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Scientific Innovation and Environmental Protection: Some Ethical Considerations, 32 Environmental Law 755 (2002)

Abstract

This Essay explores a fundamental problem that scientific research poses for environmental ethics. Scientific research has brought great gains to our knowledge of the environment, but the motivations for scientific research tend systematically to run counter to environmental protection. While research scientists may have many different individual motivations for their work, economic actors are most likely to pay attention to and fund scientific research agendas that can lead to economically valuable information, which means that the research results must be capable of belonging to some entity. However, environmental harms and benefits are generally not experienced as belonging to anyone, because their diffuseness makes them difficult to reduce to property. The result is a pattern in which scientific research veers first towards products that can be "propertized, " and only later, if at all, towards the environmental consequences of such new products.

Environmental ethics need to address this research gap. This Essay explores some ways in which publicly funded research and regulatory programs might do so. It concludes that, in spite of ethical doubts that have been raised about market-based environmental regulation, such programs deserve closer attention; they may have ethical value that can offset ethical qualms, because they can motivate economic actors to channel research toward the environment, and thus help to narrow the research gap as between "propertized" goods and environmental goods.

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2002

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