#7: Ethics vs Behaviour

Hello dear readers!

On my 3rd post of this blog, Dr Coleman left a comment, asking me to pay attention to Week 10’s lessons on environmental ethics.

Well, Week 10 is over.

I won’t go into the topic’s details (because that would be my classmate Anlydia’s job), but will instead share some thoughts and attempt to connect my learnings with my blog’s focus – human behaviour for a greener future. Let me know what you think in the comments below! ^-^

Honestly, being exposed to the controversies and conflicts arising from different lines of ethical thinking – with no right or wrong answer – was emotionally draining. How can we know if the lives of all animal species should be valued equally? It didn’t help that I was lacking sleep. I’m not surprised if I subconsciously shut out some important information from class (sorry Dr Coleman).

That experience, however, did make me realise that an in-depth conversation about environmental ethics was not something to have with some of my “informed but idle” friends. At least, not for a start. The topic’s many arguments and inconclusive nature require mental energy to deal with. Referencing last week’s post, that won’t help encourage people to make lifestyle changes as it may cause “exhaustion” (C. Heath & D. Heath, 2010, p. 9-12, 17).

Furthermore, it may evoke feelings of intimidation and despair. According to Switch, negative emotions may help in solving problems with clear-cut solutions (think about getting caught in the rain), but positive feelings fare better when you need out-of-the-box thinking (p. 121). Year 2 BES student Komal echoed a similar caution against negative sentiments in her blog post. With many other demoralising factors such as our current slow progress and the problem’s sheer scale, this article on environmental ethics also concludes with a warning against believing all efforts will be futile and giving up.

So should we ignore environmental ethics?

I don’t think so. I’ve learnt this week that many large-scale environmental issues inevitably involve decisions which sit at the crossroads of various ethical principles. Anlydia explained to me that there’s no “correct ethic” either. Rather, being able to appreciate the various ethics will hopefully help when working together with people who have these different views and when tackling the issues themselves.

Dr Coleman said that preparing for Week 10’s lessons convinced her to drop the following viewpoint, quoted from the article I discussed in the 3rd blog post:

“ ‘Remember, the atmosphere doesn’t care what people believe, it responds to emissions,’ Hassol adds.”

I think Hassol’s statement still holds, without undermining the significance of environmental ethics. If there are ways to reduce our environmental impact, without getting into the mess of differing opinions, wouldn’t those be worth working towards? Of course, we cannot avoid the ugly dilemmas in trying to solve this whole crisis. But, as the Heath brothers put it in Switch (p. 255),

“Small changes can snowball to big changes.”

Even if it’s just raising awareness and hope, some headway is better than none at all.

Until the next post, thanks for reading!

Tasha (^-^)/


Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2010). Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard. New York, NY: Broadway Books.

4 thoughts on “#7: Ethics vs Behaviour

  1. Hi Tasha!
    This is an interesting post! I do find ‘environmental ethics’ a daunting subject too. Honestly, it used to make me question whether I what I believe in is ‘right’, and if it isn’t, then maybe I shouldn’t even bother. But I soon realised that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is subjective when it comes to environmental ethics. And like you mentioned, each ethical belief has something new and something good to bring to the table. And just remember, our ethical beliefs may change over time, so just always keep an open mind!

    – Anlydia

    1. Hi Anlydia!

      I agree with what you’ve said! It may be taxing to go through these grey areas of different ethical principles, but there are things to be learnt from each of them, and different principles may carry more weight in some contexts, and less in others. As the fields of environmental and climate science continue to break new ground, we should be open to adapting our various environmental ethics as well.

      Thanks for reading my post and helping me better understand environmental ethics!

      Tasha (^-^)/

  2. Hey Tasha!

    Love the quote on how the atmosphere isn’t affected by beliefs, but by emissions!

    In one of your paragraphs, you said that we should avoid being pessimistic about our environmental situation. While I certainly think having a positive outlook is crucial to maintain mental fortitude in the face of such a daunting crisis, do you think some level of pessimism (and I guess being realistic? 😛 ) is necessary to acknowledge the true urgency and severity of the situation? Like while being aware of our planet’s possible impending demise is a sobering thought, is that realisation what we need to spur the world into action? Just a random thought!

    Hope to hear your opinion!

    P.S. I think one of Rachel’s posts covers something related to this!

    – Jiajun

    1. Hey Jiajun!

      I do believe that some level of realism is necessary, and I suppose what we should aim for is a balance between that and optimism in tackling our environmental crisis. After all, we’re dealing with an issue that’s reliant on scientific data and causal relationships. To understand and apply such information would require us to get our heads out of the clouds. A consistent message from environmental research and news also seems to be that we cannot continue living the way we always have. In that sense, I doubt it will be helpful to belive everything would be alright, while we change nothing about society and our lives.

      Perhaps it’s a bit like how we deal with our everyday failures and obstacles. As students, we need a balance between recognising our areas of struggle and believing that our grades will turn out fine. I’m inclined to believe that the exact balance differs for everyone, and perhaps that’s part of the reason why getting people on board the environmental cause is so challenging. Some people may need to learn more about the facts to feel the need to take action, while others need help getting out of despair and hopelessness. Then some are tired of both perspectives and don’t believe the crisis is even their priority.

      I would say being aware and realistic is necessary, especially for people looking to work in the field, but I don’t think it’s a blanket solution that can apply to everyone on this planet. We have to keep trying I guess.

      Thanks for your comment and question!

      Tasha (^-^)/

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