Skip to content

Moral Obligations and Global Warming

June 30, 2010

Moral Obligations and Global Warming

Denise Scammon

Global Ethics

Professor Hammer

June 29, 2010

There are two sides to the global warming issue: on one side are people who believe global warming is occurring and that we need to change our activities that contribute to global warming, and on the other side are people who believe global warming is not occurring and that it is a myth. Boss uses global warming as an example of a prescriptive statement which is deduced from a descriptive statement. The descriptive statement is about an increase in temperature over a specific period of time – this is a statement based on empirical fact. From the descriptive statement, after critical analysis one can deduce a prescriptive statement which is a statement that expresses a value in the form of what ought to be. There are several immature defense mechanisms that people may use as the basis for why they do not believe that global warming is taking place on this planet. One of these immature defense mechanisms is ignorance, a form of resistance, which may stem from several sources: lack of available knowledge or avoidance of available knowledge. Boss (2008) states that ignoring global warming will not make it go away, but will cause it “to get worse” (p. 42).

Cynics doubt that there is truth in the science of global warming and reject scientific facts that support the reality of global warming. According to Boss (2008), “Cynicism is a means of resisting philosophical thought because it hinders analysis” (p. 15). By rejecting the evidence that supports global warming, non-believers feel that they do not have a moral obligation to reduce their activities that contribute to global warming. Suggestions for helping to reduce the speed at which global warming is occurring have been widely publicized for many years and include activities that reduce, reuse, and recycle; driving a low gas mileage car; insulating buildings better; and using environmentally-friendly light bulbs. These suggestions are not extreme by most standards, and the consequences of following these suggestions would benefit the entire planet. The idea of looking at the consequences of actions is known as utilitarianism which is a consequentialist theory. Boss (2008) states that, “An action is right or wrong depending on the consequences of that action. The happiness of the community is the proper goal of our actions” (p. 309).

A utilitarian might implement public policy directed at global warming. Boss (2008) notes that, “British philosopher Jeremy Bentham advocated utilitarianism primarily as a tool of social reform” (p. 309). John Stuart Mill included in his theory of utilitarianism the idea that the principle of nonmaleficence did not allow people and governments to prevent others from actions except if those actions resulted in harm. Global warming is harming our planet, and so the principle of nonmaleficence is a good foundation for public policy against actions that are known to have global warming effects. Harmful human activities which cause global warming are opposed by Confucian ethics. Boss (2008) notes that, “The Confucian emphasis on universal harmony includes the duty to act in harmony with nature” (p. 317). Confucian ethics stresses that our moral duties are relative to our family and our community and that our moral duties “could be used to formulate public policy and to provide people with a stable and harmonious social order” (Boss, 2008, p. 314). In Asia, environmentalists have created the Green Confucian movement for the social reform of actions that cause global warming. These Asian environmentalists of the Green Confucian movement apply their moral values to their actions in order to do what is right.

I think that global warming is a real phenomenon because a lot of empirical data exists to support the case for it. People can look at the scientific evidence that supports the occurrence of global warming and come to the logical conclusion that it is real – prescriptive and descriptive statements. I have to wonder what people think is to be gained by making up evidence that supports global warming or any other claim. Ignorance and cynicism have not made global warming go away. I believe that followers of consequentialism and Confucian ethics are the people who will most help in creating public policy aimed at reducing global warming. I feel that weighing the pros and cons of reducing human activities that contribute to global warming can only lead to one conclusion which is that global warming is occurring and there are things we can do to slow it down. Thus, public policy should be implemented to reduce global warming.


Boss, J. (2008). Ethics for life: A text with readings. (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.


Enhanced by Zemanta
No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: