Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Ethics and Environment Part 2

I'm probably not doing much justice to poor Ed's emails. It's hard to summarise in bullet points the stuff we've been going on about for more than 3 weeks now. Having massacared his arguments, I am going to try to summarise my own views. NB: we both agreed that for the purposes of the discussion, we would leave religion out of the equation.

Views on Ethics

- There is either an absolute "prefectly ethical" standard, so that people are either right or wrong; or else all ethical standards are relative (meaning that you can have a variety of different results which are ethical insofar as each individual decision maker is concerned). BTW - I don't see a third option, but if you do, pls enlighten me...

- Like most other people, I know there's always a "better" ethical solution out there, but since I'm not sure what it is, or how it looks like, or even that it just doesn't appear appropriate to me, the minimum requirement appears to be that I only need to act ethically enough to be able to sleep at night.

Views on the environment:

- I am not sure if the earth is currently overpopulated. From the literature I've read, I think that there are problems (such as food shortage) commonly blamed on over-population, but which have root causes (e.g. corruption, civil war etc..) which are far more direct, and it appears more effecient to deal with those direct causes rather than trying to wrestle with something like global population control which is further removed and whose causal links more tenous. There is a great deal of empirical research and literature on this. Whilst some are indeed politically motivated, and others are clearly written by crackpots, there's still enough material for intelligent people to arrive at reasonable opinions that the planet is either or is not overpopulated now and/or in the future. Nobody can say for certain either way. Just for starters see:

www.overpopulation.com/faq/natural_resources/carrying_capacity.html

- That being said, I agree that current uses of natural resource is fairly wasteful and can be better optimised. It is ethical to try to encourage optimal use (e.g. by recycling household water and wastes) so that economic and environmental benefits can be transfered either to current or future generations. However, I am not so sure if we have to take such an extreme stance as stopping population growth/replacement level reproduction.

To conclude
- There seems to be no fixed view on the eventual direction of the environment and humanity's role/place in it. It seems to depend on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist.

- I like to believe that I am a cautious optimist. I do recycle a great deal, I try to walk as much as possible, I try to burn as little fossil fuels as is reasonable (ie to the level where I can sleep at night about it). It is true I can do more (or less!) about the environment, but I have to balance betwen making enough effort to perhaps inconvenince me sometimes but not reduce the quality of my life. To that end, I'm a great believer in greener technology - hybrid/fuel cell cars, nuclear/ wind/water/solar (where available) power etc.

- Whilst I agree we have to keep making efforts onwards, I think we're making rapid advances in feeding the world with safe/green GM foods, in developing sustainable energy (albeit nuclear), and at the same time raising the quality of life of the other humans on this planet. I am optimistic that we will find ways to adapt ourselves and our technology for the continued use and enjoyment of our future generations... At least, optimistic enough to want to introduce another person to it!

4 comments:

mini said...

the US is mad wasteful (not that I'm not guilty). though i'm impressed that my town does a great job of recyling. plastics, paper, glass all have their own containers on trash day. this might not be the norm in other cities since newton is strangely affluent but it's a start. anyway i agree wiht your optimism! things will change ...

ylisa said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
clara said...

(I'm continuing the arguments from the previous post - having not read your blog lately)

I think some of the arguments seem a little too simplistic. From a Econometrician point of view, you can always get the data to show what you want it to.

I do subscribe somewhat to the theory that there will be tech advances to deal with environmental issues and other quality of life issues. I also think Mother Nature regulates us to a certain degree, with all the natural disasters that go on.

If there is an argument for population control, surely it's to control the population of the area / country / region that is overpopulated, and not as a 'tax' on other people who have a fairly good quality of life. I mean, how is NOT having your own biological children going to help the countries that are over-populated? The over-population is an indicator of things that are not going right for that country and a major warning signal for the government to do something about it.

In any case, propagating is part and parcel of our biological and evolutionary needs as a human species. And it's obviously 'selfish', as there are qualities and genes that we value in ourselves and partners, that we want to pass on to the next generation. In evolutionary terms, it's adapt or be replaced by something that's better. Harsh, but it IS an extremely long term view. Look what happened to homo erectus.

(for the sci-fi readers, I refer you to this excellent book called Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear)

S* said...

hello Clara

The argument is that we should not have biological children and only adopt them from an area of higher population pressure. Each child born and raised at the average First World country living standard is responsible for an increase in fossil fuels being burnt and waste being generated.

i don't buy this extremely short term argument, because it opens a seperate can of worms by raising other ethical issues relating to cultural genocide and so on.