Applying Theory: Environmental Issues

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timer Asked: Aug 14th, 2015

Question Description

08CH_Mosser_Ethics.pdf      Applying Theory: Environmental Issues

Your goal for this assignment is to apply an ethical theory to a real-world situation. You will examine an environmental issue and apply one of the ethical theories to understand how human interactions with the natural environment raise ethical concerns. You will do this by preparing and posting a PowerPoint slideshow consisting of 12 slides and a separate section under each slide for notes.

  • Choose one of the following topics/issues and read about it at the indicated place:
    • Environmental justice/environmental racism (Article: Environmental Justice for All)
    • Environmental harm/pollution of air and water (Chapter 8 in the textbook)
    • Waste reduction (Chapter 8 in the textbook)
  • Select one philosophical theory (utilitarianism, deontology, or virtue ethics). Consider the following questions pertaining to the theory you have selected:
    • What does the theory tell us about how things operate in the real world?
    • What is the focus of the theory? That is, what aspects of everyday life (or what questions) does the theory address?
The focus (or questions) helps you think about the topical boundaries of the theory. This course is about ethics and social responsibility, so you should concentrate on the ethical and moral aspects of the theory and of the topic you are analyzing. It may help to think in terms of different realms or institutions. Does the theory help to explain people’s behavior from a political, economic, religious, or ethical perspective? Try to sort through everything that does not represent an ethical question, and address only the ethical issues.
    • How does the theory simplify complex issues to make them more understandable? Another way to think about this is to consider the elements or concepts that make up the theory. Identify the concepts and how they are related to each other.
  • Develop one thesis question that applies your philosophical theory to your environmental issue. You will address this question in developing an argument that links the theory to the issue (through your notes and pictures), so make sure you word your question carefully to accomplish this task. Indicate this thesis question on your second slide (the one after the title slide).
  • Next, develop an ethical argument that addresses your question. Use the text and/or look for academic sources to support your position. Build your argument by writing nine sentences. Each sentence should make one important point about the ethical aspects of the environmental issue you are analyzing and should be placed on one slide each.
  • Underneath each slide you will also add presentation notes. The notes are written information that you would normally say or share with an audience during a presentation, but that they do not actually see on the slide. Your notes should also make use of at least two academic sources and elaborate on the image and sentence in each slide.
    • To add notes to your slide, go the section at the bottom of each slide in Power Point and click on the option that says “Click to add notes.” Type your notes into that section.
    • Make sure your presentation focuses on ethical arguments and avoids personal opinion, arguments based on politics, economics, religion, or topics other than ethics.
  • Find a photo to illustrate each slide, and post the photo on the slide above the sentence. Search the Internet for photos that are appropriate. Make sure the photos you use are not copyright protected; you should only use photos that are in the public domain. Also, make sure you cite the sources from which you retrieved your photos directly underneath the photo on each slide.
The slideshow should be 12 slides long; one slide for title page, one for the thesis question, nine slides for your arguments (i.e., main sentences) and notes, and one slide for your references. You should use at least two academic sources other than the textbook as references. All citations and references must be in the APA format as outlined in the Ashford Writing Center. This assignment must be submitted as a PowerPoint presentation. Other formats (i.e., PDF files, Word documents, etc.) are not acceptable. If you are unfamiliar with how to use PowerPoint, see: Basic tasks in PowerPoint 2010.

8 Fuse/Thinkstock The Environment Learning Objectives After reading this chapter, you should be able to: • Identify specific ethical issues that arise when considering human beings’ relationship to their natural surroundings. • Describe some of the standard problems this relationship poses, including water pollution and the disposal of medical waste. • Discuss in an informed way the potential tension between economic analyses and environmental policies. • Apply specific ethical theories to an actual environmental case study. mos85880_08_c08.indd 215 10/28/13 1:30 PM Introduction CHAPTER 8 Introduction A merican naturalists such as John Muir (1838–1914), Aldo Leopold (1887–1948), and Edward Abbey (1927–1989) have long pointed to the importance of protecting the environment. However, genuine issues arise between those who wish to leave the environment as it is, and those who wish to utilize it for other purposes, such as drilling, development, or mining. These issues have become much more common topics of debate in recent decades, with increased energy and other demands placing stress on the environment. With the first “Earth Day” in 1970, various environmental groups began to develop more effective political organizations, and the environmental movement began to play a significant role in American politics. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was begun, also in 1970, during the administration of President Richard Nixon, in order to protect both human health and the environment by developing laws and reviewing regulations. In this chapter, we will explore some of the questions that arise within the context of environmental ethics, the study of the moral relationship between human beings and their surroundings, including nonhuman components found within those surroundings. Throughout, we will examine difficult issues, such as how to balance the economic benefits of development with the benefits (economic and otherwise) of a wilderness or beach or forest. Do we have a right to clean water and to clean air? If so, how are those rights enforced, and how do we maintain those rights without inhibiting important economic gains? And do we have an obligation to leave a sustainable environment to the generations that will follow us? Why Care About the Environment? Often in discussions of environmental ethics, it is assumed by all involved that we should respect the environment, and seek to prevent its degradation, specifically if various forms of pollutions harm others. In a sense, this assumption is pretty safe: After all, if someone does something to harm an innocent person, we generally regard that as wrong. So if I dump lead into a river that increases the lead content of water that children are exposed to, and harmed by, that seems to just be a specific case of my action harming an innocent person, and thus is wrong. But should we care about the environment at all? Many people, regardless of the positions they adopt relative to specific environmental policies, would agree with many of the following reasons to do so: • • • • More efficient use of energy saves money. A cleaner environment is healthier. Some natural scenery is unique and irreplaceable. Biodiversity is valuable in itself, and if not itself valuable, can be utilized to help create drugs, foods, and other things that improve life. • If we have any obligations to future generations, leaving them a planet that is inhabitable—or even flourishing—would seem to be a fundamental obligation. • It’s an ill bird that fouls its own nest: It doesn’t make sense to ruin the place where you live. • Various religions, including the three great monotheisms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, teach that humans should be stewards of the Earth. mos85880_08_c08.indd 216 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.1 The Issue: Hazardous Waste Disposal CHAPTER 8 8.1 The Issue: Hazardous Waste Disposal H azardous waste is a problem for many communities around the world. The obvious answer to what should be done with it is to simply avoid creating it. Given that total avoidance is improbable, corporations have designed methods to reduce hazardous waste, including recycling, reducing waste, treating the waste, trading excess materials to other businesses, and other methods. Here we will discuss a well-known hazardous waste case. In a small town, an unemployed mother of three is down on her luck; after a failed lawsuit, she convinces her attorney to take her on as a clerk. In between filing and other drudgery required of such clerks, she starts hearing about strange illnesses in her town and their unusual frequency and starts investigating. Eventually, she discovers that a major corporation has been storing water that has become toxic in unlined ponds. That water eventually leached into the groundwater and subsequently contaminated the town’s drinking water. Wade Payne/Associated Press The law clerk begins to work with her Activist Erin Brockovich’s story is representative of many attorney to bring legal action against environmental battles. the giant corporation, and her spirit and unwillingness to give up eventually wins the day. The giant corporation is forced to pay those who had been harmed by the water pollution $333 million; the mother herself gets $2 million. Except for the corporation, everyone lives happily ever after. This kind of thing sounds a bit too good to be true; in fact, it sounds like a movie. This is unsurprising, since it is a movie: Erin Brockovich tells the story (based on actual events) of one woman’s struggle against the economic power structure to obtain justice for those outside of that structure. In addition to it being a classic David versus Goliath story, where the faceless, all-powerful giant is slain by the righteous but powerless fighter, the story also is representative of many environmental battles. Often, as we will see, those engaged in these battles are in a conflict over resources, money, and the environment. Those who prefer to develop, drill, or mine may regard the benefits of that activity as more important than maintaining the wilderness or landscape as it is. In contrast, those who wish to maintain a pristine environment will regard that as priceless, and thus not worth ruining for some jobs or to extract energy or minerals. Still others will advocate a middle course, promoting sensible development that minimizes the harm to the environment without neglecting the important economic rewards that such development may provide. As is often the case with movies, reality is a bit messier than one might realize from seeing Erin Brockovich. mos85880_08_c08.indd 217 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.1 The Issue: Hazardous Waste Disposal • • • CHAPTER 8 Those in the town—Hinkley, California—who received payment from Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) have suggested that the amount of money they were promised turned out to be much less than they actually received, that attorneys kept the money for months without paying interest on it, and that excessive legal fees reduced the awards substantially (Sharp, 2000). A toxic “plume” containing the carcinogen chromium 6 (hexavalent chromium) had been the original source of the contamination that led to the 1996 lawsuit Brockovich began. In 2008, however, it was discovered that the plume was spreading again, and had become two miles long and a mile wide. PG&E attempted to stem the growth of this plume, but also sought to buy some of the affected property and provided bottled water to concerned residents (Schwartz, 2010). A study carried out by the California Cancer Registry seemed to indicate that cancer rates—a particular concern in Hinkley, given the known effects of chromium 6—were not, in fact, elevated in most cases. An epidemiological study came to a similar conclusion, stating that its findings do not support claims of a generalized cancer excess in Hinkley, although the cervix, prostate, and colorectal cancer findings reveal underutilization of cancer screening in the Hinkley tract. These findings are consistent with previous assessments that did not identify a cancer excess in the Hinkley tract (Morgan & Reeves, 2011). This final point brings to our attention a concern that frequently occurs in environmental disputes: the need for scientific and/or medical experts to provide data and analysis. Few of us are, ourselves, experts in toxicology, oncology, biochemistry, genetics, embryology, hydrostatics, and the other fields involved in many of these issues, let alone experts in several of them. Those who are experts in this field may not, of course, be experts in political science (or even adept in politics) or ethics. Furthermore, both sides of this debate will provide their own experts, who may strongly disagree with each other over an issue that can only be resolved by yet another expert. Therefore, those of us who are not experts somehow have to determine which experts to trust, and this is a frequent challenge in resolving problems that arise in environmental ethics, whether dealt with at a community level by political structures, or in more formal legal procedures. We will encounter this challenge a number of times in examining conflicts in environmental ethics. Externalities Economists often talk of “externalities” in evaluating a specific economic decision. While the detailed discussion can get complex, here we can simply describe an externality as the effect of an economic choice or activity experienced by someone who doesn’t have input into the decision to make that choice, or choose to engage in that activity. A very simple example is Charlie, who decides to sit down at the end of a row at a basketball game; all those who follow Charlie and wish to sit down on that row have to climb over him. They weren’t consulted by Charlie, but they pay the (modest) price of having to exert themselves to climb past him. That modest price is an externality. (continued) mos85880_08_c08.indd 218 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.1 The Issue: Hazardous Waste Disposal CHAPTER 8 Externalities (continued) Pollution is, however, the standard example of an externality. If I drive my car or run a steel mill that pollutes the air, many others breathe that air who had no say in my choice to run a car that seems to pollute more than most, or in running my steel mill. Those who are affected by my exhaust or steel mill pollution are paying a social cost. Economists argue about the best way to deal with this kind of social cost (or negative externality); some argue that the costs should be figured into the taxes I pay to run an inefficient car or a polluting steel mill; others (most famously Nobelprizewinning economist Ronald Coase) argue that if various transaction costs are ignored or discounted, those affected will be able to negotiate the price involved for creating the pollution up to the point where they would be more willing to suffer the pollution than pay me to stop creating it. An example might make clear what Coase argues. Imagine a tanning parlor is in a strip mall, next to a toy store. The toy store gets a new toy that, all day long, children try out, making a loud, annoying sound. The tanning parlor is losing business because its customers don’t like the noise. It could, of course, take the toy store to court. But Coase argues that it would be more efficient for the two businesses to negotiate. Perhaps the tanning parlor will lose less money than the toy store makes by stocking the annoying toy; if so, the tanning parlor may offer some cash to make up the store’s losses if it agrees iStockphoto/Thinkstock to quit stocking it. (Naturally, the more complex Pollution is an example of an externality. the details, the more complex the negotiations.) In general, Coase’s point is that unless the negotiations themselves cost too much (these being known as “transaction costs”), it is in both business’s interests to come to an agreement that will be to their mutual advantage. Each will be better off economically by coming to an agreement, relative to suing or absorbing the costs imposed upon it by the other business. (For more details on Coase’s influential view, visit http://law.gsu.edu/history/Coase.htm.) Whenever pollution is discussed in economic terms, externalities and various costs involved need to be factored in. This is particularly true in cases such as the groundwater pollution case of PG&E and Hinkley, California. Reducing Waste Through Recycling You have probably heard, or seen, the slogan “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Because so many of the harmful effects are produced by obtaining natural resources, such as petroleum or copper or coal, environmentalists have argued that it makes sense to lower the demand for such commodities by using what we have efficiently, using less, and utilizing the materials we have left in producing new commodities rather than simply throwing those materials away. In this section, we will see the arguments put forth for this approach, and consider a couple of specific examples. mos85880_08_c08.indd 219 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.1 The Issue: Hazardous Waste Disposal CHAPTER 8 Many of us may live in communities with a recycling program; some cities have very aggressive recycling programs, while others may have none. Generally, however, most communities have recognized that recycling material such as plastic, glass, and aluminum makes both more environmental sense and economic sense than always producing more new plastic, glass, and aluminum. It is becoming more and more common in any given town to see trash receptacles sit side by side with recycling receptacles. It might be good to start with (just a few) statistics, to give an indication of what can be recycled, what cannot, and just how much that is thrown away might be used more productively. As of 2011, plastics make up almost 13% of the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream (trash), a dramatic increase from 1960, when plastics were less than 1% of the waste stream. Consequently, what happens to that plastic—whether it is recycled or simply becomes part of the MSW stream, plays a significant role. • • • • • 32 million tons of plastic waste were generated in 2011, representing 12.7 percent of total MSW. In 2011, the United States generated almost 14 million tons of plastics as containers and packaging, about 11 million tons as durable goods, such as appliances, and almost 7 million tons as nondurable goods, for example plates and cups. Only 8 percent of the total plastic waste generated in 2011 was recovered for recycling. In 2011, the category of plastics which includes bags, sacks, and wraps was recycled at about 11 percent. Plastics also are found in automobiles, but recycling of these materials is counted separately from the MSW recycling rate. (EPA, 2013, para. 2) Americans produce a substantial amount of waste, but a few more general facts give an indication of just how much: • • • • • • Every year nearly 900,000,000 trees are cut down to provide raw materials for American paper and pulp mills. Every year we generate around 14 million tons of food waste, which is 106 pounds of food waste per person; 570,000 tons of this is composted for a 4.1% recovery rate. The rest, or 13.4 million tons, is incinerated or landfilled and occupies 6.3 million cubic yards of landfilled MSW. Americans throw away about 28 billion bottles and jars every year. It takes a 15-year-old tree to produce 700 grocery bags. Disposable diapers last centuries in landfills. An average baby will go through 8,000 of them. In 1998, 62.8% of the 102 billion aluminum cans produced were recycled. That totals 64 billion cans, 46 billion more than in 1991. Aluminum can recycling saves 95% of the energy needed to make aluminum from bauxite ore. Energy savings in 1998 alone were enough to light a city the size of Pittsburgh for ten years. (EPA, 2012, para. 1–3, 5–6, 10) Americans have become more conscious of these kinds of numbers and facts, and many have become much more accepting of recycling as an ordinary part of life. At the same mos85880_08_c08.indd 220 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.1 The Issue: Hazardous Waste Disposal CHAPTER 8 time, there is some indication that while Americans may be more aware of recycling, they may not be doing as much of it as they could: • • • Currently, less than 35% of households and less than 10% of businesses in the U.S. recycle. Those levels have barely improved in 15 years despite billions of dollars spent on competitions, symposiums, awareness campaigns, and sorting technologies. If U.S. recycling levels can reach 75%, environmental benefits will include removing 50 million cars from the road each year and generating 1.5 million new jobs. (Recycle Across America, 2013, para. 1) The Argument for Recycling The argument in favor of recycling seems simple enough: Material that is not recycled ends up in landfills, or is incinerated. Each of these brings with it certain environmental issues. Landfills are built in such a way that trash does not readily decompose; they can leach toxins into the soil and groundwater, and they generate methane, a greenhouse gas. Incinerating waste, which is less common, and is often used to generate electricity, also brings with it hazards, such as releasing into the atmosphere various dioxins (a set of toxic chemicals), metals, ash, and unpleasant odors; different authorities disagree about whether this method generates greenhouse emissions or actually reduces them by creating energy through the incineration process. If we recycle as much of the material that can be recycled, then we have a correspondingly lower need for more landfills (or incinerators). The point seems obvious: If I recycle one can, and half of it goes into making the next can, I’ve reduced the waste involved by 50%, relative to a can made out of completely new material. Multiplying this by the population of a state, a country, or a planet, we can see pretty quickly how this could minimize the impact on the environment, and decrease the amount of waste created. The Argument Against Recycling Most people seem to be aware of this, but there are arguments against recycling that need to be considered. These counterarguments tend to focus on three basic points: 1. Recycling is often done by combining some of the older, recycled material with newer material; when recycling paper, for instance, older paper is combined with new paper. Recycling processes require considerable energy—with paper, for example, not just to cut down the trees, but also to transport them, and process the wood into pulp—and that must be factored into the environmental impact. Some recycling processes also employ chemicals; again, another introduction into the environment that must be balanced against the alternative. 2. Recycling may use already existing material, but there are costs associated with it. Those who process the recycled material are paid to do so; these costs are passed on to the consumer. However, recycling programs are often subsidized by local or state governments, and those costs are paid for by the taxpayer. In considering the relative costs of purchasing a new product or a product from recycled material, one often forgets to include these “hidden” costs, such as taxes paid to subsidize the recycling program. mos85880_08_c08.indd 221 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.1 The Issue: Hazardous Waste Disposal CHAPTER 8 3. Again, one must take into consideration all the factors that go into recycling. Picking up recyclables and bringing them to be processed uses petroleum; when processing various materials, such as glass, paper, aluminum, and plastics, we use energy that comes from burning fossil fuels. What is needed is a more general accounting of the costs involved in recycling, in order to compare those costs to other approaches. Comparative figures, however, are difficult to obtain. These arguments about recycling will continue, although as techniques improve in terms of energy efficiency, more effective recycling programs and techniques and the savings brought about by large-scale participation may address some of the opposing claims. The Argument for Reducing and Reusing The arguments about the other two strategies that are promoted by those who wish to decrease the amount of waste produced are, fortunately, considerably less contentious. Indeed, some of these arguments have been around for centuries, if not millennia. A quick calculation: Johnny is an 8-year-old boy. He wakes up in the morning and has a glass of juice and a glass of milk. At lunch he has another glass of milk, and another glass of milk when he comes home from school. After coming in from playing outside, he has a glass of water, and then a glass of milk or soda with dinner. He usually takes a glass of water with him when he goes to bed. Thus, on this average day, if he uses a new glass each time, he has used seven glasses, as have his sister, his mother, and his father. That is 28 glasses; at that rate, the family uses 196 glasses a week, 5,880 glasses a month, or 70,560 glasses a year. If this is an average family in a town of 100,000, that would be 7,056,000,000 glasses used in the town. Assuming these aren’t cups that are just thrown away (another environmental issue, as we’ve seen), each of these glasses needs to be washed, which takes time, energy, water, and soap. That’s a lot of glasses being washed. Had Johnny used the same glass just for water, he would have saved 29% of the total; in the town as a whole, 2,046,240,000 fewer glasses would need to be washed, with a corresponding savings in time, energy, water, and soap. Aaron Favila/Associated Press There are many opportunities to reuse resources. For example, we can use a cloth bag rather than paper or plastic when grocery shopping. mos85880_08_c08.indd 222 This is a simple example, of course, but it is representative of what many of us heard from our parents (and our parents heard from their parents): Don’t get a new glass each time you need one; don’t buy a new plastic bottle of water instead of refilling one you already have; use a cloth bag when going grocery shopping instead of getting a new one each time; use both sides of the paper. The opportunities for reusing resources, rather than using new ones, are not just environmentally sound, they also save money. Presumably, something that has both an economic benefit and an environmental benefit 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.1 The Issue: Hazardous Waste Disposal CHAPTER 8 is something people need to consider a more important part of their routine. Grandma would probably agree with these suggestions and have some more of her own: • • • • • • Plastic containers and reusable lunch bags are great ways to take your lunch to school without creating waste. Coffee cans, shoe boxes, margarine containers, and other types of containers people throw away can be used to store things or can become fun arts and crafts projects. Don’t throw out clothes, toys, furniture, and other things that you don’t want anymore. Somebody else can probably use them. You can bring them to a center that collects donations, give them to friends, or even have a yard sale. Use paper grocery bags to make book covers rather than buying new ones. Use silverware and dishes instead of disposable plastic utensils and plates. Store food in reusable plastic containers. (Fact Monster, 2007, para. 4) The Argument Against Reducing and Reusing There are few arguments against reducing and reusing resources. Few would argue that we should use more water, or plastic, or energy, when we can accomplish what we want or need to and use less. Again, this is an example of something that makes both environmental sense and economic sense. Perhaps you live in an area of the country that gets cold; you could run your thermostat at 73 degrees and be quite comfortable, or you could be equally comfortable at 68 degrees with a sweater on. Saving energy, of course, saves money on one’s heating bill, as well as reduces the demand for energy and the associated environmental impact of finding and producing that energy. As we saw with the drinking-glass example, saving energy can have a substantial “multiplier effect.” If a particular change in behavior lowers energy use by 2%, that may not sound like much. But multiply that result by 150 million, and it can have a substantial impact. As noted, few people come out directly and argue that we should use more energy, that our cars should get worse gas mileage, that our heating and air conditioning systems should be less effective, or that we should run our thermostats at 90 degrees when we are cold. Instead, we see economic arguments that, indirectly, support some of those proposals. For example, increasing gas mileage or CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards are frequently opposed by the auto industry because meeting those standards imposes costs on the industry to retool machinery and redesign cars. For instance, the Heartland Institute has argued that increasing these standards will restrict consumers’ choices, although they “are better positioned than regulators to choose the size, fuel economy, and other features of the cars and trucks they buy” (n.d., para. 4). Nor, according to Heartland, does it decrease dependence on foreign oil. Still, few argue that reducing energy and resource consumption—provided it does not harm economic growth or restrict opportunities—is not a reasonable strategy, all else being equal. How one does that, however, remains a source of contention. mos85880_08_c08.indd 223 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection CHAPTER 8 Universal Waste The term universal waste is reserved for specific kinds of products, generally consumer products that contain mercury, lead, butane, arsenic, cadmium, or other substances that can be harmful to both humans and the environment. They call for specific modes of disposal because they contain chemicals that, if improperly disposed of (such as putting them in a landfill), can contaminate the water, air, soil, and, potentially, food. Some of the kinds of products that contain universal wastes are fluorescent light bulbs (tubes), a number of electronic devices such as computers and cell phones, batteries, thermometers and other mercurycontaining items, and glass picture tubes found in televisions and computer monitors. There aren’t a lot of disputes here; few if any people would argue for the disposal of universal wastes in such a way that it increases the risks to which innocent people are subjected. One might, of course, point out that, as with many circumstances in which it can take a bit longer or a take a bit more energy to do the correct thing, people do not do it. One could, for instance, put his or her batteries in the ordinary household trash—no one is checking, after all. That may save this person the time and energy required to dispose of the batteries correctly, at a universal waste disposal site. But this isn’t, ethically, much different than drunk driving. By driving drunk, one endangers others (and oneself), although it may at the time seem more convenient than calling a cab or finding a friend to drive. Most of us would regard drunk driving as irresponsible, which is why society has stiff penalties for being caught doing so; to argue that one’s convenience is more important than the potential harms one can cause to other innocent people would be generally regarded as both short sighted and selfish. Similarly, the incorrect disposal of universal waste poses a risk to others (and oneself), and we would no more accept its convenience as justifying posing that risk than we would accept convenience in defense of driving while drunk. The more general point is that society has the right to expect its members to obey those laws (and conventions, or informal agreements) designed to protect people from risks to which they should not be exposed. To fail to obey those laws and conventions will seem, to most, immoral, although the arguments for why that is can differ. A utilitarian, for instance, might argue that correctly disposing of universal wastes produces a general good that far outweighs any benefits that one might gain by doing otherwise. A deontologist, in contrast, could argue that doing something out of personal convenience that harms another cannot be the kind of action that could become universal law—would we be willing to be treated that way, if we were subject to harms simply for another’s convenience? 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection H ow much responsibility should a corporation bear when it comes to waste disposal? Do businesses and the general public have differing levels of environmental accountability? In this section, we will look at some of the concerns surrounding the business community’s participation—or lack of it—in environmental protection. Environmental Harm We noted that the “three Rs” of reducing, reusing, and recycling are often suggested as ways to minimize the damage done to the environment. These simple steps reduce the mos85880_08_c08.indd 224 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection CHAPTER 8 stress on the planet and its resources, and help maintain an environment that is sustainable for current and future generations. Generally, the focus on environmental harms has been on air pollution, water pollution, and soil pollution; more recently, the emphasis on anthropogenic (human-made) climate change, and resource depletion. The last two have generated some degree of controversy; here we will look at three specific issues: the threat pollution posts to groundwater, injecting toxins into the environment that end up in the human bloodstream and nervous system, and the risks to which the food supply is subject due to environmental hazards. As we have already seen, these issues often arise due to the potential conflict between a desire to protect the environment and a need for economic development. Straight to the Source The UN’s Principles for Responsible Investment In 2005, the United Nations proposed to a group of institutional investors that they develop principles for responsible investment, which in part reflect a desire to support environmental protection. This group is known for developing the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI). In one of its reports, the group reported these results (as of 2008) and this prediction: Global environmental damage caused by human activity in 2008 represented a monetary value of $6.6 trillion, equivalent to 11% of global GDP, calculates a study by the UN-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and UNEP Finance Initiative. Those global costs are 20% larger than the $5.4 trillion decline in the value of pension funds in developed countries caused by the global financial crisis in 2007/8. The study projects that the monetary value of annual environmental damage from water and air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, general waste and depleted resources could reach $28.6 trillion in 2050, or 23% lower if clean and resourceefficient technologies are introduced. (UNEP Press Release, 2010, para. 1–2) In response to these concerns—both economic and environmental, the following six principles were developed for responsible investors. Principle 1: We will incorporate ESG [environmental, social, and corporate governance] issues into investment analysis and decision-making processes. Principle 2: We will be active owners and incorporate ESG issues into our ownership policies and practices. Principle 3: We will seek appropriate disclosure on ESG issues by the entities in which we invest. Principle 4: We will promote acceptance and implementation of the Principles within the investment industry. Principle 5: We will work together to enhance our effectiveness in implementing the Principles. Principle 6: We will each report on our activities and progress towards implementing the Principles. (PRI, n.d., para. 1) mos85880_08_c08.indd 225 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection CHAPTER 8 Polluted Groundwater It is difficult to imagine life without water; the average person can live only 3–5 days without it (Bryant, n.d.). Human beings not only require water simply to live, but also for various household needs (cooking, cleaning, etc.), recreation, transportation, and business. It probably goes without saying that water is a precious resource, and should be protected; yet it is a resource that is in various ways threatened. It is estimated that one in nine people on Earth (780 million) do not have regular access to clean drinking water; polluted water brings with it risks of ingesting toxic chemicals, but water-related illnesses still kill some 3.4 million people a year. While some countries have quite limited access to water, it has been observed that “an American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the average person in a developing country slum uses for an entire day” (Water.org, n.d., para. 6). There are many threats to the water supply, too many to mention in detail here. In general, though, the chief sources of groundwater pollution are industrial sources (for example, through the use of chemicals that may leach, as well as the spilling of chemicals and fuels and mining byproducts), agricultural sources (such as fertilizer runoff, pesticides, and livestock waste), and individual sources (motor oil, paint, detergents, and other products that may introduce various toxins into the water stream). These hazards are increased in some communities through extensive development, and the increase in housing developments, streets, and parking lots; by limiting opportunities for water to be absorbed through the soil, it becomes concentrated by being directed toward storm sewers (and picking up, along the way, various toxins such heavy metals, gasoline, and fertilizer) (Oregon Environmental Council, n.d.). As is so often the case, there can be a conflict here between economic development and maintaining a resource, in this case, water. As a single example, one might consider the pork industry, specifically in North Carolina. According to the North Carolina Pork Council, “More than 46,000 North Carolina citizens work full-time in pork production and over 80% of North Carolina’s hog farms are owned and operated by individual farm families” This is obviously an important industry in North Carolina, and the Council insists that “they are dedicated to ensuring that they will pass a clean environment on to the next generation”(2006, para. 3). The critics of large-scale hog farming, in contrast, observe that ecosystems and their inhabitants are endangered by the waste these large livestock farms generate (Natural Resources Defense Council, 2013). The challenge, of course, is trying to balance the economic needs—the employment of the many North Carolinians in the pork industry, and the secondary effects that employment has in the North Carolina economy—with the protection of groundwater. Can these two be reconciled? Do we have to make a choice: either abandon large-scale hog farms, with their accompanying manure lagoons and methane production, or accept that the economic mos85880_08_c08.indd 226 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection CHAPTER 8 demands here outweigh the environmental concerns? Is the public better served by one or the other here? If public health is generally threatened by contamination of the surrounding groundwater, we may be forced to conclude that current practices are too risky, and that agricultural practices need to be developed to minimize this risk. Or we can argue that the current risks, while genuine, are too small to require an expensive overhauling of contemporary methods of food production; no activity is without its risks, and society is constantly Mike Stewart/Associated Press required to balance the two and make This photo shows a hog farm with rectangular lagoons difficult choices. Finally, how should that hold animal waste. Critics of this type of farm are society determine the costs and ben- concerned that the waste could pollute groundwater. efits involved, and is there a point at which the risks force regulators to impose restrictions on agricultural production to require that any potential harms be minimized? As we have seen, and will continue to see, environmental issues frequently lead to difficult questions concerning the interaction of economic goals, environmental goals, and the concern that these two goals are irreconcilable. Be the Ethicist Drilling for Oil in Yellowstone You are CEO of Smith Petroleum. Oil has been discovered in the middle of Yellowstone National Park. There is a lot of oil. It seems clear that if you approach this correctly, the current federal and state governments will approve drilling in Yellowstone. It is said by the oil industry that this will lower gas prices in the United States by at least $0.10/gallon and create at least 10,000 new jobs. The decision to drill is entirely yours. 1. State your decision. 2. Argue for that decision on the basis of just the economic issues involved. 3. Argue against that decision, on the basis of the intrinsic value of Yellowstone National Park (its non-economic value). Assume you are no longer CEO of Smith Petroleum. Explain to someone what value or benefit Yellowstone National Park has. How do you respond if that person then says he or she will never go to Yellowstone National Park? If you aren’t familiar with Yellowstone National Park, it might be worth going to this site before answering these questions: http://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm. mos85880_08_c08.indd 227 10/28/13 3:35 PM Section 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection CHAPTER 8 Poisoning Human Populations The expression body burden has been introduced to describe the chemicals that one finds—from natural and from human-made sources—in a person’s body. We can breathe them in, ingest them in our food and water, absorb them through our skin, and they can even be passed from a mother to a developing fetus. All of us have some of these chemicals; some, such as arsenic, pass through human beings quickly; others, such as mercury or lead, can remain in organs, fat tissue, or other parts of our bodies for years. Some pesticides can remain stored in the body for as long as 50 years. Simply having chemicals in the bloodstream is not the problem; rather, it is which chemicals these are, and what their effects are. For a substance such as dioxin or mercury, with substantial health risks, significant vigilance is needed to minimize one’s exposure (Coming Clean, n.d.). Human beings are exposed to chemicals, which, as noted, occur both naturally an in human-made products, constantly. Some have unknown effects, and have not been sufficiently researched; others have known effects that are quite harmful (for example, lead and mercury); still others have known effects that appear to be harmless in standard dosages (potassium). Rather than trying to sort out the various results of the 80,000 chemicals in commercial use, here we can focus on dioxin, which indicates how, once a risk is recognized, government and industry may be able to work together to develop a potential solution. Dioxin is a name used to refer to a set of chemical compounds; one, specifically known as TCDD, is particularly well studied. It can be found in polyvinyl chloride, paper that has been bleached with chlorine, and from certain products when incinerated; it can also be naturally produced by volcanoes and forest fires. There is some controversy about the health effects of TCDD; one source states that studies “have linked dioxins to cancer, disrupted hormones, reproductive damage such as decreased fertility, neurological effects, immune system changes and skin disorders” (Cone, 2012, para. 4), while the EPA notes that “currently there is no clear indication of increased disease in the general population attributable to dioxin-like compounds” (DioxinFacts.org, n.d., para. 7). Whether there are significant health hazards or not, increased regulation, and cooperation between industry and government, has decreased dioxin emission substantially in the last 50 years. This, then, seems to be an environmental success story; dioxins may be a threat, their release was regulated, industry recognized the necessity of those regulations, and the release and exposure of dioxins—again, specifically TCDD—was decreased significantly. At the same time, new chemicals are introduced every year, and it is difficult to determine their short- or long-term effects without substantial and expensive studies being done. David Ewing Duncan comments that “only a quarter of the 82,000 chemicals in use in the U.S. have ever been tested for toxicity” (2006, para. 17). As we have seen, industry, agricultural, and commercial enterprises often generate some degree of risk. No one thinks it even possible or desirable to eliminate human exposure to all chemicals, and no one thinks it possible or desirable not to regulate that exposure at all. Again, the balancing act that is called for with some sources of the riskier aspects of the body burden—such things as perfluorinated acids, bisphenol A, and phthalates, which we may not even be aware of—must be evaluated in terms of costs and benefits. Certainly, we can find arguments that regulation of such dangerous chemicals as mercury—a mos85880_08_c08.indd 228 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection CHAPTER 8 by-product of coal-burning power plants, and often found in relatively high concentrations of fish—is insufficient, even though the risks associated with elevated mercury levels in human beings are well established. The political, economic, and moral questions are difficult to disentangle here, but reconciling the benefits of human health and the costs of reducing the threats to that health are important questions. Answers to such questions, of course, often raise challenges to those who develop policy and legislation, yet the fundamental ethical questions also remain: Whose good is being served by regulations? Whose good is being served by limiting regulations? Are environmental regulations too burdensome on business, or inadequate to protect public health? Finally, particularly in an area that requires chemical and medical expertise, how can citizens who lack such expertise determine what information is reliable, and what information is being presented in such a way as to benefit a specific environmental or industrial perspective? Poisoning the Food Supply Just as humans obviously need water, we need food to survive. Yet a number of environmental concerns have been raised about the quality of the food that is available. While access to food itself, and healthful food specifically, varies around the world, here we will focus specifically on the food supply in the United States. There are different perspectives on the food supply, and different ways of describing potential threats to it. On the one hand, “[W]e do have a very safe food supply,” according to Sanford A. Miller, former director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition (Carey, 2007, para. 5). On the other hand, there are regularly stories of foodborne illness and recalls issued of various foods, whether E. coli outbreaks from tainted beef or salmonella risks from peanut butter. (Carey, 2007). The Center for Disease Control “estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases” (2013, para 1). Other concerns have been raised: • Bisphenol A (BPA), found in plastic bottles (including baby bottles) and other plastic containers has been identified as posing potential risks: BPA has raised concerns because it appears to mimic the effects of estrogen, interfering with hormone levels and cell signaling systems. Previous studies have shown that people exposed to high levels of BPA have a greater risk of developing uterine fibroids, breast cancer, decreased sperm counts, and prostate cancer. Babies and children are thought to be at greatest risk from the exposure. (Kotz, 2008, para. 2) • • mos85880_08_c08.indd 229 Some companies that have focused on small batch production and emphasized organic production methods have been bought out by large corporations, such as Kellogg, Procter and Gamble, and Coca-Cola. The suggestion has been made that the size of these companies may prevent some of the close attention given to the more traditional methods that smaller companies were able to provide. The use of antibiotics, hormones, and other supplements in animal feed has raised fears about effects in humans who eat these animals. Thus Donald Kennedy, former FDA commissioner and president emeritus at Stanford University, said, “There’s no question that routinely administering non-therapeutic doses of 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection • • CHAPTER 8 antibiotics to food animals contributes to antibiotic resistance” (McVeigh, 2012, para. 4). Similar concerns have been raised about genetically modified (GM) foods; some research has associated GM corn with hepatorenal toxicity that can damage the liver and kidneys (de Vendômois, Roullier, Cellier, & Séralini, 2009); in 2013, the voters of California voted down a proposition that would have required manufacturers to label all foods with GM ingredients. Advocates of the proposition noted that most of the funding dedicated to defeating this proposition came from out of state, largely from companies such as Monsanto, Cargill, and other corporations with a large stake in GM foods (No on 37, n.d.), outspending the opposition (those in favor of the proposition) five to one. Bees are important for pollinating fruit and vegetable plants, but there has been much worry expressed about the use of herbicides, insecticides, and pesticides contributing to the decline of the bee population, and the collapse of some bee colonies (Tapparo, Marton, Giorio, Zanella, Solda et al., 2012). These and other examples are frequently highlighted by those who worry that humans are poisoning their own food supply. Industry responds, naturally, by pointing out that many of these risks are exaggerated or nonexistent. In addition, some genetic modification allows certain plants to grow in places where they otherwise could not, as well as extending the growing season and increasing protection from pests and disease. This response is summed up by those who insist that in the scientific community, genetically modified organisms raise very little alarm in the scientific community and that the science used to create them is basic enough to teach to high school students (Berezow, 2013). Yet again, we see a need to balance what industry—here, agriculture—needs against enviDamian Dovarganes /Associated Press ronmental concerns raised from various sources. Some research has indicated that there may Each side has its experts supporting it, and those of us who are not experts may have little or no be health risks associated with food that contains genetically modified organisms. ability to determine which is correct. Should we be suspicious of the claims made by companies that have a large financial stake in GM food that such food is harmless? Should we be suspicious of claims made by environmentalists who sometimes seem to desire that largescale agribusiness be unsuccessful and insist that food be locally sourced and organic? What genuine threats to the food supply exist, and how might they be prevented? What is the legitimate role of regulation here—presumably we don’t want people becoming sick or dying from eating—and where does regulation become onerous and add unnecessarily to our food costs? As we continue to see, balancing economic issues with environmental issues brings with it political challenges, leading to this fundamental issue: Can one be an environmentally responsible producer (or consumer) without placing an undue burden on business? mos85880_08_c08.indd 230 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection CHAPTER 8 Corporate Responsibility To whom is a corporation responsible? Assuming a corporation is a for-profit enterprise, its fundamental goal is relatively clear: It needs to make a profit. Of course, most corporations recognize that this has to be seen in a larger context: Corporations have employees and stockholders, and are located within a community. The community itself may be taken to be the local community, the larger surrounding community, the state, the country, the continent, the hemisphere; for a large, multinational corporation, its community may be the planet. Environmental Decision Making One influential description of the responsibilities a corporation has was described succinctly by economist Milton Friedman: “There is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it . . . engages in open and free competition, without deception or fraud” (1962, p. 133]). However, another competing model has gained a good bit of attention since Friedman’s description: stakeholder theory. The stakeholder theory takes a broader view, that corporations have a responsibility to shareholders, but also to “individuals and constituencies that contribute, either voluntarily or involuntarily, to [the corporation’s] wealthcreating capacity and activities, and who are therefore its potential beneficiaries and/or risk bearers “ (Post, Preston, & Sachs, 2002, p. 19). Different interpretations of the stakeholder theory identify distinct stakeholders (in addition to shareholders), but generally these would include, at least, customers, employees, suppliers, and members of the community. As we saw, however, the corporation itself may determine what that community is, and which of its members are sufficiently affected to qualify as stakeholders. Instrumental Value and Intrinsic Value Often in discussions of environmental ethics, the debate gets overtaken by strict economic considerations. For instance, if an economic development plan may endanger the habitat of a particular species of fish, and potentially lead to its extinction, some will argue that the benefits of the development outweigh any benefits we could receive from the fish. In response, some may suggest that we don’t know what potential value the fish could have; perhaps it will at some point be discovered that it contains a compound that could help cure certain forms of cancer? In this debate over the benefits of the fish being endangered and the benefits of the fish being protected, the sole kind of value being appealed to is called instrumental value: namely, what good is the thing? How can I use it to get something else? In contrast, some things are said to have intrinsic value. For instance, being happy is often said to have intrinsic value because it is itself valuable; it is a good thing to be happy, and we don’t regard being happy as needing to be a means to some other end. Being happy is good in itself, or intrinsically. (continued) mos85880_08_c08.indd 231 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection CHAPTER 8 Instrumental Value and Intrinsic Value, (continued) Consider the following examples; do they have only instrumental value? Do any of them have intrinsic value? If any of them do have intrinsic value, what does that mean in terms of our obligation to protect or preserve them? If you think nothing here does have intrinsic value, can you think of anything that does? Biodiversity The Grand Canyon Oil filters The Mona Lisa Number 2 pencils Giant pandas Site of the 9/11 attacks (“Ground Zero”) Picture frames Aspirin Christmas Which of these models influences an analysis of a corporate decision can alter how one regards corporate responsibility. For instance, if I run a multinational paint company that generates a certain amount of hazardous waste, how should I calculate its disposal? Should I choose simply whatever is least expensive? Should I choose whatever is least expensive that also minimizes its hazardous effects? If I choose the least expensive disposal method, this may lead to higher levels of toxins being released in another country, but may lead to marginally higher profits and, consequently, a higher return to my stockholders. Usually, of course, such decisions are considerably more complex: Decisions presumably can’t simply ignore whatever laws and other restrictions that are in place wherever the hazardous waste is disposed; I may have important stockholders who regard environmental harm as worth the additional cost; I may have to factor into the business decision the cost of any potential fines (or even jail time) if I choose to ignore or try to skirt the applicable regulations. As may already be clear, many of these kinds of factors look different within the stakeholder model: Customers, distributors, employees, and community members may have a very different set of criteria than mere return on investment when they evaluate such a decision (see Figure 8.1). Furthermore, a corporation may regard its environmental policies as part of its image or “brand,” and may see making sound environmental practice part of its marketing strategy; a company that has a reputation for being a responsible environmental steward may, thereby, be more profitable in both the short and long run. mos85880_08_c08.indd 232 10/28/13 1:30 PM CHAPTER 8 Section 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection Figure 8.1: Business relationships in relation to environmental concerns Between Industry and Societal Solidarity Broad Societal Economy Industry Fair Sustainable Liveable Between Societal and Environment Viable Environment Territory Between Industry and Environment This diagram shows the interlocking relationships a corporation needs to consider in making business decisions on the stakeholder model. Source: Retrieved from http://walimemon.com/2010/08/corporate-social-responsibility/ Going Green on a Corporate Level Various companies have adopted policies to be environmentally responsible. For example, many hotel chains have developed plans to reduce their energy and water usage, reduce waste sent to landfills, and thus reduce their “carbon footprint.” Organic Methods and Products Considerable attention has been given in recent years to organic food as an alternative to traditional methods of food production. Whether or not organic food is better for human beings, or, for that matter, is better for the environment, is the source of some controversy. One 2012 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that “the published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria” (SmithSpangler, Brandeau, Hunter, Bavinger, Pearson et al., 2012, para. 3). mos85880_08_c08.indd 233 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection CHAPTER 8 Others have noted that organic methods not only do not produce more nutritional food, but that conventional farming is more effective, producing more food per acre of land (Palmer, 2012). The tradeoff seems to be whether to use more land and organic methods, or less land and traditional methods. Those who advocate organic methods point not only to health benefits for human beings, but also to benefits from decreased use of pesticides and land improvement, and to the fact that ethical stewardship of the land requires a “gentler” approach than that used by traditional agriculture. The Organic Trade Association argues that organic methods have these important advantages: • • • • • Organic farms respect our water resources: The elimination of polluting chemicals and nitrogen leaching, done in combination with soil building, protects and conserves water resources. Organic farmers build healthy soil: Soil is the foundation of the food chain. The primary focus of organic farming is to use practices that build healthy soils. Organic farmers work in harmony with nature: Organic agricultural respects the balance demanded of a healthy ecosystem: wildlife is encouraged by including forage crops in rotation and by retaining fence rows, wetlands, and other natural areas. Organic producers strive to preserve diversity: The loss of a large variety of species (biodiversity) is one of the most pressing environmental concerns. The good news is that many organic farmers and gardeners have been collecting and preserving seeds, and growing unusual varieties for decades. Organic farming helps keep rural communities healthy: USDA reported that in 1997, half of U.S. farm production came from only 2% of farms. Organic agriculture can be a lifeline for small farms because it offers an alternative market where sellers can command fair prices for crops. (2013, para. 4–6, 8–9) Clean Coal Meanwhile, many of those in the coal industry have adopted “clean coal technology,” with the coordinated goals of continuing to use coal to produce energy and to do so in a way that minimizes its environmental impact. Improving Water Quality Agribusiness has recognized the need for sustainable sources of freshwater as well as its responsibility to help meet that goal. Thus, companies have produced policy statements, plans of action, and timetables to monitor their progress. One example is the multinational agricultural producer, Cargill, which has committed itself to freshwater efficiency. mos85880_08_c08.indd 234 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.3 The Issue: Personal Responsibility CHAPTER 8 Each of these programs has at least its share of critics; some argue that “clean coal” is a contradiction in terms; others that companies put out corporate statements of environmental responsibility that conflict with the actual behavior of the companies; while still others suggest that many corporate business models will never hesitate to sacrifice environmental benefits if they interfere with corporate profits. One standard criticism of clean coal, for example, is that the very idea rests upon some rather problematic claims. Coal releases large amounts of CO2; to prevent that CO2 from being released into the atmosphere (which is what makes it “clean”), a method known as carbon capture and sequestration is required. But that method itself requires a good deal of energy; as James B. Meigs points out, “[A] coal-fired power plant would have to burn roughly 25 percent more coal to handle carbon sequestration while producing the same amount of electricity” (2011, para. 6). Still more difficult is the actual sequestration. Finally, it is not clear, at this point, whether such a method would be successful in preventing the compressed CO2 from leaking, and for how long. In short, its critics claim that the problem with “clean coal” is that there may not be such a thing (Meigs, 2011). Ethical Views The moral questions raised by many businesses are not necessarily different for different ethical theories, and they may not necessarily be analyzed differently by those theories. As is often the case, questions of corporate responsibility must be considered within the context of the actual issue involved, the business model used, the corporate mission statement, the theory—e.g., shareholder or stakeholder—utilized, the ethical evaluations being made, and how the various factors within those ethical evaluations are weighed. One utilitarian may look at a coal company deciding not to add expensive but optional “scrubbers” to minimize its mercury output; the greatest good for the greatest number in this case might be determined, in this specific analysis, to be based solely on return to investors of the highest possible profits. No law is being broken, and the company is fully complying with all relevant regulations. In contrast, another utilitarian might well argue that such scrubbers are worth the added cost, evaluating the benefits to the community not just in terms of profit, but also in terms of the risks of increased mercury contamination to current and future customers, the company’s commitment to sustainability, and its reputation for being a responsible member of the community. Here we have two utilitarians with contrasting conceptions of what the correct decision is to do in one specific case. Presumably, one could make a similarly contrasting argument from the perspective of two deontologists who disagree with distinct assumptions about the values that should be emphasized in such a decision. 8.3 The Issue: Personal Responsibility I n addition to corporate responsibility, all of us, as individuals, have a relationship to our environment. What does it mean to take personal responsibility to maintain and protect our environment, not just for our own health and safety, but for those mos85880_08_c08.indd 235 10/28/13 1:30 PM CHAPTER 8 Section 8.3 The Issue: Personal Responsibility generations to follow? Do we have any obligations to protect the environment, or should we regard it simply as a source of resources to be exploited and utilized? If we do have such obligations, what are they? Do they require us to change our lifestyles in a radical way, or are there more moderate steps we can take to reduce waste; negative effects on the air, soil, and water; and carbon footprints? Some environmentalists argue that only radical steps can be justified at this stage, given the damage that has already been done and that continues; this is particularly a common feature of discussions on anthropogenic climate change. But others argue that we can make relatively modest changes and have a cumulative effect that will minimize our environmental impact and, in many cases, improve our surroundings. Environmentally Responsible Households One simple step to take is disposing of household waste in the appropriate way. Many of us have various kinds of waste: leftover food, packaging, bottles, cans, and various kinds of clutter that we accumulate and, at some point, want to discard. There are other more hazardous kinds of waste, such as motor oil, antifreeze, or leftover bug spray, as well as those we saw under the title of “universal wastes”: solvents, cleaners, electronic items, batteries, even thermometers. We might object were we to see our next door neighbor pouring used motor oil down a storm sewer, but there is little difference between this and tossing batteries or cell phones into the trash, where they will end up in a landfill. The EPA notes that improper disposal of household waste can pose serious threats to both human health and the environment; it directs consumers to community resources aimed at disposing of hazardous items responsibly. Going Green on an Individual Level Various companies have recognized that there is significant demand for products that are less stressful on the environment, and that are regarded as safer for humans, including children, as well as pets and other animals. Some of the products are designed to save energy, water, or both. These include solar panels, reusable water bottles, energy-saving light bulbs, low-flow showerheads, and rechargeable batteries. Meanwhile, ecologists recommend homeowners rely on natural substances—as opposed to manufactured chemicals that may pose health risks—for killing pests and weeds. For example, use vinegar instead of glyphosate: One very commonly used weed killer is made with glyphosate, which some studies have connected with potential health risks in humans and other animals. Using mos85880_08_c08.indd 236 iStockphoto/Thinkstock Using organic household waste for composting is one way to “go green.” 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.3 The Issue: Personal Responsibility CHAPTER 8 vinegar and water as a substitute has often been recommended by home gardeners seeking an alternative to glyphosate. Many gardeners have found composting to be a productive way to use organic household waste (such things as coffee grounds, eggshells, bush and tree trimmings, etc.). Composting takes these wastes and uses them to develop a nutrient-rich fertilizer for the soil. Composting thus decreases the amount of waste that is thrown away, and benefits the soil by adding nutrients. Composting’s numerous benefits are listed on the EPA’s website (see the Suggested Resources at the end of this chapter.). Are Green Products Affordable? Environmentalists often stress the importance of changing one’s lifestyle to be more “ecofriendly,” but most also insist that such changes do not require much if any sacrifice on the part of the individual. Rather, it is just getting into the habit of choosing those products that have a relatively lower environmental impact, as well as doing other things that are easy to do but have a cumulative effect (reusing a cloth bag when grocery shopping) and not doing things that have a negative impact (improperly disposing of hazardous waste). Yet it has been argued that some of the steps recommended in order to decrease our negative impact on the environment, involve expenses, and that many of us who would prefer to be more environmentally responsible are not really in a financial position to do so. While it might be obvious that to retrofit a house with solar panels is a very expensive undertaking, it is also the case that organic food is generally more expensive than food grown in the more traditional fashion. A Denver Post editorial notes that the use of wind and solar power will be substantially more expensive than fossil fuels (Yeatman & Cooke, 2010). While this is a complaint about the differential energy costs between these various options, most of us also know on a more individual basis about costs that are involved in “being green.” Sometimes these are financial costs, but there are also costs associated with time, convenience, and missing out on something: what economists call “opportunity costs.” It may be more environmentally friendly (and better for me) to walk to work, but what if I work 30 miles from where I live? Perhaps I could bike, but that means I must risk riding a bike in traffic, as well as showing up to work in less than pristine condition (in other words, sweaty). Perhaps I could take public transit, but in my community it is very inefficient, and to get to work requires an hour and a half in transportation time that I could spend doing something else. If the environment is my sole consideration, then walking, biking, or public transportation may be the correct choice; but most of us make these choices in the context of busy schedules, other responsibilities, and other activities that we either need to take part in, or at least would like to. Even cleaning products that are “green” tend to be more expensive—in some cases, quite a bit more expensive—than the standard ones we might recognize, and some have argued that the organic products are not as effective (a claim strongly rejected by those who make organic cleaners and other household products). The question then becomes one that we saw earlier in other contexts: Do I want my house to appear slightly less clean, for more money, or appear cleaner, for less money? Even if the organic products are as effective as others, they are more expensive: Perhaps the question is not so much whether I think it is worth the extra money to do what I can to protect the environment, it is whether I can mos85880_08_c08.indd 237 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.3 The Issue: Personal Responsibility CHAPTER 8 afford to buy the organic products. Many people feel as if there really is little or no choice in the matter. After all, if one doesn’t have the funds to make a positive environmental impact, it may not matter what one desires to do. Those who advocate using organic cleaners, eating organic food, and taking other steps generally recognize that, currently, there are additional costs to doing so. At the same time, they have two responses: • • The more people begin to realize the benefits of being “green” (or at least “greener”), the more the laws of supply and demand will take effect. More companies will recognize the profits available in offering environmentally friendly products; competition will bring prices down; and the free market will respond, as it is designed to do, to meet customer demand with efficient, safe, and affordable green alternatives. In short, when these choices become increasingly popular, economies of scale will function to make them affordable for many more people. There are costs to using the older, less eco-friendly products, in terms of health care costs, loss of productivity due to job absences, diminished quality of life, and other costs that may be “hidden,” but are no less genuine. When these costs are factored in, green products may be considerably closer in price to the alternative, and these costs also provide some motivation for both government money, and private equity firms, to subsidize and investment in sustainable products and technologies. Medication Disposal Many of us have specific forms of hazardous waste in our homes, which must be disposed of an appropriate way. However, one particular form of hazardous waste has not been mentioned; although very common, it can be overlooked in such discussions, and should not be. This is the disposal of medical waste: drugs, such as antibiotics, as well as syringes (and other “sharps” such as scalpels or lancets), disposable gloves, incontinence products, blood-soaked bandages, etc. Such waste is produced in hospitals, labs, clinics, nursing homes, medical offices, and even schools and tattoo parlors, but it is not unusual for some of these things to be in individual homes: Regardless of their source, however, they need to be disposed of properly. Obviously enough, some medical waste poses a significant health threat: A contaminated needle can be a biohazard, and can lead to infectious diseases; a number of different kinds of medical waste can carry with them some sort of health risk if not disposed of properly. Additionally, but importantly, is the question of unused medications. These pose various risks: Children may accidentally swallow them, and prescription drug abusers may be tempted to steal them. A more significant threat may come from a standard way many people used to dispose of unwanted medicine—by flushing it down the toilet. This sends the various pharmaceuticals into the waterways, introducing their active agents into that water, which can be absorbed by fish and can even find their way into drinking water. Observers point out that scientists have detected medicines in both surface and groundwater, not to mention the soil. Even low levels of medicine in an ecological system pose health risks to land and marine life (Take Back Your Meds, 2010). mos85880_08_c08.indd 238 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.4 Applying the Theories CHAPTER 8 In contrast, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has prepared a list of medicines it regards as safe for disposal by flushing (n.d.); presumably, this means that medicines not on this list may not be safe to flush. The EPA has an extensive discussion of the issues involved on its website: http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/ppcp/index.cfm. In any case, as is clear, this method of disposal is the source of some controversy. In any case, it is important to be aware of the issue, and to become better informed about the risks involved with improper disposal of all medical waste, including both over-the-counter and prescription pharmaceuticals. 8.4 Applying the Theories W e began our look at environmental ethics by considering what happened in Hinkley, California. Was Pacific Gas and Electric guilty of polluting the groundwater, and thus responsible for some of the illnesses and even deaths that occurred there? Was this charge unfair, and were the claims that PG&E caused these results overblown and exaggerated? Or is there a third possibility to consider, that all economic activity—including that of PG&E—carries with it certain risks, but those risks are manageable and are the kind of thing a society has to accept in order to flourish economically? These questions, to a large extent, are raised in terms of economics, cost–benefit analysis, profit and loss, health care costs, etc. But there are also ethical considerations here as well. If we have an accurate account of what PG&E did—or didn’t do—then we can examine whether it did the right thing: not the right thing necessarily in terms of economic gain (or in terms of instrumental value) but in terms of moral values. Is the company’s behavior justified on moral grounds, or does it deserve to be criticized on those same grounds? Here we will look at a utilitarian defense of PG&E’s corporate behavior, and then contrast it with an objection to that behavior in terms of deontology. Then we will turn to relativism, to see how that perspective might look at this specific situation. Utilitarian The case concerning PG&E contains important factual questions that are difficult to answer with certainty. Nonetheless, PG&E settled for $333 million in 1996, another $295 million in 2006, and a final payment of $20 million in 2008. These are significant damages, but in the long run they become part of the cost of doing business, and many of the costs are, undoubtedly, passed on to PG&E’s customers. A utilitarian examining this case has to determine what the costs and the benefits are in this particular situation. On the one hand, there are the disputed health effects of PG&E’s operation in Hinkley, the costs of the cleanup, as well as the costs of litigation and the damages paid to those in the lawsuit. Without dismissing the potential and genuine damages that may have been involved, a broader perspective also needs to be brought to bear in this case. The operation that caused the groundwater contamination was natural gas decompression; Hinkley had one of the many stations that are required to decompress natural gas between its original sources and its final delivery stage. To minimize rust in the cooling towers, chromium 6 was used, and the discharged water was kept in unlined pools; this had been done since 1952. When we look at the broader picture, however, mos85880_08_c08.indd 239 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.4 Applying the Theories CHAPTER 8 we see several compelling facts: PG&E is a major source of energy in California, upon which people rely. Without a consistent, affordable power source, households would be prevented from doing a great number of things, from laundry to watching TV to running air conditioning and heating. Furthermore, without this reliable source of natural gas to the many industries in California that use it, the California economy would grind to a halt; people would be thrown out of work, agriculture and industry would be irreparably harmed, taxes would be raised to pay for unemployment and other costs associated with a sharp increase in unemployment. Additionally, all the salaries and benefits have a multiplier effect: Those who lose their jobs working for PG&E no longer have money for babysitters, going out to eat, and other items on which they traditionally spend their disposable income. In turn, all those who rely on that money are harmed. In short, even if the worse case scenario is painted of PG&E’s activity in Hinkley, the alternative is almost incalculably worse and affects far larger numbers of people. It is virtually impossible to make a utility calculation under which more people—again, on the worst case scenario— would be better off were PG&E prevented from the exploration, development, and delivery of natural gas. All such activity has risks, but the benefits so vastly outweigh the risks than on any utilitarian evaluation, PG&E did the right thing. This conclusion hardly supports the idea that corporations can do what they wish without any consideration of effects on people and on the environment. Obviously enough, once the risk of chromium 6 had been established, PG&E had an obligation to respond and to minimize that risk. That is not only the ethical result that would be suggested by the utilitarian; it is also sound business practice. But on a utilitarian view, assuming that no energy production is 100% risk free—a very safe assumption—one must balance those risks and address them as effectively as possible, but recognize that those risks do not outweigh the rewards of a generally safe, affordable, and necessary source of energy. At the same time, it should be noted that different utilitarians will evaluate the specific benefits—and therefore the overall benefits—of an activity differently, just as they may evaluate the costs differently. How much does one value preventing a child from developing asthma, or a potentially fatal disease? How does one weigh the value of a low unemployment rate in a town, with all the direct and indirect benefits it provides? As we’ve seen, clean air and clean water may have some specifiable value; at what point does the value of making air cleaner not justify the expense required to do so, or the sacrifice of economic development it might require? As should be clear, adopting a utilitarian perspective on environmental issues does not eliminate the complex arguments that can occur within utilitarianism. Deontological Deontologists, specifically those influenced by Kant, take as fundamental to their ethical theory two basic points: We must never treat another human being as a mere means to an end (human beings, that is, cannot be treated as having solely instrumental value), and we must act in such a way that our decisions could be universalized—that our decision, in the given context, would be what everyone should do in that same situation. PG&E’s actions violated both of these requirements, and thus were immoral. PG&E used a dangerous chemical, chromium 6, long after it was recognized to pose serious health risks to human beings and other animals. As a profit-oriented organization, it is understandable that PG&E wished to keep its costs down; however, using unlined pools to store water that had been contaminated with chromium 6 was a decision that mos85880_08_c08.indd 240 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.4 Applying the Theories CHAPTER 8 treated the people of Hinkley as means to the end of PG&E. Rather than treating those people with the dignity and respect required, which they deserve simply in virtue of being human beings, PG&E dealt with them as one of several obstacles to overcome in order to achieve its end, namely the highest profits possible. To sacrifice people for profits in such a way is to violate the first principle of deontological ethics, and to deny them their inherent, intrinsic value; doing so is, of course, unethical. PG&E had a moral obligation to take into consideration the human beings and the potential hazards they were being exposed to; to ignore those factors, simply to achieve its goal, is immoral. Unless the lawyers prosecuting the case against PG&E were trained as Kantian deontologists, it was probably not asked in court whether they regarded their actions as universalizable, or following the Kantian categorical imperative that one act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law. While a lawyer might have asked PG&E what the results might have been had all energy companies had such a cavalier attitude toward exposing human beings to such risks, it seems more plausible that PG&E would have been asked this: Would you think you were being treated ethically if you lived in Hinkley? Or perhaps the company was asked if it would object if such procedures, such as storing water contaminated with chromium 6, were kept in unlined pools in the neighborhood where PG&E’s directors, legal team, and all their children lived. In this way, we can bring out the universality test by appealing to the Golden Rule: If you would object to being exposed to chromium 6, then obviously it would be wrong to expose others. Because PG&E’s behavior treated others solely as means to an end, and could not defend that behavior as being in conformity with a law that could be made universal, it was fundamentally immoral. Such violations of human dignity cannot be defended on the basis of profits or other consequences; the act itself is in violation of these fundamental principles and must be found to be unethical. Relativism The relativist has various options here in considering PG&E’s behavior. Perhaps the community of Hinkley thought the risk was worth it, particularly if they got jobs and relatively inexpensive energy out of it. Perhaps the community of Hinkley thought the risk was not worth it, and decided to ban all operations of PG&E from Hinkley. Perhaps the community of Hinkley wished to make a trade with PG&E: For free natural gas for the next 50 years, PG&E could flood the town with water contaminated with chromium 6. While the last option seems implausible, it is difficult to see what result the relativist could not, in theory, support; it is a function of what the community regards as what is best for the community. One might suggest that appealing to relativism here in drafting actual legislation and policy would be a logistical nightmare. How is it decided what, precisely, the community supports? Is it done on the basis of majority rule? Why would majority rule necessarily be favored by this community? After all, relativism doesn’t have some in-principle commitment to democracy or majoritarianism, does it? Furthermore, if majority rule is used to determine what the community wishes to do, this brings with it the various objections to such a procedure that have been prominent since at least Socrates: One thing most of those in the minority are quite familiar with are their views being ignored, or worse, by those mos85880_08_c08.indd 241 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.4 Applying the Theories CHAPTER 8 in the majority. As Socrates (and Plato) also observed, experts in a community are rarely the majority of that community; thus, if we want experts (for instance, on the hazards of chromium 6) to make these decisions, then that is the rule of the few: an aristocracy or an oligarchy. But in defense of relativism in this context, it is more likely a question of the general sense of the community’s priorities, rather than a question of how policy is formulated or legislation enacted. Some communities may wish to make the tradeoff: cheaper energy and a higher risk (within reason) of some cancers; if the risk is seen to be relatively low, and the payoff relatively high, some communities may think this well worth it. At the same time, other communities may look at the same calculations and data and decide it is not worth the risk; they may choose to decrease the potential health risks and pay higher energy costs. Each community chooses what is best for that community, and neither is necessarily wrong. The one issue that does arise here, however, is the traditional question of NIMBY: “Not in My Back Yard.” If a community claims that PG&E must be able to maintain its cooling towers, but doesn’t want those towers in its own town—it wants them in someone else’s backyard—that can generate problems, particularly since the cooling towers have to go in someone’s backyard. This is a common feature of those necessary consequences of activities that bring with them unavoidable risks, such as toxic dumps and hazardous waste incinerators. People need them and want the benefits, but they want someone else to assume the risks. Here again we run into the problem of externalities, and the degree to which these conflicts have been solved in ways that could generally be regarded—on any ethical theory—as fair. Conclusions Environmental hazards are unavoidable: Whether obtaining natural gas by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), mining and burning coal for electricity, or developing sophisticated antibiotics, many technological developments bring with them risks. Evaluating the benefits and risks is an essential component of making sound environmental and economic decisions, and it is important—although often very difficult—to balance in an appropriate way the demands made on the environment by development and progress with the desire to preserve and protect the beauty and value of nature. How we view the value of nature—as having only instrumental value, or also as having intrinsic value—will do a great deal to determine how we evaluate the issues involved and what balance is to be struck. Assuming, as it is safe to do, that progress and development will continue, those concerned about also maintaining their commitment to the stewardship of nature will also continue to confront vexing and difficult challenges. We have seen a number of the different stresses human beings put on the environment, in terms of the need for resources, be it coal, petroleum, water, food, or even medicine and health care. As we head further into the 21st century, several factors seem especially crucial: • mos85880_08_c08.indd 242 The economic development and increased energy use of countries that in the past made fewer demands on the system: specifically the two largest countries in the world, India and the People’s Republic of China. Adding that increased demand to a system that, in many cases, already seems taxed will raise many challenging economic, ethical, and environmental issues; one advantage is that the leadership of these countries seems well aware of these challenges. 10/28/13 1:30 PM Key Terms • • CHAPTER 8 The continuing threat posed by anthropogenic climate change. While there are those who regard it as a natural result of climate patterns, or even a hoax, the most recent data indicate that 97% of those who work in the relevant fields regard climate change as real and as likely the result of human activity (NASA, n.d.). Various consequences may follow from increases in temperature, including increased energy in storms (hurricanes, cyclones), much higher sea levels that can inundate low-lying areas (Manhattan, Bangladesh, Indonesia), and various threats to animal populations and to the food supply. If climate change is a genuine threat, then most of the other environmental concerns pale in comparison. An environment’s ability to process, absorb, and otherwise deal with such hazards to that environment (pollution, waste) is called its “sink function.” Some have suggested that human activity, if unchecked, risks causing the Earth’s sink function, or ability to deal with such stresses on the system, to shut down. Some environmental economists have argued that this aspect of the Earth’s ecology does not receive sufficient attention, risking long-term damage to the planet. Chapter Summary I n this chapter, we have looked at some important environmental concerns, although many more important concerns could not be examined. As we saw, both corporations and individuals have a role to play in protecting the environment, particularly if both developed and developing economies wish to grow and flourish. Over the last several decades, society’s awareness of the various threats to the environment has increased considerably, with a resulting increased focus on the need to “go green” (or at least greener). While these challenges will persist, and in some contexts possibly become worse, with this increased awareness also comes a new desire to develop more sustainable products and a more sustainable approach to development, including minimizing the human carbon footprint to the greatest extent possible. Key Terms body burden The total amount of various chemicals that are present in the human body at a given point in time. EPA Federal agency created in 1970 for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment. Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards Mileage standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. genetically modified Referring to organisms that have been changed by using techniques of genetic engineering. dioxin A general term that describes a group of hundreds of chemicals that are highly persistent in the environment. mos85880_08_c08.indd 243 externality An economic effect that results from an economic choice but is not reflected in market prices. instrumental value The value something has that leads to the achievement of some desired or valued purpose. 10/28/13 1:30 PM CHAPTER 8 Suggested Resources intrinsic value The value something has that is valuable in itself, not for some other purpose or goal. universal waste A particular category of hazardous but common waste that requires specific disposal techniques. Critical Thinking Questions 1. Name three things you might do to reduce the amount of resources you consume. Do you have a moral or economic reason to do so? Why or why not? 2. Can something have both intrinsic and instrumental value? If so, identify it and describe the distinct values it has; if not, explain why nothing can possess both values. 3. Does a corporation have a responsibility—beyond conforming to existing laws and regulations—to protect and preserve the environment? Why or why not? Suggested Resources Corporate Statements on Responsible Environmental Practices American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity: http://www.cleancoalusa.org/clean-coal-technology Cargill Statement on freshwater efficiency: http://www.cargill.com/corporate-responsibility/environmental-sustainability/ environmental-goals-actions/freshwater-efficiency/index.jsp Exxon’s environmental statement: http://www.exxonmobil.com/Corporate/safety_env.aspx Hilton’s environmental statement: http://www.hiltonworldwide.com/corporate-responsibility/sustainably/ Hyatt’s environmental statement: http://thrive.hyatt.com/environmentalSustainability.html Marriott’s environmental statement: http://www.marriott.com/corporate-social-responsibility/corporate-environmental -responsibility.mi Walmart’s statement on sustainability: http://corporate.walmart.com/global-responsibility/environment-sustainability mos85880_08_c08.indd 244 10/28/13 1:30 PM Suggested Resources CHAPTER 8 Safe Disposal of Medical Waste FDA links to each state’s laws and other relevant information: http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/industrial/medical/programs.htm California database where one can search by county and by waste type (e.g., sharps, pharmaceuticals) for disposal facilities: http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/homehazwaste/healthcare/collection/ Example of a pharmaceutical buy-back program: http://newjerseyhills.com/madison_eagle/news/pharmacy-collects-unused-drugs-that -pose-risk-of-abuse-pollution/article_94f71f98-9a02-11e1-925f-0019bb2963f4.html Critics of Corporate Environmental Programs http://www.hcn.org/articles/clean-coal-is-an-oxymoron/print_view http://www.monsantowatch.org/ http://247wallst.com EPA Suggestions for household waste disposal: http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/hhw.htm Benefits of composting, according to the EPA: http://www.epa.gov/composting/basic.htm Pesticide alternatives: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090816170910.htm Universal Waste http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/hazardouswaste/universalwaste/ Organic Food http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/organic-food/NU00255 Clean Coal http://www.cleancoalusa.org/clean-coal-technology mos85880_08_c08.indd 245 10/28/13 1:30 PM mos85880_08_c08.indd 246 10/28/13 1:30 PM
8 Fuse/Thinkstock The Environment Learning Objectives After reading this chapter, you should be able to: • Identify specific ethical issues that arise when considering human beings’ relationship to their natural surroundings. • Describe some of the standard problems this relationship poses, including water pollution and the disposal of medical waste. • Discuss in an informed way the potential tension between economic analyses and environmental policies. • Apply specific ethical theories to an actual environmental case study. mos85880_08_c08.indd 215 10/28/13 1:30 PM Introduction CHAPTER 8 Introduction A merican naturalists such as John Muir (1838–1914), Aldo Leopold (1887–1948), and Edward Abbey (1927–1989) have long pointed to the importance of protecting the environment. However, genuine issues arise between those who wish to leave the environment as it is, and those who wish to utilize it for other purposes, such as drilling, development, or mining. These issues have become much more common topics of debate in recent decades, with increased energy and other demands placing stress on the environment. With the first “Earth Day” in 1970, various environmental groups began to develop more effective political organizations, and the environmental movement began to play a significant role in American politics. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was begun, also in 1970, during the administration of President Richard Nixon, in order to protect both human health and the environment by developing laws and reviewing regulations. In this chapter, we will explore some of the questions that arise within the context of environmental ethics, the study of the moral relationship between human beings and their surroundings, including nonhuman components found within those surroundings. Throughout, we will examine difficult issues, such as how to balance the economic benefits of development with the benefits (economic and otherwise) of a wilderness or beach or forest. Do we have a right to clean water and to clean air? If so, how are those rights enforced, and how do we maintain those rights without inhibiting important economic gains? And do we have an obligation to leave a sustainable environment to the generations that will follow us? Why Care About the Environment? Often in discussions of environmental ethics, it is assumed by all involved that we should respect the environment, and seek to prevent its degradation, specifically if various forms of pollutions harm others. In a sense, this assumption is pretty safe: After all, if someone does something to harm an innocent person, we generally regard that as wrong. So if I dump lead into a river that increases the lead content of water that children are exposed to, and harmed by, that seems to just be a specific case of my action harming an innocent person, and thus is wrong. But should we care about the environment at all? Many people, regardless of the positions they adopt relative to specific environmental policies, would agree with many of the following reasons to do so: • • • • More efficient use of energy saves money. A cleaner environment is healthier. Some natural scenery is unique and irreplaceable. Biodiversity is valuable in itself, and if not itself valuable, can be utilized to help create drugs, foods, and other things that improve life. • If we have any obligations to future generations, leaving them a planet that is inhabitable—or even flourishing—would seem to be a fundamental obligation. • It’s an ill bird that fouls its own nest: It doesn’t make sense to ruin the place where you live. • Various religions, including the three great monotheisms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, teach that humans should be stewards of the Earth. mos85880_08_c08.indd 216 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.1 The Issue: Hazardous Waste Disposal CHAPTER 8 8.1 The Issue: Hazardous Waste Disposal H azardous waste is a problem for many communities around the world. The obvious answer to what should be done with it is to simply avoid creating it. Given that total avoidance is improbable, corporations have designed methods to reduce hazardous waste, including recycling, reducing waste, treating the waste, trading excess materials to other businesses, and other methods. Here we will discuss a well-known hazardous waste case. In a small town, an unemployed mother of three is down on her luck; after a failed lawsuit, she convinces her attorney to take her on as a clerk. In between filing and other drudgery required of such clerks, she starts hearing about strange illnesses in her town and their unusual frequency and starts investigating. Eventually, she discovers that a major corporation has been storing water that has become toxic in unlined ponds. That water eventually leached into the groundwater and subsequently contaminated the town’s drinking water. Wade Payne/Associated Press The law clerk begins to work with her Activist Erin Brockovich’s story is representative of many attorney to bring legal action against environmental battles. the giant corporation, and her spirit and unwillingness to give up eventually wins the day. The giant corporation is forced to pay those who had been harmed by the water pollution $333 million; the mother herself gets $2 million. Except for the corporation, everyone lives happily ever after. This kind of thing sounds a bit too good to be true; in fact, it sounds like a movie. This is unsurprising, since it is a movie: Erin Brockovich tells the story (based on actual events) of one woman’s struggle against the economic power structure to obtain justice for those outside of that structure. In addition to it being a classic David versus Goliath story, where the faceless, all-powerful giant is slain by the righteous but powerless fighter, the story also is representative of many environmental battles. Often, as we will see, those engaged in these battles are in a conflict over resources, money, and the environment. Those who prefer to develop, drill, or mine may regard the benefits of that activity as more important than maintaining the wilderness or landscape as it is. In contrast, those who wish to maintain a pristine environment will regard that as priceless, and thus not worth ruining for some jobs or to extract energy or minerals. Still others will advocate a middle course, promoting sensible development that minimizes the harm to the environment without neglecting the important economic rewards that such development may provide. As is often the case with movies, reality is a bit messier than one might realize from seeing Erin Brockovich. mos85880_08_c08.indd 217 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.1 The Issue: Hazardous Waste Disposal • • • CHAPTER 8 Those in the town—Hinkley, California—who received payment from Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) have suggested that the amount of money they were promised turned out to be much less than they actually received, that attorneys kept the money for months without paying interest on it, and that excessive legal fees reduced the awards substantially (Sharp, 2000). A toxic “plume” containing the carcinogen chromium 6 (hexavalent chromium) had been the original source of the contamination that led to the 1996 lawsuit Brockovich began. In 2008, however, it was discovered that the plume was spreading again, and had become two miles long and a mile wide. PG&E attempted to stem the growth of this plume, but also sought to buy some of the affected property and provided bottled water to concerned residents (Schwartz, 2010). A study carried out by the California Cancer Registry seemed to indicate that cancer rates—a particular concern in Hinkley, given the known effects of chromium 6—were not, in fact, elevated in most cases. An epidemiological study came to a similar conclusion, stating that its findings do not support claims of a generalized cancer excess in Hinkley, although the cervix, prostate, and colorectal cancer findings reveal underutilization of cancer screening in the Hinkley tract. These findings are consistent with previous assessments that did not identify a cancer excess in the Hinkley tract (Morgan & Reeves, 2011). This final point brings to our attention a concern that frequently occurs in environmental disputes: the need for scientific and/or medical experts to provide data and analysis. Few of us are, ourselves, experts in toxicology, oncology, biochemistry, genetics, embryology, hydrostatics, and the other fields involved in many of these issues, let alone experts in several of them. Those who are experts in this field may not, of course, be experts in political science (or even adept in politics) or ethics. Furthermore, both sides of this debate will provide their own experts, who may strongly disagree with each other over an issue that can only be resolved by yet another expert. Therefore, those of us who are not experts somehow have to determine which experts to trust, and this is a frequent challenge in resolving problems that arise in environmental ethics, whether dealt with at a community level by political structures, or in more formal legal procedures. We will encounter this challenge a number of times in examining conflicts in environmental ethics. Externalities Economists often talk of “externalities” in evaluating a specific economic decision. While the detailed discussion can get complex, here we can simply describe an externality as the effect of an economic choice or activity experienced by someone who doesn’t have input into the decision to make that choice, or choose to engage in that activity. A very simple example is Charlie, who decides to sit down at the end of a row at a basketball game; all those who follow Charlie and wish to sit down on that row have to climb over him. They weren’t consulted by Charlie, but they pay the (modest) price of having to exert themselves to climb past him. That modest price is an externality. (continued) mos85880_08_c08.indd 218 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.1 The Issue: Hazardous Waste Disposal CHAPTER 8 Externalities (continued) Pollution is, however, the standard example of an externality. If I drive my car or run a steel mill that pollutes the air, many others breathe that air who had no say in my choice to run a car that seems to pollute more than most, or in running my steel mill. Those who are affected by my exhaust or steel mill pollution are paying a social cost. Economists argue about the best way to deal with this kind of social cost (or negative externality); some argue that the costs should be figured into the taxes I pay to run an inefficient car or a polluting steel mill; others (most famously Nobelprizewinning economist Ronald Coase) argue that if various transaction costs are ignored or discounted, those affected will be able to negotiate the price involved for creating the pollution up to the point where they would be more willing to suffer the pollution than pay me to stop creating it. An example might make clear what Coase argues. Imagine a tanning parlor is in a strip mall, next to a toy store. The toy store gets a new toy that, all day long, children try out, making a loud, annoying sound. The tanning parlor is losing business because its customers don’t like the noise. It could, of course, take the toy store to court. But Coase argues that it would be more efficient for the two businesses to negotiate. Perhaps the tanning parlor will lose less money than the toy store makes by stocking the annoying toy; if so, the tanning parlor may offer some cash to make up the store’s losses if it agrees iStockphoto/Thinkstock to quit stocking it. (Naturally, the more complex Pollution is an example of an externality. the details, the more complex the negotiations.) In general, Coase’s point is that unless the negotiations themselves cost too much (these being known as “transaction costs”), it is in both business’s interests to come to an agreement that will be to their mutual advantage. Each will be better off economically by coming to an agreement, relative to suing or absorbing the costs imposed upon it by the other business. (For more details on Coase’s influential view, visit http://law.gsu.edu/history/Coase.htm.) Whenever pollution is discussed in economic terms, externalities and various costs involved need to be factored in. This is particularly true in cases such as the groundwater pollution case of PG&E and Hinkley, California. Reducing Waste Through Recycling You have probably heard, or seen, the slogan “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Because so many of the harmful effects are produced by obtaining natural resources, such as petroleum or copper or coal, environmentalists have argued that it makes sense to lower the demand for such commodities by using what we have efficiently, using less, and utilizing the materials we have left in producing new commodities rather than simply throwing those materials away. In this section, we will see the arguments put forth for this approach, and consider a couple of specific examples. mos85880_08_c08.indd 219 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.1 The Issue: Hazardous Waste Disposal CHAPTER 8 Many of us may live in communities with a recycling program; some cities have very aggressive recycling programs, while others may have none. Generally, however, most communities have recognized that recycling material such as plastic, glass, and aluminum makes both more environmental sense and economic sense than always producing more new plastic, glass, and aluminum. It is becoming more and more common in any given town to see trash receptacles sit side by side with recycling receptacles. It might be good to start with (just a few) statistics, to give an indication of what can be recycled, what cannot, and just how much that is thrown away might be used more productively. As of 2011, plastics make up almost 13% of the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream (trash), a dramatic increase from 1960, when plastics were less than 1% of the waste stream. Consequently, what happens to that plastic—whether it is recycled or simply becomes part of the MSW stream, plays a significant role. • • • • • 32 million tons of plastic waste were generated in 2011, representing 12.7 percent of total MSW. In 2011, the United States generated almost 14 million tons of plastics as containers and packaging, about 11 million tons as durable goods, such as appliances, and almost 7 million tons as nondurable goods, for example plates and cups. Only 8 percent of the total plastic waste generated in 2011 was recovered for recycling. In 2011, the category of plastics which includes bags, sacks, and wraps was recycled at about 11 percent. Plastics also are found in automobiles, but recycling of these materials is counted separately from the MSW recycling rate. (EPA, 2013, para. 2) Americans produce a substantial amount of waste, but a few more general facts give an indication of just how much: • • • • • • Every year nearly 900,000,000 trees are cut down to provide raw materials for American paper and pulp mills. Every year we generate around 14 million tons of food waste, which is 106 pounds of food waste per person; 570,000 tons of this is composted for a 4.1% recovery rate. The rest, or 13.4 million tons, is incinerated or landfilled and occupies 6.3 million cubic yards of landfilled MSW. Americans throw away about 28 billion bottles and jars every year. It takes a 15-year-old tree to produce 700 grocery bags. Disposable diapers last centuries in landfills. An average baby will go through 8,000 of them. In 1998, 62.8% of the 102 billion aluminum cans produced were recycled. That totals 64 billion cans, 46 billion more than in 1991. Aluminum can recycling saves 95% of the energy needed to make aluminum from bauxite ore. Energy savings in 1998 alone were enough to light a city the size of Pittsburgh for ten years. (EPA, 2012, para. 1–3, 5–6, 10) Americans have become more conscious of these kinds of numbers and facts, and many have become much more accepting of recycling as an ordinary part of life. At the same mos85880_08_c08.indd 220 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.1 The Issue: Hazardous Waste Disposal CHAPTER 8 time, there is some indication that while Americans may be more aware of recycling, they may not be doing as much of it as they could: • • • Currently, less than 35% of households and less than 10% of businesses in the U.S. recycle. Those levels have barely improved in 15 years despite billions of dollars spent on competitions, symposiums, awareness campaigns, and sorting technologies. If U.S. recycling levels can reach 75%, environmental benefits will include removing 50 million cars from the road each year and generating 1.5 million new jobs. (Recycle Across America, 2013, para. 1) The Argument for Recycling The argument in favor of recycling seems simple enough: Material that is not recycled ends up in landfills, or is incinerated. Each of these brings with it certain environmental issues. Landfills are built in such a way that trash does not readily decompose; they can leach toxins into the soil and groundwater, and they generate methane, a greenhouse gas. Incinerating waste, which is less common, and is often used to generate electricity, also brings with it hazards, such as releasing into the atmosphere various dioxins (a set of toxic chemicals), metals, ash, and unpleasant odors; different authorities disagree about whether this method generates greenhouse emissions or actually reduces them by creating energy through the incineration process. If we recycle as much of the material that can be recycled, then we have a correspondingly lower need for more landfills (or incinerators). The point seems obvious: If I recycle one can, and half of it goes into making the next can, I’ve reduced the waste involved by 50%, relative to a can made out of completely new material. Multiplying this by the population of a state, a country, or a planet, we can see pretty quickly how this could minimize the impact on the environment, and decrease the amount of waste created. The Argument Against Recycling Most people seem to be aware of this, but there are arguments against recycling that need to be considered. These counterarguments tend to focus on three basic points: 1. Recycling is often done by combining some of the older, recycled material with newer material; when recycling paper, for instance, older paper is combined with new paper. Recycling processes require considerable energy—with paper, for example, not just to cut down the trees, but also to transport them, and process the wood into pulp—and that must be factored into the environmental impact. Some recycling processes also employ chemicals; again, another introduction into the environment that must be balanced against the alternative. 2. Recycling may use already existing material, but there are costs associated with it. Those who process the recycled material are paid to do so; these costs are passed on to the consumer. However, recycling programs are often subsidized by local or state governments, and those costs are paid for by the taxpayer. In considering the relative costs of purchasing a new product or a product from recycled material, one often forgets to include these “hidden” costs, such as taxes paid to subsidize the recycling program. mos85880_08_c08.indd 221 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.1 The Issue: Hazardous Waste Disposal CHAPTER 8 3. Again, one must take into consideration all the factors that go into recycling. Picking up recyclables and bringing them to be processed uses petroleum; when processing various materials, such as glass, paper, aluminum, and plastics, we use energy that comes from burning fossil fuels. What is needed is a more general accounting of the costs involved in recycling, in order to compare those costs to other approaches. Comparative figures, however, are difficult to obtain. These arguments about recycling will continue, although as techniques improve in terms of energy efficiency, more effective recycling programs and techniques and the savings brought about by large-scale participation may address some of the opposing claims. The Argument for Reducing and Reusing The arguments about the other two strategies that are promoted by those who wish to decrease the amount of waste produced are, fortunately, considerably less contentious. Indeed, some of these arguments have been around for centuries, if not millennia. A quick calculation: Johnny is an 8-year-old boy. He wakes up in the morning and has a glass of juice and a glass of milk. At lunch he has another glass of milk, and another glass of milk when he comes home from school. After coming in from playing outside, he has a glass of water, and then a glass of milk or soda with dinner. He usually takes a glass of water with him when he goes to bed. Thus, on this average day, if he uses a new glass each time, he has used seven glasses, as have his sister, his mother, and his father. That is 28 glasses; at that rate, the family uses 196 glasses a week, 5,880 glasses a month, or 70,560 glasses a year. If this is an average family in a town of 100,000, that would be 7,056,000,000 glasses used in the town. Assuming these aren’t cups that are just thrown away (another environmental issue, as we’ve seen), each of these glasses needs to be washed, which takes time, energy, water, and soap. That’s a lot of glasses being washed. Had Johnny used the same glass just for water, he would have saved 29% of the total; in the town as a whole, 2,046,240,000 fewer glasses would need to be washed, with a corresponding savings in time, energy, water, and soap. Aaron Favila/Associated Press There are many opportunities to reuse resources. For example, we can use a cloth bag rather than paper or plastic when grocery shopping. mos85880_08_c08.indd 222 This is a simple example, of course, but it is representative of what many of us heard from our parents (and our parents heard from their parents): Don’t get a new glass each time you need one; don’t buy a new plastic bottle of water instead of refilling one you already have; use a cloth bag when going grocery shopping instead of getting a new one each time; use both sides of the paper. The opportunities for reusing resources, rather than using new ones, are not just environmentally sound, they also save money. Presumably, something that has both an economic benefit and an environmental benefit 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.1 The Issue: Hazardous Waste Disposal CHAPTER 8 is something people need to consider a more important part of their routine. Grandma would probably agree with these suggestions and have some more of her own: • • • • • • Plastic containers and reusable lunch bags are great ways to take your lunch to school without creating waste. Coffee cans, shoe boxes, margarine containers, and other types of containers people throw away can be used to store things or can become fun arts and crafts projects. Don’t throw out clothes, toys, furniture, and other things that you don’t want anymore. Somebody else can probably use them. You can bring them to a center that collects donations, give them to friends, or even have a yard sale. Use paper grocery bags to make book covers rather than buying new ones. Use silverware and dishes instead of disposable plastic utensils and plates. Store food in reusable plastic containers. (Fact Monster, 2007, para. 4) The Argument Against Reducing and Reusing There are few arguments against reducing and reusing resources. Few would argue that we should use more water, or plastic, or energy, when we can accomplish what we want or need to and use less. Again, this is an example of something that makes both environmental sense and economic sense. Perhaps you live in an area of the country that gets cold; you could run your thermostat at 73 degrees and be quite comfortable, or you could be equally comfortable at 68 degrees with a sweater on. Saving energy, of course, saves money on one’s heating bill, as well as reduces the demand for energy and the associated environmental impact of finding and producing that energy. As we saw with the drinking-glass example, saving energy can have a substantial “multiplier effect.” If a particular change in behavior lowers energy use by 2%, that may not sound like much. But multiply that result by 150 million, and it can have a substantial impact. As noted, few people come out directly and argue that we should use more energy, that our cars should get worse gas mileage, that our heating and air conditioning systems should be less effective, or that we should run our thermostats at 90 degrees when we are cold. Instead, we see economic arguments that, indirectly, support some of those proposals. For example, increasing gas mileage or CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards are frequently opposed by the auto industry because meeting those standards imposes costs on the industry to retool machinery and redesign cars. For instance, the Heartland Institute has argued that increasing these standards will restrict consumers’ choices, although they “are better positioned than regulators to choose the size, fuel economy, and other features of the cars and trucks they buy” (n.d., para. 4). Nor, according to Heartland, does it decrease dependence on foreign oil. Still, few argue that reducing energy and resource consumption—provided it does not harm economic growth or restrict opportunities—is not a reasonable strategy, all else being equal. How one does that, however, remains a source of contention. mos85880_08_c08.indd 223 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection CHAPTER 8 Universal Waste The term universal waste is reserved for specific kinds of products, generally consumer products that contain mercury, lead, butane, arsenic, cadmium, or other substances that can be harmful to both humans and the environment. They call for specific modes of disposal because they contain chemicals that, if improperly disposed of (such as putting them in a landfill), can contaminate the water, air, soil, and, potentially, food. Some of the kinds of products that contain universal wastes are fluorescent light bulbs (tubes), a number of electronic devices such as computers and cell phones, batteries, thermometers and other mercurycontaining items, and glass picture tubes found in televisions and computer monitors. There aren’t a lot of disputes here; few if any people would argue for the disposal of universal wastes in such a way that it increases the risks to which innocent people are subjected. One might, of course, point out that, as with many circumstances in which it can take a bit longer or a take a bit more energy to do the correct thing, people do not do it. One could, for instance, put his or her batteries in the ordinary household trash—no one is checking, after all. That may save this person the time and energy required to dispose of the batteries correctly, at a universal waste disposal site. But this isn’t, ethically, much different than drunk driving. By driving drunk, one endangers others (and oneself), although it may at the time seem more convenient than calling a cab or finding a friend to drive. Most of us would regard drunk driving as irresponsible, which is why society has stiff penalties for being caught doing so; to argue that one’s convenience is more important than the potential harms one can cause to other innocent people would be generally regarded as both short sighted and selfish. Similarly, the incorrect disposal of universal waste poses a risk to others (and oneself), and we would no more accept its convenience as justifying posing that risk than we would accept convenience in defense of driving while drunk. The more general point is that society has the right to expect its members to obey those laws (and conventions, or informal agreements) designed to protect people from risks to which they should not be exposed. To fail to obey those laws and conventions will seem, to most, immoral, although the arguments for why that is can differ. A utilitarian, for instance, might argue that correctly disposing of universal wastes produces a general good that far outweighs any benefits that one might gain by doing otherwise. A deontologist, in contrast, could argue that doing something out of personal convenience that harms another cannot be the kind of action that could become universal law—would we be willing to be treated that way, if we were subject to harms simply for another’s convenience? 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection H ow much responsibility should a corporation bear when it comes to waste disposal? Do businesses and the general public have differing levels of environmental accountability? In this section, we will look at some of the concerns surrounding the business community’s participation—or lack of it—in environmental protection. Environmental Harm We noted that the “three Rs” of reducing, reusing, and recycling are often suggested as ways to minimize the damage done to the environment. These simple steps reduce the mos85880_08_c08.indd 224 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection CHAPTER 8 stress on the planet and its resources, and help maintain an environment that is sustainable for current and future generations. Generally, the focus on environmental harms has been on air pollution, water pollution, and soil pollution; more recently, the emphasis on anthropogenic (human-made) climate change, and resource depletion. The last two have generated some degree of controversy; here we will look at three specific issues: the threat pollution posts to groundwater, injecting toxins into the environment that end up in the human bloodstream and nervous system, and the risks to which the food supply is subject due to environmental hazards. As we have already seen, these issues often arise due to the potential conflict between a desire to protect the environment and a need for economic development. Straight to the Source The UN’s Principles for Responsible Investment In 2005, the United Nations proposed to a group of institutional investors that they develop principles for responsible investment, which in part reflect a desire to support environmental protection. This group is known for developing the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI). In one of its reports, the group reported these results (as of 2008) and this prediction: Global environmental damage caused by human activity in 2008 represented a monetary value of $6.6 trillion, equivalent to 11% of global GDP, calculates a study by the UN-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and UNEP Finance Initiative. Those global costs are 20% larger than the $5.4 trillion decline in the value of pension funds in developed countries caused by the global financial crisis in 2007/8. The study projects that the monetary value of annual environmental damage from water and air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, general waste and depleted resources could reach $28.6 trillion in 2050, or 23% lower if clean and resourceefficient technologies are introduced. (UNEP Press Release, 2010, para. 1–2) In response to these concerns—both economic and environmental, the following six principles were developed for responsible investors. Principle 1: We will incorporate ESG [environmental, social, and corporate governance] issues into investment analysis and decision-making processes. Principle 2: We will be active owners and incorporate ESG issues into our ownership policies and practices. Principle 3: We will seek appropriate disclosure on ESG issues by the entities in which we invest. Principle 4: We will promote acceptance and implementation of the Principles within the investment industry. Principle 5: We will work together to enhance our effectiveness in implementing the Principles. Principle 6: We will each report on our activities and progress towards implementing the Principles. (PRI, n.d., para. 1) mos85880_08_c08.indd 225 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection CHAPTER 8 Polluted Groundwater It is difficult to imagine life without water; the average person can live only 3–5 days without it (Bryant, n.d.). Human beings not only require water simply to live, but also for various household needs (cooking, cleaning, etc.), recreation, transportation, and business. It probably goes without saying that water is a precious resource, and should be protected; yet it is a resource that is in various ways threatened. It is estimated that one in nine people on Earth (780 million) do not have regular access to clean drinking water; polluted water brings with it risks of ingesting toxic chemicals, but water-related illnesses still kill some 3.4 million people a year. While some countries have quite limited access to water, it has been observed that “an American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the average person in a developing country slum uses for an entire day” (Water.org, n.d., para. 6). There are many threats to the water supply, too many to mention in detail here. In general, though, the chief sources of groundwater pollution are industrial sources (for example, through the use of chemicals that may leach, as well as the spilling of chemicals and fuels and mining byproducts), agricultural sources (such as fertilizer runoff, pesticides, and livestock waste), and individual sources (motor oil, paint, detergents, and other products that may introduce various toxins into the water stream). These hazards are increased in some communities through extensive development, and the increase in housing developments, streets, and parking lots; by limiting opportunities for water to be absorbed through the soil, it becomes concentrated by being directed toward storm sewers (and picking up, along the way, various toxins such heavy metals, gasoline, and fertilizer) (Oregon Environmental Council, n.d.). As is so often the case, there can be a conflict here between economic development and maintaining a resource, in this case, water. As a single example, one might consider the pork industry, specifically in North Carolina. According to the North Carolina Pork Council, “More than 46,000 North Carolina citizens work full-time in pork production and over 80% of North Carolina’s hog farms are owned and operated by individual farm families” This is obviously an important industry in North Carolina, and the Council insists that “they are dedicated to ensuring that they will pass a clean environment on to the next generation”(2006, para. 3). The critics of large-scale hog farming, in contrast, observe that ecosystems and their inhabitants are endangered by the waste these large livestock farms generate (Natural Resources Defense Council, 2013). The challenge, of course, is trying to balance the economic needs—the employment of the many North Carolinians in the pork industry, and the secondary effects that employment has in the North Carolina economy—with the protection of groundwater. Can these two be reconciled? Do we have to make a choice: either abandon large-scale hog farms, with their accompanying manure lagoons and methane production, or accept that the economic mos85880_08_c08.indd 226 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection CHAPTER 8 demands here outweigh the environmental concerns? Is the public better served by one or the other here? If public health is generally threatened by contamination of the surrounding groundwater, we may be forced to conclude that current practices are too risky, and that agricultural practices need to be developed to minimize this risk. Or we can argue that the current risks, while genuine, are too small to require an expensive overhauling of contemporary methods of food production; no activity is without its risks, and society is constantly Mike Stewart/Associated Press required to balance the two and make This photo shows a hog farm with rectangular lagoons difficult choices. Finally, how should that hold animal waste. Critics of this type of farm are society determine the costs and ben- concerned that the waste could pollute groundwater. efits involved, and is there a point at which the risks force regulators to impose restrictions on agricultural production to require that any potential harms be minimized? As we have seen, and will continue to see, environmental issues frequently lead to difficult questions concerning the interaction of economic goals, environmental goals, and the concern that these two goals are irreconcilable. Be the Ethicist Drilling for Oil in Yellowstone You are CEO of Smith Petroleum. Oil has been discovered in the middle of Yellowstone National Park. There is a lot of oil. It seems clear that if you approach this correctly, the current federal and state governments will approve drilling in Yellowstone. It is said by the oil industry that this will lower gas prices in the United States by at least $0.10/gallon and create at least 10,000 new jobs. The decision to drill is entirely yours. 1. State your decision. 2. Argue for that decision on the basis of just the economic issues involved. 3. Argue against that decision, on the basis of the intrinsic value of Yellowstone National Park (its non-economic value). Assume you are no longer CEO of Smith Petroleum. Explain to someone what value or benefit Yellowstone National Park has. How do you respond if that person then says he or she will never go to Yellowstone National Park? If you aren’t familiar with Yellowstone National Park, it might be worth going to this site before answering these questions: http://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm. mos85880_08_c08.indd 227 10/28/13 3:35 PM Section 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection CHAPTER 8 Poisoning Human Populations The expression body burden has been introduced to describe the chemicals that one finds—from natural and from human-made sources—in a person’s body. We can breathe them in, ingest them in our food and water, absorb them through our skin, and they can even be passed from a mother to a developing fetus. All of us have some of these chemicals; some, such as arsenic, pass through human beings quickly; others, such as mercury or lead, can remain in organs, fat tissue, or other parts of our bodies for years. Some pesticides can remain stored in the body for as long as 50 years. Simply having chemicals in the bloodstream is not the problem; rather, it is which chemicals these are, and what their effects are. For a substance such as dioxin or mercury, with substantial health risks, significant vigilance is needed to minimize one’s exposure (Coming Clean, n.d.). Human beings are exposed to chemicals, which, as noted, occur both naturally an in human-made products, constantly. Some have unknown effects, and have not been sufficiently researched; others have known effects that are quite harmful (for example, lead and mercury); still others have known effects that appear to be harmless in standard dosages (potassium). Rather than trying to sort out the various results of the 80,000 chemicals in commercial use, here we can focus on dioxin, which indicates how, once a risk is recognized, government and industry may be able to work together to develop a potential solution. Dioxin is a name used to refer to a set of chemical compounds; one, specifically known as TCDD, is particularly well studied. It can be found in polyvinyl chloride, paper that has been bleached with chlorine, and from certain products when incinerated; it can also be naturally produced by volcanoes and forest fires. There is some controversy about the health effects of TCDD; one source states that studies “have linked dioxins to cancer, disrupted hormones, reproductive damage such as decreased fertility, neurological effects, immune system changes and skin disorders” (Cone, 2012, para. 4), while the EPA notes that “currently there is no clear indication of increased disease in the general population attributable to dioxin-like compounds” (DioxinFacts.org, n.d., para. 7). Whether there are significant health hazards or not, increased regulation, and cooperation between industry and government, has decreased dioxin emission substantially in the last 50 years. This, then, seems to be an environmental success story; dioxins may be a threat, their release was regulated, industry recognized the necessity of those regulations, and the release and exposure of dioxins—again, specifically TCDD—was decreased significantly. At the same time, new chemicals are introduced every year, and it is difficult to determine their short- or long-term effects without substantial and expensive studies being done. David Ewing Duncan comments that “only a quarter of the 82,000 chemicals in use in the U.S. have ever been tested for toxicity” (2006, para. 17). As we have seen, industry, agricultural, and commercial enterprises often generate some degree of risk. No one thinks it even possible or desirable to eliminate human exposure to all chemicals, and no one thinks it possible or desirable not to regulate that exposure at all. Again, the balancing act that is called for with some sources of the riskier aspects of the body burden—such things as perfluorinated acids, bisphenol A, and phthalates, which we may not even be aware of—must be evaluated in terms of costs and benefits. Certainly, we can find arguments that regulation of such dangerous chemicals as mercury—a mos85880_08_c08.indd 228 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection CHAPTER 8 by-product of coal-burning power plants, and often found in relatively high concentrations of fish—is insufficient, even though the risks associated with elevated mercury levels in human beings are well established. The political, economic, and moral questions are difficult to disentangle here, but reconciling the benefits of human health and the costs of reducing the threats to that health are important questions. Answers to such questions, of course, often raise challenges to those who develop policy and legislation, yet the fundamental ethical questions also remain: Whose good is being served by regulations? Whose good is being served by limiting regulations? Are environmental regulations too burdensome on business, or inadequate to protect public health? Finally, particularly in an area that requires chemical and medical expertise, how can citizens who lack such expertise determine what information is reliable, and what information is being presented in such a way as to benefit a specific environmental or industrial perspective? Poisoning the Food Supply Just as humans obviously need water, we need food to survive. Yet a number of environmental concerns have been raised about the quality of the food that is available. While access to food itself, and healthful food specifically, varies around the world, here we will focus specifically on the food supply in the United States. There are different perspectives on the food supply, and different ways of describing potential threats to it. On the one hand, “[W]e do have a very safe food supply,” according to Sanford A. Miller, former director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition (Carey, 2007, para. 5). On the other hand, there are regularly stories of foodborne illness and recalls issued of various foods, whether E. coli outbreaks from tainted beef or salmonella risks from peanut butter. (Carey, 2007). The Center for Disease Control “estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases” (2013, para 1). Other concerns have been raised: • Bisphenol A (BPA), found in plastic bottles (including baby bottles) and other plastic containers has been identified as posing potential risks: BPA has raised concerns because it appears to mimic the effects of estrogen, interfering with hormone levels and cell signaling systems. Previous studies have shown that people exposed to high levels of BPA have a greater risk of developing uterine fibroids, breast cancer, decreased sperm counts, and prostate cancer. Babies and children are thought to be at greatest risk from the exposure. (Kotz, 2008, para. 2) • • mos85880_08_c08.indd 229 Some companies that have focused on small batch production and emphasized organic production methods have been bought out by large corporations, such as Kellogg, Procter and Gamble, and Coca-Cola. The suggestion has been made that the size of these companies may prevent some of the close attention given to the more traditional methods that smaller companies were able to provide. The use of antibiotics, hormones, and other supplements in animal feed has raised fears about effects in humans who eat these animals. Thus Donald Kennedy, former FDA commissioner and president emeritus at Stanford University, said, “There’s no question that routinely administering non-therapeutic doses of 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection • • CHAPTER 8 antibiotics to food animals contributes to antibiotic resistance” (McVeigh, 2012, para. 4). Similar concerns have been raised about genetically modified (GM) foods; some research has associated GM corn with hepatorenal toxicity that can damage the liver and kidneys (de Vendômois, Roullier, Cellier, & Séralini, 2009); in 2013, the voters of California voted down a proposition that would have required manufacturers to label all foods with GM ingredients. Advocates of the proposition noted that most of the funding dedicated to defeating this proposition came from out of state, largely from companies such as Monsanto, Cargill, and other corporations with a large stake in GM foods (No on 37, n.d.), outspending the opposition (those in favor of the proposition) five to one. Bees are important for pollinating fruit and vegetable plants, but there has been much worry expressed about the use of herbicides, insecticides, and pesticides contributing to the decline of the bee population, and the collapse of some bee colonies (Tapparo, Marton, Giorio, Zanella, Solda et al., 2012). These and other examples are frequently highlighted by those who worry that humans are poisoning their own food supply. Industry responds, naturally, by pointing out that many of these risks are exaggerated or nonexistent. In addition, some genetic modification allows certain plants to grow in places where they otherwise could not, as well as extending the growing season and increasing protection from pests and disease. This response is summed up by those who insist that in the scientific community, genetically modified organisms raise very little alarm in the scientific community and that the science used to create them is basic enough to teach to high school students (Berezow, 2013). Yet again, we see a need to balance what industry—here, agriculture—needs against enviDamian Dovarganes /Associated Press ronmental concerns raised from various sources. Some research has indicated that there may Each side has its experts supporting it, and those of us who are not experts may have little or no be health risks associated with food that contains genetically modified organisms. ability to determine which is correct. Should we be suspicious of the claims made by companies that have a large financial stake in GM food that such food is harmless? Should we be suspicious of claims made by environmentalists who sometimes seem to desire that largescale agribusiness be unsuccessful and insist that food be locally sourced and organic? What genuine threats to the food supply exist, and how might they be prevented? What is the legitimate role of regulation here—presumably we don’t want people becoming sick or dying from eating—and where does regulation become onerous and add unnecessarily to our food costs? As we continue to see, balancing economic issues with environmental issues brings with it political challenges, leading to this fundamental issue: Can one be an environmentally responsible producer (or consumer) without placing an undue burden on business? mos85880_08_c08.indd 230 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection CHAPTER 8 Corporate Responsibility To whom is a corporation responsible? Assuming a corporation is a for-profit enterprise, its fundamental goal is relatively clear: It needs to make a profit. Of course, most corporations recognize that this has to be seen in a larger context: Corporations have employees and stockholders, and are located within a community. The community itself may be taken to be the local community, the larger surrounding community, the state, the country, the continent, the hemisphere; for a large, multinational corporation, its community may be the planet. Environmental Decision Making One influential description of the responsibilities a corporation has was described succinctly by economist Milton Friedman: “There is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it . . . engages in open and free competition, without deception or fraud” (1962, p. 133]). However, another competing model has gained a good bit of attention since Friedman’s description: stakeholder theory. The stakeholder theory takes a broader view, that corporations have a responsibility to shareholders, but also to “individuals and constituencies that contribute, either voluntarily or involuntarily, to [the corporation’s] wealthcreating capacity and activities, and who are therefore its potential beneficiaries and/or risk bearers “ (Post, Preston, & Sachs, 2002, p. 19). Different interpretations of the stakeholder theory identify distinct stakeholders (in addition to shareholders), but generally these would include, at least, customers, employees, suppliers, and members of the community. As we saw, however, the corporation itself may determine what that community is, and which of its members are sufficiently affected to qualify as stakeholders. Instrumental Value and Intrinsic Value Often in discussions of environmental ethics, the debate gets overtaken by strict economic considerations. For instance, if an economic development plan may endanger the habitat of a particular species of fish, and potentially lead to its extinction, some will argue that the benefits of the development outweigh any benefits we could receive from the fish. In response, some may suggest that we don’t know what potential value the fish could have; perhaps it will at some point be discovered that it contains a compound that could help cure certain forms of cancer? In this debate over the benefits of the fish being endangered and the benefits of the fish being protected, the sole kind of value being appealed to is called instrumental value: namely, what good is the thing? How can I use it to get something else? In contrast, some things are said to have intrinsic value. For instance, being happy is often said to have intrinsic value because it is itself valuable; it is a good thing to be happy, and we don’t regard being happy as needing to be a means to some other end. Being happy is good in itself, or intrinsically. (continued) mos85880_08_c08.indd 231 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection CHAPTER 8 Instrumental Value and Intrinsic Value, (continued) Consider the following examples; do they have only instrumental value? Do any of them have intrinsic value? If any of them do have intrinsic value, what does that mean in terms of our obligation to protect or preserve them? If you think nothing here does have intrinsic value, can you think of anything that does? Biodiversity The Grand Canyon Oil filters The Mona Lisa Number 2 pencils Giant pandas Site of the 9/11 attacks (“Ground Zero”) Picture frames Aspirin Christmas Which of these models influences an analysis of a corporate decision can alter how one regards corporate responsibility. For instance, if I run a multinational paint company that generates a certain amount of hazardous waste, how should I calculate its disposal? Should I choose simply whatever is least expensive? Should I choose whatever is least expensive that also minimizes its hazardous effects? If I choose the least expensive disposal method, this may lead to higher levels of toxins being released in another country, but may lead to marginally higher profits and, consequently, a higher return to my stockholders. Usually, of course, such decisions are considerably more complex: Decisions presumably can’t simply ignore whatever laws and other restrictions that are in place wherever the hazardous waste is disposed; I may have important stockholders who regard environmental harm as worth the additional cost; I may have to factor into the business decision the cost of any potential fines (or even jail time) if I choose to ignore or try to skirt the applicable regulations. As may already be clear, many of these kinds of factors look different within the stakeholder model: Customers, distributors, employees, and community members may have a very different set of criteria than mere return on investment when they evaluate such a decision (see Figure 8.1). Furthermore, a corporation may regard its environmental policies as part of its image or “brand,” and may see making sound environmental practice part of its marketing strategy; a company that has a reputation for being a responsible environmental steward may, thereby, be more profitable in both the short and long run. mos85880_08_c08.indd 232 10/28/13 1:30 PM CHAPTER 8 Section 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection Figure 8.1: Business relationships in relation to environmental concerns Between Industry and Societal Solidarity Broad Societal Economy Industry Fair Sustainable Liveable Between Societal and Environment Viable Environment Territory Between Industry and Environment This diagram shows the interlocking relationships a corporation needs to consider in making business decisions on the stakeholder model. Source: Retrieved from http://walimemon.com/2010/08/corporate-social-responsibility/ Going Green on a Corporate Level Various companies have adopted policies to be environmentally responsible. For example, many hotel chains have developed plans to reduce their energy and water usage, reduce waste sent to landfills, and thus reduce their “carbon footprint.” Organic Methods and Products Considerable attention has been given in recent years to organic food as an alternative to traditional methods of food production. Whether or not organic food is better for human beings, or, for that matter, is better for the environment, is the source of some controversy. One 2012 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that “the published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria” (SmithSpangler, Brandeau, Hunter, Bavinger, Pearson et al., 2012, para. 3). mos85880_08_c08.indd 233 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.2 The Issue: Business Interests Versus Environmental Protection CHAPTER 8 Others have noted that organic methods not only do not produce more nutritional food, but that conventional farming is more effective, producing more food per acre of land (Palmer, 2012). The tradeoff seems to be whether to use more land and organic methods, or less land and traditional methods. Those who advocate organic methods point not only to health benefits for human beings, but also to benefits from decreased use of pesticides and land improvement, and to the fact that ethical stewardship of the land requires a “gentler” approach than that used by traditional agriculture. The Organic Trade Association argues that organic methods have these important advantages: • • • • • Organic farms respect our water resources: The elimination of polluting chemicals and nitrogen leaching, done in combination with soil building, protects and conserves water resources. Organic farmers build healthy soil: Soil is the foundation of the food chain. The primary focus of organic farming is to use practices that build healthy soils. Organic farmers work in harmony with nature: Organic agricultural respects the balance demanded of a healthy ecosystem: wildlife is encouraged by including forage crops in rotation and by retaining fence rows, wetlands, and other natural areas. Organic producers strive to preserve diversity: The loss of a large variety of species (biodiversity) is one of the most pressing environmental concerns. The good news is that many organic farmers and gardeners have been collecting and preserving seeds, and growing unusual varieties for decades. Organic farming helps keep rural communities healthy: USDA reported that in 1997, half of U.S. farm production came from only 2% of farms. Organic agriculture can be a lifeline for small farms because it offers an alternative market where sellers can command fair prices for crops. (2013, para. 4–6, 8–9) Clean Coal Meanwhile, many of those in the coal industry have adopted “clean coal technology,” with the coordinated goals of continuing to use coal to produce energy and to do so in a way that minimizes its environmental impact. Improving Water Quality Agribusiness has recognized the need for sustainable sources of freshwater as well as its responsibility to help meet that goal. Thus, companies have produced policy statements, plans of action, and timetables to monitor their progress. One example is the multinational agricultural producer, Cargill, which has committed itself to freshwater efficiency. mos85880_08_c08.indd 234 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.3 The Issue: Personal Responsibility CHAPTER 8 Each of these programs has at least its share of critics; some argue that “clean coal” is a contradiction in terms; others that companies put out corporate statements of environmental responsibility that conflict with the actual behavior of the companies; while still others suggest that many corporate business models will never hesitate to sacrifice environmental benefits if they interfere with corporate profits. One standard criticism of clean coal, for example, is that the very idea rests upon some rather problematic claims. Coal releases large amounts of CO2; to prevent that CO2 from being released into the atmosphere (which is what makes it “clean”), a method known as carbon capture and sequestration is required. But that method itself requires a good deal of energy; as James B. Meigs points out, “[A] coal-fired power plant would have to burn roughly 25 percent more coal to handle carbon sequestration while producing the same amount of electricity” (2011, para. 6). Still more difficult is the actual sequestration. Finally, it is not clear, at this point, whether such a method would be successful in preventing the compressed CO2 from leaking, and for how long. In short, its critics claim that the problem with “clean coal” is that there may not be such a thing (Meigs, 2011). Ethical Views The moral questions raised by many businesses are not necessarily different for different ethical theories, and they may not necessarily be analyzed differently by those theories. As is often the case, questions of corporate responsibility must be considered within the context of the actual issue involved, the business model used, the corporate mission statement, the theory—e.g., shareholder or stakeholder—utilized, the ethical evaluations being made, and how the various factors within those ethical evaluations are weighed. One utilitarian may look at a coal company deciding not to add expensive but optional “scrubbers” to minimize its mercury output; the greatest good for the greatest number in this case might be determined, in this specific analysis, to be based solely on return to investors of the highest possible profits. No law is being broken, and the company is fully complying with all relevant regulations. In contrast, another utilitarian might well argue that such scrubbers are worth the added cost, evaluating the benefits to the community not just in terms of profit, but also in terms of the risks of increased mercury contamination to current and future customers, the company’s commitment to sustainability, and its reputation for being a responsible member of the community. Here we have two utilitarians with contrasting conceptions of what the correct decision is to do in one specific case. Presumably, one could make a similarly contrasting argument from the perspective of two deontologists who disagree with distinct assumptions about the values that should be emphasized in such a decision. 8.3 The Issue: Personal Responsibility I n addition to corporate responsibility, all of us, as individuals, have a relationship to our environment. What does it mean to take personal responsibility to maintain and protect our environment, not just for our own health and safety, but for those mos85880_08_c08.indd 235 10/28/13 1:30 PM CHAPTER 8 Section 8.3 The Issue: Personal Responsibility generations to follow? Do we have any obligations to protect the environment, or should we regard it simply as a source of resources to be exploited and utilized? If we do have such obligations, what are they? Do they require us to change our lifestyles in a radical way, or are there more moderate steps we can take to reduce waste; negative effects on the air, soil, and water; and carbon footprints? Some environmentalists argue that only radical steps can be justified at this stage, given the damage that has already been done and that continues; this is particularly a common feature of discussions on anthropogenic climate change. But others argue that we can make relatively modest changes and have a cumulative effect that will minimize our environmental impact and, in many cases, improve our surroundings. Environmentally Responsible Households One simple step to take is disposing of household waste in the appropriate way. Many of us have various kinds of waste: leftover food, packaging, bottles, cans, and various kinds of clutter that we accumulate and, at some point, want to discard. There are other more hazardous kinds of waste, such as motor oil, antifreeze, or leftover bug spray, as well as those we saw under the title of “universal wastes”: solvents, cleaners, electronic items, batteries, even thermometers. We might object were we to see our next door neighbor pouring used motor oil down a storm sewer, but there is little difference between this and tossing batteries or cell phones into the trash, where they will end up in a landfill. The EPA notes that improper disposal of household waste can pose serious threats to both human health and the environment; it directs consumers to community resources aimed at disposing of hazardous items responsibly. Going Green on an Individual Level Various companies have recognized that there is significant demand for products that are less stressful on the environment, and that are regarded as safer for humans, including children, as well as pets and other animals. Some of the products are designed to save energy, water, or both. These include solar panels, reusable water bottles, energy-saving light bulbs, low-flow showerheads, and rechargeable batteries. Meanwhile, ecologists recommend homeowners rely on natural substances—as opposed to manufactured chemicals that may pose health risks—for killing pests and weeds. For example, use vinegar instead of glyphosate: One very commonly used weed killer is made with glyphosate, which some studies have connected with potential health risks in humans and other animals. Using mos85880_08_c08.indd 236 iStockphoto/Thinkstock Using organic household waste for composting is one way to “go green.” 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.3 The Issue: Personal Responsibility CHAPTER 8 vinegar and water as a substitute has often been recommended by home gardeners seeking an alternative to glyphosate. Many gardeners have found composting to be a productive way to use organic household waste (such things as coffee grounds, eggshells, bush and tree trimmings, etc.). Composting takes these wastes and uses them to develop a nutrient-rich fertilizer for the soil. Composting thus decreases the amount of waste that is thrown away, and benefits the soil by adding nutrients. Composting’s numerous benefits are listed on the EPA’s website (see the Suggested Resources at the end of this chapter.). Are Green Products Affordable? Environmentalists often stress the importance of changing one’s lifestyle to be more “ecofriendly,” but most also insist that such changes do not require much if any sacrifice on the part of the individual. Rather, it is just getting into the habit of choosing those products that have a relatively lower environmental impact, as well as doing other things that are easy to do but have a cumulative effect (reusing a cloth bag when grocery shopping) and not doing things that have a negative impact (improperly disposing of hazardous waste). Yet it has been argued that some of the steps recommended in order to decrease our negative impact on the environment, involve expenses, and that many of us who would prefer to be more environmentally responsible are not really in a financial position to do so. While it might be obvious that to retrofit a house with solar panels is a very expensive undertaking, it is also the case that organic food is generally more expensive than food grown in the more traditional fashion. A Denver Post editorial notes that the use of wind and solar power will be substantially more expensive than fossil fuels (Yeatman & Cooke, 2010). While this is a complaint about the differential energy costs between these various options, most of us also know on a more individual basis about costs that are involved in “being green.” Sometimes these are financial costs, but there are also costs associated with time, convenience, and missing out on something: what economists call “opportunity costs.” It may be more environmentally friendly (and better for me) to walk to work, but what if I work 30 miles from where I live? Perhaps I could bike, but that means I must risk riding a bike in traffic, as well as showing up to work in less than pristine condition (in other words, sweaty). Perhaps I could take public transit, but in my community it is very inefficient, and to get to work requires an hour and a half in transportation time that I could spend doing something else. If the environment is my sole consideration, then walking, biking, or public transportation may be the correct choice; but most of us make these choices in the context of busy schedules, other responsibilities, and other activities that we either need to take part in, or at least would like to. Even cleaning products that are “green” tend to be more expensive—in some cases, quite a bit more expensive—than the standard ones we might recognize, and some have argued that the organic products are not as effective (a claim strongly rejected by those who make organic cleaners and other household products). The question then becomes one that we saw earlier in other contexts: Do I want my house to appear slightly less clean, for more money, or appear cleaner, for less money? Even if the organic products are as effective as others, they are more expensive: Perhaps the question is not so much whether I think it is worth the extra money to do what I can to protect the environment, it is whether I can mos85880_08_c08.indd 237 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.3 The Issue: Personal Responsibility CHAPTER 8 afford to buy the organic products. Many people feel as if there really is little or no choice in the matter. After all, if one doesn’t have the funds to make a positive environmental impact, it may not matter what one desires to do. Those who advocate using organic cleaners, eating organic food, and taking other steps generally recognize that, currently, there are additional costs to doing so. At the same time, they have two responses: • • The more people begin to realize the benefits of being “green” (or at least “greener”), the more the laws of supply and demand will take effect. More companies will recognize the profits available in offering environmentally friendly products; competition will bring prices down; and the free market will respond, as it is designed to do, to meet customer demand with efficient, safe, and affordable green alternatives. In short, when these choices become increasingly popular, economies of scale will function to make them affordable for many more people. There are costs to using the older, less eco-friendly products, in terms of health care costs, loss of productivity due to job absences, diminished quality of life, and other costs that may be “hidden,” but are no less genuine. When these costs are factored in, green products may be considerably closer in price to the alternative, and these costs also provide some motivation for both government money, and private equity firms, to subsidize and investment in sustainable products and technologies. Medication Disposal Many of us have specific forms of hazardous waste in our homes, which must be disposed of an appropriate way. However, one particular form of hazardous waste has not been mentioned; although very common, it can be overlooked in such discussions, and should not be. This is the disposal of medical waste: drugs, such as antibiotics, as well as syringes (and other “sharps” such as scalpels or lancets), disposable gloves, incontinence products, blood-soaked bandages, etc. Such waste is produced in hospitals, labs, clinics, nursing homes, medical offices, and even schools and tattoo parlors, but it is not unusual for some of these things to be in individual homes: Regardless of their source, however, they need to be disposed of properly. Obviously enough, some medical waste poses a significant health threat: A contaminated needle can be a biohazard, and can lead to infectious diseases; a number of different kinds of medical waste can carry with them some sort of health risk if not disposed of properly. Additionally, but importantly, is the question of unused medications. These pose various risks: Children may accidentally swallow them, and prescription drug abusers may be tempted to steal them. A more significant threat may come from a standard way many people used to dispose of unwanted medicine—by flushing it down the toilet. This sends the various pharmaceuticals into the waterways, introducing their active agents into that water, which can be absorbed by fish and can even find their way into drinking water. Observers point out that scientists have detected medicines in both surface and groundwater, not to mention the soil. Even low levels of medicine in an ecological system pose health risks to land and marine life (Take Back Your Meds, 2010). mos85880_08_c08.indd 238 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.4 Applying the Theories CHAPTER 8 In contrast, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has prepared a list of medicines it regards as safe for disposal by flushing (n.d.); presumably, this means that medicines not on this list may not be safe to flush. The EPA has an extensive discussion of the issues involved on its website: http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/ppcp/index.cfm. In any case, as is clear, this method of disposal is the source of some controversy. In any case, it is important to be aware of the issue, and to become better informed about the risks involved with improper disposal of all medical waste, including both over-the-counter and prescription pharmaceuticals. 8.4 Applying the Theories W e began our look at environmental ethics by considering what happened in Hinkley, California. Was Pacific Gas and Electric guilty of polluting the groundwater, and thus responsible for some of the illnesses and even deaths that occurred there? Was this charge unfair, and were the claims that PG&E caused these results overblown and exaggerated? Or is there a third possibility to consider, that all economic activity—including that of PG&E—carries with it certain risks, but those risks are manageable and are the kind of thing a society has to accept in order to flourish economically? These questions, to a large extent, are raised in terms of economics, cost–benefit analysis, profit and loss, health care costs, etc. But there are also ethical considerations here as well. If we have an accurate account of what PG&E did—or didn’t do—then we can examine whether it did the right thing: not the right thing necessarily in terms of economic gain (or in terms of instrumental value) but in terms of moral values. Is the company’s behavior justified on moral grounds, or does it deserve to be criticized on those same grounds? Here we will look at a utilitarian defense of PG&E’s corporate behavior, and then contrast it with an objection to that behavior in terms of deontology. Then we will turn to relativism, to see how that perspective might look at this specific situation. Utilitarian The case concerning PG&E contains important factual questions that are difficult to answer with certainty. Nonetheless, PG&E settled for $333 million in 1996, another $295 million in 2006, and a final payment of $20 million in 2008. These are significant damages, but in the long run they become part of the cost of doing business, and many of the costs are, undoubtedly, passed on to PG&E’s customers. A utilitarian examining this case has to determine what the costs and the benefits are in this particular situation. On the one hand, there are the disputed health effects of PG&E’s operation in Hinkley, the costs of the cleanup, as well as the costs of litigation and the damages paid to those in the lawsuit. Without dismissing the potential and genuine damages that may have been involved, a broader perspective also needs to be brought to bear in this case. The operation that caused the groundwater contamination was natural gas decompression; Hinkley had one of the many stations that are required to decompress natural gas between its original sources and its final delivery stage. To minimize rust in the cooling towers, chromium 6 was used, and the discharged water was kept in unlined pools; this had been done since 1952. When we look at the broader picture, however, mos85880_08_c08.indd 239 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.4 Applying the Theories CHAPTER 8 we see several compelling facts: PG&E is a major source of energy in California, upon which people rely. Without a consistent, affordable power source, households would be prevented from doing a great number of things, from laundry to watching TV to running air conditioning and heating. Furthermore, without this reliable source of natural gas to the many industries in California that use it, the California economy would grind to a halt; people would be thrown out of work, agriculture and industry would be irreparably harmed, taxes would be raised to pay for unemployment and other costs associated with a sharp increase in unemployment. Additionally, all the salaries and benefits have a multiplier effect: Those who lose their jobs working for PG&E no longer have money for babysitters, going out to eat, and other items on which they traditionally spend their disposable income. In turn, all those who rely on that money are harmed. In short, even if the worse case scenario is painted of PG&E’s activity in Hinkley, the alternative is almost incalculably worse and affects far larger numbers of people. It is virtually impossible to make a utility calculation under which more people—again, on the worst case scenario— would be better off were PG&E prevented from the exploration, development, and delivery of natural gas. All such activity has risks, but the benefits so vastly outweigh the risks than on any utilitarian evaluation, PG&E did the right thing. This conclusion hardly supports the idea that corporations can do what they wish without any consideration of effects on people and on the environment. Obviously enough, once the risk of chromium 6 had been established, PG&E had an obligation to respond and to minimize that risk. That is not only the ethical result that would be suggested by the utilitarian; it is also sound business practice. But on a utilitarian view, assuming that no energy production is 100% risk free—a very safe assumption—one must balance those risks and address them as effectively as possible, but recognize that those risks do not outweigh the rewards of a generally safe, affordable, and necessary source of energy. At the same time, it should be noted that different utilitarians will evaluate the specific benefits—and therefore the overall benefits—of an activity differently, just as they may evaluate the costs differently. How much does one value preventing a child from developing asthma, or a potentially fatal disease? How does one weigh the value of a low unemployment rate in a town, with all the direct and indirect benefits it provides? As we’ve seen, clean air and clean water may have some specifiable value; at what point does the value of making air cleaner not justify the expense required to do so, or the sacrifice of economic development it might require? As should be clear, adopting a utilitarian perspective on environmental issues does not eliminate the complex arguments that can occur within utilitarianism. Deontological Deontologists, specifically those influenced by Kant, take as fundamental to their ethical theory two basic points: We must never treat another human being as a mere means to an end (human beings, that is, cannot be treated as having solely instrumental value), and we must act in such a way that our decisions could be universalized—that our decision, in the given context, would be what everyone should do in that same situation. PG&E’s actions violated both of these requirements, and thus were immoral. PG&E used a dangerous chemical, chromium 6, long after it was recognized to pose serious health risks to human beings and other animals. As a profit-oriented organization, it is understandable that PG&E wished to keep its costs down; however, using unlined pools to store water that had been contaminated with chromium 6 was a decision that mos85880_08_c08.indd 240 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.4 Applying the Theories CHAPTER 8 treated the people of Hinkley as means to the end of PG&E. Rather than treating those people with the dignity and respect required, which they deserve simply in virtue of being human beings, PG&E dealt with them as one of several obstacles to overcome in order to achieve its end, namely the highest profits possible. To sacrifice people for profits in such a way is to violate the first principle of deontological ethics, and to deny them their inherent, intrinsic value; doing so is, of course, unethical. PG&E had a moral obligation to take into consideration the human beings and the potential hazards they were being exposed to; to ignore those factors, simply to achieve its goal, is immoral. Unless the lawyers prosecuting the case against PG&E were trained as Kantian deontologists, it was probably not asked in court whether they regarded their actions as universalizable, or following the Kantian categorical imperative that one act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law. While a lawyer might have asked PG&E what the results might have been had all energy companies had such a cavalier attitude toward exposing human beings to such risks, it seems more plausible that PG&E would have been asked this: Would you think you were being treated ethically if you lived in Hinkley? Or perhaps the company was asked if it would object if such procedures, such as storing water contaminated with chromium 6, were kept in unlined pools in the neighborhood where PG&E’s directors, legal team, and all their children lived. In this way, we can bring out the universality test by appealing to the Golden Rule: If you would object to being exposed to chromium 6, then obviously it would be wrong to expose others. Because PG&E’s behavior treated others solely as means to an end, and could not defend that behavior as being in conformity with a law that could be made universal, it was fundamentally immoral. Such violations of human dignity cannot be defended on the basis of profits or other consequences; the act itself is in violation of these fundamental principles and must be found to be unethical. Relativism The relativist has various options here in considering PG&E’s behavior. Perhaps the community of Hinkley thought the risk was worth it, particularly if they got jobs and relatively inexpensive energy out of it. Perhaps the community of Hinkley thought the risk was not worth it, and decided to ban all operations of PG&E from Hinkley. Perhaps the community of Hinkley wished to make a trade with PG&E: For free natural gas for the next 50 years, PG&E could flood the town with water contaminated with chromium 6. While the last option seems implausible, it is difficult to see what result the relativist could not, in theory, support; it is a function of what the community regards as what is best for the community. One might suggest that appealing to relativism here in drafting actual legislation and policy would be a logistical nightmare. How is it decided what, precisely, the community supports? Is it done on the basis of majority rule? Why would majority rule necessarily be favored by this community? After all, relativism doesn’t have some in-principle commitment to democracy or majoritarianism, does it? Furthermore, if majority rule is used to determine what the community wishes to do, this brings with it the various objections to such a procedure that have been prominent since at least Socrates: One thing most of those in the minority are quite familiar with are their views being ignored, or worse, by those mos85880_08_c08.indd 241 10/28/13 1:30 PM Section 8.4 Applying the Theories CHAPTER 8 in the majority. As Socrates (and Plato) also observed, experts in a community are rarely the majority of that community; thus, if we want experts (for instance, on the hazards of chromium 6) to make these decisions, then that is the rule of the few: an aristocracy or an oligarchy. But in defense of relativism in this context, it is more likely a question of the general sense of the community’s priorities, rather than a question of how policy is formulated or legislation enacted. Some communities may wish to make the tradeoff: cheaper energy and a higher risk (within reason) of some cancers; if the risk is seen to be relatively low, and the payoff relatively high, some communities may think this well worth it. At the same time, other communities may look at the same calculations and data and decide it is not worth the risk; they may choose to decrease the potential health risks and pay higher energy costs. Each community chooses what is best for that community, and neither is necessarily wrong. The one issue that does arise here, however, is the traditional question of NIMBY: “Not in My Back Yard.” If a community claims that PG&E must be able to maintain its cooling towers, but doesn’t want those towers in its own town—it wants them in someone else’s backyard—that can generate problems, particularly since the cooling towers have to go in someone’s backyard. This is a common feature of those necessary consequences of activities that bring with them unavoidable risks, such as toxic dumps and hazardous waste incinerators. People need them and want the benefits, but they want someone else to assume the risks. Here again we run into the problem of externalities, and the degree to which these conflicts have been solved in ways that could generally be regarded—on any ethical theory—as fair. Conclusions Environmental hazards are unavoidable: Whether obtaining natural gas by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), mining and burning coal for electricity, or developing sophisticated antibiotics, many technological developments bring with them risks. Evaluating the benefits and risks is an essential component of making sound environmental and economic decisions, and it is important—although often very difficult—to balance in an appropriate way the demands made on the environment by development and progress with the desire to preserve and protect the beauty and value of nature. How we view the value of nature—as having only instrumental value, or also as having intrinsic value—will do a great deal to determine how we evaluate the issues involved and what balance is to be struck. Assuming, as it is safe to do, that progress and development will continue, those concerned about also maintaining their commitment to the stewardship of nature will also continue to confront vexing and difficult challenges. We have seen a number of the different stresses human beings put on the environment, in terms of the need for resources, be it coal, petroleum, water, food, or even medicine and health care. As we head further into the 21st century, several factors seem especially crucial: • mos85880_08_c08.indd 242 The economic development and increased energy use of countries that in the past made fewer demands on the system: specifically the two largest countries in the world, India and the People’s Republic of China. Adding that increased demand to a system that, in many cases, already seems taxed will raise many challenging economic, ethical, and environmental issues; one advantage is that the leadership of these countries seems well aware of these challenges. 10/28/13 1:30 PM Key Terms • • CHAPTER 8 The continuing threat posed by anthropogenic climate change. While there are those who regard it as a natural result of climate patterns, or even a hoax, the most recent data indicate that 97% of those who work in the relevant fields regard climate change as real and as likely the result of human activity (NASA, n.d.). Various consequences may follow from increases in temperature, including increased energy in storms (hurricanes, cyclones), much higher sea levels that can inundate low-lying areas (Manhattan, Bangladesh, Indonesia), and various threats to animal populations and to the food supply. If climate change is a genuine threat, then most of the other environmental concerns pale in comparison. An environment’s ability to process, absorb, and otherwise deal with such hazards to that environment (pollution, waste) is called its “sink function.” Some have suggested that human activity, if unchecked, risks causing the Earth’s sink function, or ability to deal with such stresses on the system, to shut down. Some environmental economists have argued that this aspect of the Earth’s ecology does not receive sufficient attention, risking long-term damage to the planet. Chapter Summary I n this chapter, we have looked at some important environmental concerns, although many more important concerns could not be examined. As we saw, both corporations and individuals have a role to play in protecting the environment, particularly if both developed and developing economies wish to grow and flourish. Over the last several decades, society’s awareness of the various threats to the environment has increased considerably, with a resulting increased focus on the need to “go green” (or at least greener). While these challenges will persist, and in some contexts possibly become worse, with this increased awareness also comes a new desire to develop more sustainable products and a more sustainable approach to development, including minimizing the human carbon footprint to the greatest extent possible. Key Terms body burden The total amount of various chemicals that are present in the human body at a given point in time. EPA Federal agency created in 1970 for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment. Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards Mileage standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. genetically modified Referring to organisms that have been changed by using techniques of genetic engineering. dioxin A general term that describes a group of hundreds of chemicals that are highly persistent in the environment. mos85880_08_c08.indd 243 externality An economic effect that results from an economic choice but is not reflected in market prices. instrumental value The value something has that leads to the achievement of some desired or valued purpose. 10/28/13 1:30 PM CHAPTER 8 Suggested Resources intrinsic value The value something has that is valuable in itself, not for some other purpose or goal. universal waste A particular category of hazardous but common waste that requires specific disposal techniques. Critical Thinking Questions 1. Name three things you might do to reduce the amount of resources you consume. Do you have a moral or economic reason to do so? Why or why not? 2. Can something have both intrinsic and instrumental value? If so, identify it and describe the distinct values it has; if not, explain why nothing can possess both values. 3. Does a corporation have a responsibility—beyond conforming to existing laws and regulations—to protect and preserve the environment? Why or why not? Suggested Resources Corporate Statements on Responsible Environmental Practices American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity: http://www.cleancoalusa.org/clean-coal-technology Cargill Statement on freshwater efficiency: http://www.cargill.com/corporate-responsibility/environmental-sustainability/ environmental-goals-actions/freshwater-efficiency/index.jsp Exxon’s environmental statement: http://www.exxonmobil.com/Corporate/safety_env.aspx Hilton’s environmental statement: http://www.hiltonworldwide.com/corporate-responsibility/sustainably/ Hyatt’s environmental statement: http://thrive.hyatt.com/environmentalSustainability.html Marriott’s environmental statement: http://www.marriott.com/corporate-social-responsibility/corporate-environmental -responsibility.mi Walmart’s statement on sustainability: http://corporate.walmart.com/global-responsibility/environment-sustainability mos85880_08_c08.indd 244 10/28/13 1:30 PM Suggested Resources CHAPTER 8 Safe Disposal of Medical Waste FDA links to each state’s laws and other relevant information: http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/industrial/medical/programs.htm California database where one can search by county and by waste type (e.g., sharps, pharmaceuticals) for disposal facilities: http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/homehazwaste/healthcare/collection/ Example of a pharmaceutical buy-back program: http://newjerseyhills.com/madison_eagle/news/pharmacy-collects-unused-drugs-that -pose-risk-of-abuse-pollution/article_94f71f98-9a02-11e1-925f-0019bb2963f4.html Critics of Corporate Environmental Programs http://www.hcn.org/articles/clean-coal-is-an-oxymoron/print_view http://www.monsantowatch.org/ http://247wallst.com EPA Suggestions for household waste disposal: http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/hhw.htm Benefits of composting, according to the EPA: http://www.epa.gov/composting/basic.htm Pesticide alternatives: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090816170910.htm Universal Waste http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/hazardouswaste/universalwaste/ Organic Food http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/organic-food/NU00255 Clean Coal http://www.cleancoalusa.org/clean-coal-technology mos85880_08_c08.indd 245 10/28/13 1:30 PM mos85880_08_c08.indd 246 10/28/13 1:30 PM

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