Environmental Ethics


Over the course of this term, we've learned SO much about the environment.  We've learned about ecological niches (how each living thing has a role on this planet...yes, even the mouse!) We've also covered everything from nutrient cycles to biome geography and even aquatic ecosystems and water pollution.  Additionally, on our field trips, we learned about waste resource management, which is a luxury that we often take for granted.

Finally, we've also spoken at length about our role as humans on this planet.  What will our legacy be?  Will you become a steward of the environment, or do you believe that it's part of the human condition that we must dominate and alter the earth to fit our desires.  Is it our destiny to go against nature, or are we part of nature?

This really is the question that this Unit attempts to answer...and there isn't really a right or wrong answer.  In fact, the answer for each of us might be a different one.  

For me, personally, it is my hope that over the next week or so, you will recognize the responsibility we have as humans to this planet.  After all, isn't it our humanity that makes us humans?  And what is humanity if not an understanding of right vs. wrong.

Discussion Springboard

Need some food for thought?  Check out this discussion springboard.  How do the illustrations and the facts presented here make you feel?


  1. Article: Don't Hate Me, Meat Eaters
    • Why, do you ask, is meat-eating so bad for the environment?  Well, why don't I let Jonathan Saffran Foer sum it up for me here.  
    • The environmental impact of meat-eating has been clear for awhile, but worsening the problem is the rise of the factory farm.  For a somewhat brief introduction into the impact of factory-farming, feel free to check out this paper that I wrote for one of my Graduate School classes: "A Case for Vegetarianism."
  2. Congressional Hearing: "A Case for a Meatless Monday"
    • In this activity, you will be challenged to fight either for or against a proposed congressional bill to implement "Meatless Mondays" at restaurants and supermarkets in the State of Wisconsin.
    • You are your congressional committee will need to fill out the following forms in order to make your verbal arguments to our impartial judges:
    • These judges will weigh the arguments and pass a judgements that is based entirely on the legitimacy of the arguments made!
  3. Chopped Challenge: "The Ethical Omnivore"
    • As you’re well aware, there are tons of reasons to opt for organic produce and family-farmed meats.  They’re far better for both the environment and your health, and even more importantly, they promote actions that are socially-responsible and ethically-driven.  After all, as Jonathon Safran Foer points out,
      • “No [one] would tolerate someone swinging a pickax at a dog’s face.  Nothing could be more obvious or less in need of explanation.  Is such a concern morally out of place when applied to fish, or are we silly to have such unquestioning concern about dogs?  Is suffering of a drawn-out death something that is cruel to inflict on any animal that can experience it, or just some animals (Eating Animals, p. 31)?”
    • However, setting aside the depressing reality of today’s food culture, I think one of the strongest arguments in favor of local, organic foods is that they simply taste better!  (After all, if you’re among the great majority of meat-eaters, the primary reason you eat meat is because it tastes so good!)  What if you could make it taste better…all while promoting social, environmental and moral justice?

    • This cook-off is an opportunity to do just that!


      Click here to enter your recipe!


      In your group, you are challenged to come up with an appetizer or dessert that can be prepared in 45 minutes or less.  You and your group members will need to bring in your own ingredients (enough to feed your group and a portion for each of the 3 judges that will be critiquing your final dish.)

      Where are you going to get your ingredients you ask?  Well, nearly every grocery store has good options.  You just need to know what to look for.  For that, I recommend that you look to the following resources, which represent some of my favorites:

      1.)  The Better World Shopper
      - This website (inspired by the book) is amazing.  It "grades" companies based on 5 areas: human rights, the environment, animal protection, community involvement, and social justice.  The grades are awarded accordingly...

      - Better World Shopper does have an App for iOS as well, but I don't believe one exists for Android.
      2.) HowGood
      - Using a mountain of data collected from over 350 reputable sources (including USDA, the American Human Society, Seafood Watch, and so much more), this company rates companies on a multitude of factors, all of which fall under 3 main categories: sourcing, production and organization. 
      3.) CrueltyFree
      - Focusing on animal welfare, this app (available on iOS only, unfortunately) "connects compassionate consumers with cruelty-free companies."  It's main goal is to protect animals from unnecessary pain and death.
      4.) EWG's Healthy Living
      - Contains information on over 120,000 products as to their overall impact on environmental and human health.  According to their site, "The Environmental Working Group’s mission is to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. With breakthrough research and education, we drive consumer choice and civic action."  The EWG is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that employs their own team of scientific experts to conduct research into the very products you use each and every day.
      3.) The Good Guide
      - This website is equally amazing.  And it also offers an App...this time for iOS and Android.  Better yet, it's free. 

      In addition to the ingredients you bring from home, Mr. Rankin is going to be providing you with a number of “secret ingredients” that you must incorporate into your recipes somehow.  The challenge is…you won’t know what these “secret ingredients” are until the day of the challenge!


      Ultimately, your dish will be judged by a panel of judges on the following:

      1.) Taste (no explanation needed!)
      2.) Presentation (How appetizing does your dish look?)
      3.) Environmental "Friendliness" (Were the ingredients you brought in organic or have a relatively innocuous impact on the environment?)
      4.) Creativity
      ( How creatively did you use the “secret ingredients” provided to you?)