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"Religious ethics are not the best approach to environmental issues". Discuss.

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Introduction

"Religious ethics are not the best approach to environmental issues". Discuss. In recent years climate change has come to be recognised as perhaps the most important issue facing modern society. The Conservative Party's adoption of the slogan "Vote blue, go green" is a measure of the changing attitude towards environmental issues and highlights the fact that climate change is now at the forefront of the political agenda. This may be due to the fact that the global community is now beginning to witness the effects of global warming in the form of extreme weather conditions resulting in floods, droughts and landslides. The devastating effects of these recent natural disasters, including the loss of thousands of human lives, makes climate change a more real and immediate threat than ever before. Whilst it is now widely acknowledged that human activity has made a significant contribution to global warming, there is still debate over whether or not humankind's destruction of the environment is morally unsound. An important question to address is whether or not it is justifiable to continue our exploitation of the Earth's natural resources in order to fuel extravagant lifestyles in the knowledge that this will cause further damage to the environment, and therefore threaten the existence of humanity. In order to evaluate the above statement effectively, this essay will examine the approach of Christian Ethics to environmental issues and also take into consideration other ethical theories such as Deep Ecology, Kantian Ethics and Utilitarianism. In Genesis 1 God grants human beings " 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". ...read more.

Middle

For example, if a mountaineer has an accident and the only way to rescue him is by helicopter, should he be left to die because landing a helicopter on the mountainside will destroy numerous plants and possibly kill several insects and small mammals? Most people would agree that human life is worth more that that of plants and animals. Whilst Singer believes that "it is wrong to limit ourselves to a human-centred ethic"9 and agrees that animals have some rights, he does not accept that non-sentient entities should be conferred rights. Deep Ecology is perhaps too extreme in its approach; nevertheless certain aspects of it are useful when addressing environmental issues. Similarly to Deep Ecology, Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis takes a holistic view of the earth. He points to the fact that over billions of years the temperature of the earth has remained within the variables that allow life to be sustained. He proposes that in order for this to happen the earth must have developed complex mechanisms of self-regulation, in the same way that the human body self-regulates through homeostasis. From this he concluded that the earth is not simply a lump of rock that sustains life but instead it is a living organism. If one accepts the Gaia Hypothesis this has certain implications for one's attitude towards the environment. One interpretation of the hypothesis is to recognise that the planet's mechanisms are complex and delicate and humankind's interference with the natural world could disrupt such mechanisms. This calls for a halt to human activities that alter the composition of the planet's atmosphere, for fears that the consequences could me more severe than we predict. ...read more.

Conclusion

Given the complexity of many environmental issues and the apparently precarious state of the planet it is difficult to accurately predict what will happen in the future. One could therefore reasonably conclude that that it would be irresponsible to apply Utilitarianism to some environmental problems. Having taken into consideration several different aspects of the Christian approach to environmental issues, I feel that depending on one's interpretation of the scripture, the usefulness of this approach is variable. The work of Christian scholars such as Geisler and Edge has put forward compelling arguments that challenge the Church's traditional emphasis on human dominion over the earth. By redirecting the focus to the role of stewardship a much more responsible and sustainable approach is achieved. I have also considered some alternative approaches proposed by Deep Ecology, Kantian Ethics and Utilitarianism. Whilst each of these ethical theories offer some useful considerations to be taken into account when making decisions concerning the environment, I found that each also had its unique disadvantages. Of the ethical theories I have studied, non has offered a truly satisfactory approach to environmental issues. In conclusion, I disagree with the statement that religious ethics is not the best approach to environmental issues. However, as Hardin points out there is a difficulty in applying ancient moral absolutes, such as those found in The Bible, to a modern society, writing they that they are "poorly suited to governing a complex, crowded, changeable world"12 I recognise, therefore that there is still a certain amount of modernisation that needs to take place in order for church teachings to be properly adapted to the current environmental situation, but still consider this ethical approach to be the most appropriate in terms of environmental decision making. ...read more.

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