Environmental Ethics Today
Instructor: Robert Olson
June 5, 2010
Managing Our Resources: Environmental Ethics Today
We, as the human race, can peer into the past and learn of days when the world seemed endless; to a time when our population was small enough, and our technology primitive enough that it seemed we would never run out of the natural resources that we so depended on. As time has worn on, slowly but surely the world has gotten smaller. Our numbers and technology have increased to the point that we now realize our resources are indeed finite. We have formed our existences around the resources we depend on. Here in the United States of America, more than anywhere else, we have come to depend on oil. A delicate balance exists between humans, our resources, and caring for the environment. As we look toward our uncertain future, we must nurture the balance between our wants and needs, and carefully examine the decisions we are confronted with concerning our environment. We must learn to live harmoniously with the earth, examining our moral obligations, that we may preserve the future of our unique planet. This is our only home. In the past, we have seen the results of misusing environmental resources. Species have been hunted to extinction. Others have barely recovered. Environments have been destroyed; landscapes marred. We have witnessed damage to our earth from the skies to the ocean depths. Let us now examine some of these events, their implications, and the moral obligation we have to prevent them. We have all heard of Easter Island. Most of us know about the beautiful stone sculptures, but it is interesting to note that this particular place is the most remote inhabited island. It provides us with an example of the consequences that result from mismanagement of resources where those resources are limited. The Rapanui people used the native trees of the island to move the great sculptures, or Moai. The competition among tribes to have the biggest Moai was such that every tree on the island was cut down. This resulted in the collapse of the Rapanui culture. What lesson can we learn from this? Easter Island can be compared to the earth as a whole. Just as population growth and exploitation of natural resources resulted in the collapse of this culture, so we must manage our natural resources ethically in order to avoid the fate of the Rapanui people. In 1849, the discovery of gold at Sutter’s mill sparked the great gold rush of 1849. People flocked to the areas where gold was found. As placer deposits were all sifted out, miners began to seek the source. One of the methods used to search the mountains for gold was hydraulic mining. This process used a great amount of water, shot at the mountainside under extreme pressure. This resulted in the erosion of the mountains. The landscape was marred by this process, and rivers were contaminated by the runoff. Fish and other wildlife were greatly affected by this mining method. Another example I would like to examine is the over-hunting of buffalo and beaver. Beaver trapping was a lucrative business in America’s early years. Beaver create wetlands by building dams. Many species use these wetlands. Without beavers, there would be no wetlands, and the species that hunted and lived in them would suffer. The trappers could not understand the far reaching consequences of hunting the beaver nearly to extinction. The beaver population was barely saved from eradication. Buffalo were the staple of the plains Indians; an integral part of their life. There were once tens of millions of buffalo roaming the American plains. The buffalo population was hunted until there were only a few thousand left. A vast species was devastated in a few years; and the culture that depended on them was nearly completely lost. These are only a few examples of environmental resource mismanagement from...