We continue here specific guidelines of virtue on segments of the environment .
“The physicochemical conditions prevailing on the crust of the Earth are ideally suited – and perhaps uniquely so – for the emergence and maintenance of life.”6 However the picture is complex as organisms are both transformed by the environment and transform it, a fact particularly applicable to humans and our civilized spaces. What makes humans unique is our unfortunate tendency to sacrifice environmental quality for short-term rewards. But this does not make us immune to the powerful governing influence the environment exerts on our character and lives. Most ancient people empirically determined that human well-being depends on “ways of life in harmony with the natural world.”7 One noteworthy example is the oldest known Chinese medical text of the Yellow Emperor which states, “Live in accordance with the laws of the seasons.”7
There are four basic subtopics within the physical environment.
Soil. Humans are responsible for soil degradation, erosion, and toxic waste. There are many well-established and practical means to reverse soil deterioration including composting, use of natural fertilizers, avoidance of pesticides and herbicides, and sustainable agriculture. The virtuous person will be an agent for soil preservation and protection through exemplary conduct.
Non-fuel Minerals. Minerals are vital to industrialized societies, but are a finite resource. The mining and processing of minerals is destructive to terrains and contributes to air and water pollution. Thus recycling and self-control in purchase of finished goods are critical ethical measures the individual must consider in the interest of ecological ends.
Energy sources. Coal, oil, and natural gas are the results of millions of years of geological forces on organic materials. These irreplaceable sources of energy must be conserved as possible for future human needs and because too rapid use likely is a factor in climate change. Virtue involves increasing renewable energy use and avoidance of waste.
Territory. Man’s late arrival to the history of Earth tells us of the immense organization which preceded us, the transformation of organic and organic materials by various forms of life, and the interdependence of various species in a seamless web of life. We know for example that predators inhabit specific ranges and that differing species work different components of the bounty of living things leading to a natural ‘steady state.’8 Terrains as varied as desert, rain forest, and prairie are spaces where these steady states arise and sources of natural beauty that belong to all life present and future. Virtue entails curtailing the growth of human space when they threaten endangered species habitat and irreplaceable aesthetic landscapes.
In closing, the bar is high when we come to virtue in the setting of the environment, perhaps higher than any of us can hope to reach. Still a meaningful life can be poisoned by cosmic guilt should we neglect reasonable actions which safeguard our home planet, Mother Earth.
Next time we look at the last component of cosmic virtue – our approach to science and the universe itself.
6Dubos, René, Environment in Wiener, Philip P. (editor), Dictionary of the History of Ideas Volume II, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1973. ISBN 684-16423-X, page 121.
7Ibid., page 122.
8Sears, Paul, B., Life and the World It Lives In, in Haydn, Hiram and Saunders, Betsy (editors), The American Scholar Reader, New York Atheneum Publishers, New York, 1960. Pages 228-235.