaman is able to diffuse his sensibilities through his environment, assimilating himself to the surrounding universe. He enters wholly into the grand symbiotic system of nature, letting its currents and nuances flow through him. He may become a keener student of his environment than any scientist.(10)

While these reflections have some merit, those who point out the limitations of science should approach their task with utmost caution and meticulous qualification. Conspicuous critics of science include astrologers, medical quacks, UFO buffs, anti-evolutionists, and anyone else whose inflated dogmas and enterprises are pierced by the sharp edges of scientific evidence. These critics are not wholesome company for the serious scholar.

Accordingly, I wish to affirm at the outset that I regard science as the crowning achievement of Western civilization. In science, humanity has, at last, come upon a super-personal and super-cultural modality for discovering, verifying and accumulating objective knowledge of the natural world in its chemical, physical, biotic and cultural manifestations.(11) Unlike the dogmas which it supplants, science is public (i.e., its procedures are explicit and its experiments replicable), it is cumulative, it is self-correcting, and it is, in principle, fallible. That last quality, fallibility, which sounds more like a weakness than an asset, deserves special mention. It simply states that no hypothesis has scientific credibility unless we can describe precisely what it would be like for it to be false -- unless, as the jargon goes, it is "falsifiable in principle." In other words, scientific verification, as Sir Karl Popper so brilliantly put it, consists in a relentless but failed attempt to disconfirm a hypothesis which could easily be seen to be wrong, if only the world were not the way it is. This quality of fallibility thus builds a foundation for humility into the very methodology of science -- a humility which is often overlooked by scientists when they exit their laboratories to make bold pronouncements on public policy. Science is not arrogant, although there are some scientists who are.

In the face of these manifest strengths, the philosopher has long-since ceased to be a rival of science and has, instead, become its admirer, commentator and collaborator. But when the philosopher, as admiring spectator, attempts a second-order delineation of the limitations of science, he is often falsely accused of proposing an alternative to legitimate scientific investigation. (I will return to this point in the next section.)

In addition, the artist, the historian, and the humanistic scholar all have an important role to play in the advancement of science, for art, intuition, literary perspective and practical experience have all proven to be extra-scientific sources of scientific insight. For example, James D. Watson reports that his childhood encounter with the staircase in a New England lighthouse led him to the double-helix model of the DNA molecule. And we all know about Newton and his apple. But extra-scientific insight is one thing, and scientific verification is quite another, and it is an essential objective of both scientific and liberal arts education to understand the distinction -- as I shall elaborate shortly.

But if science is the crowning achievement of our civilization, then the technology born of science is the greatest threat to that civilization. For technology, which has enriched and extended our lives beyond calculation, now threatens us with either the bang of nuclear annihilation or the whimper of ecological collapse. Through the cumulative insights of a few geniuses and the piecemeal work of an army of ordinary men and women extraordinarily trained, science has transformed our world and our world-view. And because our moral vision and social institutions have proven to be woefully unequal to this accomplishment, scientific technology, fueled by our greed, threatens us all.

If, through recognizing the technological threat to the natural world, we elect to turn our backs on science, we will be making a grave tactical and even moral miscalculation. For if the champions of ecological sustainability and environmental morality turn their backs on science, they will surrender the field of debate and public policy to their adversaries, and hand over their most powerful weapon in defense of nature and the future. As we noted, science does not entail arrogance: the arrogant feed selectively on science, and they ultimately subvert science. Scientific knowledge, combined with an acknowledgment of human incapacity, leads not to arrogance but to humility and forbearance. It was the emerging science of wildlife management that taught Aldo Leopold his Land Ethic. Hard science combined with literary skill in the hands of Rachel Carson slowed the chemical assault upon the biotic community. List the most significant figures in the environmental movement and the most robust arguments in behalf of environmental restraint and sustainability, and you will encounter the names of scientists such as Aldo Leopold, Barry Commoner, Garrett Hardin, Paul Ehrlich, Rachel Carson, Edward Wilson, and James Lovelock. Clearly, scientific evidence and methodology provide us the strongest foundation for the case for environmental responsibility which we present before our fellow citizens and our legislators.

And so I would urge that a program in Environmental Studies include, in its curriculum, the study of science. But note carefully how I phrased this: "the study of science," not simply "scientific study." This is not word-play, but a point of fundamental importance. By "scientific study" I mean the content of the sciences: of mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology -- all essential to a complete environmental education. But by "the study of science" I mean that, in addition to quantity, matter, energy, and life-forms, the object of our inquiry should be the activity, methodology, history, and yes (paradoxically) the morality of science. We should, in short, study science as a social institution, an historical force, and as an essential component of public policy -- what I will call "meta-science." We should study the separation, and then the connections, of scientific theory and fact on the one hand, and values in personal decision making and public policy formulation on the other hand. All this we should study as an antidote to the rampant scientism and technological euphoria so glibly proclaimed in the media and by our political leaders, and the consequent depersonalization, alienation and de-naturalization which threaten us today. Science so scrutinized is quite properly identified as a liberal art, for it offers to "liberate" us from the opposite extremes of dogmatism and arrogance on the one hand, and relativism and ignorance on the other.

The Implications of "Meta-Science" for Environmental Study and Policy

"Metascience," the scholarly examination of the history, methodology, and cultural involvement of science, bears important implications for environmental education. Of these, I would like to give special attention to two: first, the question of scope -- that is to say, of specialized vs. integrated knowledge; and secondly, the place of values in the application of science to public policy.

On the Sociology of Knowledge. In one sense, the advancement of science contracts the amount of our ignorance. Yet, paradoxically, the advancement of science also increases the boundaries of our ignorance. If we picture science as an expanding empire, then as the area increases, so too does the length of its borders. Each answer assimilated into the body of science raises at least one, and more likely several, new questions.

The inventory of scientific questions before us is, if not infinite, then at least vastly larger than can be addressed by cadres of working scientists. Accordingly, every scientific investigation exacts what economists call "opportunity costs:" Time and resources devoted to an investigation are time and resources lost to others. Thus, decisions must be made about which of these questions are "more or less worth investigating." Furthermore, as the normative phrase "more or less worth" tells us at once, these decision are not scientific, they are meta-scientific -- questions about science, but not within science.

Another meta-scientific question is: How will we structure science? Microscopically, or macroscopically -- that is to say, by the proliferation of disassociated specialties, or through the integration of accumulating knowledge? The answer, obviously, is that we will pursue both objectives. But with what balance between the narrow and the broad view? Clearly, the prevailing practice of science is toward the microscopic-specialization end of the continuum, and away from the integrative view. Yet the mode of scientific investigation more appropriate to the study of environmental problems is interdisciplinary and integrative. Why, then, are the scientists not generating results more helpful to environmental policy-makers, administrators and educators? This too is dictated not by the content or methodology within science but by such meta-scientific factors as the economics and gamesmanship of career advancement.

Consider, for instance, that ritual trial by torture, the defense of the doctoral dissertation. Anyone who has been through this ordeal will tell you that your task, as a doctoral candidate, is to learn more and more about less and less until you succeed in becoming the world's leading authority on your minuscule niche of knowledge. If you succeed, then, ipso facto, you will know more about your topic than anyone on your examining committee. Assuming your methodology is conventional and sound, and you have made no glaring factual errors, you've got it made. Welcome to the club!

But should the candidate attempt an integrative and interdisciplinary study, then he has launched upon a sea of troubles. Each member of his presumably interdisciplinary committee will know far more about his own discipline than the poor candidate who is attempting the integration, and each member will likely be offended that his specialty did not receive more attention. So the prudent graduate student pursues a specialty, and saves interdisciplinary studies, he believes, for the indefinite, post-tenure future. But that belief is illusory, since the path to tenure, and then to post-tenure promotion, is similarly confined to the ruts of specialization. Journal editors examine manuscripts, and subsequently tenure and promotion committees review Curricula Vitae, for incursions into the unknown at "the cutting edge," which is to say at yet another hyper-specialized topic. So the upwardly-mobile young scientist adds still more bricks to the edifice of science, and pays less attention to the large-scale design and the application of the scientific enterprise. "Design and application" are the concerns of the sponsors, not the scientist. Still more minute morsels of knowledge, rather than the assimilation, interpretation and integration of acquired knowledge called "wisdom" are the solid rungs on the career ladder. New knowledge is objective and "public" -- it can be replicated and verified. Wisdom can not. So the hyper-specialization and atomization of science and scholarship proceed.

But notice that neither the content nor the methodology of science mandate hyper-specialization and the consequent subordination of interdisciplinary and integrative study. Instead, this uneven division of labor is built into the socio-economic-political structure of the institutions at which scientists and scholars work. Thus, only a deliberate and responsible decision to restructure these institutions and to reformulate their objectives and reward-systems can restore an appropriate balance to scholarly activity.

But just what is wrong with adding to the body of science, piece by piece? Why not continue to encourage and reward specialization, and to retain the division of labor among the separate departments and disciplines? Why the continuing, however futile, calls for "interdisciplinary studies"?

The answer is simple and straightforward: the daunting problems before our civilization and species do not divide into departments, and do not respect disciplinary boundaries. They are, by fundamental nature, interdisciplinary -- a point made abundantly clear to those of us who teach and study practical issues of environmental policy. As we are vividly reminded in our interdisciplinary courses in environmental studies, the looming environmental emergences -- global warming, species diversity, the tropical forest, population, acid rain -- must be addressed with the relevant facts at hand (the physical and life sciences), in a cultural context that motivates appropriate action (the social sciences), and in a manner which responsibly regards the welfare and rights of present and future individuals, and the sustainability of the natural environment (moral philosophy). Sound environmental policy stands, at the very least, on a tripod of natural science, social science and moral philosophy. Take away any one of the legs, and the credibility and soundness of the policy collapses.

Values and Policy. The relevance of two of those legs, the social and natural sciences, to the policy tripod is, I trust, beyond dispute. The inclusion of the third leg, moral philosophy, in policy deliberations, deserves circumspect justification; especially so, since a significant school of policy theory has attempted to exclude normative values from policy deliberations.

But aren't values adequately accounted for in the social sciences' contribution to environmental policy? In a sense most important to environmental policy considerations, values are systematically excluded from the social sciences. That most important sense is what philosophers call normative ethics -- the field of inquiry that addresses such questions as: "Just what is right or wrong?" "What should we, as individuals and as communities, strive for?" "What makes a law just or unjust?" "Are there inalienable human rights, and if so, what are they?" "What is our responsibility to nature and to posterity?" While the social sciences can report, through public opinion surveys, just what certain groups of people believe regarding values and morality, they cannot validate these beliefs. Neither might nor unanimity makes right: the southern white endorsement of racial segregation did not justify the practice. On the contrary, the very fact that most white southerners seemed to endorse it stands as further condemnation of that group. Similarly, while the economist can report the values reflected in markets, he cannot validate these values morally. The existence of a market in human beings did not justify the institution of slavery. In the jargon of moral philosophy, the social scientist and economist deal with descriptive ethics, not with normative ethics. This is an essential point, to which I will devote considerable attention.

Science, then, cannot of itself yield ethical conclusions, and thus it cannot, of itself, settle policy questions. It cannot do these things not because science has failed to master these fields of human inquiry but because the very logic and language of science forbids it. What science does, it does supremely well. What science does not do, namely evaluate, it forbears due to the rules and the conceptual vocabulary of the scientific enterprise.(12)

Because science is value neutral, public policy decisions cannot be based entirely upon "pure science." This can be seen immediately if we examine the purpose of policy decision making; namely, to identify and choose among alternative options which will variably affect the welfare and/or address the rights of morally considerable individuals. This formulation simply defines policy-making as a value-laden activity. Accordingly, the once-popular term, "value-free policy science," is oxymoronic: i.e., internally incoherent and thus meaningless, like (literally) "married bachelor" or "four-sided triangle."

It follows, then, that once we have gathered in the scientific evidence and forecast, to the most minute detail, the consequences of alternative policies, the question of which option is preferable will remain open. It must remain open, since the value concept of "preferable" (or its cognates) is excluded, by rule, from the scientific data presented to the policy-makers. In short, science is necessary, even essential, to intelligent policy-making. But it is not, and cannot be, sufficient. Sound policy runs on two legs: factual data and values, and, like a champion runner, needs both to succeed. The right leg of the runner (scientific fact) must be healthy for him to win, but the health of that leg alone will not assure a win -- not without the equally good health of the left leg (values).

This all seems clear enough. Yet it is remarkable how much effort has been devoted to the task of attempting to reduce policy-making, and thus the implicit normative values within, to a kind of social science. Nor will it suffice to settle ethical issues by citing environmental law, since morality does not follow from the mere fact of legislation; rather, the legitimacy of law stands or falls on theories of political morality. Hence the meaningfulness of the terms "just law" and "unjust law," and the occasional moral justification of civil disobedience and rebellion. Accordingly, moral philosophy is relevant to the question of whether we should keep, revise, enact, or even, on occasion, violate laws.

Most notorious, perhaps, is the claim of some economists to supply the value leg of the policy tripod. To such economists, values are discovered in the marketplace, and measured in terms of cash value. So when we ask, for example, "What is the value of clean water and wilderness?," the economist replies, "Find out what people are willing to pay for them."

In effect, this "value-neutral policy science" adopts the "who are we to say" approach of the radical relativist, which we found to be so troubling. Rather than deal with ethical issues, this approach leaves it up to "the market" to determine what is "right or wrong." This is held to be "fair," since by merely reporting and reflecting the existing values of the citizens, it is "value neutral." Better still, it records values empirically, objectively (publicly) and quantitatively (reliably), and thus, in appearance at least, "scientifically." It is all very neat and very determinate, which is why the economic, cost-benefit approach is the predominant mode of environmental decision-making in this country -- as anyone who has worked on an environmental impact statement will testify.(14)

But of course the cost-benefit approach does all this at a price. Human beings are reduced to a single dimension, that of "consumer preferences." Still worse, these are the preferences of those able to participate in the market, and proportioned to their ability to pay. Thus this market approach favors the rich over the poor and it excludes the young, other species, ecosystems, future generations, and other non-participants who are nonetheless affected by the transactions (through so-called "externalities").(15)

Finally, if we choose to make policy on the basis of economic criteria, then as individuals we may be in the strange situation of freely, and even rationally, making choices which, as consumers, we would not endorse from a moral point of view. We may, upon reflection, discover that our individual steps, "reasonably" chosen for short-term individual advantage, combine into a mass march toward the precipice. This is, of course, the point of the tragedy of the commons, and other game-theoretical paradoxes.

The presumably "value-neutral" economic approach to policy analysis will not work because it is flawed at its very foundation. Recall the economist's mode of ascertaining values: "What is the value of clean water and wilderness? Find out what people are willing to pay for them." To the moral philosopher, this approach totally reverses and thus evades the essential moral issues. Instead, the philosopher and the moralist replies, if we are to decide what we are willing to pay for wilderness and a clean environment, we first must decide their value. And this foundational normative question is systematically beyond the scope and competence of economists, who, in their eagerness to display the value-neutral objectivity of the scientist, treats values as factual data, and not as guides to conduct or indicators of desirable consequences. And since the values that they measure are market values, their approach is systematically conservative, materialistic and egoistic: what the individual values (as a commodity) is therefore valuable (as a moral ideal). Systematically excluded from consideration are such fundamental moral questions as: "What should we strive for?" "What are we responsible for?" "How do our choices reflect upon our worth as persons?"

Clearly this will not do, since market prices, which reflect the consumer preferences of individuals, do not register the sort of values shared by communities and aspired to by saints and heros, nor do they exemplify human excellence and moral accomplishment. Unlike market values, moral values have non-economic foundations: namely, they are validated through rational reflection, and a "moral sense" (i.e., a conscience) acquired through the ongoing experiment of communal life. Mark Sagoff vividly displays the contrast between economic and moral values -- between the values of the consumer and that of the citizen:

Last year I bribed a judge to fix a couple of traffic tickets, and was glad to do so because I saved my license. Yet, at election time, I helped to vote the corrupt judge out of office. I speed on the highway, yet I want the police to enforce laws against speeding. I used to buy mixers in returnable bottles -- but who can bother to return them? I buy only disposables now, but to soothe my conscience, I urge my state senator to outlaw one-way containers. ... I send my dues to the Sierra Club to protect areas in Alaska I shall never visit... And of course, I applaud the endangered Species Act, although I have no earthly use for the Colorado Squawfish or the Indiana bat... I have an 'ecology now' sticker on a car that drips oil everywhere it's parked.(16)

And the inadequacy of the economic approach to moral assessment was eloquently presented by Robert Kennedy, at the outset of his ill-fated campaign of 1968:

[The] Gross National Product, if we judge the United States by that, counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwoods and the loss of our natural wonders in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts [the killer's] rifle and [the rapist's] knife and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the Gross National Product does not [include] the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile, and it can tell us everything about America, except why we are proud that we are Americans.(17)

In short, "man does not live by bread alone" -- nor by personal utility maximization alone.

To sum up: The "value-neutral policy analyst asks, "Who are we to decide what values to adopt in this policy? Let's leave it to the free choice of the buyers and sellers in the marketplace." They seem unaware that this so-called "value-neutral policy science" attempts to evade moral issues by reducing moral agents to "preference maps," and human communities to markets, thereby leaving unexamined the moral foundations of the market preferences. The very notion of a "value-neutral policy science" is an absurdity, since, by definition, "policy," as a choice among options variably affecting the lives of persons is inherently value-laden. And so, the economic policy-analyst's attempt to avoid moral decision-making amounts to a "decision by indecision," for his alleged "neutrality," rather than avoiding ethics, in fact amounts to a tacit endorsement of a highly controversial ethical theory: preference utilitarianism.

The enticements of "objective" and "value-neutral" policy-analysis are leading both our policies and our laws to become ever-more economic, and ever-less moral. All this is quite contrary to the precepts of our founding documents which are primarily based not upon economic theory but upon principles of political morality -- notably the Kantian emphasis upon the dignity and worth of the individual, and the Lockean-Jeffersonian affirmation of the "inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness".(18)

In fact, given our state of scientific knowledge and technical capacity we cannot avoid making significant decisions regarding the environment that will impact on the lives of our contemporaries and our successors, in ways that we can both foresee and affect. This circumstance entails that we are "morally responsible" for these decisions -- as well as for our indecision. "Not to decide is to decide." And "leaving it to the free market" is just another kind of "decision by indecision," and not a very attractive decision at that. That being so, the only remaining question is whether or not we will face our responsibility with integrity and intelligence. But given our knowledge and capacity, to paraphrase Lincoln, "we can not escape history: we of this generation will be morally responsible, in spite of ourselves."

We are prepared at last to answer the challenge: "Just what does the liberal arts have to do with environmental education?" Just this: If wisdom is to prevail over our cleverness, and if mankind is thus to be led away from the precipice, it will be by dedicated individuals with an historical perspective upon our time and circumstance, with critical skills to assist their second-order examination of the science and technology which are hurtling us toward disaster, with an understanding and appreciation of their biotic legacy within and the biotic estate around us with which we must make accommodation in order to survive, and finally, with the good moral sense to see and expose the folly of reducing human aspiration to the values of the market place. And these leaders must, above all, be individuals with the moral autonomy and courage to stand alone amidst a throng eager for reassurance and steadfastly denying their peril -- leaders who, in the words of Kipling, "keep their heads while all about are losing theirs and blaming it" on the cool headed. The capacity to standing alone on principle -- like Mohandas Gandhi, Rachel Carson, Nelson Mandella, Martin Luther King, Andrei Sakharov and Linus Pauling -- this is the essence of moral autonomy. For these reasons, and much more, the liberal arts are not a distraction in the education for environmental intelligence and leadership, they are a cornerstone of that education.

Reflections on the Source and Validation of Values

If values are indispensable ingredients of public policy, and if science and the marketplace cannot supply us with the the value premises and the moral compass of our environmental policies, then what will?

Once again, the answer is environmental education. But it is only a partial answer. And as before, it is an answer that generates still more questions. For instance, just what are these values, and how are they to be taught and validated?

These questions, to which I have devoted considerable attention elsewhere,(19) require a separate paper -- even a book. Still, I feel that I must sketch, however briefly, a few suggestions about how appropriate environmental values, the essential "third leg" in the policy "tripod," might be engendered.

I would not suggest that these values are to be acquired exclusively through the study of moral philosophy. After two thousand years, we have not fully answered Meno's question to Socrates, "Can virtue be taught?" And I must concede that in my own experience, I have encountered many saintly individuals who have not read a single page of philosophy, just as I am acquainted with a few moral philosophers who are scoundrels. Clearly, we often learn much more about ethics in practice than we do in theory.

So, in response to Meno's question, I would affirm that virtue can be taught, but only imperfectly and uncertainly. Moral education is perhaps more an art than a science, residing more in the pre-existing mores of the community, the love in the home, and the richness of social encounters and personal experience, than in the theory and practice of moral pedagogy. Having stated these reservations, I believe that we can nonetheless identify a few key ingredients in the acquisition of moral character and validation of moral precepts.

Robinson Crusoe, before he met Friday, faced numerous problems. But they were problems of prudence and expediency, not of morality. With the appearance of Friday, there arose advantages of cooperation along with the disposition of scarce resources, and thence the rudiments of morality.

Morality precedes ethics, by which I mean that virtuous behavior and conscience arise before the theory which accounts for and validates virtue. Moreover, as we have noted, saintly and heroic behavior can appear among those who are totally ignorant of philosophy. Such untutored virtue -- what I call "naive wisdom"(20) and John Rawls calls "the moral sense" -- arises from the practical experience of solving interpersonal conflicts to mutual advantage, and learning to do so from the perspective of an unbiased but sympathetic spectator: what philosophers call "the moral point of view."

From these considerations, it follows that an effective moral education should include personal interactions. I am convinced that much of the moral decline in our society can be attributed to the mass movement of our children from playgrounds and parks to the easy chair in front of the TV tube. "Child's play" is serious business, involving role-playing, tacit acceptance of rules for mutual advantage, and an evolving "moral point of view," which is to say a recognition and acknowledgment of the worth and dignity of others. In the social isolation of television and video games, there may be "entertainment," but there is little "play."

A recognition of the moral agency, the "personhood," of others is essential to an appreciation of the moral responsibility of oneself. Yet we live in a society in which we are comfortable with the thought of treating others, and eventually ourselves, as objects: as personnel in our corporations, as consumers in the marketplace, as an audience to the media. This phenomenon, variously referred to in literature and the social sciences as "objectification," "depersonalization," and "alienation," may well be the most pervasive and serious moral disorder of our time. The remedy, once again, includes a warm and supportive home, a rich and varied social life, and perhaps a five-pound brick through the TV tube.

The concept of "moral agency" or "personhood" is central to most moral philosophies, including environmental ethics. By moral agency, I mean the capacity to recognize oneself as a being continuing in time, to conceptualize and choose among alternative futures, to act according to principle, and to recognize these capacities in others. An understanding and appreciation of these capacities, which is to say of moral agency and responsibility, is essential to moral maturity. As I like to tell my students, on a planet without moral agents there is no right or wrong, virtue or vice, rights or duties, justice and responsibility. And to the best of our knowledge, homo sapiens is the only species to achieve moral agency. And yet, moral psychology, which is largely the study of moral agency, receives insufficient attention in the study of ethics, and especially so in the field of environmental ethics. As a result, many environmentalists exhibit a troublesome tendency toward misanthropy, born, I think, of an insufficient appreciation of this magnificent, if universal, achievement of our species -- moral agency.. Moral agency can, of course, be contemplated and studied, not only in Philosophy, but in history (the life of Gandhi) and literature -- indeed, it is one of the pre-eminent concerns of what we call "the humanities." Thus the humanities are an indispensable ingredient in moral education.

The rational foundations of morality have recently been illuminated by formal studies in the logic of practical decision making and in game theory. Formal models such as the tragedy of the commons and the prisoners' dilemma are validating the ancient moral paradox: that it is often in one's self-interest not to seek directly one's self-interest -- that, in the words of the contemporary philosopher, Michael Scriven, "there are circumstances in which one can give a selfish justification for unselfishness."(21)

Finally, while I have argued at some length that the sciences cannot logically entail values, I would also insist that scientific understanding and perspective can evoke values through wonder and admiration. Thus while "the fact-value gap" cannot be entirely eliminated, it can, through a study of the sciences and a direct encounter with nature, be considerably narrowed. This is especially the case with the integrative and holistic science of ecology, which reminds us, as Paul Shepard puts it, that "man did not arrive in the world as though disembarking from a train in the city. He continues to arrive..."(22)

And so, while I pointed out earlier that our capacity for moral agency makes homo sapiens a unique natural species, we should never lose sight of the fact that we are, after all, a natural species, with an emotional, as well as a physical, need to be part of the natural landscape from which we evolved. From this ecological perspective, writes Shepard, "the epidermis of the skin is ecologically like a pond surface or a forest soil, not a shell so much as a delicate interpenetration."(23)

From the perspective of ecological science, the values that are systematically banished from scientific discourse return as we view, through scientific insight, the complexity and vastness of nature, our nature, with wonder and affirmation. Thus, writes Holmes Rolston,

As we progress from descriptions of fauna and flora, of cycles and pyramids, of stability and dynamism, on to intricacy, planetary opulence and interdependence, to unity and harmony with oppositions in counterpoint and synthesis, arriving at length at beauty and goodness, it is difficult to say where the natural facts leave off and where the natural values appear. For some observers at least, the sharp is/ought dichotomy is gone; the values seem to be there as soon as the facts are fully in, and both alike are properties of the system.(24)

And so we encounter a paradox: the sciences cannot supply us with the moral precepts that are indispensable to a complete statement of environmental policy. Yet an understanding of ecological science may evoke an appropriate moral sense of "planetary loyalty," arising from an appreciation of the natural forces from which we arose, of the interconnection between personal, community, species and planetary health and well-being.

In other words, while ecological science can teach us that an accommodation with nature will enhance our individual health and our prospects for species survival, it cannot tell us that "health" and "survival" are "good," since the evaluative word "good" is banished from the scientific vocabulary. But no matter. An affirmation of the goodness of "health" is so universal and intuitively compelling that no further justification is necessary, except perhaps to the occasional philosopher who is capable of doubting anything, if only for the sake of intellectual curiosity. I have no quarrel with those who affirm, "on faith," that health is good, for I am one of them.

The educational implications then are clear and compelling: we must restore and enhance our contact with the Earth by understanding the earth through the sciences, and by appreciating the Earth through direct encounter. The distinction between knowledge and appreciation is crucial: knowledge is intellectual, and appreciation is the esthetic, emotional and moral supplement to the knowledge that leads to action. The heavy smoker knows that he is taking a risk: appreciation comes too late, with the diagnosis. We know that the tropical rain forests are disappearing at the rate of an acre a second, but do we appreciate it? The National Geographic will teach us that the Grand Canyon is a mile deep and two-hundred miles long; appreciation comes from sitting on the south rim, feet dangling over a thousand feet of sheer drop, looking across to Bright Angel Canyon. Books will tell us of the eras and periods of geological history; appreciation comes as we leave the rim of that canyon and walk down through the strata of frozen time toward the Phantom Ranch in Granite Gorge. In my environmental ethics class we discuss the theory of Biophilia -- the theory that we have a genetically coded affinity with natural landscapes. But it was my own biophilic appreciation, nourished during my youth in the forests of New Jersey and the mountains of Utah, that led me to my career and thence to that classroom.

I rather doubt that any amount of scientific knowledge, or scare stories about the consequences of our environmentally evil ways, will suffice to save our natural world and thus ourselves. If we preserve nature, and with it ourselves, it will be due to our love for it and not simply our need of it. And that love must come from direct encounter.

And so we arrive at last at that woefully neglected dimension of environmental education, Outdoor Education. Sadly, the need of our youth to encounter nature directly is increasing, just as the opportunities, the demand, and the places for such encounters are shrinking. We need in the public, and especially among the youth, a constituency for the earth, and for that we need professional educators to lead the youth away from the tube, out of the classroom, and into nature's realm. "In wildness," wrote Thoreau, "is the preservation of the world."

Environmental Education as a Catalyst For a Sustainable Future

Our students often ask us: "Why pursue environmental careers for which there is no demand in the current unsustainable economy?" A fair question. Notwithstanding my fundamentally pacifist sentiments, I believe some insight can be drawn from the military history of the twentieth century.

Consider the condition of the United States military between the two World Wars. After the first -- "the war to end all wars" -- we took that slogan much too seriously. Seemingly protected by two great oceans, our military was the weakest of the great nations of the world. When the Japanese invaded Manchuria, and Hitler took the Rhineland, Dwight Eisenhower was a Major, and General Billy Mitchell had been disgraced in a court martial for demonstrating the air strategy that would later prevail. And less than two hundred thousand American men were in uniform. But among them were the officer corps that would soon lead the great democracies to victory over despotism.

We have learned that lesson of history all too well, as our hypertrophied "Defense" juggernaut rolls on with no appropriate enemy in sight, or even imaginable. Meanwhile our cities disintegrate into ruin, our arts, culture and education languish, and we rush headlong, unprepared and officially unconcerned, toward ecological disaster.

But if the next emergency is to be ecological and not military, and if, in the words of Walt Kelly's Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us," then where are the Eisenhowers, the Bradleys, the Nimitzes and the Marshalls -- in short, the leaders-in-waiting to bear the burden of the environmental emergency when it comes upon us? For when the darkness falls, as surely it must, there will be no time to train our leaders, or our cadres. They must emerge out of the ranks of an angry and disoriented public.

The task of higher environmental education, then, is to prepare the scholars, the scientists, the policy makers, and the leaders upon whom we must surely depend, if we are to preserve, and even more to reconstruct, the physio-biotic foundations of our civilized condition. The challenge is daunting, for we must address the acute needs of humanity and the civilized condition, despite the fact that these needs are far ahead of the perceived demands of our national economy and politics.

Can we meet this challenge? Let's not comfort ourselves with false complacency. Remember that the decade which began with the first Earth Day was to be "The Environmental Decade." It was followed by the decade of Ronald Reagan, James Watt and Anne Gorsuch. And now we have the "Contract With America," containing not one word about the environment or education, but with environmental protection threatened under the rubric of "no unfunded mandates."

But make no mistake about it; these ascendant forces of reactive and consumptive "business as usual" cannot continue; the limits of the Earth and the laws of thermodynamics will not allow it. These laws and limits are not "interests" to be bargained with, they are the immutable conditions of our very lives. Thus the only choice before us is this: what will end this spree -- collapse, or renewal and sustainability?

The forces arrayed against us are formidable. First of all, the financial resources of the economic interests that oppose environmental reform are enormous, and have purchased the talents and expertise of a cadre of individuals educated at the elite universities. We are also facing the leading talents in the arts of public relations and propaganda, and they exploit, with breathtaking virtuosity, the public longing for reassurance in the face of the warnings of the scientists and the environmentalists. Finally, their allies are the alumni, trustees and research sponsors of the great universities.

Against all this we have little more than the truth and moral force. But it may be enough. Of course, every contestant in a public issue has a claim on "The Truth." But in our case, that truth is buttressed by scientific evidence, while the other side is left with sophistry. So here again is a paramount reason for environmental educators not to treat science with suspicion and as "the enemy." Moreover, it is more than enough justification (as if more were needed!) to teach critical thinking in our institutions, and beyond.

As for "moral force," so disdained by practitioners of "realpolitik," just consider that moral force overturned the British Army in India, apartheid in South Africa, segregation in the American South, communism in the Soviet Union, and it ended the Vietnam War. When told that the Pope would oppose his policies, Josef Stalin asked contemptuously, "How many divisions does the Pope have?" "The Pope's divisions" eventually wrested Poland from the Soviet's grip. And throughout seventy years of despotism, the indomitable Russian conscience endured, survived and finally prevailed.

These reflection bear some curricular implications:

  • The environmental studies as a liberal art should include "meta-science" -- the study of the history, methodology and social impact of science.


  • "Policy making" should also be studied from the "second order"-- with a critical eye tuned to the implicit ethical presuppositions and implications of both the methodology and the content of significant environmental policy.


  • Critical thinking is a crucial component of the curriculum of environmental studies. First of all, as we noted in our discussion of "education as liberation," rationality is the key to personal moral autonomy. Furthermore, we must acknowledge that in the quarter century since Earth Day I, the advocates of consumptive "business as usual" have totally outclassed the environmentalists in the political and public relations battles. If the long-overdue counter-attack is to be effective, the defenders of the environment must be trained in techniques of rational analysis and effective rebuttal.


  • The curriculum should include environmental ethics, since our students must learn how to articulate and defend their environmental values. They must also understand the meaning and significance of moral agency and responsibility.


  • No student should claim to be environmentally educated who has not gained a personal appreciation of nature through direct encounter. A remote, abstract, aggregative study of nature, detached from an appreciation of the temporal and spatial vastness of nature, can make one vulnerable to the technological arrogance and economic optimism that is the cause of much of humanity's environmental emergency. Outdoor education is thus a crucial component of the environmental studies curriculum.


  • The environmental sciences should be integrated through such devices as "the case study approach" that has proven so effective in graduate schools of business, law schools, and courses in medical ethics. But we should not go overboard in our development of an interdisciplinary curriculum. If we are to integrate disciplinary knowledge and skills, we must first have knowledge and skills to integrate. The separate disciplines have their place.

In Summary

Time now to summarize these reflections:

  • Higher environmental education has, over the past twenty-five years, been a disappointment, as environmental studies programs have replicated the traditional disciplinary boundaries, have became handmaidens of sponsoring interests, and in general have followed rather than led environmental policy. Other environmental programs, by moving beyond the fringe of rational debate, became irrelevant in the movement toward environmental reform.

  • The purpose of the liberal arts is to "liberate" the students from "heteronymous" external influences, and to offer them the resources of intellect, critical reason, and self reflection, whereby they might become integrated, autonomous and responsible moral agents.

  • The world-view of a liberally educated person is fallibilistic, avoiding the extremes of arrogant dogmatism on the one hand, and radical relativism and skepticism on the other. Unlike the relativist, the fallibilist holds opinions and moral convictions which he or she believes to be true, and is prepared to defend these beliefs with reasonable and informed arguments. Unlike the dogmatist, the fallibilist acknowledges that each of his or her beliefs is open to review, examination, and even rejection, in the face of compelling evidence and logic to the contrary.

  • Science, which has transformed our civilization and enriched our lives, also, through technology, poses grave and unprecedented threats to the life and future of our planet. Accordingly, a liberally educated person will have studied not only the content of the sciences but also the historical, methodological and cultural aspects of science. Only through such "meta-scientific" understanding can science once again become an unthreatening force for ecological renewal and human fulfillment. Conversely, anti-rational, anti-scientific, hyper-romanticism has no useful place in the struggle for environmental renewal and a sustainable human future. Still, we acknowledge that "extra-rational" creativity and intuition have served as sources of scientific innovation -- sources, but not validation.

  • The hyper-specialization of science is dictated more by tradition and career requirements than by compelling social needs. This is unfortunate, since urgent environmental issues are fundamentally interdisciplinary, requiring the integrated expertise of the natural scientist, the social scientist, and the ethicist.

  • "Policy studies" is not a social science, either in fact or potentially. This is the case not because of a limitation of human knowledge but due to the nature of science and the definition of "policy." Because "policy," by definition, involves choices variably affecting morally significant beings, it is irreducibly an ethical inquiry. Thus, due to fundamental logical requirements, attempts to reduce values to facts in policy studies must fail.

  • Moral philosophers are not the ultimate arbiters of ethical disputes nor are they indispensable guides to effective moral education. Morally exemplary behavior is routinely exhibited by individuals who have never been within a country mile of a philosophy class. Still, philosophers have a useful role to play in the resolution of moral problems and the design of moral education.

  • Morality is fundamentally social in nature. Moral virtue arises out of stable and loving homes, rich social contacts in well-ordered communities, and a strong personal sense of integrity. Environmental values are evoked by personal appreciation of nature, and by an acquisition of "an ecological point of view," which features an understanding of the complexity of natural systems, and of humanity's place in them.

Though our political leaders and their selected gurus seem blissfully unaware, our home planet is facing an unprecedented crisis. Economists who know full well the meaning of compound interests rates tell us that the human population can continue to grow indefinitely at almost 2% per year. "We'll think of something," they say. "Scientists have always found an answer in the past." The fact that virtually no relevant scientists believe in exclusively scientific solutions to our environmental crisis seems not to mitigate this optimism. As for the other trends, David Orr writes:

If today is a typical day on planet earth, we will lose 116 square miles of rain forest, or about an acre a second. We will lose another 72 square miles to encroaching deserts, the results of human mismanagement and overpopulation. We will lose 40 to 250 species, and no one knows whether the number is 40 or 250. Today the human population will increase by 250,000. And today we will add 2,700 tons of chlorofluorocarbons and 15 million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Tonight the earth will be a little hotter, its waters more acidic, and the fabric of life more threadbare. By year's end the numbers are staggering: The total loss of rain forest will equal an area the size of the state of Washington; and the global population will have risen by more than 90,000,000. By the year 2000 perhaps as much as 20% of the life forms extant on the planet in the year 1900 will be extinct.(25)

Obviously, this plundering of our planet can not be sustained, and serious trouble lies ahead. We got into this fix through arrogance, ignorance and plain stupidity. How do we escape? Environmental education is the answer -- at least in large part.

Of this much, at least, we can be confident: If our consumptive society continues on its course and universal devastation results, future people will look back on our time and lament: "Knowing what they did then, how could they possibly have allowed this catastrophe to come about?" Well, this is the time of which they will speak. And knowing what we do, how can we possibly sit this one out? To do so would be moral abdication of the first order.


Copyright, 1995, by Ernest Partridge




1. First as the "Federal Water Pollution Control Act." In 1977 it was amended and renamed "The Clean Water Act."

2. Harper's Magazine, September, 1969. Reprinted in The Environmental Handbook, Edited by Garrett de Bell, Ballantine, 1970, pp 134-46.

3. Ibid, 138-9.

4. John Fischer, "Survival U -- Green Bay, Alive and Burgeoning," Harper's Magazine, February, 1971.

5. Ibid

6. Citizenship in a free community entails duties, which I will mention only briefly before turning to Kantian autonomy. Paramount among these is the duty of the free citizen to secure and maximize like liberty for fellow citizens, and this in turn entails economic justice: the assurance that the lower strata of Maslow's hierarchy of needs -- food, shelter and health -- are sufficiently secure to allow each citizen to pursue a life plan with confidence and enthusiasm.

7. To my knowledge, the best recent statement of this theory of moral psychology is Gary Watson's "Free Agency," in The Journal of Philosophy, 72 (April, 1975), 205-20. See also Harry Frankfort's, "Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person," The Journal of Philosophy, 68 (January, 1971), pp.5-20.

8. Mark Sagoff, "At the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima or Why Political Questions Are Not All Economic," Arizona Law Review, 23:4, 1981, p. 1291.

9. The far side of skepticism is called "solipsism" -- the denial that any minds exist at all, except for "my mind." To this claim, Edward Abbey replies: "if someone claims to be a solipsist, throw a rock at his head. If he ducks, then he is a liar!"

10. Theodore Roszak, The Making of a Counter Culture, Doubleday, 1969, pp. 339-64.

11. By describing science as "super-cultural," I do not wish to suggest that it is itself non-cultural. Instead, it is, so to speak, "meta-cultural" -- a cultural artifact with a strong "reality principle," and a methodology which allows it to reflect upon its own cultural influences and origins, and also to be adaptable to a variety of cultures. However, herein lies a major digression, which I must reluctantly ignore.

12. That "science is value free" is readily conceded, even proudly proclaimed, by working scientists, including scientists who lend their expertise to public policy formulation. However, the claim that "science is value-free" is a half-truth, and like many half-truths, is troublesome for the credence that the truthful half lends to false. It is true that the content of science is "value free" -- the rules of science proscribe the use of such normative words as "ought" and "good." The scientists seeks "just the facts, ma'm." However, the activity of science is value laden, in that the virtues of honesty and openness are also implicit in the rules. Jacob Bronowski makes this point with great eloquence in his excellent little book, Science and Human Values:

"By the worldly standards of public life, all scholars in their work are of course oddly virtuous. They do not make wild claims, they do not cheat, they do not try to persuade at any cost, they appeal neither to prejudice or to authority, they are often frank about their ignorance, their disputes are fairly decorous, they do not confuse what is being argued with race, politics, sex or age, they listen patiently to the young and to the old who both know everything. These are the general virtues of scholarship, and they are peculiarly the virtues of science....

"The values of science derive neither from the virtues of its members, nor from the finger-wagging codes of conduct by which every profession reminds itself to be good. They have grown out of the practice of science, because they are the inescapable conditions for its practice.(13)

13. Ibid., 58-60.

14. One of President Reagan's first official acts, in February, 1981, was to require that all agencies of the federal government justify new regulations with cost-benefit analyses. (Executive Order 12,291). For more about the enticements and the shortcomings of cost-benefit and other economic analyses of public policy, see my "The Moral Uses of Future Generations," Ethical Questions for Resource Managers, edited G. Reeves, D. Bottom, M. Brooks, Forest Service, USDA, January 1992. Also my unpublished "Policy Making by the Numbers," presented at the Morris Colloquium at the University of Colorado, June, 1983. While other critiques of cost-benefit analysis are too numerous to mention, the best, in my opinion, are Mark Sagoff's The Economy of the Earth, (Cambridge University Press, 1988), especially Chapters 1-5; Lawrence Tribe's "Policy Science: Analysis or Ideology?" Philosophy and Public Affairs, 2:1 (Fall, 1972); and Tribe, Schelling and Voss (eds)., When Values Conflict, (Ballinger, 1976).

15. Lest I be accused of propping up a straw man, I will let some proponents speak for themselves: First, "In principle, the ultimate measure of environmental quality ... is the value people place on these ... services or their willingness to pay." (Freeman. Haveman, and Kneese, The Economics of Environmental Policy, (1973, p. 23). Then A. Myrick Freeman again: "To the economist, the environment is a scarce resource which contributes to human welfare. The economic problem of the environment is a small part of the overall economic problem: how to manage our activities so as to meet our material needs and wants in the face of scarcity." The Ethical Basis of the Economic View of the Environment, Center for the Study of Values and Social Policy, University of Colorado (1983).

16. Mark Sagoff, The Economy of the Earth, Cambridge University Press, 1988, p. 52.

17. February, 1968, Iowa State University. I transcribed these words from the voice of Sen. Kennedy, as broadcast on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered." nd.

18. Jefferson's substitution of "the pursuit of happiness" for Locke's "property," suggests that Jefferson was less interested than Locke in the economic aspects of his political theory.

19. See in particular my "Nature as a Moral Resource," Environmental Ethics, 6:2 (Summer, 1984); "Are We Ready for an Ecological Morality," Environmental Ethics, 4:1 (Summer, 1982); "Why Care About the Future?" in Responsibilities to Future Generations, (ed. Partridge), Prometheus Books, 1981; "Values in Nature," Philosophical Inquiry, 8:1-2 (Winter-Spring, 1986).

20. "Are We Ready for an Ecological Morality," Environmental Ethics, 4:1 (Summer, 1982).

21. Michael Scriven, Primary Philosophy, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966), p. 240.

22. Paul Shepard, "Ecology and Man -- A Viewpoint," The Subversive Science, ed. Paul Shepard and Daniel McKinley, Houghton-Mifflin, 1969, p. 4.

23. Ibid, p. 2.

24. Holmes Rolston III, "Is There an Ecological Ethic?," Ethics, 85:2 (January, 1975), p. 101.

25. David W. Orr, Earth in Mind, Island Press, 1994. p. 7.


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .