Publications and Presentations


Conservation and the Problem of Abiotic Nature: The Tragic Death of a Utah Goblin

Alexander Lee

Ethics, Policy & Environment, Forthcoming

Concepts presented at the ISEE Conference, Allenspark, Colorado. June, 2017

Biocentric (life-centered) and ecocentric (ecosystem-centered) ethics offer a rich discourse on protecting biotic communities—defending conservation with inherent value tied to life. A problem arises from these views if mountains, glaciers, canyons, and other abiotic natural objects (often foci of conservation efforts) matter in and of themselves. Abiotic nature helps demonstrate and delineate the boundaries of environmental ethics grounded in life-based axiology. A series of thought experiments suggests that orienting conservation as a question of obligation offers an additional avenue to explore and defend the protection of abiotic nature; agreements and property rights plausibly ground moral obligations to conserve abiotic nature.

Wildness Without Naturalness:  

Expanding Environmental Focus in the Anthropocene

Adam Amir, Alexander Lee, and Benjamin Hale

Forthcoming Paper, 2019

Presented at the 2013 International Society for Environmental Ethics (ISEE) sessions at the 2013 Pacific Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, San Francisco, CA

Climate change, human development, and the global extent of our collective human impact all suggest that we have entered the age of the Anthropocene (Crutzen 2002). Many fear that the Anthropocene heralds the end of nature. Others argue that nature will persist throughout the Anthropocene. In this paper we propose that this debate rests on a conflation between naturalness and wildness. Where naturalness is fundamentally a metaphysical category, wildness is fundamentally an inter-relational category. In other words, where naturalness demarcates boundaries between the natural and non-natural environments, wildness offers a counterpart category which captures spontaneity, push back, and many of interpersonal experiences commonly associated with nature. We suggest that while naturalness vacillates between separating humans from nature and intercalating humans with nature, wildness is best understood as a relationship of control between a person and the world. The raccoons in cities, the deer in suburban yards, the coyotes hunting our cats and dogs: all these return wildness where naturalness may have been lost. In so doing, wildness creates a space for a “new natural” in the Anthropocene. One implication of this position is that wildness offers an alternate focus for efforts of conservation, restoration, adaptation, and our fundamental relationship with nature. While the Anthropocene may indeed threaten naturalness, and even the natural world as we know it, wildness will persevere.


Two Problems of Climate Ethics: Can We Lose the Planet but Save Ourselves?

Alexander Lee and Jordan Kincaid

Commentary, Ethics Policy and Environment 19.2 (2016)


The Carnivore Way: Coexisting with and Conserving North America’s Predators

Lawhon, Lydia and Benjamin Hale

Ecological Restoration. 33(2): 224-225. 2015.


Restoration, Obligations, and the Baseline Problem

Alexander Lee, Adam Hermans, Benjamin Hale

Environmental Ethics 36 (2014). Originally presented at the International Society for Environmental Ethics 2012 conference, June 12-15th in Allenspark, CO

Ought we restore degraded nature, and if so, why? Environmental theorists often approach the problem of restoration from perspectives couched in much broader debates, particularly regarding intrinsic value and moral status of natural entities. Unfortunately, such approaches are susceptible to concerns like the Baseline Problem, which is both a philosophical and technical issue related to identifying an appropriate restoration baseline. In so far as restoration ostensibly aims to return an ecosystem to a particular baseline state, an depends upon clearly identifying this base;line for success, the very project of restoration appears impossible to get off the ground. Recasting environmental restoration in terms of obligation, instead of status, value, or worth, can avoid this and other classic challenges. If obligation to restore nature follow from intersubjectively validated reasons to justify our actions, we can salvage restoration from the threat of the Baseline Problem. The second-personal nature of justification both demands a reason for, and motivates a response to, degradation.


Women, E-Waste, and Technical Solutions to Climate Change

Lucy McAllister, Amanda Magee, and Benjamin Hale.

Health and Human Rights. 16(1): 166-178. 2014.


Wolf Reintroduction: Ecological Management and the Substitution Problem

Adam Pérou Hermans, Lydia Dixon, Alexander Lee, and Benjamin Hale

Ecological Restoration 32 (2014)

Elk overgrazing in Rocky Mountain National Park, largely a consequence of wolf extirpation, poses not only a practical problem, but also several conceptual hurdles for park managers. The current RMNP ecosystem management plan addresses overgrazing by culling elk and fencing off riparian environments. This “functionalist” view explicitly substitutes the role of wolves in the ecosystem with human intervention, and implicitly conflates the role or function of wolves with wolves themselves. In this paper, we argue that such substitution logic presents a conceptual problem for restoration. Seeking a resolution for this “substitution problem,” we distinguish between “reparative restoration” and “replacement restoration.” Where reparative restoration seeks to repair damage, replacement restoration seeks more aptly to replace the function of one ecological component with another. We suggest that in many cases reparative restoration is preferable to replacement restoration, and when characterized as such, may serve to better justify wolf reintroduction.


Clowning Around with Conservation: Adaptation, Reparation, and the New Substitution Problem.

Benjamin Hale, Adam Pérou Hermans, and Alexander Lee

Environmental Values 32 (2014)

In recent work we have argued that our adaptation obligations extend beyond simple human communities to include non-human species and wild ecosystems. In this paper we argue that climate adaptation for non-human species and wild ecosystems cannot be supported by functionalist appeals to assist ecosystem adaptation by colonizing new areas. We limit our discussion to the Argument from Reparation, which suggests that our obligations to assist in species and ecosystem adaptation stem from a moral duty to right prior wrongs. In earlier work we discussed the “Substitution Problem,” which raises a counter-argument to functionalism by proposing that a missing or damaged component of an ecosystem cannot, morally speaking, be swapped out for a component that serves a similar function. In this paper we introduce the “New Substitution Problem,” which is essentially the converse of the old substitution problem. In other words, it asks not whether an ecological component can be swapped out to assist an ecosystem, but whether an ecosystem can be swapped out to assist an ecological component. Our claim here is that substitution alone cannot suffice to discharge an obligation to repair an environmental wrong. We propose instead that obligations to aid and assist species and ecosystems in adaptation, in particular, follow from a failure to adequately justify—either by absence, neglect, omission, or malice—actions that caused, or coalesced to cause, climatic change. Because this position suggests a different reason for reparation—namely, it does not rely on the notion that an obligation to repair is contingent upon a lost good—it permits moving forward with assisted colonization and migration, but does so without falling subject to the complications of the New Substitution Problem.


Moving Forward with Effective Goals and Methods for Conservation: a reply to Marvier and Kareiva

Daniel F. Doak, Victoria Bakker, Bruce Evan Goldstein, Benjamin Hale

Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 29(3): 132-133.  2014. 


Climate Adaptation, Moral Reparation, and the Baseline Problem 

Ben Hale, Adam Pérou Hermans, and Alexander Lee

Chapter in Toward Successful Adaptation: Linking Science and Practice in Managing Climate Change Impacts, ed. by Susanne C. Moser and Maxwell T. Boykoff, 2013

We argue that our adaptation obligations extend beyond simple human communities to include non-human species and wild ecosystems. We limit our discussion to the Argument from Reparation, which suggests that our obligations to assist in adaptation stem from a moral duty to right prior wrongs. Our claim is that the Argument from Reparation gets off the ground not through the generally presumed line--that is, that one must repair damages or harms caused to victims--but rather that it rests on a prior failure to justify one’s actions. We argue that obligations to aid and assist species and ecosystems in adaptation, in particular, follow from a failure to adequately justify--either by absence, neglect, omission, or malice--actions that caused, or coalesced to cause, climatic change. This position, we believe, effectively recasts the climate adaptation question so that it no longer depends the identification of a clear baseline, thus obviating the Baseline Problem and salvaging the Argument from Reparation.


What is Wild?

Adam Pérou Hermans

Presented at the 2012 British Animal Studies Network "Wild" conference in Glasgow, Scotland

    One might encounter a red fox hunting in an alpine meadow, a henhouse, or a city street. Are all these foxes wild? What if the fox shoes little fear of humans or is out of its natural range? Just as the loss of wilderness is a critical problem that demands our attention, so too is the loss of the "wildness" of wild animals. My paper addresses a preliminary conceptual issue to addressing this problem, namely, what qualifies as wild?

    Typically, four characteristics are associated with wildness: autonomy, naturalness, wariness, and distance. None of the four is clearly necessary for being wild, as there are circumstances where an animal loses one of the four and is either still wild or, at the very least, a borderline case of wild. Clearly, then, determining how to preserve wildness requires clarifying what qualifies as wildness in the first place. 

    I suggest that wildness is best thought of as a relationship between a human, an animal, and an environment. Where a person encounters an animal, and how much control the person has over the animal and place, jointly determine whether the animal is wild.


Restoration Ethics: The Cutthroat Truth

Alexander Lee

Poster presented at the 2011 Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences annual conference in Burlington, VT    

Ecological restoration aims to repair the damage, assuage the harm, rectify the wrong, and change the course of negative environmental impact. I argue that obligations regarding natural entities provide a motivating moral reason to restore nature. If we wish to use restoration to repair the damage done by human impact, we must direct our restoration efforts at the ecological identities degraded by our wrongdoing. Current efforts to reintroduce the greenback cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki stomias) to their native streams in Colorado provide an in-depth illustration of the ethics of restoration. Reintroduction in this case largely claims success, despite a known genetic misidentification of a large portion of the project's breed stock. 

Managers currently face a choice of whether to continue the program (and mis-introduction), or change course. Continuing to introduce genetically impure breed stock would be emblematic of restoration practices that often fail to incorporate a full understanding of the environmental problem when defining restoration goals. This example provides a lens for constructing normative criteria for critically examining restoration policy. Investigating past discourse on restoration and using the greenback reintroduction and restoration as a case-study, I demonstrate that restoration is at times obligatory and ought to be directed at repair, rather than at function, value, or character. Restoration broadly ought to prioritize the integrity of the ecological identities to which our actions are aimed, and a new approach is needed in the greenback cutthroat trout case.