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Author Archive: "Kathleen Dean Moore"

The Perfect Moral Storm, When the Life Rafts are on Fire

Of all the questions that interviewers and audience members have asked me about our book, Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, there is one I like the best. At the end of this week, after considering all the questions that made me squirm — or cry — let me consider this one last question: After reading testimony from the world's moral leaders about our obligations in the face of climate change, after a couple of years of sifting through the best thoughts of brilliant people, what have you learned?

So much. But here are three new ideas:

A. The climate crisis and its attendant environmental disasters have caught the world in the dangerous crosswinds of ecological disruption and human irresponsibility. We are challenged to make world-altering decisions about our current life choices and our obligations to planetary and human futures. But when philosophers race across the pitching deck to launch the moral theories that we have long relied on in times of difficult choices, we find that the life rafts themselves are on fire. ...

What Shall We Give the Children?

All week, I've been reporting in from the book tour for Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, writing about the questions I get and what I wish I would have said in response. I'm going to do that again today, but first I want to tell a story.

In early September, we were all sitting on the porch of our family's cabin in southeast Alaska, watching a glittering morning, keeping an eye out for feeding whales. When I went around the back of the cabin to pick huckleberries, I heard a sound I didn't recognize. I scanned the nearby forest, then the sharp peaks behind. Nothing that I could see. It sounded like a thousand trumpets underwater, playing Fanfare for the Common Man. No. It sounded like a thousand nestling ravens speaking German. No. It sounded like:

Sandhill cranes, said my daughter-in law.

Sandhill cranes, said my son.

Sandhill cranes! said my granddaughter, Zoey, who is three years old.

We ran our eyes up the forest, up the granite cliffs and tundra, past the ...

Climate Change: Love it or Deny It?

It's happened again. I'm on book tour with Moral Ground, a call for moral action to avert the worst effects of a warming and degraded planet. The audience is convinced; climate change is real, it is dangerous, it is upon us. They are empowered; nothing is stopping them from dramatically changing how they live on earth. The first question out of the box is, What about those Rapture-Ready, End-Times people who can't wait for the world to end? Forest fires, earthquakes — bring it on! Those people are never going to take action against climate change. The second is, What do you say to the people who deny climate change altogether? How do you change their minds?

Full disclosure: Half of me wants to say that I'm not especially worried about the people busily denying climate change or closing their bank accounts. I'm worried about us, the believers — people like me (and you) who shake our heads at the dangers we face, truly worried, unable to sleep, and don't do a damn thing of any meaning whatsoever. Lunatics aren't the problem; hypocrites are. But that wasn't the question, so here I go.

What about those Rapture-Ready people? Honestly, what about them? How many are there? Compassion would advise us to let them wise up on their own. People aren't irredeemably stupid and time is the great teacher. It's possible that at some glorious moment in time, a few of the believers will float, grinning, to heaven, while an equal number of them are sucked into hell, disappearing like astonished gophers into the bowels of the earth. Or maybe none of this will happen. It's not on my Top Ten List of Things to Worry About.

But what about those people — more than half the population — who distrust climate change science and deny the dangers we face? That's a truly interesting and important question that goes to the heart of the nature of science and human nature. So first, a story; then a short discursus on the practical syllogism.

Okay, So I Get It about Climate Change — Now What Do I Do?

From City Hall in San Jose, on book tour for Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril

"... Then you will remember why you try so hard to protect this beloved world, and why you must succeed." I finished my talk, paused, and asked for questions. The third question came from a young woman with curly red hair piled on her head like ribbon on a present. She stood up, took a breath so deep it raised her shoulders. This is what she said: "Okay. So I'm on board about climate change. I get it. Now what do I do?"

The room murmured. Mmmm: the whole auditorium, assenting. Heads nodded: white heads, dark heads, heads with hats. This is the question. It isn't easy. Our options are limited, our cities and homes are wastefully designed, destructive ways of living are skillfully protected by tangles of profit and power around the world, and we have run out of time. The most conscientious person is going to have a hard time making significant change.

I was pretty sure that everybody in the room had already checked off everything on the lists of "50 things you can do to save the planet." These lists are all over the internet. Lightbulb Lists, I call them, because #1 is always, switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs. Of course, every single person should do all fifty of those things. Yes, you should buy local food. Yes, you should avoid beef, a hideous methane machine. Yes, you should unplug your appliances. Yes, you should refuse to invest in companies that profit from death. Yes, you should vote. Yes, you should opt for alternative energies and take the bus to work. Yes, you should refuse to buy poisons or plastic. Yes, and yes, and yes. No excuses, no delay, no exceptions.

All this is important. By these means, you can refuse to make yourself an instrument of destruction and injustice. Corporations are happy to shovel blame onto the consumer who makes the "free choice" for greed and poisons and waste. Don't let them do that.

The No-Hope Fallacy: That’s No Excuse for Failing to Act

Forget fear of public speaking. Forget fear of flying. My biggest fear on this book tour for Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril is of that moment toward the end of the evening when a student — it's always a student — stands up in the back of the auditorium and says, "There's no hope. Nothing I do will make any difference. I can't save the world from climate change or ecological collapse. So I'll just keep on buyin' and burnin', the way I always have. There's no point in sacrificing for nothing."

First I want to shake the student. Then I want to give him a hug. But I'm a philosophy professor, so I challenge his reasoning. "What kind of logic is that? You don't do the right thing because it will have good results. You do the right thing because it's the right thing. What would you say to a slave-owner who made the same kind of argument? Alas, I could free every one of my slaves and it wouldn't make a dent in the slave trade. The institution of slavery is so much bigger than one little owner. So I'll just keep on working these people in the day and chaining them up at night. No point in sacrificing for nothing. What would you say to that? You'd say, It doesn't matter whether you can or cannot change the world. What matters is that you can change yourself. And that's what I say to you."

If it's wrong to take more than your fair share of the Earth's resources and possibilities, leaving what's left of a degraded and destabilized world for people in other nations or other times (and I believe it is); if it's wrong to reap the benefits of the profligate use of fossil fuels and foist off the costs on other people, especially future people who are completely powerless to defend themselves (and I believe it is); if it's wrong to bulldoze what is beautiful and life-giving and billions of years in the making (and I believe it is); if poisoning the water and the air is an utter betrayal of the children, whom we love more than anything else in the world (and I know it is) — then we shouldn't do it. Period. End of question.

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