1992 Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute
Environmental ethics deals not only with the traditional ethics of human conduct but reaches into another realm - that of man's relationship with nature. This inquiry is a way of entering the other realm.
Alderwood Manor should be presented sequentially over several periods or even weeks. Background material may be presented ahead of time through readings films or lectures. *Part 7 integrates all of the ethical levels and involves many interrelated issues. It may be done as a long range project by either groups or individuals.
*Refer to Carl Koch's module "In Search of a Land Ethic," included in this section, for a list of readings.
Environmental decision making is complex. Decisions leading to action may cause effects that spread like ripples on a pond, reflecting and refracting until the whole pond has been crisscrossed with little wavelets. Eventually a new equilibrium is established and the pond is temporarily still again until the next disturbance.
This inquiry starts with a simple scenario that (on the surface) involves only one individual and his property. As the inquiry develops both the number of affected individuals (both human and nonhuman) increases and as do the relevant issues. The participants are asked to consider higher levels of ethical thinking, progressing from self to a few others, peers, community and finally to man's relationship with nature. Issues addressed begin with simple rights of autonomy and the accumulation and disposal of personal property but quickly move into other areas including human and community relationships, economics and ecological concerns where the question must be asked, if it hasn't been already, "does the environment have rights? "
The objective of the inquiry is not to solve the problems but to identify ethical dilemmas. The skill of the teacher in moving through this exercise will largely determine its success. The scenario should be presented clearly part by part without divulging the next segment. Questions should be presented logically leading to the next stage. During the questioning some improvisation is desirable - and often required. Inquiries are dynamic exercises constantly changing and evolving. Successful teachers "let it happen" but still subtly guide the direction of the discussion.
Alderwood Manor is a residential community of about 350 houses built on 1/4 to 1/3 acre lots, large enough to include several to a dozen or so tall Douglas fir trees, many of which are over 2 feet in diameter. The trees are located on the adjoining sides of the lots. Most residents have allowed native shrubs such as huckleberry, salal, rhododendrons and Oregon grapes to grow, forming natural borders between individual properties. A few have constructed privacy fences of unstained cedar.
Lars Peterson and his family have lived in the community for 15 years. Jimmy, the oldest son, will leave for college next fall. Jimmy has been a big help to his dad in maintaining the house and yard. It is his job to clear the roof of the perpetual rain of needles, twigs, and cones that clog the gutter and promote moss growth on the cedar shakes. Sue is a junior at Chinook High School and has just started a part time job at Bar-B-Burger.
It is early summer. Mr. Peterson has just come in from the yard to tell Linda, his wife, that he has decided to remove 4 of the largest trees from the southern boundary of his property Ñ the ones that are the primary source of the needles.
Why is Mr. Peterson removing the trees?
Before Mr. Peterson has the trees removed, what are some of the things he should consider?
Note: Students may key in on the issue of safety and felling the tree away from the house. The target issue is individual rights.
Does Mr. Peterson have the right to cut down his trees?
Who else (if anybody) should be involved in the decision?
Karen and Ralph Morton are the Peterson's next door neighbors. They moved in about a year ago after having lived for 4 years in an apartment in town. They lived frugally during this time, saving every penny for a house. The Mortons were especially attracted to Alderwood because of the park like setting with the houses nestled among the trees.
Yesterday Karen noticed a truck in the Peterson's driveway with the logo " Olympic Tree Removal" painted on the side.
Ralph, what do you have to say to Mr. Peterson?
Karen, do you have anything to add?
Class, what are the rights and responsibilities of those involved in this situation?
Two other neighbors have heard about the tree removal. Don Billings wants the phone number of the tree service so he can remove some trees as well. He wants to start a garden where the trees are now located. Al Archer, Don's neighbor, wants the trees to remain as a wind break and for shade. The Archers enjoy sitting on the patio on summer afternoons. A bird feeder hangs from one of the overhanging limbs.
Have the issues changed? In what way?
What recourse do the Mortons and Archers have?
Alderwood Manor has a natural greenbelt around its perimeter. A trail has been established over a period of time that meanders through the woods. This area was logged in the early part of the century but succession has reestablished the coniferous forest appearance. Some of the trees, mostly Douglas fir and hemlock, are over two feet in diameter. Some areas have a mixture of alder and willows and a few ancient Big Leaf maples were left standing as well. Developers left the area untouched as part of their marketing strategy and partly because of the tax break that the state allows for greenbelt zones.
A group of community members has proposed to the board of trustees that the green belt be put to use by the community. They propose the construction of a golf course and sport fields on the site. This would result in the need to remove most of the trees, recontouring the land and replanting with sod. They have financial backing for the project but also point out that the sale of timber would bring in significant revenues.
The board of trustees is composed of 10 members of the community elected for 3 year terms at an annual general meeting of community residents. On the board is Ruth Silvers, an avid golfer, and Bill Adao, a computer service technician. Bill's property lies adjacent to the green belt. He enjoys his morning walk along the trail where he often spots deer and a variety of native birds. On summer evenings he has spotted flying squirrels gliding from the large maple trees.
Ruth, you really want this golf course. How could you convince the board? Feel free to talk to your golfing friends (classmates).
Bill, you are shocked that the proposal was even submitted. How will you and your friends respond?
Class, what are the issues involved here?
The greenbelt has a stream running through it. Children often play along its bank where they hunt for frogs and chase damsel flies. Tasty salmon berries grow along the shore. Trout are often caught in the deeper pools and every fall bright red Sockeye salmon struggle upstream to the gravel spawning beds. River otters have left slippery trails where they slide into the cold water.
What, if any, new issues have arisen as a result of this new information?
Does this information strengthen or weaken the argument for a new golf course?
(Try to redirect the discussion away from human rights at this point and begin addressing "environmental rights." This may be a good time to review American attitudes about the environment. A quotation from Leopold, Muir, Rolston, Potter or others that suggests an environmental ethic might be useful here.)
Alderwood was developed before sewer lines were available in the area. Since then a new secondary treatment plant has been constructed to serve the county. The county would like the community to hook up to the sewer but it would cost each homeowner several thousand dollars. Most are opposed to it. They are happy with their individual septic systems. The effluent is free of bacteria and organic materials when it leaves the drain field but does contain inorganic decomposition products that are mainly phosphates and nitrates. These eventually join the other subsurface waters draining away from the houses, through the greenbelt and eventually into the stream.
What might be the effects of the phosphates and nitrates on the environment? ... on the greenbelt? ... on the stream?
Does the community have a responsibility to prevent nutrients from entering the stream?
The stream feeds into Sammish Lake 5 miles down stream. Sammish Estates is built along the lake. Eight years ago the community voted to hook up to the county sewer system after they began to notice an increase in algae, pond weeds and pollution tolerant fish species. During the next 4 years they noticed a gradual change in the lake. The number of trout increased and the water became much clearer. This was only temporary, however. During the last 2 years there has been some indication that the water quality is deteriorating again.
What might be the cause of the worsening lake quality?
What are the options of the Sammish community?
What are the responsibilities of the upstream community?
Who has the primary responsibility for solving this problem?
Will this issue influence the decision to build the golf course in Alderwood manor?
In recent years 3 additional counties (including the counties of Alderwood Manor and Sammish Estates) have been concerned with the rate at which development has been occurring in the region. There has been a proposal to form a commission to draft a "limited growth policy".
(This is the last part of the inquiry. It is an opportunity to review the issues and ethical dilemmas that were addressed in earlier parts. As an open ended exercise it can be left unresolved. As an extended activity the class could be assigned to actually write a land use policy based on this scenario.)
What would be the rationale for developing an inter-county land use policy?
Whose rights should be considered in writing such a policy?
Do rights exist for the environment?