What about environmental ethics?
Posted on September 17, 2012
In a letter to the editor to the Kalamazoo Gazette in Michigan, Maynard Kaufman laments that American political discourse focuses so much on “issues of personal morality,” and not on matters such as the condition of environment:
In American society today, it seems as if the most serious problem we face is the most ignored, while less serious issues get the most attention. For example, issues related to personal morality occupy the attention of political candidates and pollute the media.
Meanwhile, the most serious issue facing humanity, global warming caused by burning fossil fuels, is taboo and largely avoided by political candidates. Disasters caused by global warming are already costing the nations of the world billions of dollars and could spoil the earth as a human habitat. We are distracted from this probability by issues of personal morality.
Oil companies now make vast sums of money and pay politicians to distract us from the problems caused by burning the fuels they produce. Once we see this clearly, we can develop an ethic of using less fossil fuel.
I agree with Kaufman on two counts: that religiously motivated politicians, who are focused on uncontroversial matters such as birth control, distract us from more pressing political concerns; and that there has to be more focus on enacting political solutions to the severe environmental challenges we face.
However, I think Kaufman underestimates the severity of attacks on what he dubs “issues of personal morality.” If some people are going to dedicate their time to restricting the rights of many others, I think we all have an obligation to fight back.
But perhaps more importantly — and certainly more to Kaufman’s point — we simply can’t expect politicians to address issues (i.e., the environment) that their electorate doesn’t seem to care about. Or can we?