Environmental Ethics Global Warming Thesis

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Warming Ethics

Global Warming and Social Philosophy: Practical and Ethical Issues in the Face of Climate Change

The issue of global warming is one of the most prominent political and social issues of our time. Hardly a day passes without some mention of global warming, climate change, and the possible human causes behind it by a major news organization; it is a highly-charged political issue and one that raises the passions of many everyday citizens. Scientists, policy makers, figureheads and pundits all frequently weigh in on the global warming issue with their own often widely disparate opinions, such that the amount of information on the topic is often used as a replacement for the quality and soundness of this information, and for the quality of the arguments and opinions built upon it.

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Though there is now a general scientific consensus that the Earth has experienced a measurable and significant warming trend in the past century, the cause of this warming is still not entirely certain. The general belief among many scientists and much of the public is that the use of fossil fuels by human beings, in all forms of industry, transportation, and for basic energy needs (including electricity production and heating) has released so many so-called "greenhouse gases," particularly carbon dioxide, that a sort of blanket has been formed in the atmosphere. It is known that carbon dioxide and other gases can act to trap heat coming into the atmosphere from the Sun, blocking its normal rate of release and thus warming the planet. It has been impossible to tie the observed warming trend to human activities with any certainty, however, and so a controversy remains.

Thesis on Environmental Ethics Global Warming Assignment

There is no question that the Earth has gone through warming and cooling periods over the course of time, and there is even evidence that the Earth was much warmer than it is now within the span of human history (though measurements that could be compared to today's do not exist for technological reasons, of course). Some scientists and many more politicians and lobbyists have used this fact to suggest that human beings are not the cause of the current warming trend, but rather that it is simply a part of the Earth's natural warming and cooling cycle. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the cause of global warming, however, there is still an ethical and a practical imperative to limit the use of fossil fuels, both in an attempt to stem the warming if it is indeed anthropogenic in nature, and for other reasons that are if anything even more compelling in terms of social philosophy.

Social and Ethical Obligations

In addition to the problem of global warming, the continued use of fossil fuels at current levels is simply impractical, and ultimately impossible. These resources are inherently limited, with some estimates suggesting that the human exploitation of oil and natural gas reserves have already reached their peak (Graefe 2009). Others insist that the time of peak oil is still far off, perhaps by as much as a century, but there can be no disagreement that eventually the world's oil supplies, as well as its stores of other fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, will eventually be depleted. It takes a great deal of time for these fuels to form, and once they are gone they will simply be gone, without a way to manufacture more fuel.

The loss of our current fuel resources will demand a shift to alternative energies in order for any semblance of industry and trade to continue. This shift can come gradually, as the result of long-term planning and innovation, or it can come catastrophically once fossil fuels shortages are already upon us. In the latter event, there will almost certainly be widespread warfare, poverty, and famine, with these adverse effects striking the world's more impoverished and less developed countries much more dramatically than the developed world (Howard 2009). In order to establish and maintain a sustainable way of life that eases the transition from fossil fuels to alternative energies, research, development, and implementation of these alternatives must begin in earnest as soon as possible; society itself will change violently and drastically -- or crumble altogether -- otherwise.

The problem of global warming itself, of course, comes with its own social and ethical imperatives and obligations. As previously stated, there is a large and growing consensus that the Earth is indeed growing warmer, despite the still-strong disagreement regarding the possible cause(s) of this warming (Ralston 2009). The polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate, which has already devastated many Arctic species (Rathore et al. 2009). If this melting continues, sea levels around the world could rise significantly, causing a massive loss of habitat not only for other animal species, but also for large portions of human society (Rathore et al. 2009). The alteration of society would again be dramatic and relatively rapid, and this is only one of the environmental and climate changes that global warming very possibly could wreak on the Earth, and perhaps is already.

The ethical and social imperatives to forestall and prevent this sea level rise from occurring are fairly self-evident. If human beings are indeed the cause behind global warming, and global warming is indeed as destructive a phenomenon as has been predicted, there is a duty incumbent upon humanity to limit, stop, and hopefully reverse the warming trend for matters of pure self-preservation. Other effects of global warming could prove equally damaging to humanity, if not more so; the warming of the world's oceans would have a significant impact on weather patterns, causing more violent and more destructive storms in many areas and rendering fertile ground in some parts of the world barren (Ralston 2009). Again, this would cause a massive social disruption on a long-term scale, and this disruption would more severely harm the least-developed nations of the world.

An Ethical Framework for Fossil Fuels

Before a cogent examination of the ethical actions needed in the areas of fossil fuel use and the specter of global warming can be conducted, the ethical framework or system that will be used to conduct this examination must be established. This is, of course, true of any ethical endeavor; there are many ways to perspectives from which the ethics of a given situation can be judged, and the global warming issue, as well as the simple issue of fossil fuel, is no exception. In fact, it is best to handle these issues somewhat separately, as their implications are different both in terms of their intentions and their effects, as well as in their inevitability and the degree of culpability that society bears in their regards.

Both issues, however, deal with the issue of ethical consumption. While it is not taken as a given that ethical consumption is a necessary -- or even an ethical -- choice -- an examination of its impacts, benefits, and detriments can demonstrate its ethicality (Starr 2009). The ongoing depletion and eventual drying up of the Earth's fossil fuel supplies is somewhat complex in this view; the problem is not whether or not enough resources will be left for future generations, as it is known that these resources can never match a useful rate of consumption and will eventually run out (Graefe 2009). Given this fact, however, the spending of money on technologies that make use of alternative energy sources, and thus encourage the continued development of these sources for future generations' use, is itself a form of ethical consumption. The necessity for ethical consumption is more directly exemplified in the global warming issue.

In the case of global warming, the problem is not simply that of leaving subsequent generations of humanity to deal with a lack -- of fossil fuels, and thus of energy, for instance -- but rather with the destruction of many habitats and likely a drastic change in the way of life for many individuals, including increased famine and warfare. Ethical consumption in the case of global warming means both purchasing and more directly consuming in ways that do not add to the amount of fossil fuels being burned and the amount of greenhouse gasses being released (Starr 2009). In the case of simple fossil fuel depletion, the dilemma is one of facing a problem sooner rather than later, with the consequences of procrastination not necessarily too dire. Global warming, however, would almost certainly be disastrous to much of the world's population, and the problem itself might change if nothing is done.

In both cases described above, the ethical interpretation has been a matter of effects, rather than intentions. Given the knowledge currently possessed, limited though it may be, an examination of intentions yields similar results. The eventual end of fossil fuels unquestionably exists at some time in humanity's future, and the sooner this issue is seriously addressed the smoother the transition from one energy source to others can be made. Only a willfully ignorant, entirely lazy, or profiteering intention could lead to other rational… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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