Ethicists traditionally weigh the moral challenges of the self in society. But with climate change, they are now weighing the moral challenges of humanity on planet earth — and the long-term survival of our species.


J. Baird Callicott is a professor of ethics at the University of North Texas. He says the sheer scale of climate change makes it an especially difficult moral challenge.

CALLICOTT: “We’re not talking about ecological damage which can be repaired in a matter of decades, but effects on the chemistry of the global atmosphere and global oceans, and these phenomena take place in time lengths of centuries and they last for millennia.”

Callicott does not believe we have a moral obligation to the planet itself, since humans are inevitably just a blip in earth’s history. But, he says, we should be concerned because the future of human civilization is at risk — our science, art, philosophy, and cultural values. Yet he stresses that action to reduce global warming should not be seen as a burden.

CALLICOTT: “We’re benefiting our friends, our children, ourselves as we move into the future, and that’s a positive thing. It’s not a sacrifice. It’s something that we do because we like to be beneficent and we want some continuity.”

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: J. Baird Callicott

More Resources
See Yale Climate Connections Religion and Climate Series
J. Baird Callicott (Wikipedia)

Topics: Religion & Morality