Papers and Presentations

Wildness Without Naturalness:  

Expanding Environmental Focus in the Anthropocene

Adam Pérou Hermans, Alex Lee, and Benjamin Hale


Presented at the International Society for Environmental Ethics (ISEE) sessions at the 2013 Pacific Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, San Francisco, CA

Climate change, human development, and the global extent of our collective human impact all suggest that we have entered the age of the Anthropocene (Crutzen 2002). Many fear that the Anthropocene heralds the end of nature. Others argue that nature will persist throughout the Anthropocene. In this paper we propose that this debate rests on a conflation between naturalness and wildness. Where naturalness is fundamentally a metaphysical category, wildness is fundamentally an inter-relational category. In other words, where naturalness demarcates boundaries between the natural and non-natural environments, wildness offers a counterpart category which captures spontaneity, push back, and many of interpersonal experiences commonly associated with nature. We suggest that while naturalness vacillates between separating humans from nature and intercalating humans with nature, wildness is best understood as a relationship of control between a person and the world. The raccoons in cities, the deer in suburban yards, the coyotes hunting our cats and dogs: all these return wildness where naturalness may have been lost. In so doing, wildness creates a space for a “new natural” in the Anthropocene. One implication of this position is that wildness offers an alternate focus for efforts of conservation, restoration, adaptation, and our fundamental relationship with nature. While the Anthropocene may indeed threaten naturalness, and even the natural world as we know it, wildness will persevere.


Restoration, Obligations, and the Baseline Problem

Alex Lee, Adam Hermans, Benjamin Hale

Forthcoming in Environmental Ethics. Originally presented at the International Society for Environmental Ethics 2012 conference, June 12-15th in Allenspark, CO

Ought we restore degraded nature, and if so, why? Environmental theorists often approach the problem of restoration from perspectives couched in much broader debates, particularly regarding intrinsic value and moral status of natural entities. Unfortunately, such approaches are susceptible to concerns like the Baseline Problem, which is both a philosophical and technical issue related to identifying an appropriate restoration baseline. In so far as restoration ostensibly aims to return an ecosystem to a particular baseline state, an depends upon clearly identifying this base;line for success, the very project of restoration appears impossible to get off the ground. Recasting environmental restoration in terms of obligation, instead of status, value, or worth, can avoid this and other classic challenges. If obligation to restore nature follow from intersubjectively validated reasons to justify our actions, we can salvage restoration from the threat of the Baseline Problem. The second-personal nature of justification both demands a reason for, and motivates a response to, degradation.

Adaptation, Reparation, and the New Substitution Problem

Benjamin Hale, Adam Pérou Hermans, and Alexander Lee

under review

In recent work we have argued that our adaptation obligations extend beyond simple human communities to include non-human species and wild ecosystems. In this paper we argue that climate adaptation for non-human species and wild ecosystems cannot be supported by functionalist appeals to assist ecosystem adaptation by colonizing new areas. We limit our discussion to the Argument from Reparation, which suggests that our obligations to assist in species and ecosystem adaptation stem from a moral duty to right prior wrongs. In earlier work we discussed the “Substitution Problem,” which raises a counter-argument to functionalism by proposing that a missing or damaged component of an ecosystem cannot, morally speaking, be swapped out for a component that serves a similar function. In this paper we introduce the “New Substitution Problem,” which is essentially the converse of the old substitution problem. In other words, it asks not whether an ecological component can be swapped out to assist an ecosystem, but whether an ecosystem can be swapped out to assist an ecological component. Our claim here is that substitution alone cannot suffice to discharge an obligation to repair an environmental wrong. We propose instead that obligations to aid and assist species and ecosystems in adaptation, in particular, follow from a failure to adequately justify—either by absence, neglect, omission, or malice—actions that caused, or coalesced to cause, climatic change. Because this position suggests a different reason for reparation—namely, it does not rely on the notion that an obligation to repair is contingent upon a lost good—it permits moving forward with assisted colonization and migration, but does so without falling subject to the complications of the New Substitution Problem.

What is Wild?

Adam Pérou Hermans

Presented at the British Animal Studies Network "Wild" conference, May 25th and 26th in Glasgow, Scotland

    One might encounter a red fox hunting in an alpine meadow, a henhouse, or a city street. Are all these foxes wild? What if the fox shoes little fear of humans or is out of its natural range? Just as the loss of wilderness is a critical problem that demands our attention, so too is the loss of the "wildness" of wild animals. My paper addresses a preliminary conceptual issue to addressing this problem, namely, what qualifies as wild?

    Typically, four characteristics are associated with wildness: autonomy, naturalness, wariness, and distance. None of the four is clearly necessary for being wild, as there are circumstances where an animal loses one of the four and is either still wild or, at the very least, a borderline case of wild. Clearly, then, determining how to preserve wildness requires clarifying what qualifies as wildness in the first place. 

    I suggest that wildness is best thought of as a relationship between a human, an animal, and an environment. Where a person encounters an animal, and how much control the person has over the animal and place, jointly determine whether the animal is wild.

Restoration Ethics: The Cutthroat Truth

Alexander Lee

Poster presented at the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences annual conference,  June 23-26, 2011, Burlington, VT

Ecological restoration aims to repair the damage, assuage the harm, rectify the wrong, and change the course of negative environmental impact. I argue that obligations regarding natural entities provide a motivating moral reason to restore nature. If we wish to use restoration to repair the damage done by human impact, we must direct our restoration efforts at the ecological identities degraded by our wrongdoing. Current efforts to reintroduce the greenback cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki stomias) to their native streams in Colorado provide an in-depth illustration of the ethics of restoration. Reintroduction in this case largely claims success, despite a known genetic misidentification of a large portion of the project's breed stock. 

Managers currently face a choice of whether to continue the program (and mis-introduction), or change course. Continuing to introduce genetically impure breed stock would be emblematic of restoration practices that often fail to incorporate a full understanding of the environmental problem when defining restoration goals. This example provides a lens for constructing normative criteria for critically examining restoration policy. Investigating past discourse on restoration and using the greenback reintroduction and restoration as a case-study, I demonstrate that restoration is at times obligatory and ought to be directed at repair, rather than at function, value, or character. Restoration broadly ought to prioritize the integrity of the ecological identities to which our actions are aimed, and a new approach is needed in the greenback cutthroat trout case.