The Dawning of an Earth Ethic

| September 2014
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Glacier Preserve. Tyler Bewley. Watercolor on paper, 2011.

Glacier Preserve. Tyler Bewley. Watercolor on paper, 2011.

Among Earth’s millions of species, ours is the only one capable of rapidly changing the chemistry of the atmosphere and thereby endangering the whole web of life, from phytoplankton and corals to polar bears and pine trees, from hummingbirds to humans. We are also the only species capable of documenting this disruption, identifying its causes, and acting to counter it. Yet so far we have failed to act on the scale or with the urgency required to avert this unfolding disaster. Why are we failing? What keeps us from caring for the atmosphere as a shared, finite, and fragile envelope for life?

The resistance mounted by the fossil fuel industry, its purchased politicians, and its hired apologists is obvious. Their campaign of deception and legislative obstruction has been carried out most tellingly in the United States, the nation with the highest per capita rate of greenhouse emissions and, therefore, with the greatest responsibility for devising fair and effective ways of curbing emissions. For example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest conduit of corporate money into American politics, lobbies against every move in Congress or the Environmental Protection Agency to place limits on the burning of fossil fuels, and it funds political candidates who oppose any such limits. Between 1997 and 2011 a single oil corporation, Koch Industries, the second-largest privately-held company in America, funneled $67 million into more than fifty organizations, all of which deny that humans are disturbing the climate. Despite these efforts to thwart meaningful responses to climate change, however, we cannot place all the blame on the fossil fuel industry. To understand our failure we need to look deeper.

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Category: Issue 28.3, Roundtable: The Facts, Fictions, and Future of Climate Change

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