Our global environment is shared by its inhabitants; our global environment is both vulnerable and valuable. It is valuable in the sense that it provides natural resources for its inhabitants which are necessary for the survival of these inhabitants. The environment is vulnerable to maltreatment by its inhabitants. The environment is exposed to many types of issues due to human activity that harm it, this paper identifies these issues, the ethical and social responsibility that man has towards the environment and highlights the need to act to the environment’s vulnerability. This paper also focuses on the decision making possesses involved in making policies that are beneficial to the environment.
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Ethical and social obligations towards the environment
Ethics is a study of the moral choices that people make between right and wrong, people are faced with questions on whether doing the right thing or wrong often, most of these choices concern the environment, examples of such choices are whether to cut down more trees for wood or not? Whether to recycle or not, whether a mining company has the obligation to restore landform and surface ecology or not. These are the types of issues that environmental ethics investigates. These choices may not make much difference to an individual but eventually, these actions have a substantial effect on the environment. The environment faces serious ethical issues as its inhabitants limit their actions to those that benefit them and their descendants not thinking about the long term effects of their actions on the environment. Rather, man should act carefully not to waste the environment’s natural resources so as not to make any present or future people worse off.
In a letter from Chief Seattle to President Franklin Pierce in 1885, Chief Seattle said that the earth does not belong to man but man belongs to the earth, whatever befalls the earth befalls on man and whatever man did to the planet he so did to himself. These words emphasize the need to be careful and to avoid mismanagement of the environment as it either directly or indirectly affects man.
Environmental ethics have faced several ethical philosophies; these philosophies try to guide man’s behaviour in his relationship with the environment. These ethical philosophies try to instil the moral need for man to act inconsiderate ways towards his environment.
Deep ecology is an ethic that was born in Scandinavia and developed by Naess and others; this ethic endorses the view that all living things are alike in having value and usefulness to others. This is an ethic that if possessed by an individual he would be careful not to harm other creatures that live in his environment or damage their habitat. This ethic discourages individualism and connects a person to his wider natural environment. Naess further developed the ethic of ‘biospheric egalitarianism’ which said that all things big and small had a right to flourish.
Feminism has also tried to explain environmental issues; the claim is that the oppression of women by men has also extended to man’s environment and the animals.
All these ethical philosophies encourage man to act in ways that will not harm the environment in any way so as to preserve it for future generations.
Society, in general, has social responsibilities towards the environment. Most commercial companies have the ethical responsibility to recycle and to offer financial support to environmental conserving initiatives.
The environment faces a lot of problems such as climatic change. Climatic change is brought about by global warming. Global warming is the increase in temperature of the earth near surface air; this is brought about by an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Global warming has a lot of negative effects on the environment other than climatic changes; it leads to a rise in sea level, a rise in temperature due to the greenhouse effect, a rise in temperatures further causes the ice at the poles to melt. The construction of dams has a negative effect on the environment, this is because dams slow the rivers and this causes a disturbance on the pattern of ecology. The difference n the temperature of water in the dams also affect the plant life and microscopic fauna living in the water.
The exploitation of natural resources for industrialization has both direct and indirect effects on the environment, these direct effects are pollution and pollution is not only harmful to the environment but to man as well. The indirect effects are the depletion of natural resources. Natural resources cannot be totally exhausted at a particular moment but the resources become so limited that exploitation of the available becomes so expensive and it becomes uneconomical to exploit the remaining (Agar, 2001). Exploitation is caused by the ever-rising population level on the planet, with an increase in the number of people on the planet their needs also increase and since the environment is the only provider, it is depleted. Excessive use of resources and the practices of slashing and burning down forests are also responsible for the depletion of natural resources.
Several forms of energy exist on this planet and these energies explain natural phenomena that exist on the planet. The two forms of energy resources on the planet are renewable and non-renewable forms of energy. Renewable forms of energy are those that cannot be depleted such as wind and air. Non-renewable forms of energy are those that become depleted with time, an example of such resources are fossil fuels. Energy can be transformed into other different types of energy, for example, wind and air are in the form of kinetic energy and this kinetic energy can be transformed into electrical energy. According to the 1905 Albert Einstein law of conservation of energy, energy can neither be created nor destroyed but it can be transformed from one state to another, he summarized this in the formula ‘ energy is equal to the product of mass and the square of the speed of light in a vacuum’.
The environment is also faced with problems of land degradation which is closely related to agriculture. Land degradation occurs in form of soil erosion, depletion of soil nutrients through poor methods of farming and land pollution due to dumping of industrial waste and urbanization. These forms of land degradation cause adverse effects to the land; examples of these effects are salination – increase in the salt level in the soil, soil acidification, increased rates of soil erosion and destruction of the soil profile due to loss of organic matter. Severe land degradation affects a large portion of arable land unproductively and this, in turn, affects the country’s economy.
The introduction of contaminants into the environment is known as pollution, pollution takes the form of water pollution, noise pollution, air pollution and soil pollution. Pollution has negative effects on the environment and renders it inhabitable.
Loss of biodiversity and extinction is another major issue that faces the environment today; this is caused by massive human activity. Studies report that the extinction rate is now approaching ten thousand times the background rate and this rate is likely to climb to ten thousand in the next century A report by Environmental new service (1999) Large scale extinction will cause disability and collapse of the ecosystems this will, in turn, cause large scale agricultural problems and cause a shortage of food supplies for millions of earth inhabitants industrialized fishing has also contributed greatly to the extinction of fish in the seas this is because laws limiting fishing in some areas have been poorly implemented. Another cause of extensive fish extinction is the destruction of coral reefs. This is caused by a combination of factors some of these factors include the warming of oceans by global warming, damage on the reefs brought by fishing tools and a harmful infection of coral organisms caused by ocean pollution. Ocean pollution occurs when there is dumping of oil spillage in the water.
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Loss of forests and rare tree species through deforestation has also greatly contributed to the loss of biodiversity and extinction. Even as new species of plants are being discovered, the old ones are at risk of extinction. Although deforestation generates revenues and growth in the economy, it places the future in uncertainty because the loss of forests signifies loss of the sources of fuel, medicine and security from floods and droughts among others (Vandana Shiva, 2000). The buying and selling of illegal timber on large scale also causes illegal deforestation and hence loss of biodiversity and extinction of rare species of plant and animal life.
The need for appropriate actions towards the environment
Protecting the environment is the responsibility of each one of its inhabitants, as the inhabitants of the environment, we have personal and social responsibilities towards the environment. Our personal obligations towards the environment are to limit consumption and to avoid wastefulness. One may also perform other activities such as avoiding littering, sending money to aid environmental conservation initiatives, having fewer children to decrease the rise in population and driving less.
International laws and policies regarding the conservation of the environment have been put into place; examples of these laws are the laws of conservation of energy. Under environmental management, pollution control is practised. Pollution control is the control of emissions into the air, land or water. Without pollution control, the environment will be degraded by emissions and wastes. Pollution control is achieved through the use of scrubbers in the factory chimneys so as to reduce air pollution, examples of these scrubbers is the wet scrubber, baffle spray scrubber and mechanically aided scrubber.
Sewage treatment and wastewater treatment reduce water pollution and also aid in the conservation of water. Wastewater treatment is done through a variety of procedures; examples of these procedures are sedimentation, powdered activated bio-treatment and the use of bio-filters. Sewage treatment is carried out through activated sludge bio-filters and dissolved air floatation.
Laws have been enforced in different countries aimed at the conservation of the environment; such laws are diverse and vary from country to country. In the global sense, international laws have been put into place by countries, examples of these laws are the law for encouraging motivation on environmental conservation and promoting environmental education. The purpose of this law is to highlight the importance of conserving the environment and to encourage environmental awareness campaigns by corporate entities, individuals and private bodies so as to establish a sustainable society that has a reduced level of environmental hazards. It is important to recognize ways of enjoying the environmental resources without depleting them. People should also recognize the importance of understanding deeply the importance of the environment and engage themselves in activities that appreciate and conserve the environment. This is covered in the fourth article of the act. The state shall also make efforts to implement measures to punish those who harmed the environment and encourage people to conserve it.
Corporate social responsibility is the duty that corporate entities have towards the environment and future generations to ensure the ultimate goal of sustainable development of the economy and society has been reached. They do this by spearheading environmental and awareness projects.
The sad fact is that it would take the earth several decades to restore what has already been damaged by man in a few years, it is unable to regenerate in time to keep up with man’s needs that is why it is the duty of every member of the society to conserve the environment. The policies and laws that have been put into place are useless if they are not to be enforced, people should develop the need to work hard and motivate each other towards protecting the environment. It is only in this way that our future generation will enjoy and take pride in what nature has given them.
- Agar. N. Life’s instinct value (2001) Columbia University press New York.
- Jean Jacques Roseau. The reveries of the solitary walker. New York Columbia university press
- Robert Attfield, The ethics of the global environment (1999) Edinburgh university press
- Vandana Shiva The stolen harvest (2000) South End University Press