• Environmental theories are divided into two
– Explanatory: Accounts of environmental phenomena
and their relationship to human life
– Normative: Prescriptive sets of values and actions
related to the environment
• Normative and explanatory theories are brought
together in environmental discourses.
• The interaction of facts and values in discourses
are instructive for health care.
Ecological Limits Theories(1 of 2)
• The first generation of environmental
• Call attention to the finite nature of natural
resources and the capacity of the
environment to assimilate pollution.
• Suggest that patterns of behavior that the
environment cannot support indefinitely must
• Ehrlich established the “carrying capacity” of
ecological systems, positing that populations that
exceed their finite limit die back due to lack of
• Hardin established “the tragedy of the commons”,
positing that reproductive limits are the solution to
carrying capacity problems.
• The concepts support ecological limits and form
the basis for the ecological footprint.
Ecological Limits Theories(2 of 2)
Environmental Value Theories(1 of 3)
• The second generation of environmental
• Attribute ethical value to nonhumans and the
• Suggest that interests beyond those of the
human population must be taken into account
when making decisions and that nonhumans
have morally relevant interests.
• Oppose the anthropocentric notion that land
and animals are only valuable if they provide
service or pleasure to humans.
• Support the idea of the intrinsic value of land
and animals and the idea that humans have
obligations to these entities in and of
themselves, forming the basis for
Environmental Value Theories(2 of 3)
• Singer argued that it is sometimes necessary
to evaluate the moral value of beings when
conflicting interests of two groups arise.
• Theories are important because they direct
ethical and political recognition to the reliance
of humans on the natural world.
Environmental Value Theories(3 of 3)
Holistic Theories (1 of 3)
• A subset of environmental value theories that
expanded individualistic ethical ideas to the
value of whole ecosystems beyond that of their
• Place greater value on species than on their
individual members, particularly when it comes
to threatened or endangered species.
• Leopold argued that the whole “biotic
community” should be preserved and is the
relevant unit of ethical analysis.
• Varner defended species management using
Leopold’s argument because it benefits the
overall population and the ecosystem even
though it harms some individuals.
• For example, hunting helps control the deer
population and benefits the population, the
forest, and other animals in the forest at the
expense of individual members within the
Holistic Theories (2 of 3)
Holistic Theories (3 of 3)
• Theories have been tempered by criticism that
they are fascist and have recently begun
taking individual ethics into consideration.
Justice Theories(1 of 3)
• Based on political theories that consider the
distribution of good and bad things among
human persons without concern for the
environment and nonhumans.
• Environmental theorists apply justice theories
to the distribution of environmental goods
and hazards among persons and groups of
• Distribution of goods and hazards often leads
to inequalities along the lines of race,
ethnicity, and income.
• An example of this is locating a hazardous
waste dump near an impoverished
neighborhood consisting of mostly minority
Justice Theories(2 of 3)
• Theorists also consider “environmental
justice” in terms of the ecological footprints of
• Theories are not concerned with the intrinsic
value of nonhumans, but often lead to
solutions that avoid environmental harm
while accommodating nonhuman interests.
Justice Theories(3 of 3)
Summary(1 of 2)
• A wide variety of apparently competing
normative environmental theories have been
developed over the past four decades.
• These theories ultimately attempt to guide
action by bringing facts in line with values and
values in line with facts.
• In spite of their differences, theories agree that
the way people understand value affects their
• Theories strive to bring abstract knowledge to
bear on practical world problems and resolve
those problems with rationality and concern
• Lead to agreement about the need for
reforms even if they posit different solutions
for achieving them.
Summary(2 of 2)