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Human Responsibility to Global Warming

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Human’s Responsibility to Global Warming

Amelia Williams

PHI 208 Ethics & Moral Responsibility

Instructor Martha Lang

May 25, 2015


 Scientist predict that the Earth has been in existence for about 4.5 billion years. That’s 4.5 billion years of creatures, oceans, trees, and sunshine with a plethora of thriving ecosystems. Ecosystems that provide a natural functional environment for all people and creatures alike. The Earth has always provided resources for its inhabitants, never asking for anything in return, but now as signs of resource degradation, pollution, and global warming are beginning to threaten extinction for many creatures, it is time to ask what can be done to help. In this essay, I will examine the issue of global warming, through the moral theories of utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics. I will then create an argument about which moral theory is the best for understanding and addressing problems associated with global warming and human’s responsibility in helping to decrease global warming.

When thinking of environmental responsibility certain things come to mind such as waste reduction, air quality improvements, and the preservation of natural resources. Most things that come to mind makes up or contributes to the improvement of the global warming dilemma. Global warming is a gradual increase in the overall temperature of Earth’s atmosphere. This increase is usually contributed to the greenhouse effect which is caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. Humans contribute to this atmospheric increase in a variety of ways. Trenberth, 2001, explains human contribution and the greenhouse effect this way,

Land use (e.g., farming and building cities), storage and use of water (e.g., dams reservoirs, and irrigations), generation of heat (e.g., furnaces), and the use of fossil fuels are the human-induced environmental changes that most influence the climate. The use of fossil fuels introduce visible particulate pollution (called aerosols) and gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, both of which alter the balance of radiation on Earth. These gases are relatively transparent to incoming solar radiation, yet they absorb and reemit outgoing infrared radiation. The resulting blanketing effect is known as the greenhouse effect, and the gases involved are called greenhouse gases (2001, p. 10).  

Clearly, we as humans have contributed to this dilemma and we should do something to help.

        In 2009, a case study which was started in 1989 in Penang Island, Malaysia to investigate the global warming trend, concluded that climate change had taken place regionally due to the rapid urbanization of Penang Island (Abdullah, Lim, Jafri &Rajah, 2009). During this study 15 years of data was used to monitor the temperature of the land and to identify the source of climate change, which was a rapid increase in the proportion of people living in their urban areas as compared to their rural areas. This rapid urbanization has the ability to create negative climate change. Studies like the one mentioned here help to prove that we as humans are constantly finding more and more ways to improve upon a world that is already providing more than the bare essentials needed for living today. So, if we as humans are the main contributors to this global warming dilemma shouldn’t we be responsible for making changes to improve the environment in which we live? Let’s look at it through the moral theories of utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics.

        Utilitarianism is the moral theory that is based on utility or happiness. Utilitarianisms feel that if the consequences of an act produces the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people, that act should be carried out (Mosser, 2014). In short, if overall human happiness is supported, then the act or actions are right. Since the issue of global warming is threatening water supplies and human’s ways of living, happiness would increase if the problem started to decrease. When considering the issue of global warming and human responsibility through utilitarianism a utilitarian would conclude that a human is morally responsible for taking steps to reduce the global warming dilemma we are facing right now. Human’s responsibility to help reduce global warming would be morally right because it generates the greatest good and also minimizes unhappiness.  

        Deontology is the moral theory of duty and obligation. Deontologist feel that actions, rather than consequences, should take precedence when making a decision. The theory of deontology states we are morally obligated to act in accordance with a certain set of principles and rules regardless of the outcomes. Immanuel Kant accounts for two sets of moral beliefs upon which deontology is set. The two beliefs are that a person who does something because it is the morally right thing to do is especially commendable, more than a person who does something for some sort of gain and a moral person is willing to live by the same rules he or she believes all others ought to follow (Kant, I. 2008). The crucial point of deontology is that the right action is taken and the goal of the moral behavior is performed. Since humans have contributed so much to the global warming problem it is only right to help decrease the problem. When considering global warming and human responsibility from a deontological view it would only be right to apply the deontological categorical imperative which would see the issue of human’s responsibility in helping to decrease global warming as a requirement or demand that has no exceptions.

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