The views of others would be welcome on this question: If climate is changing in ways that will adversely affect the planet, is this a moral issue?

Let’s assume for purposes of this question that there is a “tipping point” beyond which heating of the climate cannot be reversed and that this change will bring about mass migrations, rise in coastal water levels, upheaval of crop patterns, drying up of major water sources, and so forth.  Assume further that populations in both democracies and autocratic regimes are not responding to arguments having to do with science, politics, policy, international treaties, and the range of debates now surrounding the climate issue.  They are not responding for two basic reasons: the debate is too complex and remote; and they feel helpless about it in any case, even if they took time to understand it.

For those of us who accept the warnings of senior military figures that this is an international security issue of major, historical proportions, what can be done?  Perhaps the whole climate issue is being managed on the wrong plane.  Perhaps the issue isn’t about us.  Perhaps the issue is about our children.  Perhaps public opinion and sentiment can be activated by this argument: we do not have the moral right to risk damage to the planet our children will inherit.

Veterans of this blogsite know that its author is transfixed by the fact that the preamble to our Constitution sets out the purposes for the creation of the United States as being goals and principles ”for ourselves and our posterity.”  The Founders were looking into the future.  They wanted this great experiment in republican democracy to last.  Yet today we live in a culture that principally thinks only of itself and only of today.

So, whatever one’s religion, and whatever one’s politics, we all ought to agree that we have no right to endanger our children.  It has always seemed to me to be a vastly underplayed card in the world of global politics that one common denominator unites all mankind: we care about our children.  It is as fundamental to human nature as any other attribute.  That being the case, could we not agree that, while scientists continue to refine the data and seek concurrence, and diplomats continue to negotiate treaties, and politicians continue (hopefully) to educate their constituents, we are accountable to generations born and unborn for this planet, and that we have a moral duty not to damage it by heating the climate or detonating nuclear weapons.

It has been wisely said that we do not own the earth: we take it from our parents and hold it in trust for our children.  When all is said and done, and we are called upon to account for our lives on earth, this may well be the standard we must meet.

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20 Responses to “Setting a Standard by which to Judge Our Lives”

  1. Parker Jackson Says:

    Excellent post, sir. I believe that there is a ‘tipping point’ and that because it is impossible to quantify the inertia of our collective impact on the environment that we depend on for all life, we must proactively reduce the weight our ‘footprint’… otherwise are setting ourselves up for disaster. No doubt the problem is complicated, but we certainly have the ability to set a more sustainable course for the generations ahead.

  2. Brian Ross Says:

    Gary, as always, thought provoking and beautifully written. Thank you for your help in saving (some) land for the children. Brian Ross

  3. Forest Henry Book Says:

    Thank you for posing this issue Mr. Hart. It speaks to the central change in dogmatic thinking essential for our actions at present to be based on two core shifts in thinking (thinking manifest in total as action); 1: All Living Things and 2: Our mark on history should be that historians can say of our age: “When confronted with the rigors of effort to repair, and repurpose global culture so as to alter the course of ruin, our grand generations chose: “Now Won.” Imagine: now, won…

    We seem to be in a ceaseless tail chasing rut where the tail we are chasing is profit at the expense of all living things. All the while knowing exactly what must be done; and having known what must be done for decades.

    RFK told us a long time ago to reformulate the GDP to include, essentially all the ideas, and ideals that define humanity as not central to, but a responsible part of the nurture and care of all living things.

    If it war that must be waged, then let it be against this archaic and arcane violence to a war against ecocide, genocide, and apathy as long as the wireless network is up.

    I keep asking the question: “Given the state of world, and the headlines that show us the state of the world: What kind of leaders are these people really?”

    Look at the world anew: EARTHEARTH and C:our:age : All Living Things.

    There are many more components to this shift and repurpose of thinking, many of which confront our assessment of profit models, and which should not be a profit models any longer.

  4. Ken Fasano Says:

    An ethical question is one that asks “what is the greatest good?” From our development from animals to humans, and over time, from our development from tribes to nations to united nations to the planet symbolized by the famous photo of Earth from space, our definition of the “greatest” good has expanded. It is not simply a constitutional (national) or religious (tribal) question, but a planetary one, the greatest ethical question we have ever had to ask, because its impact has the greatest implications for the entire planet over thousands of years.

  5. Publius Says:

    What continues to concern me in the midst of the catastrophe in Gulf and the economic meltdown is our societies inability to take personal responsibility. We seem eager to find anyone and everyone to blame, be it President Obama, BP or the Congress for our disasters. Yet, we all continue to perpetuate a non-sustainable lifestyle; we drive our cars and buy our petro-junk as if there is no connection. Until the people of this and other industrialized nations take responsibility for our voracious appetites and wastefulness nothing will change. Asking for moderation and conservation is unfortunately, political suicide, just look at what happened to President Carter. What then is the solution? I fear that it will take a mega-catastrophe, perhaps a Cat 5 hurricane slamming the oil into the Gulf Coast of Florida could be the wake up call this nation needs. Certainly the continuing destruction in Gulf of Mexico hasn’t been enough.

  6. Neal Taslitz, Esq. Says:

    I fear for my son’s generation, as do many of my peers that have children in college or children who recently graduated with good grades from college but are unemployed as a result of the difficult times we are now experiencing.

    We are not addicted to oil as much as we are addicted to a lifestyle that uses far more energy than we produce as a nation.

    Publius’ comments about conservation are right on target, as they relate to those leaders who advocate conservation. However, since we are fighting two wars we ought to be conserving energy, and making personal sacrifices so that our children can live in a world that was better than ours. I believe conserving energy during a time of war is a duty of a patriotic citizen.

    It is upsetting to see American auto manufacturers continue to produce high performance cars that boast about horse power and luxury, as if that is what we really need.

    Also, in response to Puplius, Florida would have a hard time surviving a Cat 5 hurricane mixed with oil and methane.

    Americans understand the changes in lifestyle that have to occur if we want to leave our children with a planet that they can continue to enjoy without the fear of losing it to those who would rather exploit it for their own profits. It will not be easy to make lifestyle changes, but unless we start now, things are bound to get much worse for future generations.

  7. Forest Henry Book Says:

    The re-alignment of “what is next” is as simple as our actions removing products from shelves. One proposal for transportation I find interesting is a taxation on automobiles base not on the mileage driven, but more a tax structure built on the miles per gallon: the less mpg the higher the tax rate. The higher the mpg the lower the tax rate. The stimulus monies failed in that they perpetuated the archaic dogma of interstate travel/transport. Why were they not used in bulk to begin a much more prolific rail travel/transport system? Why are we not teaching/consciousness shaping the citizenry to think of trash not as recycling, but as “profit stream.” Rethink: Repair : Repurpose : Reuse. > We can not afford fear, we can not afford another catastrophe. Rhetoric must be dispensed with. Discussions are done. The time is now to Implement programs, and modify as we move forward. > If we must blame someone or something: The blame must be layed squarely on the shoulders of “greed.” > Greed is clearly not good. It is in fact toxic. > All Living Things is the New Profit Model: Farming, Education, applied use of technology as removing cars from the highway; the Arts, Health, Wellness (including all animal, mineral and plant life). Its about time to repurpose our “We the People” to “All for One and One for All. All living things.” > I believe ardently “Yes We Can.” > To wars of violence we must say, “We have had enough of this easy nonsense. Violence is the easy, cowards way out. Its time to get real and onto the hard work of betterment.” > I doubt I am wrong, and definitely believe it can be done.

  8. Wm. Scott Pappert Says:

    As moralism is secularly defined as ‘a doctrine of right conduct’, it imbues upon a people or group of people the task of deliberating that course of conduct, aside from the religious connotation that morality derives principles and paths to those principles as inspiration from a ‘higher authority’. We therefore need to look no further than the guidelines that govern us — the US Constitution — as citizens collectively, irrespective of religious belief. The argument is made that it is the self determinative events of men and women throughout US history that has determined ‘right conduct’ as evidenced by judicial proceedings, precedent and rulings that has shaped the Constitution and the laws of the land that we live in. That history is rife with examples of environmental, corporate as well as human abuses. Unfortunately, what this portends is that the legal means of determining ‘right conduct’ is reactive and in it’s reactivity, does not necessarily serve aggregate America but those which are perceived to be driving the engine of that history. This does not bode well for those in minority power and in today’s electoral environment, even those commissioned with the power of the vote as evidenced by modern gerrymandering of elections through redistricting and suspicious Supreme Court election decisions. Therefore it is absolutely necessary for those that believe that the principles of this democracy include ‘right conduct’ issues such as protection or preservation of the environment and that these issues are not partisan debates (as evidenced by Teddy Roosevelt’s passion for protecting the environment) or unspoken ‘rights’ espoused to those with economic privilege or legislative influence, gather and speak loudly to those deaf ears that drive ‘progress’. It is not a choice between progress or no progress, but the path, means and into whose coffers that progress is driven. The apparent shortcuttings of BP in fomenting the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and the subsequent long term damage to the ‘small people’ it will cause is just such an abuse that may/may not shape history given the myopic attitude and distorted lack of connection ‘progress’ driven people have. This attitude has been painfully reflected recently by decisions of the supposed safeguards and gatekeepers of the ‘rule of law’ of the Constitution — the US Supreme Court.

  9. Robin L. Ore Says:

    Geo-terrorism, whether deliberate or due to negligence is not a needed “wake up call”, usually a euphamism for allocations of huge budgets to FEMA for subcontractors, like Halliburton. It is an attack on our territory and the inheritance of life support for future generations. Combating it is a matter of life and death for future generations. Natural disasters are tragic, but manmade ones cannot be dismissed. The last thing the United States “needs” is more of the same to “wake us up”. We are awake. We just want to know who is responsible, how and why it happened and how it can be prevented in the future, so it can be fixed and never happen again.

    Of course, we said that about WWII, and 9/11, yet we still do not know the real answers to those questions. As a result, the wrong groups are usually blamed, the wrong actions are taken, and the wrong results are created, while the misdirection allows the “problem” to continue in all sorts of different directions. Right now, the children are in far greater risk of mind control and kidnapping by pedophiles than any other danger, but it is dismissed and not discussed while news making lucrative disasters unfold. The money goes into the disaster, not projects for children.

    The short lived information about the submarine that veered off course from Cuba to Venezuela just prior to this incident, still is not raised even though there is another gaping hole found, leaking oil. How did that get there? Was it a torpedo entrance point? The energy grabbing Chinese military are oddly quiet and conservation of energy is not nearly as important as energy production initiatives for our own people. Then, our future generations will have a country and one that remains on the top of World power and lifestyle, able to assist the rest of the World. Otherwise, so-called “conservation” may look more for them as it does now for the poor and forgotten in Africa…controlled to the point of no food, no water, no clothes, no love and no life.

  10. Tomas Agee Says:

    I spent part of last week attending a conference in New Orleans. Of course, there was a lot of discussion about the BP oil gush. One person suggested that this calamity resulted from human failure, thus was immoral, while Katrina was a natural disaster. Another person rejoindered that Katrina was every bit as immoral because it, too, resulted from human error, arguing that it could have been and was anticipated that the levies could fail.

  11. niceguysneverfinish Says:

    “we are accountable to generations born and unborn for this planet, and that we have a moral duty not to damage it by heating the climate or detonating nuclear weapons.”
    I disagree with you Mr. Hart. I don’t think anyone is ‘accountable’ for the future. I do understand your positive stance but it is clear that there is going to be no Moral accounting for humanities actions.

    That isn’t this life.

  12. Ron 'Hollywood' Parro Says:

    Although I agree it is important to give our children a planet save to live on it is also important to teach them to live regardless of what the condition of the planet.
    We are all pretty arrogant thinking we can do something that could permanently leave the planet uninhabitable. This planet has been around for a long time and we don’t have near the power we think we have.
    We are first and foremost an adaptable species and we will, if we have the resources. If we keep concentrating the wealth in the hands of the smallest and least forward thinking of us our children will not have much of a chance.
    If we keep taking away the education opportunities while trying to turn our children into zombies of the elite state they don’t stand a chance to adapt.
    Most of the climate change argument is made to shift the wealth from the current energy producers to the next group of energy producers. Our children are stuck in the middle with no real education and no real tools to adapt to the changing world they are being left.
    If we keep our eyes on the human morality on the planet I think the planet can take care of itself.

  13. Bette S Baysinger Says:

    Mr. Hart,
    When you say, “whatever one’s religion” when considering the morality of how we treat the earth, you imply that religion is a requirement to being a “moral” person. A person able to make moral decisions concerning the good of other and “posterity” can be nonreligious; they can be free from the limiting belief systems of all three main religions while being moral in deed.

    America was founded on religious freedom, freedom of religion which to really be a freedom must include freedom FROM religion being a requirement in our society, in any society as a measure of a persons morality. It does not require buying into a religious belief system to be a moral or ethical person.

    It requires not manipulating the Absolute Free Will of other for your own profit (any kind) at others expense, we call it being a “good” person, or doing “good.” The opposite of that is obvious, and that is “evil”, while being aware of “evil” being done to other and NOT trying to protect other is a little evil, in my book anyway. Stopping evil from being inflicted on other is good if you can do it, again in my book. That is my morality, my ethics, and that should be good enough without being forced into an outgrown social norm of Religious Beliefs that at best are illogical.

    Belief systems meant to control use fear as the weapon of choice, there are many more belief systems than just religions. Fear is the opposite of love. Religion uses fear of death to control, fear of hell, fear of wrath, just all kinds of fear. Death though, that is the kicker, be good or you won’t see your loved ones. Besides being wrong, it’s just mean, and a lie. When you dream your dream seems real, and this seems not real, not physical. When you wake up from a dream it sort of fades, just drifts off into the background quickly as we readjust to being here again. When we die we just wake up somewhere other than here, but we do reincarnate back to here at some point, probably.

    When enough people are able to know that this is a fact for themselves that what we learned all this life is not just wasted, that all our interactions with other mattered, and that what we are is conserved when we “die” here, then taking better care of the earth will be a lot easier because it is US that will have to live here again. We are still self centered beings, mostly, so if enough people realized that, hey, I’m going come back so this place needs us to help keep it in balance, then we’ll be nicer to the earth.

    It is in the nature of the earth to change, the earth is a dynamic, recycling machine that has a balance that we are messing with because we are so dirty. The earth also rotates with an inner core that rotates at a different speed that the outer earth crust is rotating. This brings hot spots up in different places as this inner/outer rotation spins the crust like it does. You can follow volcano path’s in one of our national parks as evidence of this phenomena. It is ices nature to melt too, but more so when the temperature deep under may be changing too. I do think we need to get off oil, get oil off us, and go with as many different types of “alternative” energy as possible because there is no one answer to this issue.

    We must sift through this issue to see what fact is, and what is fear based propaganda. Follow the money as that usually works. Who ever is invoking the most fear usually has the most money to lose, in my experience.

    Thank you
    Bette S Baysinger

  14. Gary Hart Says:

    Responding to “nicesguysneverfinish”, whether there is, or is not, a final accounting is a matter of one’s own theology and religious upbringing. I believe there will be; others may disagree. Neither of us really knows and thus language like “it is clear” is not persuasive. To Mr. Parro, of course humans can adapt. The issue is whether they are going to be forced to adapt to destructive circumstances when they shouldn’t have to. I fundamentally disagree that we are relieved of obligation by a planet that “can take care of itself.” To the articulate Ms. Baysinger, “whatever one’s religion” is meant to include not having one. Those most concerned with climate deterioration whom I know have no financial stake.

  15. Jeff Simpson Says:

    Climate change, while generally thought to have a large component owing to anthropogenic sources, is not, in my opinion, the principal issue we need to consider, at least in terms of the initial baby steps we should be contemplating.

    Our generation will be reviled for squandering much of the earth’s natural resources. For consuming the fraction of the earth’s fossil fuels that are easily obtained. For tolerating the production of short-lived consumer goods that we discard after only a few years, filling our dumps with so much detritus. For sullying the sky and the seas, for clear-cutting the rainforests.

    When survival was not assured, it made sense to do everything possible to improve one’s lot in life. In that context, it made sense to have biblical passages such as Genesis 1:26 “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”

    Alas, this mentality persists long after the need for it has passed. James Watt, Secretary of the Interior under Reagan, was a firm believer that the earth was put there for us to exploit in any conceivable way.

    Back in the days of Chaucer, one of the ideals to which the noble (or moral) individual would subscribe was sufficiency. Any consumption beyond that required to keep body and soul together was viewed as an extravagance. A return to this humble aspiration would mark a sifnificant retreat from the delusional mantra that persists today which is: “We can grow our way out of this recession.”

    Jimmy Carter ran for re-election in 1980 on a platform of reason and moderation, but he lost out to Reagan’s promise that our children would enjoy a higher standard of living than we had. Reagan’s vision was embraced and so here we are today, a generation later, with Reagan long dead, not knowing the terrible course he put us on.

    The forces of greed do their best to confuse and delay, and now they are even making a play — using the Texas School Board as their proxy — to change the educational system so that the liberal bias of reality can be combatted with Orwellian perverions of language, to the obvious detriment of lucid thought, cognitive function, and the recognition of causal relationships. A subterranean revolution is playing out whose stakes are the minds of the next generation. I admire the right for its dedication, but not for its goal, which is greedy, selfish, and above all short-sighted.

  16. Jay Anderson Says:

    Mr. Hart,

    I came of age during the mid-late 1980s and remember your name quite well. Of course growing up with a newspaper close by or television always on the news began my passion for current events. One event in particular was the growing hole in the ozone layer and CFCs had to be eliminated in order to preserve this protective shield against the sun’s rays and heating. This at the time was being blamed for the remarkably high (at least this was portrayed as such) cases of sking cancer. If we just did our part…..

    Now 20 years later and those that disdain the hoi polloi have issued an edict since they know better (right?), this time in the form of meshing of science and entertainment, are telling us to do more. Why did I cease using hairspray (and recycle)? However this time it is different. During the ozone panic auto body shop owners charged extra for handling AC freon (I recall them ‘having’ to capture it). This time the stakes are bigger, serious profits are to be made and those “lucky” enough (whether by design, political connections or by other questionable means) stand to have their pockets stuffed.

    Whether it is markets or politics, life and time is created in dimensions and their foundation are built upon trending patterns spurned by statistics and probabilities. At one time nearly the entire planet was covered by ice. A great majority of this had melted before 1900, in fact before 1800. This was long before these supposed (or at least they are presented as such by the global warming supporters) “evils” such as modern transportation were designed and manufactured. If this is the case no man or social movement or overseas hedge fund investing in green companies will stop such trend. Once again there are the profits to be made.

    How will these profits be procured? Not by innovation, entrepreneurialism or risk taking in the truest form of market participation. No this will be accomplished by political haggling and more legislation (let freedom ring?). We tried that hairspray thing back in the 1980s and now you ask more from me? And what about the heavily polluting nations India, China and Russia? Will it all be for nil if they continue as they are now?

    No the cost of living is projected to be driven up when these politicized and potentially highly profitable theories will be put in place. Hey it is a theory since science doesn’t seem to agree and all information on the subject seems to conflict leaving the reader confused. So with higher costs and I am sure some randy dandy politician(s) will stick a few taxes in there to boot because hey Michigan could use some free shoes; limiting life’s advancements and opportunities will be what you left behind. And I thought you were concerned about posterity.

  17. Bette S Baysinger Says:

    Dear Mr. Hart,
    Thank you for the nice compliment. When a group of what I consider closed-minded skeptics (as opposed to open-minded skeptics) put on a “Blasphemy” contest, I did not think it was “nice” as it seemed hurtful. It actually ended up being useful though as the winner came up with the slogan, “There is no religion like no religion.” When someone says, “whatever ones religion” in reference to their moral standing it forces “religion” on some people who then have to claim “no religion” when no religion is not a religion. Religion is the current default, I am trying to reset that to our reality today.

    There used to be a “spiritual, not religious” category so it would be more correct, less wrong, to say, “whatever ones religion or spirituality” when morality and ethics are the topics. Morality and ethics have nothing to do with religion as the model has outlived its usefulness. For centuries abuse IN the church has been the reality, it is CLEAR that morality and ethics are not part of religion although some religion people can be moral it is not a check for morality. Religion, designed to control with fear of death is manipulative in a bad way, period. Bty, I think psychology is manipulative too, but in the “good” way (see below) usually. They have the APA ethics standards to keep it “good”, psychologists.

    We reincarnate, we get another chance, and we are responsible for our choices (no one died for my “sin” which are simply social norms anyway). Evil is manipulating the Absolute Free Will of other FOR YOUR OWN SELFISH PROFIT while Good is NOT doing that, and Good is also helping other you see getting used in such a way. I personally think its a little evil not to help if you possibly can, but that may just be me. It is simple, it requires no suspending of your own understanding of reality, and it is useful, the model of reality these concepts come from. These ideas are as old as Lao Tzu, or older. They are older than the concept of “God”, more fundamental, more useful. No religion is no religion Mr. Hart.

    Since it is fact that we create our own reality as we perceive the data our sensory modalities receive per our somewhat individualized neural systems, and life experiences, whatever our “reality” IS would be how we understand the world. Religion is just one of MANY belief systems we are pounded with from the day we are reborn that shape our reality. Our belief systems limit our reality, all of them.
    Religion limits us to having to turn over our credibility to something that if looked at from a bigger picture is very illogical. Science limits us by the physics rule-set they are trying so hard to pull out the smallest detail of with LHC , and bigger details of with various space probes while limiting themselves to the physical. Psychology is trying to figure us out by limiting themselves to an idea that the brain derives Consciousness when it is the other way around. There is a lot of reality that limiting belief systems, um, limit us to thinking is not real or important.

    So, rather than saying, as a society when referring to others morality or ethics “whatever one’s religion” a larger, more inclusive, all-inclusive in fact, metaphor would be, “whatever your reality is.”

    We need to say what we mean, and mean what we say. Assuming we all know what we mean is not working.

    Please understand my position as I think it is important. Thank you.
    Bette S Baysinger

  18. Publius Says:

    Miss Ore, I disagree, we as a nation are asleep at the wheel of a big rig that is careening down a crowded freeway taking other drivers
    (countries) to their demise along with us. Mr. Simpson is correct, the government powers in the state of Texas want to dumb-down the population even further. Forget about the pursuit of truth and science, let’s just feed the population the pablum of ignorance so they don’t question the oligarch/corporatists. We are not only asleep, we are close to comatose. We are so willing to go chasing mythical submarines but afraid to look in the mirror because we might not like what we see. We are the blame. We need to collectively be the solution.

  19. Gary Hart Says:

    In response to Jay Anderson, it once more must be said that “science” is overwhelmingly of the opinion that mankind is warming the planet and some think to a near-term, irreversible “tipping point.” I’m confused as to whether you think profits are good or bad: you seem to suggest that profits made from alternative energy are bad but profits made from carbon expand “life’s advancements and opportunities.” We are not doing posterity any favors by rearranging the planet’s current order, as complicated as it already is. And suggesting this issue is all some political ploy (“shoes in Michigan”, whatever that means) doesn’t advance understanding at all.

  20. Marc Says:

    Just saying thanks will not just be sufficient, for that tremendous lucidity in your writing. I can without delay grab your feed to stay up-to-date with any updates.

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