Environmental Issues and Ethics
November 29, 2010
Since the beginning of time environmental changes have affected people, places, and things causing people to migrate or change their ways of living. Unfortunately, these effects can take decades or even centuries to become reality making actions and change difficult to be realized. Reviewing several of the case in point readings it became apparent that they all had unintended consequences of humankind’s activities that have led to specific environmental problems. This paper will review scientific or technological activities that are exacerbating or improving the existing situation, proper applications of the scientific methods that could have helped the problem, and address alternative solutions beyond the scientific method.
Today many concerned people are taking action to protect the values of those who may be affected by environmental changes in the future. Due to the uncertainty regarding these changes and how they will affect people living in different circumstances from people today it is difficult to know how present day actions will affect them. Projecting or forecasting the human consequences of global change in the future would require knowing the future state of the natural environment, social and economic organization, the values held by the members of future social groups, the proximate effects of global change on those values, and the responses that humans will have made in anticipation of global change or in response to ongoing global change.
Changes in society can incidentally affect human responses to global change directly and by becoming tomorrow's deliberate responses. For example, gasoline taxes, which were not initiated with the global environment as a consideration, could be increased to cut CO2 emissions. Studies of the incidental effects of such actions might inform decision makers about what could happen without deliberate intervention and about which present policies might make societies more robust in the face of global change.
People and social institutions may respond to environmental change as it is experienced or anticipated. Previously, people responded to experienced environmental change, whereas, in recent history, due to the increase in scientific knowledge, there has been a much more proactive approach to change. Policy makers and others are now faced with a variety of options, some of which involve anticipatory action and some of which depend on awaiting the experience of global change.
Some human actions can be taken deliberately in response to global change. Human actions can also affect human responses to global change incidentally to their intended purposes. For example, high taxes on gasoline in Europe and Japan enacted for reasons unrelated to the global environment, encouraged development and purchase of small, fuel-efficient automobiles which has slowed down the pace of global warming. By bringing about technological change, these taxes have helped make it easier for countries including those without high gasoline taxes to respond to the challenge of global warming with improved energy efficiency.
Responding to global change may be coordinated through government policies, trade associations, or uncoordinated by using independent actions of households or small firms. Both types of responses can be either anticipatory or post facto; both can affect global change either deliberately or incidentally. In addition, coordinated and uncoordinated responses can be connected to each other, in that coordinated actions by governments and industries can create new options for uncoordinated actors, prohibit responses, or raise or lower their costs.
Humans can intervene in several ways on the response side of the cycle. Such actions are called adaptation; however, there are important distinctions between them. One type of response, called blocking, prevents undesired proximate effects of environmental systems on what human’s value. For example, if global climate change produces sufficient warming and drying on a regional scale, it may threaten the region's crops; development and adoption of drought-resistant crops or crop strains can break the connection between environmental change and famine by preventing crop failure. Similarly, loss of stratospheric ozone threatens light-skinned humans with skin cancer, through exposure to ultraviolet radiation; avoidance of extreme exposure to sun and application of sunscreens help prevent cancer, although they do not mitigate the destruction of the ozone layer. Tropical deforestation threatens species with extinction by eliminating their habitats; creation of forest preserves would provide many species sufficient habitat to survive, while doing little to slow net deforestation.
All social systems are vulnerable to environmental change, and modern industrial societies have different vulnerabilities from earlier social forms. Modern societies have built intricate and highly integrated support systems that produce unprecedented material benefits by relying critically on highly specialized outputs of technology, such as petrochemical fertilizers and biocides; hybrid seeds; drugs and vaccines; and the transmission of electricity, oil, and natural gas from distant sources. Although these complex systems contain great flexibility through the operation of global markets, they may have vulnerabilities that reveal themselves in the face of the changes that these systems have helped create. For instance, modern societies have become highly dependent on fossil fuels and vulnerable to a serious disruption of supply or distribution systems. They also support much larger and denser populations than ever before; such populations may be vulnerable to ecological changes affecting the viability of their food supplies.
Ciesin. (1992). Global environmental change: Understanding the human dimensions.. Retrieved from http://www.ciesin.org/docs/003-322/003-322b.html