Global Warming: Who Will Do the Dishes?

Jul 25th, 2014 | By | Category: Global Warming

Times News Network: The problems that will affect future generations have roots in the actions we take today. Whether we keep exploiting our environment or turn towards sustainable development, it will have an effect on the environmental legacy that future generations receive. An ethical decision or the lack of it can turn the tide on future environmental issues. The effect that global warming and climate change can have on a particular nation varies in degree. For example, a country like India could suffer massive droughts and Antarctica could become the next Amazon basin. The “where and how” of the crisis caused by climate change is unpredictable. The only thing predictable is the precautions we take to avert the damage of such a crisis.

The degree of precautions to be taken by each country depends on the level of development of the nation. For a developed country, the enforcement of environmental policies is much easier than for a developing nation. In developed countries, the existing rules encompass environmental well-being keeping in mind the basic standard of living for each person. The low population in developed countries is an added bonus that makes enforcement a lot easier. In Canada, every government agency is required to complete an environmental cost benefit analysis (CBA) before taking on a project. The Canadian government uses this method to determine the pros and cons of a future project. For example, if the benefits (public park used by the local community for recreation and community gardening) outweigh the negatives (such as loss of prime developable land), then the cost benefit analysis suggests the need to conserve the open space rather than develop it.

Any ethical decision becomes easier when public policy tools such as CBA or regulatory agencies (Environment Canada and the Ministry of Environment and Forest for India) are in place. For most developing countries, the underdevelopment, lack of effective regulatory bodies and low public awareness about environmental issues create a barrier for sound decision-making in situations of environmental challenges. The lack of development not only leads to a ‘pro-development and no-environment’ approach, but also results in unsustainable decisions.

For a unique country like India where languages and cultures change every few kilometers, the government is required to satisfy local needs in order to implement any decisions. Interning for a government agency such as the City and Industrial Development Corporation of New Bombay (CIDCO), I witnessed several instances where ‘morchas’ or organized rallies of local political parties or unions caused havoc if their needs were not addressed. These morchas consist of villagers, political leaders, project affected people and women support groups to name a few. In order to tackle environmental problems in development, it has to be done with a lot of public support and a clear sense of ethics. Addressing the local issues of unemployment, rehabilitation, poverty, illiteracy, gender rights, economic development as well as environmental issues cannot be in silos like “environment” or “development”.

Although universal in some ways, the ethics that a bureaucrat in India uses is vastly different from that of a Canadian civil servant. Development and the environment will always be addressed as a trade-off but if balanced, it can lead to overall improvement. The developing countries need to achieve a standard of living that somewhat matches that of the developed nations. This higher standard of living cannot be achieved without the ethical dilemma that haunts every environmental vs developmental situation. With no sustainable development there is rampant greed and exploitation of the environment. We can ensure that the development is sustainable through meeting local and environmental needs. However, it is inevitable that the environment will have to be compromised in some way or another when dealing with large scale development.

By having a higher sense of ethical duty towards the environment, the developed nations can help balance the temporarily lower sense of ethical duty exhibited by the developing nations. The scenario of the developed nations stepping up to the challenge is necessary and the need of the hour, as developing nations will need future guidance in combating climate change. The story of dirty dishes comes to my mind when talking about responsibility in the global warming issue; at some point during last year, my roommate and I had our pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Like all university students, we were no exception to procrastination. The dishes probably remained there for a whole two days before one of us gave in to our guilty conscience and started cleaning up. The minute one of us started washing the other one immediately offered to help with the cleaning process. At that point it didn’t matter who put them there; it just had to be cleaned before a greater threat of smell and rodents was added to the messy situation. Similarly someone needs to step up and clean the existing mess that affects our planet. Our guilty conscience needs to kick in before it’s too late. It is easier for developed nations to tackle this issue at this point rather than a developing nation where basic water needs aren’t getting fulfilled.

Environmentalists such as Garrett Hardin and Rachel Carson believe in giving intrinsic value to the environment. If we don’t assign value to something, we tend to take it for granted. Nowadays this value is calculated in cold hard monetary terms. However, if we choose to protect future generations we need to assign a moral value to the environment. An ethical solution is that which considers the needs of an entity that does not have a voice or can be considered morally relevant. The environment is one such entity that requires our protection and utilizing the theory of intergenerational justice is one such outlook towards not compromising the obligations to the future with the needs of the present.

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