Showing posts with label environment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label environment. Show all posts

Monday, June 16, 2008

Our Mad Future - An Ethical View of Global Warming

This paper address human nature, our duty to others, and the current problems of global warming. It was written by a senior at Skyline High School Sammamish Washington.

When MAD magazine mascot Alfred E. Neuman is in a tough situation, his attitude is always reflected by his most famous statement, “What, me worry?”

Unfortunately, the same holds true for our own country and its citizens. For years we have known about the hazards of the transforming environment, and the degree of our impact on it, and still are very slow to change. The truth of the matter is that if we cannot change for the better then we will be stuck with the worst. In the picture stands a sun burnt Alfred with his iconic gap tooth smile which stands for the damage humans are causing to themselves. Behind him is a gas station along with its outrageously high prices on the precious resources that are becoming scarcer. The dumpster in the foreground represents all of the landfill that humans have generated. The stranded polar bear symbolizes the animals who will suffer from having their habitat destroyed. On top of that, everything is immersed in polluted water, which signifies the time that we have until our metaphorical ship is sunk.

Imagine you are placed in an extensive maze that is shrouded by darkness. You don’t know why you are there, or how you came to this challenge, but your only choice is to reach the end of the labyrinth and be set free. You feel along walls and count your footsteps for hours, only to reach dead ends. You pick up stones and use them to tap on the walls, listening for any indication from the sounds for an inkling or clue to lead you in the right direction. At this point, you have been wandering for days without nourishment or water and it is taking its toll on your body as you weaken. As you press onward, you stumble over something and fall into the cold dirt. You pick up the item and feel its weight as you run your dirty fingers over its smooth ridges; it is a mirror. To your surprise as you touch the glass it illuminates and shows a reflection. You expect to see a haggard and swollen face staring back into your eyes, but instead the mirror shows you a meadow in a park with picnic baskets and a family enjoying an outdoor meal. Other scenes flash before you, including a father playing with two young children as they smile and laugh. You are mesmerized and confused until you look into the face of the father and recognize that it is yourself.

Does this mean that you have a future outside of this dark maze? Have these visions shown you a guarantee for the future that you must survive to witness? Is what it takes to brave your conditions and finish your quest worth achieving the happiness you will one day hope to see and guarantee for future generations? Does the fact that a future generation does not exist yet make the lives of your generation more valuable than theirs? Or are you too tired to trust the success of the future and your responsibility for the unborn lives that you have been shown through the visions of the looking glass. The decision is yours; press on using the mirror and the future as a guiding light, or let your feelings of exhaustion be your guide to a death of dreams.

Through this metaphor, it is important to understand that the issue of global warming is directly related to questions of morality and the ideal duty the human race has to preserve the unborn lives of future generations by passing on a healthy nation and planet. So far we have been going in the wrong direction to satisfy our temporary needs instead of planning for the future and the long run. We have been satisfying feelings of greed and glutton which lead to a short term happiness but always needs to be fed by more because it is temporary.

Human Nature is to be free. A life that contains the greatest number of choices is ideal for any person, even if the choices will not be taken advantage of; there is a certain comfort that comes with the ability to survive in a changing environment. Humans also like to stock up on choices, like having a house with many doors; the more doors the more rooms, IE more rooms full of choices.

The testing of boundaries is something humans often do in order to see the limits of their situation. If they have something that is satisfactory, yet there is a lingering doubt or desire that there is a chance of greater satisfaction, a human may put it all on the line and if it doesn’t work out then at least know that they tried. Human nature is based on the individual, because our thoughts are known first only to us and our intentions become clear to us first. Similar to Rene Descartes, who thought to “never to accept anything as true if I did not have evident knowledge of its truth; that is, carefully to avoid precipitate conclusions and preconceptions, and to include nothing more in my judgments than what presented itself to my mind so clearly and distinctly that I had no occasion to doubt it” (Burnham). Therefore, the individual is prime in setting his own beliefs based on what he observes. Doubt will be formed if there is a lack of evidence to support an idea or concept, which is why people are naturally doubting the situation of global warming and that right now many people claim there is not enough evidence for them to act upon.

Humans will work together when they feel that the benefit is greater. In a community, there will always be a hierarchy because degrees of success are based upon competition. According to Sigmund Frued, “Human behavior is the result of both heredity and the environment. Mental functions are based on the principles of survival and pleasure”. I agree, in that our setting dictates the ways we live as well as the quality of our life. The two basic needs of a person are survival and pleasure, so at out core it is these two things that drive our decisions. Similar to this, Jeremy Bentham who founded the utilitarian sect of philosophy declares that, “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure” (Harrison). Humans will make decisions to prevent pain and provide pleasure, but the morality is who the decisions affect. Is it right for a person to cause another pain in order to provide his pleasure? Ethics say no, because hurting another does not add to a constructive society or community.
Humans are also glued to tendencies of procrastination. Like science experiments that dictate the behavior of water, most people will take the path of least resistance in order to reach an outcome. This is not always the best because many a time other things can be overlooked, such as a solution that may take longer, but bring more widespread happiness to others besides the original benefactor. This is not only a common factor in humans, similarly in animals, if they become comfortable in their environment and habits than they will be reluctant to abandon them, and because of this, will not notice danger until it is too late. Another science experiment begins with a pot of boiling water. According to Tom Barrett, an editor of, If a frog is placed inside, he will immediately jump out and avoid harm, but if the frog is placed in water that is slowly brought to a boil, he will remain and be cooked alive (Barrett). This experiment can be linked to the tendency humans have to procrastinate when given time to carry out tasks. Tom Barrett agrees when he says “These changes did not take place overnight”. We as citizens have had plenty of warning about the consequences of global warming, and now we are beginning to feel the heat.

The pressing issue of global warming comes down to the fact that if the ways of the masses are not changed, everyone will be harmed. We also have a responsibility to the other beings on this earth because their lives are impacted as well. Our morals tell us that we need to change, because our behavior is hurting others. Even though some may say that there is not enough evidence to support a full-scale adjustment, the evidence that even some harm is being done should be enough to insight the will for action. According to Al Gore, “It is about who we are as human beings. It is about our capacity to transcend our own limitations, to rise to the new occasion. To see with our hearts, as well as our heads, the response that is now called for. This is a moral, ethical, and spiritual challenge” (Gore). Ideally, in any bad situation, the suffering is limited and put to a stop immediately when the source of the harm is found.

The problem with climate change is that every living and nonliving thing that depends on the earth for resources rides upon the balance of its ecosystems and environment. According to Al Gore, who has done extensive research and gathered an enormous amount of information on the problems of global warming, “The world is witnessing mounting and undeniable evidence that nature’s cycles are profoundly changing”. This is because the pollution that is emitted from our industry and transportation is changing the construction of our Earth’s atmosphere. Without the normal qualities of the atmosphere to provide as a shield to the sun’s harmful rays, the temperature of the earth is essentially rising and affecting the balance of ecosystems around the globe.

One thing that is clear is the debate that lives and revolves around the facts that support global climate change. As observed, “There is much controversy about the theory that global climate change is driven strongly by human activities” (Williams). This means that although the facts prove that an environmental change is occurring, people are skeptical about how much civilization has added to the Earth’s natural cycles of heating and cooling. When it comes to attributing global warming to human activities, the 1995 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report leaves the question unanswered: “Some scientists maintain that these uncertainties currently preclude any answer to the question…other scientists would have claimed…that confident detection of a significant [human induced] climate change has already occurred” (Thompson). The disagreement is what is preventing more drastic actions from taking place.

The skepticisms originate from this lack of evidence and what is said to be the question of accuracy. The claim that the facts are shaky revolves around statements such as, “The lack of scientific consensus on the causes and possible effects of global warming is easily demonstrated…drastic control policies lack credible support and will be ill-advised, premature, wrought with economic danger, and likely to be counterproductive” (Singer). It is true that the economy will be affected and altered with control policies, but the claim that there is no credible support is merely a delay tactic. It is apparent that the main fear of skeptics is the impact that new legislation and regulation will have on the economy, and I agree that it will be tough.

If we are indeed willing to sacrifice for the future, then there is no question that action must be taken immediately. Humankind has made many remarkable and positive advances in the 20th century; automobiles, airplanes, light bulbs. Ironically the widespread use of these is now leading to climate change. However, the fact that we created these habits shows that that we are capable of addressing the problems they are causing now. Many 20th century advances came with the help of the government, and some might argue that at this point, nothing can be done for the environment without its support. I disagree, because the role of businesses, organizations, and most of all, individuals can leave an even greater impact. While it is true that most large scale solutions could not be carried out with the opposition of the government, people can change without being forced by law. Many organizations have been successful in making impacts on communities entirely independent from the government.

There are three ways that will economically provide solutions to the problems of energy and global warming. The main question when considering any of these options is “How involved do we want the government to be in forcing us to change our habits?” It is the same question if you were facing a deadline for work in your household. Do you want Mom to ensure that they are done according to her methods and her time frame, or would you like to have the ability to be creative while taking the risk that you might fail to meet expectations? It is up to the community to answer these questions and allow the degree of government involvement to be assigned.
The first option involves direct government restriction. The government will tell you when you are allowed to run your dishwasher, when you can use electricity, what type of car you can drive, etc. All will be in accordance to laws restricting freedoms for the good of the environment and community. Citizens will voluntarily accept these restrictions and be expected to find different ways to deal with their own situation. Say that any child or worker within 5 miles of a school or business must walk everyday. There will be other problems associated with rules such as this, but they are not impossible to manage. The trouble with this solution is that it is in direct opposition to the government’s duty to grant freedom as described in the constitution. It would most likely be a fast and effective solution, but the question for Americans is that are we as individuals willing to give up our freedom on environmental issues? We were willing to compensate and ration food and supplies during WWII, so history proves that it can be done.
The second way that will provide a solution is through a direct governmental mandate. In this method, the government could set benchmarks or quotas that allow businesses and individuals to determine how to adjust. For example, the Kyoto Accord is already requiring the United States to reduce its emissions by 5.2 percent of the numbers from 1990, which translates to roughly a 28% reduction from today’s emissions (Dixon). In this case, the government has agreed to a standard that will be set into effect, ensuring action will be taken, but not limiting how it should be done. This leaves freedom to individuals and businesses to address the problem in their own ways. The motivation is provided by the government because there will be consequences if the benchmarks are not met.

The last option for the reduction of emissions and pollution is controlled by the forces of our free market economy. The basic idea is that since our resources are running out, it will force us to make conservative decisions. Supply side economics says that market forces are the number one thing that dictates consumer behavior, which means that demand is not be met by supply, the market will need to adjust (Gwartney). This concept can be explained by using an example. Right now, the price of gasoline is roughly $4.25 a gallon and Mom is able to go to the store everyday. If the price of fuel were $100 a gallon, then Mom would go to the store less. Mom’s behavior would change because the price of the trip to the store went up in cost. Eventually, the cost of limited resources such as gas and power will drive individuals to adjust their over-consumptive behavior because they will not be able to afford it. Right now, I believe that if we continue on the road we are on this outcome will be waiting for us at the end, even though it is not necessarily the best for anyone.

Whether we make choices to help our situation or procrastinate and let the choice make us is up to the efforts of communities. Individually, most humans are not successful at setting challenging goals; in this case the environmental crisis is something that most people would like to ignore completely. That is why United States citizens must collectively work to build motivation for positive environmental action. We can do this by doing research and buying goods from environmentally friendly companies, and boycotting others. We can attend city council meetings and voice our opinions on the new laws that are being passed to change our community. We can put bumper stickers on our vehicles that say “carpools are cool!” and drive past other morning commuters as they sit in traffic and read them. Many good things can come out of this if people use their natural gifts of imagination and creativity. Attitude is everything, and setting an example in the community is the best way to encourage others to follow.

The ideal citizen of this country to combat global warming in our time is a young mother that has a steady influence over a household and a solid reputation in the community. As pointed out by the green arrows, her authority drives her to make the right decisions in her own household and community. She has energy-saving light bulbs in her house as well as other conservative appliances, such as a low flow sink. She uses a bicycle more often for shorter commutes, and carpools to work in order not only save money, but resources as well. She uses her computer to write letters to the leaders of her community government and attends city council meetings. She also uses the internet to gather news she can share with her neighbors. Her young child is taught to follow in her environmentally-friendly footsteps in order to ensure that the future generations are educated and aware of the necessary actions that are being taken by his mother.

Works Cited Barrett, Tom. "How to boil a live frog." Conservative Truth. 2001. Conservative 4 Jun 2008 . Burnham, Douglas. "Rene Descartes." The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2006. IEP. 3 Jun 2008 . Dixon, Norm. "Global Warming: Can the Kyoto Accord Really Help?." Baltimore Chronicle. 2005. The Baltimore Chronicle. 2 Jun 2008 . Gore, Albert. An Inconvinient Truth. 1st. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Publishing, 2006. Gwarthy, James. "Supply Side Economics." The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. 2002. Liberty Fund, INC. 4 Jun 2008 . Harrison, Ross. "Bentham." The Philosophers. 1999. Ted Honderich. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. Singer, S. Fred. Opposing Viewpoints; Global Warming. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2002. Thompson, Robert. "Global Climate Change ." The 1995 Report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2003. US Department of the Interior. 5 Jun 2008 . Williams, Mary. Is global warming a threat?. 1st. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2003.