Climate Change: The Ethical Dimension

New campaign focuses on moral responsibility to tackle global warming

11-30-2011 // NWF

In the lifetime of a child born today, 20-30 percent of the world's plant and animal species will be on the brink of extinction because of global warming.

Science shows a direct relationship between the amount of global warming pollution being released into the atmosphere and the increase in surface temperatures around the world. Since the industrial revolution, the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases has increased to a level greater than at any time in the past 400,000 years. By burning fossil fuels—mostly oil,natural gas and coal—we humans are fast becoming a driving force behind global warming. 

As America's conservation organization, the National Wildlife Federation is leading the way in bringing attention to the impacts of global warming on our natural world.

"Current projections are that continuing to emit carbon pollution as we do now will put 1/3 of all wildlife species at severe risk of extinction by 2100," said Tim Warman, Vice President of Climate and Energy at the National Wildlife Federation. "For me personally and for the National Wildlife Federation, destruction of nature by carbon pollution and climate change is perhaps the greatest moral and ethical challenge yet faced by humans. Such preventable loss is morally and ethically wrong."

Citing the human and economic costs that the United States is already paying for its failure to act to curb climate changing emissions, the Climate Ethics Campaign today launched a campaign demanding that U.S. leadership recognize their moral and ethical obligation to aggressively respond to climate change. The campaign launch was timed to coincide with the first week of international climate talks now underway in Durban, South Africa.

The campaign was launched at an event in Washington, D.C., featuring speakers including Representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif.); Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.); Virginia State Senator Mary Margaret Whipple; Wood Turner, Vice President for Sustainability Innovation at Stonyfield Farm; Rev. Jim Ball, Vice President of the Evangelical Environmental Network; Hilary O. Shelton, Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy; Robert Pestronk, Executive Director of NACCHO; and many others.

Father and daughter fishing

A statement released at the event features the signatures of more than 1200 current and former elected officials, as well as representatives from the business, labor, youth, conservation, academic, racial and social justice, physical and psychological health, development, and faith communities nationwide.

"The launch of the Climate Ethics Campaign gives me renewed hope," said Warman. "It gives me hope because it represents a groundswell of Americans from all walks of like that are stepping up and acknowledging our moral responsibility to say enough is enough to carbon pollution. We do this for our own benefit and most importantly we do this for our children's future."

Below are excerpts from the prepared remarks of some of the event speakers and other supporters.

Tim Warman, National Wildlife Federation

“For over 200 years, each generation of Americans has been called upon to meet a significant moral and ethical challenge. And each time Americans have responded. Today, carbon pollution and the resulting climate and weather chaos poses a serious moral and ethical challenge because the impacts threaten all of us, our families, our communities and the natural world that sustains us. I am confident that Americans will respond to the climate realities just as forcefully and effectively as previous generations responded to their realities once we understand the moral and ethical responsibility we all share." 

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon)

“We all want to give our children the best future possible – not only because it will help our economy, but also because it is the right thing to do. When I think about the issues that threaten my own children’s future, climate change is right up there at the top of the list. We have a moral obligation to act now.”

Virginia State Senator Mary Margaret Whipple

“Although climate change is a global problem, the impacts are strongly felt at the state and local levels. State legislators come from different faith backgrounds, different political parties, different regions, different educational, economic, and social backgrounds. And yet we have much in common: I know that there are many legislators across our fifty states who believe as I do that taking action to reduce climate change is the moral imperative of our time.”

Gary Hirshberg, CEO and President, Stonyfield Farm

“As a business person, I think we have an ethical imperative to do everything we can to ensure a solid and sustainable economy for our children and grandchildren. That’s why my company has invested heavily in climate protection -- boosting efficiency, helping grow markets for renewables, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and, as a result, seeing enhanced financial performance. Any other approach to doing business compromises our economic and environmental legacies.”

Hilary O. Shelton, Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy

“In light of the NAACP’s mandate of upholding civil and human rights for all, we view advancing the nation’s moral obligation on climate change as vital. Climate change threatens all of us, and is particularly devastating to communities of color and low income communities in the US as well as in developing countries. It is critical that we all join together to find just solutions to mitigate climate change and provide adequate resources for adaptation, especially to the communities and countries that are already, and will increasingly continue to be, affected by the ravages of climate change including the increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events.”

Rev. Jim Ball, Vice President, Evangelical Environmental Network

“It’s time to be great again by overcoming global warming. America can rise to this challenge, because that’s who we are: fair-minded, freedom-loving people who live to create a brighter future.”

Joe Uehlein, Board President, Labor Network for Sustainability

“Making a living on a living planet is the moral imperative of our time. All working people have a stake in the climate debate, but not the old, tired jobs vs. environment debate you've heard before. Failure to deal with the climate crisis will wreak havoc on the economy at every level and will destroy jobs.”

Ann Goodman, Strategic Director, Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future

“Climate change places unjust burdens on our most vulnerable populations, particularly women and children. But if we empower women by giving them educational and economic opportunities and resources, they can also be a vital part of the solution to climate change by bolstering families, communities, policy, business —in short, global society.”

Luisa Saffiotti, Psychologists for Social Responsibility

“Climate change is caused by human behavior. Psychology knows that behavior is a moral issue when it harms people and the planet; psychology also has many tools to help people change their behavior. It’s time to boldly put those tools to use or the climate peril we all will face—especially those most marginalized in our societies—will be the single biggest moral issue of our time.”

Robert Pestronk, Executive Director, National Association of County and City Health Officials

“Climate change has serious and far-reaching health implications for present and future generations. We’re already seeing the effects of climate change on health, such as emerging tropical diseases in new areas, deaths from heat waves and floods, food shortages and increased allergies and asthma, and the costs of addressing these. Recognizing these threats, leaders at every level of government must take steps to prevent these impacts and protect their communities. Local health departments can help address these challenges – the life and health of all Americans depend on it.”

Lilian Molina, Environmental Justice Director, Energy Action Coalition

“Our generation has inherited a problem rooted in the short-sighted decisions made by our predecessors. Now it is our turn to lead with moral imperative and alleviate the impacts of their actions. As the hub of the youth climate movement, Energy Action Coalition harnesses the moral and ethical authority of the Millennial Generation to demand a clean and just energy economy. We will continue to stand in solidarity and prioritize those within our generation that come from communities least responsible but bear the disproportionate burdens of climate related catastrophes.”

Bob Doppelt, Executive Director, The Resource Innovation Group, and organizer of the Climate Ethics Campaign

“People from all walks of life across the U.S. are extremely concerned about global warming. But progress has been stalled because our government keeps debating whether addressing the issue makes economic sense and whether the science is settled. We believe it’s time to talk about our moral obligations to prevent the human suffering created by climate change, to safeguard the poor and most vulnerable communities from harm they did not create, and to protect the natural environment that is the source of all life. We will honor our moral and ethical duties to others by cutting carbon emissions, preparing for climate change, and demanding policies to achieve both goals.”

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