Kathleen Dean Moore & an ethical response to climate change

February 8th, 2011 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Note: Kathleen Dean Moore will present her new book Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril at Village Books in Bellingham on Wed, February 9, at 7 pm; free!

Because of humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels, we are warming our earth beneath a cloak of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.

Here in Washington State, rising temperatures and a warmer climate are causing our glaciers to melt faster than they can replenish themselves. This is leading us towards a future with less fresh water for agriculture and drinking and less resources for inexpensive hydroelectric generation. Over 40 of our coastal communities are threatened by rising sea levels. Sagebrush-steppe and alpine ecosystems may disappear as the tree line shifts, and growing seasons will change in unpredictable ways. The loss of several amphibian species, alterations in bird and butterfly migratory patterns and invasions of unchecked, voracious insect infestations are already underway. Ocean acidification is choking the abundant life in Puget Sound and bays of the outer coast. Eastside forests are drying up and wildland fires will become more prevalent. We humans will face a deadly spike in infectious, respiratory and heat-related illnesses as the natural world around us smolders.

Heard this laundry list of doom before? Most likely you have, and it’s because scientists have done an impressive job of both studying the phenomenon of global climate change and communicating the causes and effects to the public. The effort has be so heroic that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”

While the data, interpretations and subsequent warnings from the scientific community are essential pieces of this puzzle, Kathleen Dean Moore, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Oregon State University, recognized that something was missing. Moore, the author of personal essay/nature writing books like Riverwalking, Holdfast and Wild Comfort, teaches environmental ethics and moral reasoning to students and she soon realized that the scientists’ arguments, no matter how comprehensive, were not going to inspire us to act to save our world.

“Clearly, information is not enough,” she writes. “A piece is largely missing from the public discourse about climate change: namely an affirmation of our moral responsibilities in the world that the scientists describe. No amount of factual information will tell us what we ought to do. For that, we need moral convictions… Facts and moral convictions together can help us understand what we ought to do – something neither can do alone.”

In the new volume Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, co-edited by Michael P. Nelson for Trinity University Press, Moore assembles eighty of the world’s leading visionaries, leaders and writers to create a compelling call to action to confront the challenges of climate change based on moral and ethical grounds. Moore and Nelson have orchestrated a chorus featuring the sterling voices of the Dalai Lama, Barack Obama, Desmond Tutu, John Paul II, Barbara Kingsolver, Paul Hawken, Thich Naht Hanh, E.O. Wilson, Wendell Berry, Bill McKibben, Terry Tempest Williams, Gary Snyder, bell hooks and many, many others from cultures and countries around the planet.

“Do we have a moral oblication to take action to protect the future of a planet in peril?” the editors asked of their contributors, “and if so, why?”

The answers – inspiring, creative, sobering and grounded in reason – are presented in thematic clusters, including “Yes, for the survival of humankind,” “Yes, to honor our duties of gratitude and reciprocity, “Yes, for the stewardship of God’s creation, “Yes, because justice demands it,” “Yes, because the world is beautiful.”

Moral Ground strives to start the conversation about “who we are when we are at out best, what we must do to be worthy of our gifts” and how we might live on Earth “respectfully, responsibly and joyously.” These are essential questions to ponder here at the most crucial turning point our planet has ever faced.

Photos of Moore at North Cascades Environmental Learning Center by Christian Martin.
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