The Role and Value of Ethics in the Interdisciplinary Structure of Environmental Studies (Blog 1)

The dimensions of Environment Studies and the words themselves can be broken down to the very basic and rudimentary level or explained broadly. Each of these views lends a hand in the understanding of how all of the elements interact that are involved in the interdisciplinary structure of environmental studies. At the base of the structure is the raw numbers, the study of the physical and natural sciences that are related to the environment. Though this is an important foundation to have when beginning an education in environmental studies, it is from this point that we must move to the broader and more theoretical studies of the environment provided by the disciplines of the humanities, social sciences and applied arts & sciences. Furthermore, it is at this point that ethics and its role in environmental studies becomes relevant.
When looking at the raw numbers provided by statistical research in the fields of Environmental physics, chemistry and ecology it would be difficult to identify a dimension of ethics. However, when environmental studies is looked at through the lens of Urban and Suburban Planning, anthropology, psychology, sociology, philosophy, theology and so many other disciplines in which the human and ethical aspects cannot be ignored.

In the Fordham University description and breakdown of what is environmental studies, the excerpt that explains policy studies as an academic discipline, to me, shows where policy and ethics,which are the two major cornerstones of title for this course, collide. The excerpt states that policy studies, “involves the interdisciplinary study of the nature, causes, and effects of alternative public policies, with particular emphasis on determining the policies that will achieve given goals” (Interdisciplinary Structure of Environmental Studies & The Place of Values (Environmental Ethics)).  At first glance, the phrase “given goals” could be assumed to mean the scientific and empirical goals such as reducing carbon emissions to a certain level or repopulating a certain animal species to a specific number. However, when analyzing goals that would be of concern through policy studies, the goal of an ethical society is definitely one to be considered. Often times, its the ethical aspects of environmental studies that can get caught up in the muck of public policy. For example, the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline has been the cause of great controversy between scientists, citizens, politicians, economists and many other groups. If the goal here is to create/maintain an ethical society then the controversy will rage on until all of these stakeholders can find a compromise that reaches that goal.

The bottom line is that once you introduce the human aspect of environmental studies you simply cannot detach it from the ethical aspect. The Merriam- Webster dictionary defines ethics as, “an area of study that deals with ideas about what is good and bad behavior; a branch of philosophy dealing with what is morally right or wrong” (  This definition helps to create a better understanding of how the humanities, social sciences and even applied arts, which are all disciplines of environmental studies, interacts and intersects with ethics. Economically, geographically and architecturally the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline may make sense. However, for the public health and conservation biology, sustainability, historically, anthropologically, philosophically and, maybe most importantly, ethically it may not make sense. It is up to public policy makers to determine which argument will help to achieve the given goals and create alternative public policies that steer society in what they believe is morally the right direction.

Question: Does the Fordham corriculum and the field of environmental studies as  a whole, not put enough weight on the production of scientific data?


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