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Guest Post: Caring for Our Home

Darlei Dall’Agnol
Professor of Ethics, Federal University of Santa Catarina.

Many nations are already preparing for the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris in December. One of the main goals of the Conference is to reach an agreement on climate change, especially on greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Following Rio-92 and after more than 20 years of negotiations, the Conference has a unique opportunity to enact the first legally binding document for all the nations of the world. This is certainly a significant step in caring more for our little planet, which is after all our home. As citizens and philosophers concerned with environmental issues, we should support and try to help bring about such an agreement. However, there are also signs that some countries are evading their responsibilities. Earlier this month, in her first visit to the United States since Wikileaks revealed in 2013 the US’ spying , the Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced that Brazil’s goal is to bring illegal deforestation down to zero over the next few years. Moreover, the country will work towards reforestation of 12 million hectares. According to some North-American newspapers, this announcement was below what was expected by the White House, which had hoped for higher targets in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. This is one of the President Obama’s priorities for his legacy. He is trying to influence China, India, Brazil and other developing countries to get a satisfactory outcome at the climate Conference later this year. Is this a sign of what is going to happen at the Conference? Will the US just press other developing countries to cut down gas emissions? What about the US’ own environmental responsibilities?

Before saying something on what we should expect from the Paris Conference, let me point out that we must care more for the environment, for the ecosystems, for the many endangered species, etc. that is, for nature as a whole. We are part of nature. Whatever happens to our environment happens to us. Now, there is no doubt that global warming is a real phenomenon and that it is damaging the environment, killing many people and extinguishing many species. Thus, it is time to leave completely behind the idea that we somehow stand above or even outside nature. Whatever happens to the global climate will have consequences for the well-being of every single existing human being no matter where she lives. Non-human animals will suffer too with global warming. Future generations will certainly be affected by how we live today and the fact is that we are not caring enough for our home. By destroying biodiversity, which seems bad in itself, we are depriving our descendants of a richer world. They will, for instance, miss out on some of the aesthetic experiences we have.

Many ethicists have recently argued that we should respect and care more for nature. Since Leopold’s ethic of land and the movement called “deep ecology,” which states that nature has intrinsic value, some ethicists have tried to show that every single living being should be respected in itself. We do not perhaps need to go that far, but it is certainly the case that we are not doing enough for our home. For instance, public policies based on the 3 R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle) should stress more the need to reduce consumption. It must have priority, but I do not see any substantial sign that governments are encouraging reduction, expect for individual initiatives. Recycling seems not enough in a world which is coming closer to be overpopulated.

Other ethicists have also called for a new kind of wisdom in our relations to environment. This goes under the interesting label of ecosophy. The basic idea is that we should use scientific knowledge to protect life, not to destroy it. In fact, it seems that a new age of wisdom is needed. For instance, we should enhance our wisdom regarding the way we use natural resources to satisfy our needs. It is estimated that we already are consuming more than our planet can support. Perhaps catastrophic discourses overstate the situation, but there is no doubt that we should put science to work for life before it is too late.

Now, going back to the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference, it simply cannot fail. Thus, it does not look promising if the US attempt to press developing countries to cut gas emissions only. After refusing to sign the Kyoto protocol, the US is not in a moral position to lead the world in these issues. Brazil’s goal may sound unrealistic, but the US must do its part too without fearing to damage its economy. Developing countries have the right to grow in a sustainable manner and richer and industrialized countries should pay more for the price of fixing the environment. It is well known that the world’s average emission of CO2 is around 4 tonnes per person, but people living in developed countries are bigger polluters. For instance, the US has 5% of the world’s population and yet it is responsible for around 25% of global CO2 emissions. Thus, as a matter of fairness, the average North-American has a bigger personal responsibility in changing her lifestyle to pollute less. North-Americans should be more accountable for their actions and consider less air travel, less meat eating etc. Moreover, US public policies should be more aggressive in cutting down gas emissions. It may perhaps damage the US economy momentously, but it is necessary to save the world. A good example in this is the UK, which already cut greenhouse gas emissions far more than any other country in EU, over-achieving its Kyoto protocol targets. The good news is that UK’s economy is just doing well!

To finish, I would like to leave a very simple suggestion for further thought: as responsible consumers, we should avoid buying products from countries or companies not willing to compromise their economy because of the environmental goals we all must adopt, for instance, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I believe that it is unethical to buy products whose manufacture we know to have caused greater pollution, especially if there are similar products available from countries who are more engaged in reaching the aforementioned targets. I also believe that it is wrong to buy products from companies which do not meet their environmental duties. To take seriously this responsibility as citizens may send an alert to the leaders of all nations to do more to reach an agreement later this year showing real concern for our home.

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank CAPES, a Brazilian agency, for supporting my current research at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics.

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3 Comment on this post

  1. Até que ponto vai a minha obrigação de pensar no bem-estar das futuras gerações?

    Um prazer conhecê-lo, Prof. Darlei Dall’Agnol, e obrigada pelo seu artigo.

  2. Maria Lucia,
    Obrigado pela pergunta que, infelizmente, não tenho como responder aqui, mas fica a sugestão para um futuro post. O que quero enfatizar agora é que temos obrigações ambientais não apenas para com as gerações futuras, mas com a atual principalmente. Muitas pessoas já sobrem hoje as consequências do aumento da temperatura: pessoas idosas morrem antes, as inundações tiram pessoas das casas e acabam com plantações, a desertificação aumenta a fome em várias regiões do mundo etc. Animais não humanos também já sofrem as consequências. Por isso, meu apelo para que deixemos de consumir produtos de países que não querem se comprometer com redução de gases. Fica também o alerta para a Conferência do final do ano.

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