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LESSON 14:

ETHICS OF CONSERVING DEPLETABLE RESOURCES

Today we will discuss the ethics of conserving depletable • It might appear that we have an obligation to conserve
resources. resources for future generations because they have an equal
Points to be covered in this lesson:
right to the limited resources of this planet.

• Conservation of resources • Future generations have an equal right to the planet’s


limited resources
• Economic growth vs conservation
• By depleting these resources we are depriving them of
what is rightfully theirs
• So we ought to do our utmost to practice conservation
• To minimize depletion
• To avoid violating the rights of future generations
However, some of the writers claimed that it is a mistake to
think that future generations have rights and there are three
main reasons for that:
1. Future generation do not exist right now and may never
exist. Since there is a possibility that future generation may
never exist, they cannot “possess” rights.
What do you mean by the word Conservation?
Conservation refers to the saving or rationing of resources for 2. If future generations did have rights, then we might be led
future use. to the absurd conclusion that we must sacrifice our entire
civilization for their sake.
A basic difference between pollution and resource depletion
3. We can only say that someone has a certain right only if we
Pollution know that he or she has a certain interest, which that right
• Most form of pollution affects present generations (with the protects. The purpose of a right, after all, is to protect the
notable exception of nuclear waste) interests of the right-holder, but we are virtually ignorant of
• Polluted resources are for the most part renewable what interests future generation will have.
• Air and water can be renewed by ceasing to pollute Justice to Future Generations
them • John Rawls that while it is unjust to impose
• And allowing them time to recover disproportionately heavy burdens on present generations for
the sake of future generations, it is also unjust for present
Resource Depletion
generations to leave nothing for future generations.
• Resource depletion affects future generations
• Two unjust extremes
• Concerned with finite nonrenewable resources
• To impose disproportionately heavy conservation
• Since they cannot be renewed burdens on the present generation (unfair to us)
• What will be around for future generations is just • To leave virtually nothing for future generations
what’s left over from the present (unfair to them)
Resource depletion forces two main kinds of questions on us: Justice requires that we hand over to the next generation a
1. Why ought we to conserve resources for future generations, situation no worse than the one we received from our
and ancestors.
2. How much should we conserve? • This point is seconded by considerations of care
Rights of Future Generations • We have a fairly direct relationship of care and concern
towards the immediately following generation, and, less
and less towards more and more distant future
generations.
• Ethics of acre imply that we should attempt to see matters
from the perspective of the immediately succeeding
generations which suggests that we should “at least leave
the succeeding generation a world that is not worse than
the one we received”

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• Utilitarian Analysis also favors this theory: endangered species; that we should take steps to ensure that the
Each generation has a duty to maximize the future beneficial rate of consumption of fossil fuels and of minerals does not
consequences of its actions and to minimize their future continue to rise; that we should cut down our consumption and
injurious consequences for succeeding generations, as well as production of those goods that depend on nonrenewable
themselves. However, utilitarians have claimed, these future resources; that we should recycle nonrenewable resources; that
consequences should be “discounted” in proportion to their we should search for substitutes for materials that we are too
uncertainty and to their distance in the future. rapidly depleting.
Unfortunately, we cannot rely on market mechanisms to Economic Growth?
ensure that scarce resources are conserved for future However, to many observers conservation measures fall far short
generations. The market registers only the effective demands of what is needed. Several writers have argued that if we are to
of present participants and the actual supplies presently being preserve enough scarce resources so that future genera- tions can
made available. maintain their quality of life at a satisfactory level, we shall have to
William Shepherd and Clair Wilcox explained six reasons for change our economies substantially, particu-larly by scaling down
the heavy discounting or “live for today” character of markets our pursuit of economic growth Others argue
that economic systems will have to abandon their goal of steadily
Multiple access: If a resource can be used by several different
increasing pro-duction, and put in its place the goal of
extractors, then the shared access will inevitably lead the resource to
decreasing production until it has been scaled down to “a steady
be depleted too fast
state”- that is, a point at which “the total popula-tion and the
• For example: several people with straws in the same total stock of physical wealth are maintained constant at some
milkshake, it will be in the private interest of each to suck desired levels by a ‘minimal’ rate of maintenance throughout
faster to get the most for themselves (that is, by birth and- death rates that are equal at the lowest
Time preferences and myopia: Firms generally have short feasible level, and by physical pro-duction and consumption
time horizons rates that are equal at the lowest feasible level).”The conclusion
• Under the stresses of competition that economic growth must be abandoned if society is to be
able to deal with the problems of diminishing resources has
• Apt to give insufficient weight to the demands of future
been chal-lenged. It is at least arguable that adherence to
generations
continual economic ‘growth promises to degrade the quality of
Inadequate forecasting: Present users may simply fail to life of future generations.
foresee future
The arguments for this claim are simple, stark, and highly
• Consequences for example: DDT spraying in the 50s no one controversial. If the world’s economies continue to pursue the
foresaw that it would build up in the environment with goal of economic growth the demand for depletable resources
harmful effects will continue to rise. But since world resources are finite, at some
Special influences: point supplies will simply run out. We can expect a collapse of
• Short run tax breaks and other incentives the major economic institutions (that is, of manufacturing and
financial institutions, communication networks, the service
• Encourage overly rapid use of resources industries) which in turn will bring down the political and social
External effects: institutions (that is, centralized govern- ments, education and
• Resource depletion like pollution, an external cost, not borne cultural programs, scientific and technological development,
directly by the firm .So it’s in the economic self interest of the health care). Living standards will then decline precipitously in
firm to ignore this cost the wake of widespread star-vation and political dislocations.
Various scenarios for this sequence of events have been
Distribution: private market decisions are based on existing
constructed, all of them more or less specula- tive and necessarily
patterns of wealth and income distribution
based on uncertain assumptions.
• Resource users, in effect, vote with their dollars about what to
• Doomsday Scenario
produce in what amounts so the richer the individual the
more say they have in what the market produces • If the present situation continues
• Future generations — having as yet no wealth or income — • Explosive population growth will happen because of
have as yet no “vote” • Declining death rates
The only means of conserving for the future, then, appears to be • Relatively stable birth rates
voluntary policies of conservation. Rawl’s view implies that while • World’s economies continue to expand
we should not sacrifice the cultural advances we have made, we • Causing depletable resources to run out: deplete to
should adopt voluntary or legal measures to conserve those point they’re insufficient to sustain further growth
resources and environmental benefits that we can reasonably
assume our immediate posterity will need if they are to live lives • World’s growth-based economies (virtually all of them)
with a variety of available choices comparable, at least, to ours. collapse
This means that we should preserve wild life and • Collapse of major economic institutions
• Financial

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• Manufacturing • Net flow of energy out of these low-consuming
• Communication populations’ regions for the sake of our high-
consuming lifestyle
• Service
• Americans use much of this energy for non- essential
• Collapse of political and social institutions
products and services
• Governments
• Low-consuming populations: most consumption
• Educational institutions goes for essential products and services
• Health-care systems
Overview
• Scientific & cultural institutions & pursuits
• Conservation refers to the saving or rationing of resources
• Precipitous decline in living standards for future use.
• Anarchy and political disorder • Finite resources pose a challenge to future economic growth.
• Somalialization of the world
Activity
• Something like the end the anti-growth argument urges Whether a high-consumption nation is morally justified in
us to pursue will be achieved the hard way continuing to appropriate for its own use the nonrenewable
• Population levels will be drastically and rapidly reduced energy resources of low-consumption nations that are too weak
by skyrocketing death rates economically to use these resources, or too weak militarily to
• Already life-expectancies in Africa have protect them.
precipitously declined due to AIDs Think about this. Ask your faculty to divide the class in two
• Just a bump in the road of progress or a sign of groups and start discussing this point.
things to come
• Resource use will be drastically and rapidly reduced by
economic collapse
• If not the end of civilization forever
• At least the dawn of another dark age
• Criticism of the Doomsday Scenario: According to experts
the estimation of this scenario is based on wrong
assumptions
• About future population growth
• About productivity rates
• About our inability to find substitutes for depleted
resource
• About the ineffectiveness of recycling
Is Americanization of the World a Sustainable
Vision for the Future?
Think about this question and discuss it within groups.
• Example of energy use
• U.S.A.
• Has 5% of the world’s population
• Currently account for 35% of world’s energy
resource consumption
• Least developed nations
• 50% of the world’s population
• Currently account for 8% of the world’s energy
resource consumption
• Per-capita comparisons: each U.S. resident consumes
• 15 times more energy than each South American
• 24 times more energy than each Asian
• 31 times more energy than each African
• Exploitation issue: Are we using up their resources
• U. S. produces only a portion of the energy it
consumes
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