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Ethics Of Conserving Depletable Resources
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Ethics Of Conserving Depletable Resources

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  • 1. LESSON 14: ETHICS OF CONSERVING DEPLETABLE RESOURCES Today we will discuss the ethics of conserving depletable • It might appear that we have an obligation to conserve resources. resources for future generations because they have an equal Points to be covered in this lesson: right to the limited resources of this planet. • Conservation of resources • Future generations have an equal right to the planet’s limited resources • Economic growth vs conservation • By depleting these resources we are depriving them of what is rightfully theirs • So we ought to do our utmost to practice conservation • To minimize depletion • To avoid violating the rights of future generations However, some of the writers claimed that it is a mistake to think that future generations have rights and there are three main reasons for that: 1. Future generation do not exist right now and may never exist. Since there is a possibility that future generation may never exist, they cannot “possess” rights. What do you mean by the word Conservation? Conservation refers to the saving or rationing of resources for 2. If future generations did have rights, then we might be led future use. to the absurd conclusion that we must sacrifice our entire civilization for their sake. A basic difference between pollution and resource depletion 3. We can only say that someone has a certain right only if we Pollution know that he or she has a certain interest, which that right • Most form of pollution affects present generations (with the protects. The purpose of a right, after all, is to protect the notable exception of nuclear waste) interests of the right-holder, but we are virtually ignorant of • Polluted resources are for the most part renewable what interests future generation will have. • Air and water can be renewed by ceasing to pollute Justice to Future Generations them • John Rawls that while it is unjust to impose • And allowing them time to recover disproportionately heavy burdens on present generations for the sake of future generations, it is also unjust for present Resource Depletion generations to leave nothing for future generations. • Resource depletion affects future generations • Two unjust extremes • Concerned with finite nonrenewable resources • To impose disproportionately heavy conservation • Since they cannot be renewed burdens on the present generation (unfair to us) • What will be around for future generations is just • To leave virtually nothing for future generations what’s left over from the present (unfair to them) Resource depletion forces two main kinds of questions on us: Justice requires that we hand over to the next generation a 1. Why ought we to conserve resources for future generations, situation no worse than the one we received from our and ancestors. 2. How much should we conserve? • This point is seconded by considerations of care Rights of Future Generations • We have a fairly direct relationship of care and concern towards the immediately following generation, and, less and less towards more and more distant future generations. • Ethics of acre imply that we should attempt to see matters from the perspective of the immediately succeeding generations which suggests that we should “at least leave the succeeding generation a world that is not worse than the one we received” 11.292 43
  • 2. • Utilitarian Analysis also favors this theory: endangered species; that we should take steps to ensure that the Each generation has a duty to maximize the future beneficial rate of consumption of fossil fuels and of minerals does not consequences of its actions and to minimize their future continue to rise; that we should cut down our consumption and injurious consequences for succeeding generations, as well as production of those goods that depend on nonrenewable themselves. However, utilitarians have claimed, these future resources; that we should recycle nonrenewable resources; that consequences should be “discounted” in proportion to their we should search for substitutes for materials that we are too uncertainty and to their distance in the future. rapidly depleting. Unfortunately, we cannot rely on market mechanisms to Economic Growth? ensure that scarce resources are conserved for future However, to many observers conservation measures fall far short generations. The market registers only the effective demands of what is needed. Several writers have argued that if we are to of present participants and the actual supplies presently being preserve enough scarce resources so that future genera- tions can made available. maintain their quality of life at a satisfactory level, we shall have to William Shepherd and Clair Wilcox explained six reasons for change our economies substantially, particu-larly by scaling down the heavy discounting or “live for today” character of markets our pursuit of economic growth Others argue that economic systems will have to abandon their goal of steadily Multiple access: If a resource can be used by several different increasing pro-duction, and put in its place the goal of extractors, then the shared access will inevitably lead the resource to decreasing production until it has been scaled down to “a steady be depleted too fast state”- that is, a point at which “the total popula-tion and the • For example: several people with straws in the same total stock of physical wealth are maintained constant at some milkshake, it will be in the private interest of each to suck desired levels by a ‘minimal’ rate of maintenance throughout faster to get the most for themselves (that is, by birth and- death rates that are equal at the lowest Time preferences and myopia: Firms generally have short feasible level, and by physical pro-duction and consumption time horizons rates that are equal at the lowest feasible level).”The conclusion • Under the stresses of competition that economic growth must be abandoned if society is to be able to deal with the problems of diminishing resources has • Apt to give insufficient weight to the demands of future been chal-lenged. It is at least arguable that adherence to generations continual economic ‘growth promises to degrade the quality of Inadequate forecasting: Present users may simply fail to life of future generations. foresee future The arguments for this claim are simple, stark, and highly • Consequences for example: DDT spraying in the 50s no one controversial. If the world’s economies continue to pursue the foresaw that it would build up in the environment with goal of economic growth the demand for depletable resources harmful effects will continue to rise. But since world resources are finite, at some Special influences: point supplies will simply run out. We can expect a collapse of • Short run tax breaks and other incentives the major economic institutions (that is, of manufacturing and financial institutions, communication networks, the service • Encourage overly rapid use of resources industries) which in turn will bring down the political and social External effects: institutions (that is, centralized govern- ments, education and • Resource depletion like pollution, an external cost, not borne cultural programs, scientific and technological development, directly by the firm .So it’s in the economic self interest of the health care). Living standards will then decline precipitously in firm to ignore this cost the wake of widespread star-vation and political dislocations. Various scenarios for this sequence of events have been Distribution: private market decisions are based on existing constructed, all of them more or less specula- tive and necessarily patterns of wealth and income distribution based on uncertain assumptions. • Resource users, in effect, vote with their dollars about what to • Doomsday Scenario produce in what amounts so the richer the individual the more say they have in what the market produces • If the present situation continues • Future generations — having as yet no wealth or income — • Explosive population growth will happen because of have as yet no “vote” • Declining death rates The only means of conserving for the future, then, appears to be • Relatively stable birth rates voluntary policies of conservation. Rawl’s view implies that while • World’s economies continue to expand we should not sacrifice the cultural advances we have made, we • Causing depletable resources to run out: deplete to should adopt voluntary or legal measures to conserve those point they’re insufficient to sustain further growth resources and environmental benefits that we can reasonably assume our immediate posterity will need if they are to live lives • World’s growth-based economies (virtually all of them) with a variety of available choices comparable, at least, to ours. collapse This means that we should preserve wild life and • Collapse of major economic institutions • Financial 44 11.292
  • 3. • Manufacturing • Net flow of energy out of these low-consuming • Communication populations’ regions for the sake of our high- consuming lifestyle • Service • Americans use much of this energy for non- essential • Collapse of political and social institutions products and services • Governments • Low-consuming populations: most consumption • Educational institutions goes for essential products and services • Health-care systems Overview • Scientific & cultural institutions & pursuits • Conservation refers to the saving or rationing of resources • Precipitous decline in living standards for future use. • Anarchy and political disorder • Finite resources pose a challenge to future economic growth. • Somalialization of the world Activity • Something like the end the anti-growth argument urges Whether a high-consumption nation is morally justified in us to pursue will be achieved the hard way continuing to appropriate for its own use the nonrenewable • Population levels will be drastically and rapidly reduced energy resources of low-consumption nations that are too weak by skyrocketing death rates economically to use these resources, or too weak militarily to • Already life-expectancies in Africa have protect them. precipitously declined due to AIDs Think about this. Ask your faculty to divide the class in two • Just a bump in the road of progress or a sign of groups and start discussing this point. things to come • Resource use will be drastically and rapidly reduced by economic collapse • If not the end of civilization forever • At least the dawn of another dark age • Criticism of the Doomsday Scenario: According to experts the estimation of this scenario is based on wrong assumptions • About future population growth • About productivity rates • About our inability to find substitutes for depleted resource • About the ineffectiveness of recycling Is Americanization of the World a Sustainable Vision for the Future? Think about this question and discuss it within groups. • Example of energy use • U.S.A. • Has 5% of the world’s population • Currently account for 35% of world’s energy resource consumption • Least developed nations • 50% of the world’s population • Currently account for 8% of the world’s energy resource consumption • Per-capita comparisons: each U.S. resident consumes • 15 times more energy than each South American • 24 times more energy than each Asian • 31 times more energy than each African • Exploitation issue: Are we using up their resources • U. S. produces only a portion of the energy it consumes 11.292 45
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