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Kandice Elison

Professor Brianne Larsen

Introduction to Ethics and Social Responsibility SOC 120

November 13, 2010

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Environmental Issues That Face Our Planet

The environmental issues surrounding the need for global participation to salvage our

planet have become more apparent over the last few decades, when they are not being

overshadowed by wars, terrorists and economic crises. Some of the main issues that need to be

addressed in regards to our declining, worldwide environment are the ethical, practical, and

social obligations; the appropriate actions to take using optimal ethical means; and the decision-

making processes that will achieve a more favorable outcome for our planet earth. We need to

follow the advice of one of the leaders of environmental ethics, Aldo Lepold, who said,´ A thing

is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is

wrong when it tends otherwise´ (Vaughn, 1999, 156).

The environmental issues surrounding the need for global participation to salvage our

planet need immediate attention if there is any hope of correcting the damage that has already

been done. A prime example of this destruction is the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico and the

circumstances that surrounded the disaster. Other issues include, but are not limited to,

destruction of our parks and wilderness, extinction of many species of animals, drastic climate

and weather changes, Greenhouse effect, poverty and starvation throughout the entire world. The

big question is, are we already too late to reverse this spiraling destruction of our environment?

One of the main concerns regarding the ability to turn the environment around and head it

in a healing direction is the need for a majority of the inhabitants of this planet to poses an

environmental conscience. One of the unpleasant realities of this, according to Ruggiero, is that

in reality, the conscience is not an infallible moral guide as we would like to think. However, this

does not mean that it has no value at all. In spite of all of its imperfections, conscience is the
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most important human guide to right and wrong. (Ruggiero2008, 45), As a result, we should

follow our conscience in this regards to this issue, but not blindly, without the benefit of an

optimal ethical plan that addresses the necessary actions, obligations, and decision-making


Environmental ethics, the study of moral relationship of human beings to, and the value

and moral status of, the environment and its nonhuman contents, (Brennan, & Lo2002, np) is a

fairly new sub-discipline of philosophy and has been put on the back burner due to wars and

other more pressing issues, according to the government and political leaders. Philosophy has

been present for centuries and was essentially based on anthropocentrism or human centered.

Even the great philosopher, Aristotle, maintained that, ³nature has made all things specifically

for the sake of man´ (Brennan, & Lo, 2009, np). The emergence of environmental ethics

challenged the moral superiority of humans and posed the question of a rational argument to

assign intrinsic value to an environment of nonhuman inhabitants. This has caused a tremendous

amount of analysis, evaluation, and disagreement among the modern day philosophers and in the

interim, the environment has deteriorated at an alarming rate.

The obligation to save our environment and halt the rapid decline of our natural resources

is frequently thought to be the responsibility of the government, as they have the power to

institute laws and regulations that inversely affect our environment. This type of blame game that

tries to put the blame on everyone else for a global issue that is affecting every living thing is

counterproductive and needs to end now. Every living, breathing person, young and old is

equally responsible for the future of our environment. We have all contributed to the many

causes of the destruction of the ecology of this planet, and the responsibility goes from the
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average person to the biggest corporations worldwide, all the way to the governing bodies

throughout this universe.

According to our text, and Errol Harris, respect for persons is not merely a theoretical

construct but a practical standard for the treatment of others in everyday situations (Ruggiero,

2008, 79). From this thought, three basic criteria have been associated with this standard and

have informed ethical discourse. These criteria- obligation, moral ideals, and consequences- are

tied to moral actions, as they demonstrate respect for persons by honoring the relevant

obligations and ideals, and producing favorable consequences( Ruggiero, 2008, 79).

When adapting these three criteria to our environment and our future generations, it does

not appear that any the inhabitants of our planet have done a very good job of meeting our

obligations, moral ideals, or produced favorable consequences. We have made great strides in the

development of intelligence and technical powers, but in the process we have burned up our

resources that took millions of years to accumulate. According to the French President Jacques

Chirac in 2007, ³ We are destroying ecosystems that were home to a biodiversity that has now

been forever lost and in doing so we have deprived ourselves and our future generations of that

which is indispensable to our future´(Chirac, 2007, 1).

Because we have allowed lax laws to permit companies to pollute our environment, failed

to hold large corporations accountable for breaking these laws, permitted over exploitation of

natural resources, placed financial gain above our environment, we have not lived up to our

obligation or moral ideals to preserve a sound and protected environment for our future

generations. We need an immediate revolution in our culture that consists of educating everyone,
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especially the very young, in environmental issues that face us now and in the future, if we hope

to have favorable consequences for our planets future.

An appropriate action to deal with this complex issue is the recommendation of the Earth

Charter, which is a non-governmental agency that¶s main concern, is the protection of our

environment. The need for this type of intervention is evident by the ability of the human race to

degrade the ecological integrity at a planetary level (Mackey, 2004, 78). The principles presented

in the Charter¶s Ecological Integrity statement are based on the statement; ³Earth has provided

the conditions essential to life¶s evolution. The resilience of the community of life and the well-

being of humanity depend upon preserving a healthy biosphere with all its ecological systems.

The choice is ours: form a global partnership to care for Earth and one another or risk the

destruction of ourselves and our diversity of life´ (Mackey, 2004, 78-79).

The directives presented by Earth Charter are based on scientific-based understandings of

practical steps to take to preserve the environment. These include safeguards to protect viable

nature and biosphere reserves, protect marine life, earth¶s life support systems, maintain

biodiversity, and preserve our natural heritage (Mackey, 2004, 79). They support the principles

stated in the Rio Declaration and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. ³This

encompasses the need to put the burden of proof on those who argue that a proposed activity will

not cause significant harm and make the responsible parties liable for environmental

harm´(Mackey, 2004, 80). These principles are not legally binding and do not impose and

legally enforceable obligations. They are merely a guide to how decision-making and planning

should evolve to ensure that human activities do not cause any further harm to Earths

environmental integrity (Mackey, 2004). These principles have been endorsed by such
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organizations as the Jane Goodall Institute, The Ugandan Wildlife Authority, Wildlife

Conservation Society, and are being adopted by many large companies throughout the world.

In a report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, it was

pointed out that climate disasters are on the rise. At the present time 70 percent of disasters are

now climate related, which is up from around 50 percent two decades ago (OCHA, 2008). These

disasters are taking a heavy toll on the human population with a growing price tag. Over the last

decade, 2.4 billion people have been affected by climate related disasters, compared to 1.7 billion

in the previous decade. The costs have risen tenfold from 1992 to 2008.

Disasters such as destructive rain storms, more intense and frequent tropical storms,

droughts, and repeated flooding, are expected to increase in numbers if strong corrective action

does not take place now (OCHA, 2008). The steady increase of the amount of carbon dioxide in

the atmosphere and the destruction of our ozone layer are all part of the Ö  effect that

have brought the planet to the tipping point we are have reached presently.

The need for appropriate action to stop the degradation of the environment and hold

everyone accountable for their actions is obvious by the many devastating issues that plague our

planet. With globalization in full swing, there have been numerous summits held worldwide on a

number of subjects from women¶s rights in Beijing, social development in Copenhagen, and the

first Earth Summit in Rio de Janerio in 1992. All of these summits represent the global concern

of governmental and non-governmental organizations for the need for a unified effort to address

global issues (Lubbers, 2005).

This global environmental degradation, evident by the pollution of our air, water, and all

other living things has caused the present population of this planet to demand more stringent
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regulations on the preservation of environment and take a more active role in this endeavor. It

has become extremely evident that has been a relative dearth of critical thinking about

accountability and responsibility for transnational environmental harm. This has been partly due

to the multiple definitions of accountability and responsibility regarding the cross-border

environmental harm and where the blame lies. (Mason, 2008). This type of lack of obligation to

the harm of our environment has to be settled to be able to move forward and put an end to these

stall tactics.

One of the possible causes of the environmental crisis is the fact that ideals are not

always in harmony with one another. The ideal of justice, or the evaluation of situations

according to their merits, fairly and without prejudice, causes disharmony within many

corporations when decisions have to be made that can cause conflict between harming the

environment and making a profit for their shareholders. The disharmony between the ideals of

prudence, or the practical wisdom of choosing one¶s behavior judiciously regarding what

response is most appropriate, and honesty in the possible harm to the environment as a result of

their behavior can cause repeated conflicts (Ruggiero, 2008, 107-110).

The conflicts of ideals versus obligations are another possible cause of the harm to our

environment. Just as the conflicts between opposing ideals, the conflicts between ideals and

obligations can cause issues that may impact our environment. When anyone is faced with the

need to decide between the obligation to their family or stakeholders and an ideal that is in direct

conflict with that obligation, a decision has to be made as to how to solve or circumvent the

conflict. We must become better at make these tough decisions and pay more attention on the

long term effects and not just the immediate rewards when making these ethical decisions if we

are to avoid the total destruction of our planet.

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Since there is no single discipline that can claim sole responsibility for the environmental

crisis that plagues the Earth, or the quandaries of how to ethically correct these issues we must

all take a part in accepting personal obligations and work together to place the environment and

human beings back in harmony with each other, By instituting some of the principles addressed

in this paper, we can make a difference; Margaret Mead said, ³Never doubt that a small group of

committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it¶s the only thing that ever has´(Obiora,

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