Can Stress Ecology Adequately Inform Environmental Ethics?

John Lemons

DOI: 10.2190/RPUX-36GE-8FKK-563V


Stress ecology represents the field of ecology that measures and evaluates impacts of perturbations on the structure and function of ecosystems. Many human ecologists and philosophers maintain that environmental ethics should be predicated upon holistic ecological principles. Specifically, this implies the successful application of stress ecology to environmental problems. However, few thoroughly discuss the extent to which stress ecology is capable of serving as a basis for environmental ethics, nor do they make substantial reference to the scientific literature which examines this question. A number of factors constrain the successful development and application of stress ecology, and its usefulness as a basis for a holistic environmental ethics. These factors include: 1) lack of consensus about the definitions of stress to organisms or ecosystems, 2) insufficient knowledge about causes of environmental perturbations (e.g., pollutants), 3) inadequate ecosystemic knowledge, and 4) lack of integration of ecosystem and scoioeconomic systems into formal approaches of systems analysis. Accordingly, stress ecology will not fulfill the goals of a holistic and ecologically based environmental ethics.

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