Do We Need New Ethics To Handle Modern Technology?

Black earthModern technology

Owes Ecology

An Apology.

-Alan Eddison

Each year, we lose over 38 million acres of rainforest as a result of deforestation; rainforests used to cover 14% of the earths surface; now, they cover less than 6%, and are depleting more each year. Our 800 million+ cars in the world emit carbon emissions at such a high level that they erode the atmosphere and are contributing to drastic changes in our weather patterns.  The trash we have discarded – including, of course, man-made non-biodegradable plastics– accumulate in landfills throughout the world and leach toxic chemicals into the land and water, greatly affecting the survival of animal and plant life.

And in a pursuit to feed the ever-growing world population, agricultural biotechnologists are altering the genetic make-up of food and plants, splicing the genes from fish into the genes of tomatoes, for example, to increase the amount that we can grow and the “nutrient content” they possess –  a type of species cross-breeding that has heretofor never occurred, and never would occur, naturally in nature.

Thinking about modern technologies of the past 100 years, one can’t help but see how they have radically transformed our planet.  The cars we drive, the massive amounts of waste we discard, the agricultural techniques we employ, among many other examples: each has led environmental aftereffects such as climate change and depletion of natural resources that have altered the biosphere in which we live in very significant ways.

Power PlantBefore our widespread technological developments, we may have modified the earth for our needs, including hunting wildlife and farming for food, as well as gathering necessities for living and shelter, but fundamentally, as Rudi Volti writes in Society and Technological Change, we “used to leave the earth roughly as we found it.”   Yet with modern technologies, we no longer leave the world the way it was when we came into it. With modern technology, we have the capacity to not only influence the world, to leave our footprint, but to radically transform it.  We even have the power to destroy it.

Imbued by technology with this capacity to literally destroy our own habitat, some philosophers contest that we need to catch our ethics up to speed – that our previous ethical frameworks do not address this relatively newfound authority to impact the planet so significantly.  Ethics that were established in an age before we could drastically impact our biosphere – before we knew about carbon emissions, or nuclear power, or genetic engineering—are not equipped to help us cope with modern day problems.  Morton Winston, Hans Jonas, and writers like Bill McKibben call for a new type of ethics that takes this power modern technology gives us into account, where we consider not only our individual moral decisions, but the aggregates of our actions; where we consider not only human beings in our decision making, but the planet, and nature, as well; and finally, where we consider the timeline of our decisions, and the future of humanity, and not only how the decisions we make now affect us currently, but how they will affect the livelihood of future generations as well.

In his essay, “Children of Invention,” Morton Winston writes eloquently about technology’s game-changing influence on ethics, and how we need to develop a new framework as we proceed in the technological age:

“Our previous ethics has not prepared us to cope with such global threats.  Traditional ethics has focused primarily on the moral requirements concerning individual action, on the direct dealings between persons, rather than on the remote effects of our collective action.  This problem is particularly important with respect to widely distributed technologies, such as the internal combustion engine, whereby the cumulative effects of individual decisions can have a major impact on air quality even though no single individual is responsible for the smog.

By and large, traditional moral norms deals with the present and near-future effects of actions of individual human beings and do not prepare us to deal with cumulative effects and statistical deaths.  Traditional ethics, above all, has been anthropocentric – the entire nonhuman world has been viewed as a thing devoid of moral standing and significance except insofar as it could be bent to satisfy human purposes.  We have assumed the natural world was our enemy and that it did not require our care (for what could we possibly do to harm it really?) and nature was not regarded as an object of human responsibility.

In the past, we have attempted to fashion out ethical theories in terms of these assumptions.  The traditional maxims of ethics – for example, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and “Never treat your fellow man as a means only but always also as an end in himself” – are in keeping with the individualistic, present-oriented, and anthropocentric assumptions of our ethical traditions. Even the Christian ethic of universal love does not transcend the barriers of time, community, and species.  Even more modern ethical theories such as utilitarianism and Kantian ethics do not provide particularly good guidance when it comes to the sorts of ethical concerns raised by technology.  In part this is because they were designed to be used to evaluate individual actions of particular moral agents.

But the sociotechnological practices that comprise our collective action are not only made up of many individual choices – such as the choice to have a child, to eat a hamburger, or to invest in a mining stock – but also the aggregation of these individual choices, plus those of organized collectivities such as corporations and governments.  In most cases, the individuals, business executives, or politicians who are making the choices that add up to our collective insecurity do not intend these threats to result, and neither they nor we consequently feel any sense of responsibility for them.

Although individuals view themselves as moral agents and consider themselves bearers of responsibility in all the roles in which they participate, the collectivities to which we belong do not.  All the threats we face are in part the result of this diffusion of responsibility.  How then should we, the citizens of Earth, be responding to these environmental questions? Do people in richer countries have any responsibility to those in poorer ones?  Do we, in general, have any responsibilities to future generations concerning the long-term social and environmental effects of our present economic, lifestyle, and political choices?

The notion of responsibility that we need to cultivate is not the backward-looking notion of responsibility as liability, which seeks to allocate blame for past harms, but the forward-looking sense of responsibility in which each of us and every organization and institution “takes responsibility” for future generations of humans and the nonhuman species with whom we share this planet.  This notion of social responsibility, although it is voluntary and discretionary, places real demands on us as individuals and members of communities and requires that we think carefully about the decisions and choices that we make.”

Winston outlines a number of reasons I’d like to highlight about why he believes technology poses new ethical challenges that we have not yet had to face.

car_fuel_air_pollutionFirst, he stresses that the impact of technology is different from other ethical issues because it is not individual decisions but the aggregate of those decisions that have an ethical impact. This is an interesting idea to consider: one person driving a car is not intrinsically wrong; however, millions of people driving a car might be, because of the cumulative impact on others health and on the environment.  Therefore, when we consider what is ethical, we must consider not only the individual, direct consequence of our own decisions, but the aggregate of those decisions…and extrapolating from this idea, one wonders if driving a car therefore does become unethical.  Do you generally think that when you throw away a plastic water bottle, you are making an ethical decision, because you are contributing to build up of plastic in landfills?  When you eat tuna at a restaurant, do you consider yourself a contributor to the epidemic loss of deep sea wildlife occurring on the planet right now?

Another interesting concept Winston raises is that the harm caused by technology is not direct, per se, but diffuse and broad, often perpetrated without any knowledge from the people performing the harmful actions. Indeed, industrial technology has alienated us from nature – we no longer produce our own food, make our own shelter, sew our own clothes.  This is not inherently a bad thing; of course, it has allowed us tremendous freedoms.  But it contributes to what Winston calls a “diffusion of responsibility”, in which we don’t connect our actions with their consequences, because we are so removed from them.  Might you assume more responsibility for your actions if you got to see the amount of waste that your lifestyle accumulated, instead of being isolated from the industries that make your food, clothes, and shelter for you?  How does this separation lead people to feel less accountable for the way they live?

wallescooterconesAnd finally, Winston raises the point that we must consider that in the technological age, the effects of our actions are not always immediate, but in fact influence the lives of generations to come. The issue of environmental ethics is on the level not of an individual human being, living now, but rather on humankind and the survival of the planet as a whole.  When you consider the way we treat the planet now, do you think about how it affects the lives your grandchildren? That destroying land now for our use currently might result in future generations never seeing that land?  One can’t help but think of the movie Wall-E, in which people become so preoccupied with their technology that they completely ignore nature, and in the process, forget nature’s value, leaving a ravaged planet behind.  Is this the type of road we are on, and if so, how do we stop from going down it?

Winston, as well as Hans Jonas and others, call for a new ethical framework that takes the future of the planet into consideration – a framework that is not focused on the individual, or the immediate moment, but on humanity on the whole, and its survival. So what might this new type of ethics look like?

New Ethical Frameworks

Jonas says that “An imperative responding to the new type of human action and addressed to the new type of agency that operates it might run thus: “Act so that the effects of your action is compatible with the permanence of human life;” or expressed negatively, “Act so that the effects of your action is not destructive of the future possibility of such life.”

Another view is that of Deep Ecology, which Mark Somma writes about this framework in his essay, “Radical Environmentalism.”

In the early 1970s, philsopher Arne Naess laid the ground work for an ecological movement called Deep Ecology. Deep Ecology is rooted in the idea that nature has wisdom and value independent of the value ascribed to it to meet human needs.  It emphasizes a “biocentric” view of the world that seeks to cultivate human being’s relationship with nature, based on the principle that nature doesn’t exist solely to meet human ends, but is intrinsically valuable in its own existence.  Human beings should promote the well-being of the entire biosphere, including the oceans, forests, and other natural resources, because they deserve, morally speaking, to be preserved.

Earth in handsDeep Ecology also emphasizes that our moral and spiritual well-being as humans is dependent on a wholesome and integrated relationship with our surrounding world – that we lose something vital and important about ourselves as we increasingly alienate ourselves from the natural world that surrounds us.  When we lose our connection with nature, when we stop valuing nature for nature’s sake, we become less complete, less morally developed human beings.  Deep Ecology also maintains that the amount of interference we have with the nonhuman world currently is excessive, and that as humans, we don’t have the right to reduce biodiversity in such a drastic way, and to exploit nature as much as we do.  Ultimately if we continue down this path, Deep Ecology suggests, it is human beings that will lose out as a result.  Jonas Salk once said, “Eventually we’ll realize that if we destroy the ecosystem, we destroy ourselves.”

Deep Ecology contrasts with Shallow ecology, which may be more recognizable as our current way of relating to the planet.

Deforestation in The Amazon

Deforestation in The Amazon

Shallow ecology refers to the practices that many people would characterize as an industrialized view of living on the planet.  In shallow ecology, human beings see nature as valuable only as it meets human needs.  It is a human-centered ethos (also known as an “anthropocentric” focus) in which people think about how nature can serve their own needs or wants, and focus on mastery and control of nature, not an appreciation of it.  In shallow ecology, “wilderness is wasted unless developed.” In other words, the rain forests exist to provide resources for human use,minerals exist to be mined, and plants exist to be used by human beings. In this framework, as is evident today, humans are increasingly alienated from nature by their modern technologies. Driving in cars, sitting inside in air conditioning, we are comforted by our technologies, but exist apart from nature; we care less and less about it, seeing it as something to use, rather than something to value.

“For shallow ecology the forest becomes a collection of discrete resources measured by their respective values to an exploitative human society; for deep ecology, the forest has an intrinsic value distinct from human society’s use for it.”

Like Winston, Somma argues that we need a new type of ethics: “Such transformation requires a new social movement and a positive vision of a new society, the likes of which does not yet exist and remains to be invented.” And whether or not this transformation needs to be as extreme as Deep Ecology, it nevertheless raises some important questions:

Does the planet have intrinsic value, apart from its value of being used as a resource for human beings?  Should we care about nature for nature’s sake?

Is nature important to humanity, or can we alter it to any extent to meet our needs, even if that means a destruction of biodiversity, and even, as deep ecologist Bill McKibben writes, “The End Of Nature”?

If nature does have intrinsic value, what steps would human beings have to take to “put nature first”?  Reducing populations? Reducing waste?  Even abandoning the development or use of modern technologies that affect the planet negatively?  At what point do you draw the line between valuing nature, and living a comfortable life? Is driving a car reasonable? How about eating meat?  Cutting down forests for housing developments?

Reflecting on these questions is critical to how we will address the environmental issues facing us today.  Ultimately, they also cause us to ask,  ”What, for me, is an ethically sustainable way of living?”

Leave your reflections about the principles of Deep Ecology and a “new ethics” below.

Watch a video explaining Shallow and Deep Ecology:

Questions:

Address any of the questions above, or these below:

In what ways has the technology  influenced our relationship with the natural world?

Does the planet have value intrinsically apart from its value for human use?

What steps do you think human beings should take to live ethically and eco-consciously in the 21st century?

26 Responses to “Do We Need New Ethics To Handle Modern Technology?”

  1. Beau Kramer says:

    I think that technology has removed us from the natural world. We are no longer hunter-gatherers struggling for survival against our environment, but exploiters and dominators. Our needs have not changed drastically over the millennia. The means by which we attain those needs, however, have changed and have eliminated any contact with nature. No one sees the cruelty in meat farms or is aware of the unseen dangers of genetically modified produce. It’s ironic because now we have so much access to information because of technology, yet people still do not see these horrors. Even worse they may be aware but do not see their choice as unethical. It is difficult to conceptualize in the moment how buying one fish or driving across town contributes to the degradation of the planet. It’s not like murder or some other conventional ethical issue, where the result is visible and gruesome. With the environment, the damage is either hidden from the public or is off in the future. In a self-centered world, where everyone is the king of their own little skull kingdom, nobody considers their acts unethical. The challenge is getting people to value nature for its own sake, something I do not think is possible without significant social, political, and economic change.

    • Jorge Castrillo says:

      I agree that there has to be a significant social, political and economic change. The world is simply running out of resources. Humans have become more detached from in favor of modern-technology. However, I do disagree with you on some points.

      “Our needs have not changed drastically over the millennia.”
      Human needs have changed. The individual person, the animal, has not really changed much in the past thousand years. Humans still require about the same amount of food, water, and so forth. But humans as a whole have changed. The human population has drastically increased over the past few decades and this must be taken into account when determining action towards the earth. This brings me to my second point.

      “No one sees the cruelty in meat farms or is aware of the unseen dangers of genetically modified produce”

      Do you see the cruelty in not being a part of meat farming or the dangers of a crop not being big enough because it was not genetically modified? Meat farms need to exist so that food can be more available to more people. I believe that meat farms are animal abuse; dont get me wrong, but the methods being used in meat farming prevent some people from going hungry. It is the simple case of “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”. If earth’s population were to dramatically decrease, and remain at a certain level, it would be easier to apply animal rights and think about ecology. With so many people starving ecology and animal abuse goes to the way side in favor of helping the human population survive.

      I agree with most of your points, but it is very important to acknowledge that humans as a species have changed. Our social values and habits are drastically different then 30 years ago. These changes may not be genetic, but they do exist. Should our “skull kingdom” be built on cows and pigs or on human bones? It is the classic scenario of us or them and there seems to be no solution in which we can survive and they can receive better treatment.

  2. sam harrison says:

    This is a very interesting blog that directly relates to some of our most recent readings for class. I would have to agree that our society has moved to shallow ecology. Even though explained in the blog, shallow ecology is also explained in the reading “Revolutionary Environmentalism.”(Somma) Most people live their lives, whether it is realized or not, through the idea that us humans are the center of the world and we will use all resources possible for they are here for our use. This is a sad reality but its growth comes from technology. Technology has enabled us to take what we want and take mass quantities of it quickly as well. This can and will become a very serious problem for nature cannot restore itself without humans giving it the ability too. This can only be done by moving to deep ecology, which is simply put as being one with nature. If society does not move in this direction we are in trouble. “Revolutionary Environmentalism gives a great analogy of what is to come with human centered mentalities. The author says, “Like a vehicle without brakes, the momentum of economic growth seems to have inertia that can only be stopped with a crash.”(Somma 41) Society must grow and learn to value natures growth, not its destruction for human luxuries, for if we do not we will be destroyed as well.

  3. Aaminah Khan says:

    I think that when humans were put on this planet, we were meant to eat meat and use the earth’s natural resources in order to survive. What I do not think we were meant to do was to begin destroying the earth bit by bit with our pollution and harmful ways of harvesting fruits and vegetables as well as meat. The problem does not lie in what we do but in how we go about doing it. Animals are massed produced and unjustly slaughtered. They contract diseases which pollute the water that we drink. We also greedily cut down forests in order to mine. We have come across the power of technology and that is not a power to be abused but who can say what the restrictions are? This is similar to the question Robert Jensen poses about how much consumption is too much. In this case, when we do stop the technological advances? Are they a positive or negative to the environment or both? Technology has made us lazy human beings. Every month another invention is patented that will help make life “easier” which just means another way to be lazy. We have so many gadgets that we rely on to live and yet we don’t need. It is all so we do not have to do more work. It’s actually a little pathetic considering at one time humans used to hunt their own food and make use of every part of the animal. Now we don’t have to hunt for our food, it comes to us, but instead of appreciating we are being wasteful. We are not the same humans from hundreds of years ago. We have lost the ability to do a lot of hard work and we have also lost our morals. We have lost the ability to make the right choices because we are now selfish and would rather live that way.

  4. Rebecca says:

    As is evidenced by this blog as well as Jensen’s article, we as a global community have taken a passive approach to ethical consumption. As most of us who form the middle to upper middle class would attest, being forced to give up the comforts we have come to view as necessities seems backwards and unreasonable, and in many ways, it is. However, that is not to say that a level of awareness as to the ramifications of our actions cannot be cultivated. Childhood obesity has also become a pertinent issue in our country, which is why there are no many government programs that enforce physical education in schools in response to this growing epidemic. It is illogical to attempt to control the rapid growth of technology, however, it IS logical to apply that technology in such a way as to promote education. Classes on how meat is prepared may not make everyone vegetarians, but I do believe they would give consumers insight into just how wasteful we are with our meat products and what we can do to consume intelligently, rather than frivolously.
    http://blog.oregonlive.com/pdxgreen/2009/02/vegetarian_portland.html

  5. nicholasjchung says:

    In modern day with new findings of how we are degrading our environment we often forget how much damage we are truly causing. Instead, we brush the problem off and ignore our responsibility to maintain our surroundings not only as an individual but also as a collective group. Without the need for us to truly understand the importance of resources such as people in the past, where they had to work and gather their own means of food and shelter, we instead have taken advantage of the convenience of the means we get what we have today. Many people today have forgotten their goal as human being are, and with years of new things being brought up that are harming our planet today, we have grown to brush them off as “just another thing to worry about.” However, in order to rectify the problems of what are going on today, we as society have to look at the small things that are causing this. Such as the use of our cars, the food we eat and the manner in which we also dispose of our garbage. All of those things, if not changed, is what leads to the bigger problems that we deal with today. Without the ability to fix those ourselves, we cannot fix our problems today as a collective group.

  6. Jamie Swartz says:

    This blog certainly addresses many concerns with the extreme effects of technology. We live in a world practically based off of the latest trend, especially in the United States. We focus on how we can get everything faster, make it better, and do it cheaper. But what people fail to realize is the downfall to this race in technology – what is happening to the very place in which we live. As humans, we almost feel entitled to what Earth has to offer us. Technological advances only make it easy for us to get what we’re after, and continually destroy the planet. This article makes it clear that we all need to step up: maybe one individual choosing to drive won’t make a huge impact, but when you consider the billions of people who do everyday – that’s huge. Big changes need to take place, starting with the individual. Humans need to be blessed for what the Earth is offering, and use it sparingly. We need to protect the environment, preserve natural resources, and consider what kind of world we want to leave for our great grandchildren to live in.

  7. Sam Peterson says:

    In today’s world, humans excessively waste the valuable resources that the earth has to offer. There are many movements to try and educate the public about how harmful the actions that we take in everyday lives are, however in my opinion the uneducated public is not the problem. The majority of the world understands how harmful it is to the environment that they drive their cars to work everyday, yet they still do it. The problem with our culture as that not only are we not motivated to care about the effects of our actions, but also we find it easier to put the responsibilities on others. The majority of humans sit around waiting for large scale changes to be made instead of making changes to their everyday life simply because it is easier. Humans are naturally selfish beings. We attempt to get what we want as fast as we want it. If technology helps us attain this, then why would anybody be motivated to make a change? I completely agree that as a race, humans need to change the way that we think about nature in order to change the way that we treat it. This change is going to be impossible however unless humans become willing to give up the luxuries that have become a natural part of our lives.

  8. allen truong says:

    In our Modern Society, emissions, trash, garage, waste, and whatever you call it, is just apart of our human nature. This is just something that eventually that we as human being have to deal with sooner or later. Our “carbon footprint” that we are leaving on the world is absolutely nothing compared to the history of the world. We are nothing but a small spec compare to what the earth has been through already. Even if we did leave a “foot print”, it would be like a small small drop of water in an ocean. It’s not do not agree with the fact that we did dig our own graves. Ethics and policies dealing with human waste is much of time irresponsible and inconsiderate of the environmental impact. Companies do not think about how this effects the environment when capital is a factor. In the movie Wall-E the humans are stuck on a spaceship for years. During that time, humans were completely self-sufficient there was not a single wasted thing on that spaceship because if there was then they could not have survived. Eventually humans will has to be more resourceful and less wasteful or we just will not survive. One just has to ask if truly bad for the world, do we disserve be on it? Right now we are just bring our own destruction.

  9. Jflesher says:

    Alan Eddison brings up a good point about compromising between living a comfortably and valuing nature. In modern American society these two options are almost opposites. The destruction caused by advancements in technology and factories can be directly related to our happiness. As consumers we always want the newest and coolest technological inventions. When the Iphone first came out people rushed to go buy and be part of the “cool crowd” and when they new Iphone came out people had to have that one for the fear that their old Iphone would be considered “out of date” and “uncool”. In order to make a change for the better to our environment, Americans need to change their ways of living. They need to not buy the air conditioner for their house and all the other unnecessary items that allow them to live more comfortably. In all reality this wont happen because we have been spoiled and we cannot imagine living with all the luxuries we live with today. We view our smart phones and laptops and necessary items. There will be no change for the better until we change our way of thinking. Because of how selfish and spoiled Americans are, this is not likely to happen.

  10. Robert west says:

    Humanity throughout the years has exponentially advanced in both intelligence and expansion into new environments, branching out from our minds into the world around us. New inventions are developed every day, some of them improving our quality of life. Currently, many companies are “going green” and attempting to improve wastes and finding other sources of energy. I believe that, at this moment, we are in a plateau between resolving environmental issues and creating so much waste we are destroying our planet. This plateau is our trapped state and once we reach a higher technological level we can cross that bridge to a world in which we will not be taking from nature. Eventually, as seen from our past, our development will initiate a response because we cannot keep living and wasting the way we do and we will have to make a change in the way we live, hopefully not a radical one.

  11. Kevin Buiza says:

    Technology has been constantly advancing over the years in order to make our lives easier and with this advancement of technology we are slowly hurting the Earth. Although their are many organizations who are trying to convert people into growing green, it depends on whether or not the majority of people are willing to go green and sacrafice a bit of their leisures in life such as driving cars. People never do think about the consequences behind their actions and never look to see the bigger picture but rather focus on their own lives and what is good for their life and potentionally what is good for humanity but nature is never taken into account and thus is constantly a victim of our own actions. I do believe that new ethnics need to be made in order to protect our planet and make decisions that not only ourselves and others but the planet as well. The path that humanity is currently on has several future possibilities but a majority of those possibilities are horrible futures. Using the movie WALL-E is a perfect example of such possible outcomes. That we use up the Earth to satisfy our own needs up to the point that Earth will be no longer a livable planet. Change does need to happen, but changes from the human race. Although technology does make our lives easier, but we must find a way to make advancements but not at the cost of nature. We must recgonize that nature has a greater purpose behind its existence and not only for human use for resources. We must consider the future and whether our actions will impact the Earth positively or negatively. We must create a future where the nature is no longer dying and so that the future generations will be able to live in a world where technology and nature is present in their lives.

  12. Jay says:

    The article makes a good point about how we as individuals need to think about the decisions we make and base them in aggregate with everyone else. By doing this, we can understand the effects of our actions on the Earth. Technology has influenced our relationship with nature in a negative way because we are drifting further and further away from the natural world. Technology is destroying nature and its natural resources. In addition, we need to spread awareness of the drastic changes to the atmosphere and landscape that have been caused by high consumption levels. Human beings need to consider living more sustainably by reducing waste and consuming less. Even consuming a little less than average will make a difference if everyone takes these steps in aggregate. The main step that humans need to take is think before they act. Do you want to contribute to the destruction of our planet?

  13. Kyle Arrouzet says:

    In my opinion, the Earth has an intrinsic value apart from its potential for human use. These views have been presented by Dave Foreman, who is the founder of Earth First!, as well as environmentalists George Session, and Bill Devall. On a more philosophical level, Human Beings are just another species of animal on Earth, and the only reason we look down on other species, both plant and animal alike, is because we happen to be slightly more intelligent. The Earth sustained life for thousands of years before the rise of Man, and yet mankind fools itself into believing that the only value of anything in nature is that which can be measured in money. In my mind, “Value” does not always mean monetary value, and in the case of the Earth it should not mean such, for money is a creation of man, not of nature. Looking more at the Earth on an ecological level, the planet has an intrinsic value apart from human use because every organism on this planet relies in some way or another on the other organisms on Earth. Mankind tends to forget this concept, and without understanding that killing off the other species on the planet will eventually lead to our own demise, mankind will destroy itself. It’s the greed of man that is mankind’s biggest threat to survival. This may be seen in films such as Avatar, where humans are willing to destroy another planet just to get a valuable mineral, or in WALL-E (Loved the picture by the way xD), where mankind has been so neglectful of its consumption that it has killed off all of the Earth’s flora. Once our society begins to understand that we are dependent upon the Earth for more that just money, we will finally be on the road to protecting our planet instead of exploiting it.

  14. tbowlby says:

    I think that technology has caused people to see the natural world as simply a means to an end instead of a habitat. An area is only as important as the resources it can provide instead of the values of beauty and the importance our ecosystem holds. The planet certainly does have intrinsic value beyond human use, I don’t find that to be a very arguable point. However, I do believe technology and the environment are capable of coinciding without the destruction or loss of one or the other. The environment is becoming an increasing focus in the development of new technology, hopefully it will catch up to the boundaries our planet holds over it.

  15. tbowlby says:

    It is important that the more technology we develop the more we take into account the needs of the Earth. In one of my classes we read a “solution” to the issue proposing a new golden rule in regards to the ecosystem and technology, that each individual will only have an output of energy that, if applied to all citizens of the world, would be able to maintain our planet indefinitely. While I think this is a noble goal, I do not see it as realistic, or even achievable. People have become too reliant on the wonders of technology and will not give them up anytime soon. My hope is that technology will some day be efficient enough to coincide with the needs of our planet, before we’ve caused any more irreparable damage.

  16. Will Jacobson says:

    Clearly our current lifestyle and rationale isn’t sustainable or beneficial. Our biggest concern as conscious and socially responsible citizens of the world is assuming nature’s gifts are here for our own selfish needs – a step towards shallow ecology. People must realize that nature predates us and has a greater purpose than to service mankind. Even if it were possible to educate everyone and reveal technology’s downsides, one problem still remains: how can we convince other people to act? Media should be tailored to the disbelievers as opposed to the already avid followers and practitioners of deep ecology. Faster cars and bigger homes will always shroud our judgment.

  17. A. Hong says:

    The principle of shallow ecology assumes that natural resources are nature’s gift to humans to fulfill the needs of human consumption. The principle of deep ecology states that the world has a right to be unpolluted and uncontaminated. In the past, both these principles held true because we only hunted and gathered what we needed with nothing but homemade arrows and spears. However, modern day technology has influenced our relationship with the natural world thus stretching the principle of shallow ecology and ignoring the principle of deep ecology. As shown in the movie “Food Inc.,” food is now farmed rather than raised. Chickens, for example, used to roam freely in a spacious chicken coop; now they are genetically altered to have larger breasts and injected with chemicals to help them grow faster. As a result, technology has integrated itself into the gene pool and we can argue that our relationship with technology draws us further away from the natural world. Although technology has helped in fulfilling the growing needs of human consumption, this is due to the fact that our natural resources are being altered by someone other than nature. The issue now is whether we have a relationship with technology or the natural world.

  18. EJR says:

    I believe that people take for granted the technological advancements that we have now a days, and still have the ability to be super critical about the entire situation. Our lives are governed by the technology around us. I was unable to do this homework assignment because the Internet was down on campus, and all those who were able to did it on a computer. To completely shut off all types of technology is absurd, and practically impossible. And to just lower technology usage just slows down the process of environmental harm, but it will continue on. Its hard to criticize a system in which almost all Americans partake in, including myself. There really is no “best solution”, but I believe that the next step forward is to lower consumption of gas and oil, and maybe start recycling more. If this were to happen then we would probably be in a better place, but still in the same situation.

  19. Matt Davison says:

    Even with all the warnings about the damage we are doing to the environment, it only seems as if people are becoming lazier and lazier. Society has grown so dependent on technology and exploiting natural resources that I don’t see a successful solution being put into action in the near future. While Robert Jensen’s solution of the “golden-rule standard” is the most reasonable, people have become so accustomed to the lifestyles they have and are not that willing to make sacrifices. Unfortunately, nature is sacrificed in order to manufacture all the luxuries humans enjoy, Most consumers are oblivious to the destruction the environment suffers because of human exploitation. If the affects of human life on earth were better documented, there may be more support for the cause to improve the environment. Regardless, if some changes are going to be made, it will have to be a very slow process or else people will abandon the plan. It may take multiple generations to complete, but if over consumption can be eliminated, the world will be a much healthier and more beautiful place.

  20. brendanruiz says:

    The fact that human morality has always been anthropocentric has been an asset to human survival. Our instinctive desire to benefit ourselves as individuals is a biological drive that helps us survive as an individual. The individual’s desire to benefit the greater community or fellow humans is a social construct that aids the survival of the group. Because these two factors are so deeply a part of our psychology and biology, they motivate all of the decisions we make. There is no need to ignore these human traits, or to try to transcend our naturally anthropocentric thought processes. What we need is not a revolution in morality, but rather a rational analysis of the consequences of our current trajectory, and what changes are necessary to achieve the desired results. If scientists are realizing that the increasing number of cars on the roads will lead to glacial melting and the degradation of the biosphere, then behaviors need to change. Kantean ethics would serve quite well to tell consumers that if they don’t want over 6 billion SUVs on the road each carrying one person to work, then they should not drive one themselves. Really, this is not a matter of being good or bad, or ethical or unethical. There are simply consequences to all of our collective actions, and if we would like to achieve certain outcomes, we need to do what is necessary to achieve them.

  21. Alec says:

    Humans are bad… we need to change… blah blah blah. Yep.

    I think we are. Or at least we are trying to move toward a more positive direction. From my experience, society has certainly gotten the message and is are working toward better practices that take the global community into account. Some don’t actually work, just look at the Prius, but intent is hopefully in the right place. In the case of the Prius, the goal may have still been absolutely profit, which is unfortunate.

    Whether it’s possible or not, I think one positive step would be producing with the focus on high quality goods instead of just profit, which now includes a wider perspective than before (i.e. the environment and the future). If morality required companies and manufacturers to create a globally conscious product, hopefully that would reduce the impact we have on the planet. I see reducing our impact a good thing whether we are responsible for any sort of climate change or not. It is our job as consumers to keep those companies and industries in check. For some reason capitalism has been condemned but I see it as the prime mover in this process. The good thing is, I think we have started this process already.

  22. WaterHeater says:

    Do We Need New Ethics To Handle Modern Technology?
    I don’t really know what to answer for this question actually. I would like to say yes, but at the same time, I’m somewhat nervous about doing so. Perhaps we don’t need new ethics, but need to revise the ethical standards we live by right now. The biggest problem is that humans always live in the present. We can’t live in the past or the future. Looking ahead to the future has always been our weak point. Really, it is hard to predict whats going to happen, and this is where the problem comes in. People refuse to adapt unless they have to. We as a whole treasure the air conditioner or cars far more than the environment, because we don’t fully see or feel the full effects of our actions. Human rights were created because many people could feel the pain of others, but can we really feel the pain of nature through our stone cold artificial world? Any attempt at prevention is always stalled by the lack of foresight of others. Its only until people stop being so selfish can we move on and take part in a better future.

  23. John Gotcher says:

    People are smart enough to make all sorts of luxury products that polute and destroy the earth but keep more and more people from dying in the short term. What people are not smart enough to figure out is how to fix the planet they are destroying with many kinds of polution. Yes it is true that if one person stops driving their car and recycles as much as possible it will not save the world but if everybody has this mind set then everybody will be telling themselves that they don’t need to be the one to make the first move and adopt a greener lifestyle. Although true it is counterproductive, in order to reach an appropriate carrying capacity for humans on earth, everyone should take baby steps and something like the golden rule standard that Robert Jensen talks about should be put in place. It is not the individual that can make change but it is everybody as one, and if nobody is willing to change their lifestyle completely then very small modifications to cars or recycling practices should be made. Such modifications are already being seen to an extent with cash back for old cans and smog checks and this is a good start but it must be taken further if it is ever going to work.

  24. Alex G says:

    Clearly, technology has fundamentally changed the way we interact with the world. We have always sought opportunities to have greater control over our environment, using any means necessary to continue on a progression towards greater power over the uninhibited environment. However, technology recently gave us this power in a way that was completely unprecedented and, as is pointed out in this article, our actions now have profound effects on the world in which we live. This effect has been almost universally negative, damaging our fragile environment, wiping out entire species of animals, and putting the well-being of future generations of humans at stake. Additionally, we are now dependant on natural resources in order to sustain our way of life, and these resources have become so engrained within our society that it will be very difficult to transition out of using them.
    All of these effects are the results of human utilization of technology, rather than the inevitable consequences of technology’s use, so it is likely possible to make great strides towards solving these problems, or at least not making the already existing ones worse. However, as this article points out, a new ethical system, placing the responsibility on humans to recognize the implications of a continuation of our current practices, is necessary. One major problem rests in the political system of the United States, where politicians who try to identify these problems are ridiculed as failing to understand more immediate problems such as those in the economy and foreign affairs. As a result, politicians, who have the greatest ability to make changes, are turning a blind eye on the future. Hopefully, with a widespread understanding of each individual’s responsibility to future generations, people residing in third-world countries, other species, and the environment as a whole, changes can be made.

  25. Kevin says:

    I tend to be conservative on most social issues, but the environment is an area where I lie somewhere in the middle. There has been widely divergent research on the effects of global warming, among others topics. I believe that the Earth goes through cycles of warming and cooling (which has been documented). However, to think that nearly 10 billion people acting in concert has no effect on the environment is absurd. The bridge between the two theories is that WE ARE PART of the environment and that WE DO play an important part in the ecology of the planet. Anyone who doesn’t take this into account (regardless of their stance) I think is missing the point. We have the ability to curb the problems we face through advancing technologies and common sense approaches to effective change.

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