Global Warming is an Ethical Issue
By Alan AtKisson
"Ethics" is a word that does not usually get the blood flowing. It calls up images of Aristotle, schoolteachers, hearings where political leaders weakly defend their honor after having done something foolish that everyone else understands to be wrong. "Ethical issues," as a phrase, is even worse. Ethical issues are often precisely the ones we prefer to avoid, because they force us to confront the sometimes muddy difference between doing right and doing wrong -- or because we know that in confronting ethical issues generally, we must sometimes confront the ethical deficiencies in our own behavior. But global warming is undeniably an ethical issue, and we must face it as such. That means asking hard questions about responsibility, accountability, and the differences between actions -- whether political, economic, or wholly personal -- that are right versus those that are wrong. I say "ethical" rather than "moral," a word used often lately in connection with global warming, because the definitions of "moral" include reference to what we feel about something individually, rather than what we agree to commonly. I recall watching a recent hearing before the US Senate where a retiring General (being quizzed about Iraq) defended his public statements that homosexuality was immoral, because that was what he
had been taught, "according to my upbringing." By that standard, the beliefs and reactions learned by anyone at their parents' knee would hold equal moral standing. Allowing global warming to continue may well be immoral, in the sense of indecent, especially with regard to future generations. It feels indecent to be leaving our grandchildren a world without polar bears or the Maldive Islands, a world of greater geopolitical instability caused by climate instability. But the issue of climate change is too important to be reduced to a mere question of individually judged decency. Ethical issues, by contrast,...
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