17 Pages

Three Conceptions of Irreversibility and Environmental Ethics: Some Problems

WithMathew Humphrey

One objection to certain environmental changes such as species loss is that, unlike many other changes, they are irreversible and so should be avoided, where feasible. This paper examines three ways of conceptualising irreversibility, and suggests that the ‘experiential’ version favoured by environmental ethicists is misleading on a number of grounds. A ‘comprehensive’ conception of irreversibility demonstrates that irreversible change is a far more general phenomenon than has been acknowledged in environmental ethics. Irreversibility is shown to be an inappropriate conceptual language for discussing the ethics of environmental decisions. We require a set of principles for decisions involving different forms of irreversible change.