Charles Darwin's theory of evolution has revolutionized the way humans look at science, religion, and an array of other areas of interest. The theory has yet to significantly impact the area of environmental ethics. To give a brief summary, his theory is dictated by the notion of natural selection, which according to Darwin "is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, the slightest variations; rejecting those that are bad, preserving and adding up all that are good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever the opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life, 1" In short, those organisms which posses traits that improve their ability to live and reproduce will be the traits passed down to the next generation. Although modern environmental ethicists may display a solid understanding of the theory and even use it to defend certain claims, they fail to comprehend the importance of using the theory as a basis for developing an ethic.
This essay attempts to develop an environmental ethic grounded with an understanding of the implications of natural selection. Such implications result in an ethic that is not human centered, one that differentiates between what is morally good versus what is evolutionarily good, and one that advocates achieving moral goodness over evolutionary goodness. This new ethic can be regarded as the morally conscious environmental ethic.
A basic understanding of evolution will disregard the idea that the will to live is intrinsically valuable. Albert Schweitzer's central claim behind his environmental ethic asserts, "A man is ethical only when life, as such, is sacred to him, that of plants and animals as that of his fellow men, and when he devotes himself helpfully to all life that is in need of help. 2" According to Schweitzer,