The moral urgency of climate-change action

Nature writer and philosophy professor discusses our obligation to curb climate change and corporate hegemony

Nature writer Kathleen Dean Moore

Nature writer Kathleen Dean Moore

Climate-change action as a moral issue
GreenHouse reader (and local musician) John Seid dropped off a very interesting article from the December 2012 issue of independent, ad-free magazine The Sun. Titled “If Your House is on Fire: Kathleen Dean Moore on the Moral Urgency of Climate Change,” the piece is a lengthy Q-and-A between interviewer Mary DeMocker and nature writer and philosophy professor Kathleen Dean Moore, who is also the author of Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water and Holdfast: At Home in the Natural World, as well as co-editor of the 2011 book Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril.

Early in the interview, DeMocker notes that South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu wrote the foreword to Moral Ground, which is a collection of essays by more than 80 “visionaries”—such as President Barack Obama and the former chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, Sheila Watt-Cloutier—written in response to the question of whether humans have a moral obligation to take action on behalf of future generations to protect a planet threatened by the ravages of climate change and its partner, corporate hegemony.

“Desmond Tutu writes with the moral authority of one who has worked steadfastly against apartheid. It’s unjust, he argues, for some people to bear the burden of others’ advantage,” said Moore. “It’s unjust that people in Africa—who don’t reap the ‘benefits’ of the reckless burning of fossil fuel—are suffering from droughts and crop shortages as a result of the West’s consumption of oil. He knows from experience that it’s possible to bring down entrenched institutions. He says there should be worldwide outrage at the injustice of climate change, as there was against apartheid.”

Watt-Cloutier, Moore points out, “identifies climate change as a form of cultural aggression—people of one culture destroying the material basis of another.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, former chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, weighs in on climate change in the book, <i>Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril</i>.

“We’ve seen this story before in the U.S., when settlers killed the buffalo in order to kill buffalo-hunting Native Americans,” says Moore. “And we’re seeing it as the rich nations create climatic conditions that are melting polar ice. Because the Inuit culture is based on a cold climate, Watt-Cloutier claims that her people have a right to ice. Those in the far north are suffering the most from the disrupted climate even as the effects spread to the rest of the globe.

“Climate change is damaging food supplies, spreading disease and creating refugees, and it is poised to become the most massive human-rights violation the world has ever seen.”

Moore emphasized that we, as a species, have “been holding on for too long to a worldview that allows us to think we are separate from the world, even as the world is slapping us with evidence to the contrary.”

As did late author/environmentalist Aldo Leopold, Moore calls for a “new ethic,” which includes calling into question “the self-destructive practices of the old, utilitarian, humancentric worldview,” including “how we educate our children, how we move from place to place, how we eat, how we exchange goods, how we relate to land and water and … natural resources.”

“A new experiment may yet emerge,” she said. “It needs to happen soon.”

Go to to read the entire article.

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