ENVS203 Study Guide

Unit 3: Environmental Ethics History and Its Pioneers

3a. Detail the history of the environmental ethics movement

  • What was the historical period called the Great Acceleration?
  • How does human activity affect soil degradation, deforestation, wetlands draining and damming, air pollution, and climate change?
  • What are some positive and negative environmental milestones that occurred during prehistory and antiquity?
  • What major environmental events occurred during the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period?
  • What positive and negative experiences and events during the Industrial Revolution and 20th Century promoted the environmental movement?
  • What major human developments occurred prior to 1970 to shape the environmental ethics movement?

Environmentalists argue that we are responsible for damaging the environment by creating large amounts of garbage, industrial waste, and pollution, due to our ever-expanding human population. We continue to exploit additional energy sources, mine the earth's natural resources, and inflict further environmental degradation.

However, environmentalists believe we can promote environmentally sustainable practices and use advances in technology to positively impact the environment, such as by encouraging recycling, reuse, and creating renewable energy sources to promote efficiency and reduce waste.

In addition, the Internet and other communications technologies allow us to access information on a global scale, so the international community can communicate more effectively to resolve environmental challenges more quickly.

A goal of the environmental ethics movement is to reduce the depletion of natural resources and mitigate environmental degradation by mobilizing the population to promote sustainability and protect the earth for future generations.

To review, see:


3b. Identify some key events that changed the course of environmental attitudes

  • What was the significance of the first Earth Day?
  • What does Earth day teach us?
  • What is the main role of the U.S. European Environment Agency?
  • How would you describe some main milestones in European environmental history, such as the launch of the Common Agricultural Policy, the Amsterdam Treaty, and the establishment of the World Wildlife Fund?

To review these topics, see How the First Earth Day Came AboutWhat The First Earth Day Can Teach Us About Sharing, and Europe's Environmental Achievements.


3c. List key pioneers whose work on behalf of the environment has influenced environmental morals and ethical behavior

The American environmentalists John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson all contributed to the Early Conservation Era, which led to the environmental ethics movement.


John Muir

  • What is preservation ethics?
  • How did John Muir promote preservation ethics and help found the U.S. National Park Service?
  • Summarize John Muir's main contributions to the environmental ethics movement.

John Muir (1838–1914), the famous Scottish-American naturalist, author, and environmental philosopher, helped preserve the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park, and many other U.S. wilderness areas. He co-founded The Sierra Club, the American conservation organization, and pushed the U.S. Congress to establish Yosemite National Park in 1890.

To review, see Biography of John MuirHistory of the National Park Service, and The Sierra Club.


Theodore Roosevelt

  • How did the environmental legislation President Theodore Roosevelt enacted during his presidency support the nascent environmental movement?
  • What were Theodore Roosevelt's main contributions to the environmental ethics movement?
  • Do you think Roosevelt's participation in game hunting during his tour of Africa after he left office compromised his environmental legacy?

Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) led the "Golden Age of Conservation from 1901–1909" when he was president of the United States. During his presidency, Roosevelt created the United States Forest Service (USFS) and established 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments. He used his position to protect approximately 230 million acres of public land.

To review, see Theodore RooseveltA Very Brief History of the Bureau of Reclamation, and The National Wildlife Refuge System.


Gifford Pinchot

  • What is biocentric ethics?
  • How did Gifford Pinchot use his position within the U.S. Forest Service to support biocentric ethics?
  • What were Gifford Pinchot's main contributions to the environmental ethics movement?

Gifford Pinchot (1865–1946) served as the first chief of the United States Forest Service from 1905–1910 and coined the term conservation ethic. Pinchot promoted scientific forestry and emphasized the controlled, profitable use of forests and other natural resources to benefit mankind. He was one of the first leaders to demonstrate the practicality and profitability of managing forests for continuous cropping, where trees are maintained and replanted.

To review, see History of the First Chief of the U.S. Forest ServiceThe Greatest GoodHistory of the U.S. Forest Service, and The Fires of 1910.


Aldo Leopold

  • What is ecocentric ethics?
  • How did Aldo Leopold use his belief in wildlife management to support ecocentric ethics?
  • What are the central themes and public impact of Leopold's book The Sand County Almanac?
  • What were Aldo Leopold's main contributions to the environmental ethics movement?

Aldo Leopold (1887–1948) contributed to the science of ecology and believed that individuals are interdependent. His ethical viewpoint advocated for respect for land, which shifted the view from conqueror to member, and also believed that problems arise when land is viewed as a commodity. Commodifying land put at risk the preservation of the integrity, stability, and beauty of land.

To review, see Aldo LeopoldAldo Leopold's Life and WorkA Sand County AlmanacThe Land Ethic, and Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time.


Rachel Carson

  • How was Rachel Carson able to use the ecological destruction and health side effects of the pesticide DDT to rally the public to support environmental causes?
  • What were the central themes and public effects of Carson's book Silent Spring?
  • What were Rachel Carson's main contributions to the environmental ethics movement?

Rachel Carson (1907–1964), an American marine biologist, author, and conservationist, is credited with advancing the global environmental movement. Carson began her career as an aquatic biologist for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, and became a full-time nature writer in the 1950s. Her book Silent Spring (1962), publicized environmental concerns to the wider public and convinced Congress to ban DDT and other pesticides. Carson's writing also inspired a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

To review, see DDT and Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.


3d. Analyze the proceedings that led to the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

  • What are the key goals of the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)?
  • How did science drive the direction of the environmental rights movement?
  • What political ideas and movements influenced the environmental movement post-1970?

To review the importance of the EPA for the environmental ethics movement, see The Origins of the EPA.

Unit 3 Vocabulary

  • commodity 
  • conservation ethic 
  • DDT
  • environmental ethics movement
  • environmentally sustainable practices
  • Gifford Pinchot
  • John Muir
  • pesticides 
  • Rachel Carson
  • Sierra Club
  • Silent Spring
  • sustainability
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • United States Forest Service (USFS)
  • U.S. Bureau of Fisheries
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)