Research: Human Hubris, Anthropogenic Climate Change, and an Environmental Ethic of Humility

Viewed ecologically, the climate crisis can be seen as a potential “species-level adaptation failure” (Bateman & Mann, 2016, p. 1052). The magnitude of the problem is such that it requires positively deviant moral leadership and stakeholder behaviours (including those of leaders, investors, consumers, and educators) that are committed to behaving in ways that demonstrate environmental humility, for example, in the virtues of attunement, appreciation, benevolence, position, and reciprocity. Negatively deviant leadership and stakeholder behaviours that adhere to arrogance, greed, apathy, and indifference only serve to compound the problem and enhance the possibility of irreversibility.

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Vita Akstinaitė

This article focus on the relationship between virtue ethics and the natural environment and argue that humanity’s hubris, individually and collectively, has contributed significantly to the climate emergency. The article suggests that a collective “human hubris” (“The Problem”) has contributed significantly to anthropogenic climate change and that a “humility-based approach” toward the environment is required that entails an appreciation of humanity’s proper place in the natural order (“A Solution”). This article combines theories from the social and environmental sciences to propose an environmental ethic of humility as an “antidote” to human hubris by which leaders and other stakeholders could steer institutions, organisations, and behaviour towards environmental virtuousness. In this article, hubris and humility are positioned as part of a wider system of environmental virtue ethics whereby: (1) stakeholders, such as leaders, managers, employees, and consumers, could navigate away from environmentally hubristic behaviors and towards environmentally virtuous behaviors in acknowledgement of the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; (2) stakeholders could evaluate their own and others’ actions and thereby be more accountable for any environmentally unethical behaviors which contribute to unsustainably high GHG emissions. This could be achieved, for example, by organisations being required to establish clear reporting requirements which identify activities that transgress environmental virtues.

This article offers an outline framework for how this could be achieved. In so doing, it explores the relationships between human hubris, anthropogenic climate change, and environmental virtuousness by bringing together disparate literatures from the social and environmental sciences. It offers proposals for how institutions and organisations, as well as policy makers and other stakeholders (including consumers), might conduct themselves in less environmentally hubristic and more environmentally virtuous ways.

Sadler-Smith & Akstinaite (2021). Human Hubris, Anthropogenic Climate Change, and an Environmental Ethic of Humility. Organization & Environment (ABS AJG = 3).DOI: