Environmental Change: A Matter of Justice
A glance at any given day’s headlines is enough to tell you that the environment is in crisis. Global warming gets most of the attention, and deservedly so: we throw 30 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year, much of it from the burning of fossil fuels. Anyone who thinks you can throw 30 billion tons of anything anywhere and not have an effect is sadly mistaken. The effect of global warming on the glaciers and the Arctic / Antarctic ecosystems is well known. Perhaps less well known is that the oceans absorb about 22 million tons of CO2 each day. This causes a change in the acidity of the oceans and since marine ecosystems have adapted to a particular acidity over the millennia, any change that occurs over the space of a few decades can be catastrophic to their existence. In early 2009, 155 ocean scientists from 26 countries issued the Monaco Declaration which said, in part: “We are deeply concerned by recent, rapid changes in ocean chemistry and their potential, within decades, to severely affect marine organisms. ... Increasing acidity and related changes in seawater chemistry also affect reproduction, behavior, and general physiological function of some marine organisms, such as oysters, sea urchin, and squid.”
This is only one of the numerous environmental issues that need to be addressed. Also important are the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico (currently at 8800 square miles), desertification due to the destruction of forests (worldwide, expanding deserts make approximately 30 million acres useless for cultivation every year), the deforestation of the Amazon, the pollution of Rio de Janeiro and its bay, overfishing in the world's oceans, and the problem of garbage (in 2004, American households generated 236 million tons of garbage of which 164 million tons were simply thrown away – but thrown away where?).
These issues raise ethical questions about who we are and how we should interact with the environment. It is simply not sustainable for us to pollute the environment as we continue to consume a huge proportion of the Earth's resources. There is a need for a change in our basic values; one set of values are summarized by the moral imperatives put forth by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess under the heading “Deep Ecology.”
The purpose of this website is to bring these issues to light for education and discussion. It is only by educating ourselves that we can hope to change our behavior in a way that recognizes our role in the survival of the Earth and, not coincidentally, ourselves. The issues are not new. Earth Day began in the 1970’s, which is as distant to us today as World War II was to the generation of young people that took part in the first Earth Day. Yet what is different now is that the time for talk is past. We either work to change how we interact with the environment or there will be nothing left with which to interact. The changes we will have made will be irreversible and we will have no hope of adapting.
There are signs of change: plaNYC is a good beginning for New York City; a Zero Waste Policy is receiving serious attention, especially in San Francisco; socially responsible investing sends the message that while profits matter, they are not all that matter.
Environmental issues are complex and we invite you to browse through this website and make it a springboard for your own individual activities. We invite your contributions through blogging and through the writing of articles. What have you done? What are you willing to do to change the direction of yourself, your family, your friends, your community?
We mustn't be so comfortable with how things are that we find no incentive to change: the long term consequences are real and they are dire. Now is the time to change. Now is the time to implement a new set of values. Be informed, understand the options, then act.
Complexity is not an excuse for inaction.
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