While doing a google search for a neo-Kantian ethicist whose name I couldn’t remember ( it turned out to be Christine Korsgaard, which is neither here nor there except for you Kantians out there ) I was somewhat surprised by the number of environmental ethics titles out there. My initial reaction was a fear that most of them would not enjoy a reception outside of the academic classroom. Then I asked myself how many environmental issues have resulted in an actual change of behavior due to ethical concerns for the impact of human behavior on our planet. Rachel Carson, of course, springs immediately to mind. Recycling and florescent bulbs have caught on with the general population, as well as the leave no trace movement for outdoor sportsmen. Nothing I could come up with though could hope to even begin to offset the degradation caused by our carbon emissions.
Flash forward to 2050, where I present you with two random thoughts that popped into my head within a half hour’s time. Disclosure: I am a lapsed Catholic, lapsed some fifteen years or so ( I’ve lost count ) and a non-believer / closet buddhist. I am also aware that Garrett Hardin has dealt with many of these “awkward” population issues in what seem to be now most prescient ways.
1. Imagine being a Catholic in 2050, whose ideas are confined by the church’s position on birth control, abortion, and naturally enough, infanticide. In a world of massive crop failures, depleted water tables, and poisoned aquifers due to fracking, does the practicing catholic who either chooses to have a child, or who accidentally becomes pregnant, bear her cross and watch her child mostly likely starve to death? My hunch is rather that mothers will leave the church in droves.
2. Let’s say that I have an idea that a certain company’s product is environmentally destructive. Since the company will only recognize it’s bottom line, it will not respond to an ethical appeal. I then pass this idea around to many people, who further pass it to others, ending in a de facto boycott. Will my idea become the target of a cease and desist order? If I put on my best Oscar award winning persona and claim that I am certain this company is an asset to the community, and that of course they were unaware of the dangers involved, but we just can’t by this product, will I be allowed to continue to suggest this idea to other people? Will environmental activism become the thought crime of the future?
So what do you think? Ethics teachers out there sound out your classes. Take the obligatory poll below the squiggly.