Global climate change is a defining issue in the contemporary world. Many scientists term it as the most prominent threat to the future generations and the planet. Global environmental changes engendered by the past and present human actions pose a severe threat to human welfare, biodiversity, ecosystem integrity and life itself (Garvey, 2008). Such changes have resulted in global warming which has fashioned the greatest humanitarian crisis ever experienced in the world. However, despite the vast moral consequences, the terms environment and ethics are rarely used in the same sentence as human beings always discuss environmental issues from the political, economic and scientific point of views while neglecting the ethical implications altogether. Nonetheless, the protection of the environment is a key requirement for everyone in the world (Fieser & Dowden, 2016). The creation of effective environmental conservation strategies confronts key ethical concerns of justice, fairness and responsibility across persons, generations, nations, and nature. This paper provides an ethical analysis of the environment and moral constraints associated with environmental preservation.
Environmental ethics is a discipline in philosophy concerned with the moral relationship of human beings and the natural environment. It highlights the rules of conduct for environmental care and preservation by citing what is good for the society or not (Fieser & Dowden, 2016). Unfortunately, most people fail to associate the environment with morality but rather address it from the scientific, economic and political stands. This creates a need to work on promoting moral philosophy in addressing the environmental challenges such as climate change (Weart, 2008). The use of moral language can be a wake-up call to end the inertia that surrounds environmental conservation issues. Additionally, environmental philosophy highlights the ethical way to utilize the natural environment thus help in the reinforcement of individual responsibility by urging people and countries to conserve the environment while pursuing industrial and economic development (COMEST, 2010). This will ensure the acquisition of a set of green virtues thus lead to better environment and avert the negative consequences of environmental pollution.
The future generations will carry the unfair burden of experiencing the adverse effects of environmental pollution which they have made no contribution to. This creates an ethical dilemma on whether it is fair and just to allot the negative consequences of environmental degradation in preference of development. Environmental ethics helps fight for the best interests of the future generations by discouraging actions that compromise their natural habitat (Fieser & Dowden, 2016). Human actions concentrate on the short term convenience brought by utilization of the environment while passing the severe consequences to the future generations. These consequences include weather disasters such as droughts that cause massive crop failure, rising sea levels, widespread extinction of species such as the polar bears, storms and cyclones that displace millions of people. Matters of compensatory justice arise about the legitimacy of letting people suffer for things they did not do (COMEST, 2010). Furthermore, the complexity makes it hard for the future generations to claim compensation from the culprits. Environmental ethics challenges the core moral principle of justice, fairness, and equality (Garvey, 2008). They advocate for distributive justice in the environment.
Environmental changes have profound intergenerational consequences. For example, Greenhouse gas emissions stay for longer periods of time in the atmosphere impacting the climate for centuries and millenniums. The cumulative effects of such emissions present severe implications to the future generations who are not part of the emission (Garvey, 2008). It is unfair the future generations to pay the price for the mistakes of the current population. Therefore, the global and intergenerational effects of global warming present a perfect moral storm for all humans who have to deal with the difficult temptations of passing the burden to the next generations. Additionally, the tragedy of the commons makes it difficult for all the nations to cooperate to prevent further environmental changes that endanger the future generations. Intergenerational environmental ethics require persons to uphold morality in their actions and act in the best interest of the future generations (Fieser & Dowden, 2016). It advocates for the utilization of natural resources appropriately while protecting the environment for the wellbeing of the future generations.
Environmental ethics also raises several ethical questions on human responsibility, liability and accountability. The theme of shared responsibility on the strategies to avoid and/or defer action foregrounds environmental debates (COMEST, 2010). Questions who should ultimately take the responsibility for curbing global warming arise. The industrialized countries urge the developing countries to reduce their green gas emission. However, the developing countries lack the expertise and institutions to do so thus pass the responsibility to the economically advanced countries. These arguments serve as an excuse for scientific, moral, and political inaction. Garvey (2008) articulates that the responsibility of reducing potentially disastrous climate change should, however, be universal. Therefore, it is morally imperative to take collective responsibility to promote environmental friendly practices and avert the negative consequences.
Environmental ethics also raise the issues of individual responsibility which collectively cumulates to a profound impact on promoting a healthy environment (Fieser & Dowden, 2016). People assume that they have little or no role to play in the prevention of global warming during their consumption or lifestyle choices (COMEST, 2010). This is masked by the fact that a single persons emission seems subtle compared to the total global emission. However, scientists have discovered that a single persons emissions will kill two people in the future. Therefore, individuals ought to be accountable for their choices and form a set of green virtues that are not conditional on how others react but rather in built for the good of the society (Garvey, 2008). For example, developing a culture of planting trees can have a significant effect in promoting a safe and healthy environment. Therefore, individuals need to develop environmental ethics and take up the burden of maintaining the environment upon themselves through the institution of effective measures to prevent it environmental degradation and pollution (Fieser & Dowden, 2016). Such individual actions will collectively have a significant impact on environmental conservation.
In conclusion, environmental issues constitute serious ethical challenges. Due to the complexities involved, there is a need for ethical actions during the utilization of the resources in the environment. Therefore, people need to not only address global warming from the scientific, economic or political perspectives but also deal with it as an ethical problem. Environmental ethics highlights the moral relationships between people and their environment. They advocate the development of a worldwide international consensus for a collective response to prevent further environmental ruin. Environmental ethics also call for distributive justice and fairness by avoiding passing the blame game for environmental climate changes. Additionally, environmental ethics also advocate for the protection of the future generations by limiting the intergenerational consequences. Therefore, individuals, corporations, governments and international agents should all contribute towards reversing the declining environmental trend with dire consequences such as global warming by adapting the proposed ethical principles of responsibility, justice, fairness, and honesty,. Therefore, from the environmental ethics point of view, the conservation of global environment is a collective responsibility of all.
Fieser, J. & Dowden, B. (2016). Environmental Ethics | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Iep.utm.edu. Retrieved 4 November 2016, from http://www.iep.utm.edu/envi-eth/
Garvey, J. (2008). The ethics of climate change: right and wrong in a warming world. London New York: Continuum.
Weart, S. (2008). The discovery of global warming (2nd Ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST). (2010). The ethical implications of global climate change, 4-36. Retrieved 1 February, 2016 from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001881/188198e.pdf
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