Pollution and Environment Essay - What Environmental Disaster?

Pollution and Environment Essay - What Environmental Disaster?
Many say that at the current rate of development, we?re headed for and environmental disaster. Is this correct? Have humans really destroyed, pillaged, and polluted enough to cause a serious, wide scale, disaster? If not, then should we continue forward without changing our way of living? All of these questions hold great pertinence for our current situation.Humans don?t exactly hold the best track record for environmental protection and preservation. Throughout time we have exploited nature and its creatures for our own benefit. We have made technological advances that threaten and disrupt the environment with total disregard for that fact. We took slipshod short cuts that are now catching up to us today, and we can think of no available alternatives that will remedy the problem quickly and usefully.

We have developed a huge and thriving society; and in the process we deforest huge sections of land for living and livestock grazing. This decreases oxygen and increases carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; possibly adding to global warming though the greenhouse effect. This mass population produces mass amounts of waste, so to deal with that we just throw it into the ground, which in turn contaminates our water supply and contributes to further deforestation. We develop motorized transportation; and then burn non-renewable fossil fuels that put lead, carbon monoxide, sulfur and nitrogen oxides, ozone, excess carbon dioxide, and other harmful particulates into the atmosphere (Skjel & Whorton 95-108). This produces dangers like smog and cancer and contributes to global warming. In the production of fuel we exhaust oil reserves and pollute the oceans through spills from tankers. This endangers wilderness and wildlife. We produce an inert, easily producible propellant for aerosols; and then realize it?s only inert on the ground. Once it?s bombarded by UV ray in the upper atmosphere it releases a highly destructive ion that wreaks havoc on the protective ozone layer shielding us from those same deadly UV rays, creating a hole in the layer allowing the radiation through, increasing cancer and other genetic defects. We build rockets capable of going into space and breaking the earth?s gravitational pull; and then immediately start to pollute this new environment with spent rockets and boosters along with other miscellaneous particles of debris (Curran and Haw 3).

Michael Crichton writes, ?What we call nature is a complex system of far greater subtlety than we are willing to accept. We make a simplified view of nature and then botch it all up. ?You have to understand what you don?t understand. How many times must the point be made? How many times must we see the evidence? We build the Aswan Dam and claim it is going to revitalize the country. Instead, it destroys the fertile Nile Delta, produces parasitic infestation, and wrecks the Egyptian economy? (Jurassic Park 91).

To the common person our current situation contains little hope. All the advancement and improvements have done little to further our species. With each one has come a new environmental issue. You almost need to evaluate each situation in terms of positives and negatives. However, at the root of all this chaos you?ll find anthropocentrism, a human centered way of thinking. This way of thinking as an attitude, and moral theory, centers on humans as the highest of the significant beings. The theory views nature and the environment in terms of their use value for humans only (Michaels 7). So all of the above developments with costs can be justified through their usefulness for humans.

The human centered ethic is deeply rooted in the past through the ancient Greek and Roman societies. In these societies the Bible was a main source of ethical information and moral theory. Through a liberal and literal interpretation of the Bible the Hebrews first, and the Christians after them, viewed themselves as supreme beings created by God with the granted right of dominion over the planet (Singer 265-267). With this attitude they saw fit to use every creature, plant, and aspect of the planet for their sole benefit only, taking whatever steps necessary to please themselves. Unless doing so meant harm to another human, then you need not take restraint in harming the natural world.

Philosopher Peter Singer points this fact out through the interpretation of the passage in the Bible dealing with creation; ?So God created man in his own image?blessed them?and God said?have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl in the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth,? Gen. I:28 (Singer 266). Though alternative views can be reached, the prevalent one places man in the position of supreme moral being and all other animals, plants, and the environment at the mercy of man for their full utilization. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle held the same hierarchy between humans and nature. He saw a logical order of plants for animals and then animals for us (Singer 267). Thus so he determined that we might as well make use of nature for our own gains.

To pursue further development based on this ethic would be disastrous. With our current numbers of population and rate of growth we?re just asking for an environmental catastrophe of the highest magnitude to act as a wake up call. Granted that a great deal of the population realizes that unless action is taken today then we?ll have to face that disaster tomorrow. The principle question is how to go about alleviating and repairing the damage we?ve already caused. We also need to address how to prevent doing further damage for the sake of future generations.

Singer sees the problem in the way we view the environment and our place in it. He recommends a series of attitude adjustments of various degrees that would help to repair the damage we?ve already done. The first is to view the wilderness in the environment in the utilitarian view, looking at its full future potential of pleasure to bring to future generations of society (Singer 270). This adds considerable wealth to the environment, allowing that if any piece is destroyed then future generation will miss out on experiencing the joy and awe that comes from the untamed wilderness and its splendor.

This way of thinking is consistent with conservationism, the most popular of the current environmental philosophies. Conservationists attempt to conserve natural resources while still looking for better ways to keep society functioning using modern techniques (Michaels 2). This way additional adverse effects are minimized and an attempt is made to maintain some areas of open wilderness.

The only problem with this view is that it is still a human centered ethic. It still sees the environment as a thing to be utilized by humans for their own pleasure. It doesn?t do enough. The problems aren?t getting fixed. Better ways of doing things are being researched, but the underlying problem is not receiving any attention. So the environmental downward spiral is only slowed down and is not fixed. We?ve still got the same problems.

To take the conservationist attitude further you would see all sentient beings as holding moral standing and due consideration. This includes most of the animals in the world; any animal capable of experiencing pleasure and pain. Through these experiences you form the basis for the extended moral theory. If the animals perish through their habitat?s destruction or outside influences, then their future pleasures will no longer be. When you take into account whole societies and communities of animals then the added value to the environment increases exponentially as you combine their happiness with the happiness never experienced by their future generations (Singer 275-276). So by taking this viewpoint you place even more intrinsic value on the environment through the experiences of all sentient animals involved.

The only problem with this theory is where do you draw the line? What counts as a ?sentient being?? It can be argued that even humans are not sentient. Crichton writes, ?What makes you think human beings are sentient and aware? There?s no evidence for it. Human beings never think for themselves, they find it too uncomfortable. For the most part, members of our species only repeat what they are told-and become upset if they are exposed to any different view. The characteristic human trait is not awareness but conformity, and the characteristic result is religious warfare. Other animals fight for territory or food; but, uniquely in the animal kingdom, human beings fight for their ?beliefs.? The reason is that beliefs guide behavior, which has evolutionary importance among human beings. But at a time when our behavior may well lead us to extinction, I see no reason to assume that we have any awareness at all. We are stubborn, self-destructive conformists. Any other view of our species is just a self-congratulatory delusion? (The Lost World 7-8). Granted this does not present a case for sentience on the basis of pain vs. pleasure, but it does present an interesting way to think about classifying sentience. So you can see drawing the cut off line for even lower animals could present considerable challenges. You have trouble reaching an adequate definition of ?sentient.? You are now facing how much awareness a creature has to perceive pain and pleasure along with joy from anticipation of future events to consider it morally significant. If a cat is significant, but not a fish, what makes the cat a moral patient while the fish is not? Where is there a difference? There is a problem of arbitrarily assigning moral value when actual feelings and emotions are beyond description.

To go a step further away from human sentience you would hold all living thing to be of moral value. This would then bring plants and non-sentient animals into the picture. This view holds life as the ultimate intrinsic value. Beings have moral value in just being alive. So life is viewed as an intrinsic good, and no verifying pleasures or pains being experienced are needed to allot this worth. Anything living is held with a reverence for that life (Singer 277-278).

The problem here too is where to draw the line. When looking at living things at the lowest levels the differences between the living and nonliving starts to get hazy. Since a relatively accurate depiction of a suffering is needed to fully consider a being sentient, then you have to wonder how important life is as long as there is no pain caused or happiness experienced (Singer 278). Since neither a bush nor a rock can experience ether of these experiences, then, from a utilitarian point of view, neither is morally significant. Why is the bush morally important because it?s alive? Here the reverence for life argument provides a basis. By holding the uniqueness of life as an intrinsic value then you can then place higher moral value on that being. That is why a bush can be a moral patient while a rock cannot under the reverence for life philosophy.

There is only one step further that you can take away from anthropocentrism, and that is to even hold the land, water, and rocks as having moral value and an intrinsic goodness to them, this is called deep ecology. The whole ecosystem as a whole should then be treated as having immeasurable worth and should be regarded with the utmost respect (Singer 280). Many supporters of this view see the earth and the ecosystem metaphorically as a living being and refer to it as Gaia, or mother Earth. Through this theory, any destruction done to Earth is immoral and so all aspects of the planet demand protection.

The previous three theories are consistent with ecocentrism in various degrees. This philosophy sees nature as having dominance over man philosophically (Michaels 7). Ecocentrists place higher value on animal and plant life than their own lives and experiences. They also value maintaining and promoting wilderness protection

The main issue with ecocentric philosophies, particularly deep ecology, is that there is no common moral language between nature and humans to communicate with (Michaels 7). By thinking of the relationship between them in ethical terms little is accomplished but humanizing nature. There is no dialog between them, each adapts to the other individually. Another problem is that holding the environment that much higher than man is just the opposite extreme of an anthropocentric view. You?re basically turning the situation around 360o; on either end you have an extreme dominant-subordinate relationship. A virtuous, happy medium must be found.

In order to find an effective environmental ethic we must make changes, attitudes don?t do the work. Singer feels that the world?s population needs to adapt its moral theory and practice to the current conditions. He suggests a theory that considers all sentient creatures while also promoting smaller families, less extravagant lifestyles, limited development, and decreased mass consumption of resources (Singer 286-287). This allows for maximum utilization of the environment and resources so that the problems faced today can be cognized and the fixed. These tenets provide a solid foundation for a flexible environmental ethic that will adapt to arising situations. Along with that, they?re all changes that we can make happen.

Even if we wake up and try to fix our current conditions, face the facts, we may be too late. The possibility remains that the environmental situation may have gone too far and there?s no fixing it; but in the end what?s really in danger is us. Humans? only concern with fixing the environment deals with providing one in which we can continue to survive, whether that be in a dominant or submissive role. We?re still stuck in a human centered philosophy. Some people think that no matter what we do, it will have an incredibly great impact on the environment. No matter how much we think we matter when dealing with the survival of the planet, in actuality we don?t mean squat. In its four billion year existence the earth has undergone drastic change, violent geographic upheaval with mountains and oceans rising and falling, and life played out on top of this constant and chaotic change (Crichton 367-368). Even if we caused some quick, drastic change, like a nuclear accident, life, probably bacteria somewhere like in the icecaps or in the ground, would still survive after all the other plants and animals died. Crichton writes, ?Life can take care of itself. ?We have been residents here for the blink of an eye. If we were gone tomorrow the earth would not miss us. ?The planet is not in jeopardy. We are in jeopardy. We haven?t got he power to destroy the planet-or save it. But we might have the power to save ourselves (Jurassic Park 367-369).?

So in the end we have a choice to make, how centered on ourselves will we be in the future when dealing with the environment? There may be time left to fix what we?ve done, or maybe not, and we?ll just have to trust that the earth can take care of itself just like it has in the past.

I think that the thesis that we?re headed for an environmental disaster is a bit extreme and a little too broad. Sure we?ve got our problem today, but they may just be part of the natural rhythm of things. The problems may be less serious than we?ve made them out to be, like UV radiation and global warming. In the past global temperatures have fluctuated greatly without excess carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere by humans (Chem. in Context 97). So maybe it?s not us. UV radiation is good for some organisms. It allows them to thrive. And the mutations that could result in us could be good too. They promote change and diversity, and who said change is bad? So the real questions is not how badly we?ve endangered the environment, but how badly we?ve endangered ourselves. The environment is not possibly headed towards disaster, we are.

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