Aristotle taught that every virtuous act or attitude is a balance, or mean, between two extremes. In order to achieve an ethical balance, one should strive neither to have too much of, nor too little of, certain qualities. A courageous person, for instance, is neither rash (excess) nor cowardly (deficiency). A generous person is neither wasteful (excess) nor stingy (deficiency). While one might argue that there are certain acts or attitudes that fail to fit in this model — who, for example, can love excessively? — the idea seems applicable when considering one’s attitude towards the environment.
The excessive side of the conservation argument — the most extreme form of environmentalism — is often self contradictory. In one breath it asserts that the smallest microorganism has the same inborn right to life as a human being (be careful where you step!), placing all life on equal moral grounds. In the next breath it seems to assert that humans are of such importance that their wasteful fossil-fuel-consuming behavior can bring the world to ruins, as if they were higher than any other power or influence, natural or supernatural.
The deficient side of the conservation argument, while perhaps not as self-contradictory (there usually isn’t enough thought to give rise to contradiction), is equally, if not more arrogant than the excessive side. Rather than being too careful, the deficient side of the argument is too careless. It asserts that regardless of what scientists say, one’s behavior will not change. It laughs at reason, often with a drawl, and relies on populist masses and rhetoric for its support.
If a virtuous balance, or temperate view of the environmental issues of the day, can be found somewhere in between these two extremes, it seems worthwhile to pursue.