There are too many people, doing too much damage to the ecosystem, essentially guaranteeing that future generations will have a damaged...
This week's topic is, "Is it wrong to wreck the earth?"
I suppose the obvious answer is “yes”. The answer may be more obvious than the meaning of the question. We’re not asking if it’s wrong for me or you to wreck the earth for everyone else, but something more like whether the people that are currently alive and busy polluting the streams and rivers and oceans, warming the globe, killing off species, and the like, and thus making the earth a less agreeable place for future generations, are doing something wrong.
Is it really so obvious that the answer is Yes? Suppose we frame it like this. Those currently alive will somehow collectively decide between two options:
(i) Make minimal changes to the way we live, and leave future generations a very polluted, warm, earth. Or
(ii) make substantial changes to the way we live, at great cost to our own comfort levels, and leave a much less polluted, and less warmed up world to future generations.
There is a tradeoff; we live better, they live worse; they live better, we live worse. Why is it clear that it’s better for us to sacrifice and leave them better off? Here’s an analogy. A person is seventy years old, has a million dollars, and a disease that gives him five years to live. He has a struggling forty-year old daughter. He can live well for five years and leave his daughter a small amount, or he can scrimp and save his final five years and leave her comfortably well-off. It would be very nice of him to do the latter, but it’s not clearly wrong for him to do the former.
There is an important dis-analogy, however. The man might think that if his daughter works hard, she can earn enough on her own to be well off. He may pass up the opportunity to make her life comfortable. But he hasn’t thereby deprived her of the means of doing so herself.
But the damage we do to the earth can’t be undone. The parts of the world made uninhabitable by global warming can’t be recovered. The species that disappear can’t be brought back into existence. It’s one thing for a man not to share the money he has earned and saved with his daughter. It’s another for him to destroy the possibility of her doing as well for herself. And that’s what we’re doing, by wrecking the world the way we are.
There is another disanalogy, that perhaps points in the other direction. The people who will be most disadvantaged by the damage our generation is doing to the earth, the ones who will be grappling with inundated cities and a non-working gulf-stream toward the end of our century, haven’t even been born yet. They don’t exist. Do we really owe anything to people that don’t exist? That’s a rather puzzling sort of obligation, isn’t it?
Maybe so. But I think it’s wrong to suppose that the wrongness of wrecking the earth is a matter of mistreating some person or persons. I mean we have this whole big system, the ecosystem, the system wherein life of all sorts including human life evolved. Isn’t there something intrinsically wrong about harming the system that’s the ground of our very existence?
I think there is. Basicially, I think we should worship the earth. Wrecking it should be taboo.
But then, what if it turned out that the best thing for the system, considered as a whole, was for humans to disappear and quit screwing it up? Would I advocate that?
I’d have to think about it.
Our guest is Kathleen Dean Moore, a professor at OSU, where Sunday’s program was recorded. She’s co-edited a book called For All Time: Our Obligation to Save the Future---so I think we know where she stands. By the way, I have an article in it called, “Worship the Earth.”