Environmental Ethics and Morality What Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

Also, careless people with guns shot the condors at will; and when ranchers put out poison to kill wolves and grizzly bears the condors then fed on those carcasses and were poisoned as well. In 1937 the U.S. Congress set aside a refuge for the condors in Santa Barbara County and in Ventura County in 1947, trying to protect these great birds, Peeters explains (p. 114). By 1987, there were only eight California Condors in the wild, so a decision was made to capture the remaining birds and begin a captive breeding program to try and save them from extinction.

The Endangered Species Bulletin (Behrens, et al., 2000) explains that the San Diego Wild Animal Park took the last pair of breeding condors into a captive breeding program and subsequently (in 1992) condors began to be released back into the wild. Today there are about 175 condors that have been released into the wild. They are located in federally protected sanctuaries in California, including Big Sur (Central Coast of California), Pinnacles National Monument (east of the Salinas Valley), and Hopper Mountain (Sespe Wilderness, Ventura County). Condors also have been released in the Grand Canyon area and in Baja California.

One of the biggest problems for the condors in terms of their survival, according to Behrens is "lead poisoning." Hunters kill deer and other prey with lead bullets and the condors, which are known to feed on any dead animal, eat the carcasses of deer and are poisoned by the lead. "The digestive tract then becomes paralyzed and starvation results," Behrens writes. Hunters are being encouraged to use alternative ammunition, and in fact California passed a law in 2008 that it is illegal to hunt with lead ammunition in certain prescribed areas where condors are trying to make their comeback. California has shown over time that it too, has a strong environmental ethic.

What the EPA Actually Contributes to Environmental Protection

The EPA states that when Congress passes an environmental law, it is the duty of the EPA to "implement [the law] by writing regulations" and by setting "national standards that states and tribes enforce through their own regulations" (EPA). The EPA also offers grants to non-profits, educational institutions for their environmental program and scientific studies. The duty to teach people about the environment, to publish informational materials for wide dissemination within the American communities, and to sponsor partnerships falls in the hands of those who work for the EPA.

Congress Shows Environment Ethics

The "National Environmental Policy Act" (NEPA) was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970. The law represented a "fundamental shift in the United States federal government policy from a primary focus on economic development" toward a far more conservation and environmentally balanced approach (Felleman, 2008). The NEPA, while being the "briefest of all major U.S. environmental laws" (just 5 -- 1/2 pages) the law requires that state and local governments (and other agencies and individuals) "…use all practical means and measures…to promote the general welfare…[and] create and maintain conditions" under which nature and the American people can live in "productive harmony" (Felleman).

What made the NEPA important, Felleman asserts, is that prior to the passage of this legislation most federal decisions amounted to "disjointed incrementalism." Many programs were launched prior to NEPA that "independently implemented with little or no communication, coordination, or analysis of long-term outcomes other than economic projections," Felleman continues. Meantime President Jimmy Carter issued Executive Order 11991 that basically orders that any federal agency launching a building project must comply with environmental regulations.

Examples of Executive Branch Violations of Environmental Ethics

The administration of George W. Bush took office in January 2001 and in short time began to indicate that his concept of environmental ethics was to be carved out of whole cloth, and not in line with existing law and mission statements. The Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the most influential conservation and environmental organizations in the United States, reviews the Bush legacy. In Bush's first 100 days in office he: a) "walked away from the international treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions" (the Kyoto Protocol, which was designed to unite nations behind an effort to reduce carbon emissions and hence slow down climate change); b) withdrew a new standard that had been set up by the Clinton Administration to "reduce the arsenic in drinking water"; c) weakened a new efficiency standard for air conditioners; d) removed the executive order from President Clinton that protected 58 million acres of "wild national forest lands from logging, road-building, and coal, oil and gas leasing"; e) cut the budget for the EPA that eliminated about 50% of staff working on enforcement of environmental law; f) appointed Gale Norton as Secretary of the Interior; Norton was formerly a "senior attorney for the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a group funded by several leading mining, logging, and oil companies" to lobby for the elimination of laws restricting those activities" (NRDC).

Robert Kennedy, Jr., son of the late Senator Robert Kennedy, an attorney for the NRDC wrote in 2004 that President George W. Bush and the Republican Congress have "gutted scientific research budgets and politicized science within the federal agencies" (Kennedy, 2004). Kennedy backed up his assertion that Bush was eliminating budgets for research into environmentally-based science by noting that "Some 60 scientists issued a statement accusing the Bush Administration of deliberately distorting scientific fact to advance policy goals" (Kennedy).

Bush "claimed to preserve 5 million acres of wetlands but did not mention the 20 million acres of wetlands from which he stripped protection" (Lehner, 2009). Also, Bush "reduced water protections from sewage and coal mining waste"; he "ignored his own campaign pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and even refused to do what the Supreme Court ordered his EPA to do -- lower global warming pollution from vehicles" (Lehner). Another example of Bush's lack of stewardship towards the environment was clear as he "gave away public lands for subsidized logging…and he continued to allow high levels of toxics in our air and food" (Lehner).

A New Direction in Environmental Ethics Under Obama

In his first year in office, President Bush's EPA directors reversed safety measures imposed in 1998 to prevent 15,000 children from being exposed to rat poison each year. The good news is that in November, 2009, the EPA announced "a landmark decision to control the sale and use of rat poisons throughout the United States" (- -- ). The Director of Conservation Advocacy at the American Bird Conservancy, Dr. Michael Fry, said "This is an important victory for child safety, and for birds such as eagles and hawks." The EPA under President Obama has sought to change or eliminate many of the regulations that the Bush Administration put in place that are both harmful -- like rat poison -- and against the environmental ethic of the United States government.

The Obama Administration, unlike the Bush Administration, is fully cooperative with international efforts to curb carbon emissions; indeed, Obama is going to Copenhagen in December, 2009, to attend the United Nations meeting on climate change (Zeleny, 2009). That itself is a dramatic change from the previous administration, that stood in stubborn denial when it came to accepting global warming.

Works Cited

Behrens, Joanna, and Brooks, John. (2000). Wind In Their Wings: The Condor Recovery.

Program. Endangered Species Bulletin, XXV.3, pp. 8-9.

EPA. (2009). EPA Limits Uses of Toxic Rat Poisons. Retrieved Nov. 24, 2009, from http://www.epa.gov.

EPA (2009). Our Mission ad What We Do. Retrieved Nov. 22, 2009, from http://www.epa.gov.

Felleman, John. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), United States. Encyclopedia Of Earth. Retrieved Nov. 22, 2009, from http://www.eoearth.org.

Lehner, Peter. (2009). Summing Up the Bush Legacy. NRDC. Retrieved Nov. 23, 2009,

From http://www.nrdc.org.

Kennedy, Robert F. (2004). The Junk Science of George W. Bush. NRDC. Retrieved Nov.

23, 2009, from http://www.nrdc.org.

Mali, Peter. (2009). Interior Strengthens Coal Mining Oversight, Announces Initiatives to Better Protect Steams in Coal Country. U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved Nov.

23, 2009, from http://www.doi.gov.

Peeters, Pam. (2005) Raptors of California. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Wetstone, Gregory. (2001). NRDC Documents Unprecedented Assault on the Environment During President Bush's First 100 Days. NRDC. Retrieved Nov. 23, 2009,

From http://www.nrdc.org.

White House. (2009). Energy & Environment. Retrieved Nov. 23, 2009, from…

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