ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS and THE FUNCTION OF MAN
Ethics is all about the individual’s relationship with humanity, which includes not just people but the planet essential to our very existence.
It’s a given that mankind will have an impact on the environment. It can’t be otherwise, and there always will be consequences associated with human development and progress. Man is steward of all nature, being its most highly-developed inhabitant. We are dependent on the natural world and therefore are totally responsible to it. But not for it.
Extinction is a fact of life and can’t be effectively arrested by man or nature. Mankind, the apex of the ‘life pyramid,’ will necessarily affect everything below. We can and must be careful stewards, but we can’t protect everything that exists from our impact completely, or from the vagaries of nature generally. This includes the atmosphere and hydrosphere as well as the lithosphere, the soil and rock below our feet.
Some of that rock provides the fossil fuel energy that we need in order to exist and prosper; the by-products from its use necessarily affect our water and air, and disposal of solid waste affects the lithosphere. Nuclear power, on the other hand, has little effect on the atmosphere, but its waste can create problems in the lithosphere, at least until we can learn to effectively control it. Solar power is in the future, but even that involves batteries, creating yet other disposal (and manufacturing) problems. We have choices, and must make them wisely and with the future in mind, but we cannot make them with zero environmental impact.
CLIMATE CHANGE and GLOBAL WARMING
Global warming is a natural phenomenon, following the global cooling (glaciation) that was the case some 15,000 years ago. Does mankind contribute to the current warming trend? If we do, the effect is minimal, but nevertheless we should try to minimize our impact. This is the realm of environmental ethics which, as all ethics, is founded in truth. We can’t know what isn’t true, so we should make every effort to find out just what that is before trying to control nature (an impossible task).
Natural law is what it is…truth. We are subject to it—we don’t write it. And that’s the truth, what ethics is all about.