Looking to the Third Sovereign: Tribal Environmental Ethics as an Alternative Ethical Paradigm

28 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2016

See all articles by Elizabeth Ann Kronk Warner

Elizabeth Ann Kronk Warner

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law

Date Written: January 23, 2016


As evidenced by the Paris COP 21, the world has decided that the time has come to address climate change. As policy makers around the world consider the best methods of controlling greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the impacts of climate change, they may also be increasingly reconsidering the ethical paradigm(s) used to tackle modern environmental challenges, such as climate change. Therefore, now is the ideal time to reconsider the environmental ethics underlying environmental policy making. In the United States, a national, comprehensive plan to both mitigate the effects of and adapt to those effects that cannot be mitigated has yet to be developed. Given such federal malaise, policy makers will need to look elsewhere to find examples of alternative ethical paradigms, but not necessarily outside of the exterior boundaries of the United States. They can look to the third sovereign -- Indian tribal governments. Tribes are actively innovating in this field, as they are implementing tribal environmental ethics into law designed to address the impacts of climate change. This article, therefore, considers what role, if any, can tribal environmental ethics play in the re-examination and consideration of American environmental ethics? The answer -- quite a substantial role. Tribes must straddle two worlds -- a traditional one and one dominated by Western culture and values. As a result of this dichotomy, tribes are necessarily experts at adaptation and innovation. To demonstrate the value of looking to tribal environmental ethics when considering alternative ethical paradigms for the United States, this article begins by discussing the link between environmental ethics and policy making. With this understanding in place, the article then examines the importance of environmental ethics to tribes. This Part considers factors that may motivate tribes to adopt environmental ethics alternative to American environmental ethics, and also uses legal ethics as an example of the necessity, in some instances, for the development of an alternative ethical paradigm, such as one separate from the model ethical code presented by the American Bar Association. Finally, the article concludes with a discussion of how tribes are serving as laboratories of environmental ethical innovation. The Part begins with an introduction to some ethical paradigms other than anthropocentrism, such as animism and Deep Ecology. The purpose of this introduction is to demonstrate how tribal environmental ethics might parallel some of these alternative ethical frameworks, but also to show that tribal environmental ethics can be different. With this introduction in place, the Part argues that tribes have the capacity for innovation, and then provides explicit examples of where tribes have departed from American environmental ethics. Ultimately, given the significance of emerging environmental challenges, such as climate change, the article concludes that, if policy makers decide on the necessity of an ethical paradigm other than anthropocentrism, tribal environmental ethics provide a compelling alternative, and, tribes, as the third sovereign in the United States, demonstrate how such an alternative environmental ethic may be codified into environmental laws.

Keywords: tribes, Native Americans, American Indians, Indians, climate change, ethics

Suggested Citation

Kronk Warner, Elizabeth Ann, Looking to the Third Sovereign: Tribal Environmental Ethics as an Alternative Ethical Paradigm (January 23, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2721102 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2721102

Elizabeth Ann Kronk Warner (Contact Author)

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law ( email )

383 S. University Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0730
United States

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