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Meet Environmental Ethicist Chris Rojas

Photo from a mountain vista
The White Tank Mountains Regional Park represents the natural western buttress of the Phoenix-Metro area. The White Tank Mountains Conservancy, a subject in my dissertation research, works to encourage ecologically sensitive development in the region. Pictured here is the view from the top of the Waterfall Trail. Photo credit: Chris Rojas, 2016.

By Chris Rojas

I am entering my second year as an Assistant Teaching Professor in life science ethics, specializing in environmental ethics. As a native of Phoenix, Arizona, I grew alongside the city as it experienced burgeoning urban development and a population influx. Because of this first-hand experience, I cultivated an interest in human-nature interactions and philosophical environmental ethics and carried them with me to graduate school, completing my PhD work in 2019 with Dr. Ben Minteer in ASU’s Biology and Society program.

Among others, one of the core arguments detailed in my dissertation is that while environmental philosophers squabble over metaphysical properties, practitioners, conservationists, and environmental managers are, by default, employing an inclusive and human-centered environmental ethic. This is evidenced by the uptick of cooperative and collaborative international, regional, and local environmental adaptive co-management schemes. Given the increasingly urgent nature of their work, these collaborators are either not plugged-in to esoteric debates guarded by environmental ethicists or they have not found anything of practical import within them. While seemingly uncontroversial, environmental ethicists are traditionally conservative about “what counts” and “what to do about it” so my work on this front represents a departure from the received narrative that pro-environmental outcomes require non-human centeredness. Relatedly, my pragmatic, in the distinctly American philosophical sense, perspective has also influenced me to investigate the empirical foundations (if any) for ethical arguments about the environment. For example, have principled stances such as “nature has immutable value” historically led to more pro-environmental outcomes than more compromising positions that consider human values? Or is there evidence to suggest that pragmatism, inclusivity, and collaboration can serve as guiding principles (read: an ethic) for resolving environmental dilemmas?

I am affiliated with the Ecosystem Services research group in the School of Life Sciences but am currently focusing my research efforts on projects contained within the Collaborative Governance Lab in the School of Sustainability led by Dr. Michael Schoon. There, I contribute to a multidisciplinary team of scholars and practitioners as we work to distill indelible features of successful collaborative environmental management projects using a mixed-methods approach. 

Representing the School of Life Sciences, I am a Senator-elect of the Arizona State University Academic Assembly where I serve on the Research and Creative Activities Committee. The committee is currently focusing on developing guidelines and selection criteria for a university sponsored grant to cover the costs of publishing in open access journals. I am concurrently a Senator-elect of the School of Life Sciences Faculty Assembly where I highlight academic integrity issues in undergraduate programs. 

In addition to these responsibilities, I regularly teach Environmental Ethics and Biomedical Research Ethics to biology undergraduates, facilitate several honors projects, and work to keep my courses in comportment with current trends. To this end, I, together with PhD candidate in Biology and Society Linda Howard, am a recipient of the 2022 School of Life Sciences Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity (JEDI) Fellowship geared toward re-tooling the Environmental Ethics undergraduate course to be more responsive to these important concerns.