VelazquezCh5 - CHAPTER FIVE Ethics and the Environment...

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C HAPTER F IVE Ethics and the Environment Overview Introduction This chapter on ethics and the environment begins with some rather sobering statistics from the Worldwatch Institute. This includes population growth, rising temperature, falling water tables, shrinking cropland per person, collapsing fisheries, shrinking forests, and the loss of plant and animal species. Our environment seems to be stressed nearly to the breaking point. The ethical and technological questions that this state of affairs raises are extremely important and complex. First, there are still serious disagreements about the extent of the environmental damage that industrial technology has produced. Furthermore, there is no precise way of knowing just how much of a threat this environmental damage will have for our future welfare. And whatever the level of damage, we must surely sacrifice some values to halt or slow it. To explore these issues, this chapter begins with an overview of the technical aspects of environmental resource use. Then it moves to a discussion of the ethical basis of environmental protection. It concludes with a consideration of our obligation to future generations and the prospects for continued economic expansion. 5.1 The Dimensions of Pollution and Resource Depletion Environmental damage inevitably threatens the welfare of human beings as well as plants and animals. Threats to the environment come from two sources, pollution and resource depletion. Pollution refers to the undesirable and unintended contamination of the environment by the manufacture or use of commodities. Resource depletion refers to the consumption of finite or scarce resources. In a certain sense, pollution is really a type of resource depletion because contamination of air, water, or land diminishes their beneficial qualities. Air pollution has been with modern society for nearly 200 years; its costs are increasing greatly. It negatively affects agricultural yields, human health, and global temperatures. The result is a large economic impact and a staggering effect on the quality of human life. Global warming itself poses a difficult and frightening challenge. Global warming greenhouse gases such as: carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, and chlorofluorocarbons, are gases that absorb and hold heat from the sun, preventing it from escaping back into space, much like a greenhouse absorbs and holds the sun's heat. Most scenarios concerning the effects of global warming predict massive flooding, increase of disease, loss of plant and animal species, and expansion of deserts at the expense of agricultural land. These effects will have high human and economic costs. 1
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However, to halt the increase of greenhouse gasses, we would have to reduce emissions by 60% to 70%, a level that would damage the economies of countries around the world. To halt global warming, experts say that we would need to change our lifestyles and values drastically. Ozone depletion
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This note was uploaded on 09/26/2010 for the course ETHC 3P82 taught by Professor E.d during the Spring '10 term at Brock University, Canada.

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VelazquezCh5 - CHAPTER FIVE Ethics and the Environment...

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