ETHICS AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Between a Rock and Hard Place, Where to draw the line?
A Position Paper
Prof. Michael Haliprin
William Paterson University
Which system of ethics is the best for us that will protect our environment in todays world? This is central question that the authors deal with in the essays that I have read. However some of the questions that they do not deal with are as follows. Where do we draw the line? Further who are we to draw the line? Who gives us the right to speak for others? Who are we to speak for the animals, birds, insects, plants, or any other living organism? Instead of answering these questions the authors make sweeping assumptions that we as humans have the right to speak for all. As far as to where they draw the line, they are the ends of the ideological spectrum. For some we can never do enough, whereas for others we are doing more than enough.
FIRST POSITION: Deep Ecology.
The authors argue for the development of a deep Ecological ethic a holistic sort of doctrine of not only love every human being but every living thing in the cosmos. Deep Ecology is no more than a new-age religion. This will raise the consciousness of people to a degree that will equate other beings with Humans. This will allow people to respect not only animals but also every living organism in the universe. The beliefs of this religion is explained by Fox as: " mak[ing] no firm ontological divide in the field of existence: That there is no bifurcation in reality between the human and the non-human realm... to the extent the we perceive boundaries, we fall short of deep ecological consciousness."[Bonvevac 1999, P. 87]
The environment is not being taking care of in the proper manner. We should enact laws to further protect the environment to keep it from deteriorating. Therefore we should do all that we can and that can never be enough and therefore we should be much more. Proof of this is the abuse that corporations have placed many elements that destroy the environment.
The problem that I have with this kind of thinking is that who makes the decisions here. What one sees as environmentally sound the other will see as a problem. For instance, to the Hindu, the cows are holy and cannot be eaten. They will be left alone to roam as they please without doing anything to harm them or get in their way. Meanwhile their neighbors the Muslims will eat these very same cows and therein lies the conflict.
There are others who not only will they not kill any animal, or strict vegetarians, that they wear face masks, in order not harm any flies. They will not wash their hair, nor do anything to stop the bugs from infesting them. To them if you kill any insects that is an environmental disaster.
SECOND POSITION: Cost benefit analysis.
The authors here argue for cost-benefit analysis of harm to the environment. This is a twist on the usual wise business sense. In business, in order to stay in business, you have to make sound financial decisions. One such tool is cost benefit analysis. Cost is equated to risk, which is a probability times a bad or unwanted consequence. Benefit is defined as a probability times a good or desired consequence. To make the best possible decision one calculates the cost benefit analysis to arrive at a sound decision. Thus if it costs me $100,000 to produce 1000 widgets and I sell them for $100 I do not make any money and I have just kept myself very busy. It might be that they are the best widgets on the market and I derive great pleasure in producing them. Further producing these widgets will not harm the environment in any way shape or form.
I could also produce these widgets using an alternative method for $50 and I sell them for $100 here I am making a profit and it is beneficial to do so. However in producing them I am producing all kinds of pollutants that are released in the air and the EPA will fine me $10,000 for the violation. I would be better off and profitable by producing them using the environmentally harmful method because my costs are still low enough to produce a profit. In the end the widgets will only cost $60 and I would be making $40,000 net profit.
Here the authors show that using cost benefit analysis we are able to calculate the benefit of environment. Therefore it is in the long run (long term) beneficial to the overall quality of life. I would be buying the environment, or the clean environment. So in the above example I could produce the widgets using the environmentally sound method and say that I invested $50,000 in buying a cleaner environment a sort of an environmental bond (or a stock). According to the authors this would be a worthy investment and not only that it is also a sound business decision as well as a positive cost benefit.
The authors call for a conservative approach in evaluating risks to the environment. The examples they use are skewed in that it the calculations are all for the benefit of the environment over the human beings. The problem stems from their adding values that they think is right or appropriate. They place a dollar value on the worth of human life years. How does one arrive at such figures? Further we do not know the effects of (or rather full effects) of all this dumping in the environment. Environmental destruction should be measured and that is the field of Environmental Engineering. I will elaborate on this further in the conclusion.
THIRD POSITION: Economics will protect the environment.
Here the author argues that environmental controls are best left to economics. Through out his arguments, and some are strong, he shows examples of how economics effects how corporations react to the environment. His argument is that it is economically sound for some companies to be environmentally safe. That is, it is good business and economic sense to do so. Therefore all those people [Greenpeace, the Nature Conservancy, etc.] who are screaming to clean the air they breathe are just wasting their breath by complaining. Modern economics is our savior!
Of all the positions this is perhaps the scariest. It does give corporations the green light to do what they please. For economics to do this is just a stretch of the imagination. We live in a world where everyone is looking for instant gratification. The age of the remote control and Aspirin pills. Just about any machine that people have has a remote control. Just about any minor discomfort like a headache, or any other minor or major symptom, has pills that will relief it. In this day and age we can not depend on the forces of modern economy to do its part for the environment. Not only does it not make any sense, it is not grounded in reality. If it was not for the EPA, or perhaps because of the EPA, we have our current situation. We still have acid rain and the Hudson and Passaic rivers are a mess. Imagine life if the corporations are left to do what they want without any governmental controls in place.
Opinion: Pro-Environment with moderation
Common sense and past history only tell us that in order to safeguard something like the environment [and in business the environment is something abstract, the EPA is real] one must be proactive or it will go a way and disappear. Some of the examples presented are facts, but this was only arrived at after the damage has been done. Why spend a lifetime correcting mistakes instead of preventing them from taking place. Today modern manufacturing principles tell us that one must prevent mistakes in the beginning because it is more cost effective than going back and correcting the mistake once done.
How can corporations just create chemicals without knowing the full effects on the environment. Further there are many things that corporations or research facilities do without fully understanding the consequences of such actions. If we do not know the full effects of dumping chemicals in the atmosphere why do we do it. One should not just dump and worry about it later. We have seen the effects of this too often. Look at many of the rivers and natural resources that we have lost. There is a balance to nature and when we do that it does upset more than just life. If we call off all the owls and other night creatures, for instances we get an increase in the population of rats, etc. If we kill off the wolves many of the smaller animals grow or increase in population.
Over protectiveness of resources upsets the balance of nature as well. If we have laws that protect the deer population. We get an increase in the deer population. The effects of which there will be more road accidents, deer being hit by fast moving vehicles in the highways. They will start to invade many of the residential areas. They will eat the gardens of the area residents. The same thing with monkeys in south Asia. They are such a nuance to the population at large. The same thing recently happened with the over growth of the rabbit population in New Zealand, in an article in the Atlantic.
It is this balance that we still do not understand. Environmentalists are sometimes so gung ho about saving the environment that they forget about the most important force in this environment and that is the human population. Humans should be one the single most important factor that we should worry about. Saving human life in many parts of the world, and human rights should be paramount.
If we were wipeout the entire population of panda bears to save the life of one human being that is a worthwhile cause.
Abuse of pet animals should be of more important than worrying about the use of animals in laboratories. The over population of pet animals should be the focus of the Planned Parenthood instead of worrying about the population growth in faraway countries. Third world countries with high population growth are not a problem for us, unless we are xenophobic. World resources that may seem to be limited on the surface are really under utilized.
If we were to live our lives more economically we would have so much surplus food that would feed the entire third world. Further the third world that is having problem feeding its population is one of the richest in fertile land.
The Sudan that has famine is one of the most fertile lands on the face of the earth. The UN listed the Sudan as on of the places that would be used as the breadbasket of the world. If the Sudan is farmed and if its population, human resource, would be used effectively they would not have a famine. Further they would not be in need of controlling the population.
There is no need for population control in the third world they need human resource management training. We should look at the third world population issue as human resource management issue.
We should do what we can to make effective use of such population. They are a source of workforce that can be used for farming or industrialization. However the politics always gets in the way. Use of people here is meant in the positive sense of the word. We would positively make use of them, in cooperation and they would be paid wages that are in tune with the wages being earned in the respective countries. We should be sensitive not to take advantage of the situation.
Taking an opportunity and abuse of a situation is a fine line. Maybe in cooperation with local government and authorities corporations could set up shop and employ the locals. This is done positively in some third world countries. Hewlett Packard, the computer Peripherals Company had set up a factory in Malaysia. They accommodated many of the needs of the local Muslim population. Workers were allowed to wear their traditional garb, covering of the hair. They also allowed for a chaperone for the unmarried female employees who traveled very far to the factory. They had paid for a dormitory residence assistant. This was an elder female that the parents could trust to have their daughters stay overnight.
Everyone wants to live in a safe environment, everyone wants breathe fresh air, everyone wants to see greenery, but at what price. How much will I have to pay for it? How much of personal comfort and personal income will I have to pay for it? No one seems to have an answer for this. We can not leave this up to the individual whim or corporations to make such a decision. The world has its share of those whom for political reasons and selfish agenda will want to capitalize on the environment issue. They will scream that the third world is using up all the worlds resources and are the source of the worlds harm for the environment. Such positions are nothing short of pure racism. They see their race decline in negative population growth while the third world is in positive population growth. They do not want to help these people in their existence. They through birth control and family planning at the problem in an attempt to solve it, instead of capitalizing on this rich human resource.
So instead of abusing your pet cat or dog you can donate it to your local lab so they can perform experiments on it to save yourself from dangerous shampoos that Johnson and Johnson makes. Or better yet instead of getting a pet in the first place adopt a family in a third world country of your choice by sending them the money you would be spending on pet food. This way you could go to sleep easy knowing that you are helping someone. Also you do not have to worry about taking that dog out for a walk.
When you get the urge to pet someone try visiting some of your relatives and pet their children. The nice thing about other peoples children is that they are care free from your perspective. When you have enough you just walk away and do not worry about them, they are not your problem.
Now you should be feeling guilty about equating your relatives with pets, they are after all human beings just like you. Using some of the bio ethics, you might just consider other human beings a little above the level of common pets. Sure some human beings are more of a nuisance than pets. They make far too much noise, they talk back and they cause traffic jams. However they have as much right to life as you do. Even though sometimes you question that right, it is certainly not a privilege.