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Lifeboat Ethics In Environmental Ethics Politics Essay

Info: 4023 words (16 pages) Essay
Published: 1st Jan 2015 in Politics

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Garrett Hardin is a professor of biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara wrote an essay Lifeboat Ethics a case against helping poor. It can be said an extension arguments from the idea by the environmentalist that use the metaphor of the Earth as a ‘spaceship’ in trying to persuade countries, industries and people to stop wasting and polluting our natural resources. They claim that;

‘Since we all share life on this planet, they argue, no single person or institution has the right to destroy, waste or use more than a fair share of its resources’ (Hardin, G. 1976).

Hardin disagreed with the metaphor by the environmentalist, and try to attempts with a claim that the earth is more likely to be a ‘lifeboat’ rather than ‘spaceship’. The point of the argument is regarding the ethical choice for policies for sharing our resources to help the poor. Mr. Hardin brings out a question on equality in distribution if we are a ‘spaceship’ from the argument. It is not an easy mutual agreement. It needs a high-level of cooperation. Hardin`s said;

‘…does everyone on Earth have an equal right to an equal right to an equal share of its resources? The spaceship metaphor can be dangerous when used by misguided idealist to justify suicidal policies for sharing our resources through uncontrolled immigration and foreign aid’ (Hardin, G. 1976)

Besides that, Hardin opposed the spaceship metaphor because; logically spaceship would need a captain for a safe maneuver and under control of the members on board, if won’t possibly survive if the maneuver is decided by the committee. The reality of our world is that, we are separated entities or countries, which normally join together for mutual political, benefit, or own country benefit such as at international agreement of Montreal protocol whereby the developing country is given a multilateral fund. The United Nations is merely a toothless tiger, with little power to enforce any policy upon its bickering member (Hardin, G. 1976)

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Hardin`s Lifeboat Ethics directly divided the world into rich countries and poor countries. If we look, two third of them are desperately poor countries, and only one third is comparatively rich, with United States the wealthiest of all (Hardin, G. 1976). The lifeboat metaphor is used in attempts to explain the flow of the resources redistribution of one rich country in helping with the poor country with such policies. He represents the sea as the world; the lifeboat that full of livable resource as the rich country and the swimmers adrift in the sea as the poor countries. In the essay, Hardin`s lifeboat example that let say a 40 people in the lifeboat, and have room for another 10 people, making a total capacity of 50 people. Supposedly that all in the lifeboat can see another 50 swimmer in the sea, begging to have the other spots remaining in the lifeboat or for handouts of a resource. What should the people in the lifeboat do? Mr. Hardin attempts to argue that rich country should not let the poor country into the lifeboat nor to their land or offering an aid even in emergency situation. A man behave due to certain reasoning, and Hardin`s have it argument. He reasoned that if the rich nation allow the, they may use all the resource and cause the lifeboat to sink or the country to collapse, bringing disaster to the rich and poor.

Quoting back what Hardin had said;

‘We have several option: we may be tempted to try to live by the Christian ideal of being “our brother`s keeper”, or by the Marxist ideal of “to each according to his needs.” Since the needs of all in the water are the same, and since they can all be seen as “our brother”, we should take them all into our boat, making a total of 150 in a boat designed for 60. The boat swamps, everyone drawn. Complete justice, complete catastrophe.’

He stresses the concept of survival, with the limited carrying capacity of the lifeboat, the people inside the boat should admit just enough regarding the capacity. However, even if so, who should be the one? What is the basic in the selection and what about the rest of the swimmer? If talking about morality in principle, all human been have inherent value and they all should be selected. Nevertheless, the carrying capacity of the lifeboat plays major role. Hardin also suggest no to admit the place to the swimmer and keep their safety factor, the engineering principle of critical importance. Like this seen as the clear last means of survival, even it is morally wrong to many and some may feel burden by their good luck, Hardin made it a clear cut; “Get out and yield your place to other” (Hardin, G. 1976). Hardin believe that when a famine, war or other disastrous event occur which cost significant amount of life is just a way of nature work to balancing itself out. An article from Garrett Hardin published in New York Times, 1987 explained further his stands.

“Since Ethiopia has far too many people for its resources, if you give food and save life and thus increase the number of people, you increase suffering and ultimately increase the loss of life” – New York Times, 1987

Many philosopher with Garrett Hardin`s idea, which does not fit into the morality belief of the society, human cannot let another human to die. Thus, create a conflict of morality and ethics obligation in community and own conscience. Even so, Lifeboat Ethics bringing upfront the ultimately questioning whether providing aid to the poor is actually harmful in the long run due to the fact that Earth cannot sustain everyone and their need or should there be any other ways of helping the poor; without sinking both countries. Hardin address the importance of knowing the limited carrying capacity. A nation`s land owned limited capacity to support its population (Hardin, G. 1976), it is the unspoken reality.

Hardin enlarge the image from this basic lifeboat metaphor with the real world problems of overpopulation and hunger within which a solution need to be finding soon with the resource dwindling, the different between economy gap in rich and poor countries will only increase with addition to factor such as the different of reproduction rate as the sharing of resources would only be disastrous in a long run. In short it can be summarize that he argue that develop countries should not help countries with starvation people such as those India, by sending food only as this will just worsening the countries like India. He emphasizes that we can ‘never merely do one thing’, and that supplying only food worsen the political and economic conflict, agricultural dependency, over-population and environmental degradation (Hardin, G. 1976). Hardin emphasize that rather than sending Food supply only or the ill-founded World Food Bank, which he argue is just proposed and defend because of other special silent selfish interest behind the idea even it looks humanitarians appealing to public, a much better solution with the modern approach is the export of technology and advice. Mr. Hardin states that;

“An an ancient Chinese proverb goes; ‘Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach him how to fish and he will eat for the rest of his days”.

Hardin’s presentations of the argument against helping the poor nations to survive was based upon the assumptive validity of a) the “lifeboat” metaphor, b)the “tragedy of the commons” theory and c) theory of the relationship between reproduction and availability of food in human population (Drake, R.S. 2000) . Mr. Hardin supports the lifeboats ethics from a special application of the logic of the commons (May, L., Wong, K. & Delston, J. 1987) .

In my opinion, I disagree with Garrett Hardin lifeboat metaphor application in the case of helping the poor countries, as food supply and foreign aid is a conscience of the rich country to help the poor countries. Regarding the selfish silent act and in term of the aid distribution as Hardin`s did argue in his essay, there is always a room to improve. To my clear thought, it is sort of how the world supposed to be, you help the unfortunate, and how you do it is the art in science so that it benefits the poor countries but did not worsen the rich countries. On the other note, Mr. Hardin`s lifeboat Ethics argument such as carrying capacity can be perceive in Environmental Ethical. Carrying capacity as Ethical concept can be influence such in the nature resource consumption and nature stock management and policies in a country or should I say in a ‘lifeboat’.

Firstly, if I may represent the lifeboat to symbolize a country nature resources and the swimmer outside is the population or the consumer. Looking back at the history, since the industrial revolution in the 70`s, the concern of human activities impacts on environment. I wrote in a reality perspective, even though that most of the scattering developing countries ‘lifeboat’ on the sea is blessed with nature resource but they are being accused as the dirty-hand for the crucial worldwide environment problem; such as climate change. This is because of the over-exploitation of forest for their economic growth. However, in my opinion, United States that refuses to sign the Kyoto Protocol is a major contributor for the Green-House Gasses. Economic driven factor is one of the reason, that many of this rich natural resources is ‘lifeboat’ is sharing or selling their nature resource to the swimmer itself or to the neighboring common user that leads to over-consumption. Therefore, indeed the idea of carrying capacity is necessary. Over the last century, countries around the globe fuelled their economic growth using their abundance in natural resources. Indeed, we mind our way to growth and development at a pace where natural regeneration was not possible.( Vickneswaran, N. 2011). In short, we burn our way to prosperity; not a ethical thing to do as there is no thought was put on the consequences of over consumption. Moreover, some of the developing countries having problem with food supply and starvation as well, thus government is in pressure to increase Growth Domestic Product as their priorities is to eradicate poverty and to raise the living standards of their people (Mackinnon, B. 1937). That perhaps sometime, idea of the limited carrying capacity is left behind. It cannot be secluded that literacy level and technological advances between the poor and rich country might be a contributor as well. Even the government, the agencies and the private sector acknowledges it, with the economy conflict faced by the population; it will be hard to control the exploitation rate by the people. To create an awareness regarding the importance of environmental protection or effect of pollution, a good practice control implemented to the developing countries population is profoundly will be much easier as the develop countries because the hardship and means of survival between population in India and population in Australia is significantly different. The society level of not equal; it is something that needs evaluating thoroughly in making any policy decision, thus trying to find a suit solution. Let it be in the international agreement or national agreement as the build-up of the society in the rich and the poor countries is individually.

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Talking regarding carrying capacity and consumptions of natural resources in a country, population size is also major concern. This is one of the arguments from Mr. Hardin in his Lifeboat Ethics. There seem to be direct relation between human population and resources consumption, as states by Thomas Malthus in his essay, An Essay on the Principles of population. Malthus argue, as our selection makes clear, that under certain condition the increase in human population would increase exponentially, whereas the increase in food supply was likely to be only arithmetic leading to tragedy in term of famine and premature ( VanDeVeer, D. & Pierce, C. 2003) .VanDeVeer wrote in his book ‘The Environmental Ethics and Policy Book’, that Malthus idea today is being criticized from both the political left and political right. The left claim it support the genocidal programs to deal with overpopulation, while the right claim is just being a technological pessimists and to underestimate the capacity of the planet to support larger population of human. (VanDeVeer, D. & Pierce, C. 2003)

‘…on the matter of what the facts are, over the long run Malthus was basically right.’

‘…Further a morally defensible view of the nonhuman environment tends to support Malthusian concern about the overall rapid increase in the size of the human population’ ( VanDeVeer, D. & Pierce, C. 2003 )

The problem of population growth in many developing countries is more likely to be worsening looking at the current reproduction rate. However, the issue of human rights for reproduction is morally sensitive especially to country like India with strong cultural influence. Even with a international negotiation session in the Earth Summit, the expression of ‘population control’ had always been seen as antagonistic view by women`s group and Feminist Health group as they believe it jeopardize women`s health, is disguised genocide, or places blame on women (Jessica, M. 1990). It can be said to be a dead end there. Moreover reproduction or the population control policies is sovereign to a country. Different alternative corrective measurement need to be to addresses.

That is another point by Hardin`s argument that can be perceive, which is the modern approach should be technology transfer and advice. One of the initiator towards this is during the Earth Summit, where the political leaders of developing countries and develop countries gather to discuss regarding the climate change and the step towards sustainability. There might be no captain in the spaceship metaphor that Mr. Hardin rejected, but every leader in the world is moving towards it, the inter-governmental cooperation. In Montreal Protocol, the signatory countries will be given a technology transfer as well multilaterals fund only for developing country. This will increase the benefit to those countries. In the 1970`s, the discovering of two scientists regarding a hole in the ozone layer in one part of our atmosphere become the wake-up call to all to stop the current natural resources overexploitation and environmental pollution as the problem inter-linked. The ozone hole resulting in global warning and the pollution and environmental deteriorating is hastening the effect. Recently the world have experience the diverse effect of climate change, like never before in the history. Maybe previously, the developed countries are neglecting the fact on over-consumption, as the resource is mostly provided by developing countries. However, the impact is now felt world-wide and these countries must take the lion`s share of responsibility to reverse the tide of this environmental destruction and resource depletion. The modern approach will give better result in environmental issues, as it will increase the benefit and increase the cost that the country would have to bare due to deteriorating environment in a long run, similar to the utilitarian form of reasoning. Technological advances will also divert the world dependency on natural resource and can act as the substitutions resources to the non-renewable resource such as fossil fuel which will be more sustainable.

By year, the world community is more and more verse in the issues of environment, natural resource, economic and human environment impact. We shifted from do not know, to know and now we know better. Hunger and starvation is not always, and may not even usually be, a by-product of a lack of a lack of food on the planet but it is often a skewed distribution of food and the radically unequal distribution of wealth or income that makes those who are hungry unable to call forth a response from a market ready to supply those who are willing and able to pay for the food (VanDeVeer, D. & Pierce, C. 2003). The rich countries which normally monopolize the trade market, is also utilizing the benefit from the nature resource product of developing countries indirectly with the unequal distribution of wealth, because of our market system. Accelerated by the ever rising demand of raw material from the develop countries and the race to increase economy growth, consumption of the natural resources by most developing country is feared to be reaching it tipping point. Realizing the problem, some philosopher attempts in arguments with ‘economic reasoning’ to what proper policies would be and importantly the grounds for deciding the market system for goods and service provide by the environment and natural resources. Because many environmental issues involve diverse values and competing interests and claim, an argument using technique known as cost-benefit analysis is useful in thinking what is the best ought to do to increase benefit and decrease the cost with keeping in mind regarding the carrying capacity concept (Mackinnon, B. 1937). Example if we have a choice between two, like government or businessman who have to choose on various actions and policies, we have to assess and compare various harms and cost and benefit to choose the better policy. In such analysis, assessment of the factual matters and the establishment of value for the good and service provided by the natural resource and environment are important. Nevertheless ,the problem of ‘ Tragedy of Commons’ also need to be tackle in doing the evaluation for a more effective result. In environmental ethics, it is ought to be moral thing to preserve the environment because it have instrumental value to human; taking an anthropocentric instrumentalist point of view.

No-one would deny that the economy uses environmental assets. It provides countless type of raw material, such as minerals, timber and freshwater that is combined with other form of capital to produce commodities for human consumption. Therefore the preservation of the environment which also rooted from understanding carrying capacity is important not only for the current generation but as well to the generation after us. To me, one part of environmental ethics has to always taking into consideration of the next generation. How today actions and decision will effect to the next generation? Will it increase the net utility or vice versa? Garrett Hardin Lifeboat ethics argue, that by sending the food, we nurture the population growth more thus will just increase pollution and hastening the environmental destruction for the next generation, with the same point but in relations to the carrying capacity ethical concept, the generational equality should be the reasoning for the present generation to stop and think for a while. Some argue, why we should think of the next generation as what did we benefited from them? But not all duties are mutual exchange to the benefit that we gain, example in parental duties toward children from whom parents may never benefit. It is worth noting a distinction made by one philosopher, Marry Anne Warren in ‘Do potential people have right?’ between merely possible people who might exist and those who will exist; call the latter future people. Therefore it is owned duties to the next generation as it is not fair for the prior generation to virtually exhaust most of the planet`s resources and sinks and leave the present generation with crumbs. The moral thing ought to do is using them in a sustainable manner. This is where the term, sustainability and sustainable development kicks in. Development which is much fuelled by the natural resources is closely interlinked and capable of moving forward. Gus Speth, president of World Resource Institute write; “It is clear that development and economic reforms will have no lasting success unless they are suffused with concern for ecological stability and wise management of resources” (Speth, J.G. 1981). In the fight for resource security, sustainable development is the new buzzword.

Sustainable Development as defined by The Bruntland Commission as that the meets the needs of the present without comprising the ability of the future generation to meets their own. Sustainability is basically the capacity to endure and all progress can be sustainable, if we can understand the state we are in at present, the direction that we should move and how we will know when we have arrived. It is a mission to achieve environment equilibrium with society and economy perspective. In the roads towards that, it is the new level of global co-operation. Nevertheless the first step to know the country present state, a natural accounting system is advisable. In the conventional economy accounting system, which is divided into income account and asset account is considered to be less effective since it did not captured the interaction between economic activity and environment. Let put Earth in a balance sheet, accounting provide economic information that concern the governments, business or households to measure performance and making decisions. The most important indicator is Gross- Domestic Product (GDP), which only measure transactions with market price and the asset income for the capital stock. Some of the environmental goods and service did have a market price such as timber; however the most of it did not have a market-price. In order to correct and put valued to the environmental goods and value such as amenity methods such willingness-to-pay by the user is used by economist. Thus with a value, over-consumption can be controlled. Accounting did not include the status and value of natural capital stock..

“The value of capital goods, such as building and equipment will decline with the use because of physical wear. This gradual decrease in the future production potential of capital stocks is directly integrated into national flow accounts by a depreciated allowance that amortize the asset`s value over its useful lifetime” (Repetto, R. 1992).

Simply put it will give country heads-up regarding the depreciate stock in a capital goods, and need to invest for the new capital goods as the existing assets decrease if the future income-producing ability of the entire capital stock in the country to be preserved (Mohd.Shahwahid Hj.Othman et.al, 2002). However, there is no heads-up in term of the decrease natural resource stock and economic assets. Natural Accounting System is established as a supplement the national income accounts. Compiling the environmental statistic will help to guide the decision maker to consider the impact of any policies and or project on the natural stocks of natural resource to make it a livable country for the present generation and future generation so that we did not over our carrying capacity and the resource is exploited and manage in a system of sustainable management so that the environment is given time to re-balance.

The end road seem to be rather glorious, with achieving a working system of sustainable development and efficient natural resources management together, however it will meet lots of up`s and down`s , failure and success as well reconciling here and there ,as this is a condition that no man-kind have faced before. As highlighted by UN Secretary – General Ban Ki-Moon at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland

” … to make it happen, we have to be prepared to make major changes in our lifestyles, our economic models, our social organization and our political life” – IMPAK 2011

 

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