Do we have an ethical responsibility to save the planet?
According to traditional Iroquois law, in every decision the seventh generation must be taken into consideration; each choice must be made while keeping one’s own great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren in mind.
Stewardship ethics, a movement within many Christian denominations, declares the responsibility God gave man in keeping watch over Gods creation. Genesis 1:26 states that, “(man) will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” Continued references to man’s duty to rule and watch over Gods creation, as well as Gods joy in His labors, can be seen in Psalms, Matthew, and Deuteronomy.
Philosophers struggle to find agreement on any specific ethical argument for going eco; it’s philosophically impossible to keep the well-being of a seventh generation individual – that does not yet exist – in mind. Christian doctrine may support environmental friendliness for some, but endless interpretations of such creed make it difficult to outline any uniform belief.
Dr. Chris Diehm, philosophy and environmental ethics professor at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, explains that while philosophy can’t account for making decisions based on the welfare of not-yet-existing humans, it’s an intuitive idea that people reflect on.
This doesn’t mean our environmentally destructive practices have no philosophical or ethical ramifications.
“Effects that cause global warming are bad enough now; oil drilling, highway building … they’re causing problems for the future but also causing problems now,” said Diehm.
America is particularly famous for its wasteful practices – consumerist culture is what America is known for. An American child has produced more waste by the age of three than an average African will produce in his entire life, said Diehm.
Short-sighted planning leads to suffering the long-term effects in creating systems that are not sustainable. Urban development may be producing habitat for some animals while driving others away. Keeping in mind America’s current economic crisis, looking long term is especially hard while trying to improve our financial system as quickly as possible. Factories and mills may generate local income and job security, but release pollution and toxins into the atmosphere causing medical issues for humans and wildlife alike.
People are beginning to focus more on the ethics behind problems we’re causing in the present. Philosophically, future generations are not as discussed as they once were, said Diehm. Awareness is spreading to the fact that lifestyles need to change and sustainable practices need to be observed.
The next generation is already paying closer attention to the planets environmental problems than we are. At the Museum of Natural History in the UWSP library, 33 children with one of the local area elementary schools signed the guest book. Banners and signs repeat throughout exhibits saying, “Habitat Variety Sustains Species Diversity.” Great lions lay majestically on rocks behind glass; a black bear stands mid-step among mallard ducks frozen in time, as museum-goers stare through the display window, half expecting the creatures to come alive at any moment. All this inspires kids to pay more attention to the environmental ramifications of their actions lest they loose the real-life counterparts of the museums permanent residents.
“There is plenty happening in the present that will affect future generations,” said Diehm, “but the harm we’re causing ourselves is just as bad.” Teaching children and adults sustainable practices will help curve the effects of climate change now, in hopes that future generations will have learned from our mistakes and commit to not repeating them.