The Four Best Books on Environmental Ethics

Lennox Johnson Books

This page contains a list of the four best books on Environmental Ethics. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books on Environmental Ethics” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview, a third person may be looking for classic works on Environmental Ethics. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on Environmental Ethics. This list was created by compiling recommendations from across the internet and is not a list of personal recommendations. More information about this process is at the end of the post. Here are the best books on Environmental Ethics in no particular order:

Environmental Ethics: A Very Short Introduction – Robin Attfield

Category: Short Introduction | Length: 160 pages | Published: 2018

Publisher description: Environmental ethics is a relatively new branch of philosophy, which studies the values and principles involved in combatting environmental problems such as pollution, loss of species and habitats, and climate change. As our environment faces evermore threats from human activities these core issues are becoming increasingly important.

In this Very Short Introduction Robin Attfield traces the origins of environmental ethics as a discipline, and considers how it defends the independent value of living creatures, and the need to make decisions informed by the needs and interests of future generations. Exploring the diverse approaches to ethical decisions and judgements, he highlights the importance of making processes of production and consumption sustainable and of addressing human population levels, together with policies for preserving species, sub-species, and their habitats. Along the way Attfield discusses different movements such as Deep Ecology, Social Ecology, the Environmental Justice movement and the Green movement, and also considers the attitudes to the environment of the world’s religions, including the
approach from the major religions and the contributions of the indigenous religions of Asia, Africa and North America. Analysing the current threat of climate change, and proposals for climate engineering, he demonstrates how responsibility for the environment ultimately lies with us all, from states and corporations to individuals, and emphasises how concerted action is required to manage our environment ethically and sustainably.

Ethics and the Environment: An Introduction – Dale Jamieson

Category: General Introduction | Length: 234 pages | Published: 2008

Publisher description: What is the environment, and how does it figure in an ethical life? This book is an introduction to the philosophical issues involved in this important question, focusing primarily on ethics but also encompassing questions in aesthetics and political philosophy. Topics discussed include the environment as an ethical question, human morality, meta-ethics, normative ethics, humans and other animals, the value of nature, and nature’s future. The discussion is accessible and richly illustrated with examples. The book will be valuable for students taking courses in environmental philosophy, and also for a wider audience in courses in ethics, practical ethics, and environmental studies. It will also appeal to general readers who want a reliable and sophisticated introduction to the field.

The Oxford Handbook of Environmental Ethics – Allen Thompson & Stephen M. Gardiner

Category: Overview | Length: 616 pages | Published: 2016

Publisher description: We live during a crucial period of human history on Earth. Anthropogenic environmental changes are occurring on global scales at unprecedented rates. Despite a long history of environmental intervention, never before has the collective impact of human behaviors threatened all of the major bio-systems on the planet. Decisions we make today will have significant consequences for the basic conditions of all life into the indefinite future. What should we do? How should we behave? In what ways ought we organize and respond? The future of the world as we know it depends on our actions today.

A cutting-edge introduction to environmental ethics in a time of dramatic global environmental change, this collection contains forty-five newly commissioned articles, with contributions from well-established experts and emerging voices in the field. Chapters are arranged in topical sections: social contexts (history, science, economics, law, and the Anthropocene), who or what is of value (humanity, conscious animals, living individuals, and wild nature), the nature of value (truth and goodness, practical reasons, hermeneutics, phenomenology, and aesthetics), how things ought to matter (consequences, duty and obligation, character traits, caring for others, and the sacred), essential concepts (responsibility, justice, gender, rights, ecological space, risk and precaution, citizenship, future generations, and sustainability), key issues (pollution, population, energy, food, water, mass extinction, technology, and ecosystem management), climate change (mitigation, adaptation, diplomacy, and geoengineering), and social change (conflict, pragmatism, sacrifice, and action). Each chapter explains the role played by central theories, ideas, issues, and concepts in contemporary environmental ethics, and their relevance for the challenges of the future.

Environmental Ethics: An Anthology – Andrew Light & Holmes Rolston III

Category: Anthology | Length: 564 pages | Published: 2002

Publisher description:

Environmental Ethics: An Anthology brings together both classic and cutting-edge essays which have formed contemporary environmental ethics, ranging from the welfare of animals versus ecosystems to theories of the intrinsic value of nature.


This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:

  • browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
  • searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
  • browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • searching for recommendations on philosophy forums

The following sources were used to build this list:

University Course Syllabi:

Bibliographies:

Other Recommendations:


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