Letter: Ethical about the environment

“Environmental Ethics” is the name of a class I’m currently taking in the Colorado Mountain College sustainability bachelor’s degree program. I doubt very many of us have ever thought of putting the words “environment” and “ethics” in the same sentence, kind of like “ecological psychology.” A quick look at the daily newspapers gives us plenty of reasons to see why ethics is a very important part of taking care of an ever-more damaged environment.

One of the tools we use to protect our environment is to monitor species of plants and animals in their habitats to see how their numbers are holding up. Prime areas for gas and oil extraction are also habitat for the greater sage grouse. Destroying this habitat destroys these birds and many other plants and animals.

Protection of the grouse thereby sets up a conflict with oil- and gas-interest profits, tax revenue for local governments, jobs that depend on the payrolls of the extraction companies and spill out into the greater economy, and the politicians whose careers depend on the flow of cash (directly and indirectly). On the other side, the growth, which is often temporary, puts pressure on social support systems like schools and public health. Oil and gas extraction is also detrimental to water resources, local infrastructure and quality of life of many local people.

On a larger scale, continued use of the fossil fuels taken out of the ground is one of the primary causes of global warming. Also, recent research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology claims that some 200,000 Americans die early because of air pollution that is caused by fossil-fuel use. Some 58,000 of those people’s deaths are attributed mainly to vehicle-caused pollution, the largest single category. People are dying an average of 12 years earlier than they otherwise would.

Protecting the sage grouse requires not drilling in some areas. Politicians in these development areas are filing lawsuits against the agencies that have created the rules to protect the sage grouse. The local politicians are saying that they can do a better job of protecting the grouse than the federal government. On the other hand, the federal rules were put in place because we found, from the history of industrialization in our country, that local governments were unwilling or unable to protect our natural resources.

Ethical choices are at the heart of these problems. Environmental ethics is a crucial field. In fact, our lives depend on it.

Patrick Hunter