I shall here comment on three largely unconnected memories that I have about my father's environmentalism. One is that I think that he was right to devote time to the environmental education of children. It seems to me to be far more effective to focus on the open minds of young people, rather than to try to change the minds of those who are already relatively set in their ways. Moreover, his Johnny Biosphere persona, much loved by children, was probably very effective. Nonetheless, I remember most of the family being annoyed that Johnny (globe and all) initially insisted on being part of every family outing—thereby leaving Jack behind. Johnny's exhibitionism drew too much attention and made it difficult to have a normal family interaction. Eventually, Johnny became more sensitive and, to our pleasure, allowed Jack to participate in family outings.
My father also wanted to reach the educated public. He must have spent most of his post-retirement years trying to write the book that would revolutionize public thinking about the environment. He finally self-published Tragedy in Mouse Utopia: An Ecological Commentary on Human Utopia (Trafford Publishing, 2006), and I’m sure that it was a great satisfaction to him to have finally finished the book. I’m not so sure, however, that it will have the impact that he was hoping for.
My final point is more philosophical. I’m a professor of moral philosophy, and my father and I often discussed the following issue: From a moral point of view, why should we look after the environment? More generally: What kinds of entities have moral standing so that their interests are non-instrumentally relevant to the determination of what is morally permissible? It's uncontroversial that normal adult human beings have moral standing. It's somewhat controversial whether sentient non-human animals (i.e. those that can experience pain or pleasure such as normal vertebrates and cephalopods, but not protozoa) and future humans and sentient animals have moral standing. Still, I would argue, with a few qualifications about future beings, that all present and future sentient animals have moral standing. This gives fairly strong reasons for protecting the environment now. We have, it can be argued, a duty to leave a fair share of natural resources to present and future sentient beings.
My father (along with other more radical environmentalists) believed that this does not exhaust our moral reasons for protecting the environment. He believed that all organisms—including plants and non-sentient animals (e.g. bacteria)—and ecosystems have moral standing. He thus believed that morality requires protecting them for their own sakes, as opposed to merely their instrumental value to sentient beings. I find this view very implausible. If a thing is not capable of having experiences, and suffering or enjoyment in particular (e.g. a rock), I see no reason to worry morally about how it is treated for its own sake. Instead, it is merely a thing to be used in a manner that protects and promotes the long-term interests of sentient beings (mammals, birds, etc.). Of course, given systemic ecological interdependencies, protecting ecosystems and plants is in general extremely important. Moreover, given our limited knowledge of how things work, we should be cautious. Thus, in practice, this philosophical disagreement will often not matter. It is not, however, completely idle. Being clear on what ultimately matters helps us think more clearly about which protections are required and which are not.
Obviously, this is a controversial issue requiring extended discussion. (For an overview of the issue, see Brennan and Lo, 2009; For some specific views, see Callicott, 1989; Feinberg, 1974, and Taylor, 1986.) Here I merely note that, despite several attempts to convince my father of this view, I was never successful in getting him to change his mind.
I conclude on a more personal note. With age, my father increasingly enjoyed wine and conversation at social gatherings and I have fond memories of his good spirits at family meals.