3.3 The environment

Graphics Format05-Oct-2010

Utilitarianism requires respect for all sentient beings; therefore, animals are included in the moral community with humans. As the moral circle expands, however, where does it stop? Must we include non-sentient entities in the circle? Do ecosystems, natural processes, and the inanimate parts of the planet count? Does nature itself deserve our respect?

These are important philosophical questions. They become urgent in light of the profound changes that a warming climate is bringing. What are our duties not just to current humans, animals, and natural processes, but to all future generations?

Steven M. Gardiner addresses these issues in his article, "A Perfect Moral Storm." Gardiner is particularly concerned about our apparent inability to act, even in the face of potential catastrophe. He argues as follows:

"The peculiar features of the climate change problem pose substantial obstacles to our ability to make the hard choices necessary to address it. Climate change involves the convergence of a set of global, intergenerational and theoretical problems. This convergence justifies calling it a 'perfect moral storm'. One consequence of this storm is that, even if the other difficult ethical questions surrounding climate change could be answered, we might still find it difficult to act. For the storm makes us extremely vulnerable to moral corruption."

Author: Gary Comstock
Maintained By: Gary Comstock
Last Updated: 2008-06-24