Ethics, justice, population and immigration

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
- Martin Luther King Jr.

When considering the ethics of sustainability, we are often blinded by temporal distortion, where we give much more weight to today's issues than to future problems we are causing. Although this is arguably human nature, we can not be excused from our responsibility to future generations.

Intergenerational Justice

The following excerpts are from the article "Intergenerational Justice", by Fred Elbel:

We often hear about "social justice", "environmental justice", "immigrant rights", and other variations of the concept of justice. The meanings of these terms are frequently obscured, often deliberately. Rather than expressions of rights under the rules of law, such terms are often used to mean conformity to a particular political ideology.
The open borders agenda results in a stream of one-sided heart-wrenching human interest stories that may generate greater reader interest, but which essentially eviscerates the law of our land and abrogates the concepts of justice, borders and nationhood. Justice under the rule of law becomes supplanted by "justice" for lawbreakers. This agenda is promoted with callous disregard for the concerns of the overwhelming majority of American citizens, as shown in poll after poll.
Generation after generation of Americans traditionally have endeavored to leave their country better than it was. Yet Americans today may be the first to fail this legacy by ignoring the explosive population growth that we see daily in the manifestation of exponentially-growing symptoms. We are stealing from the future for the sake of present economic gain, just as we are stealing from America's working poor today by replacing them with lower-wage immigrants.
We are approaching the point of no return by overpopulating our own country for the sake of corporate greed and a misguided attempt to solve other countries' overpopulation problems. Yet Americans choose not to confront this terribly important issue, and this selfish action is surely a hate crime against future generations. Future generations of Americans deserve nothing less from us than our full compassion and our every effort to ensure them a sustainable future.

Read the entire article Intergenerational Justice in The Social Contract journal. (A version of this article appeared in the Denver Post, December 22, 2002, under the title "Consider the legacy immigration leaves".)


Finding the Trimtab

The Sopris Foundation and the Worldwatch Institute hosted the third annual environmental conference on Global Environmental and Social Issues in Aspen, Colorado, in July of 2002. Below are excerpts from an insightful talk given at the conference.

Finding the Trimtab, by Jonette Christian. Selected quotes:

It is vital that we look for the trimtab - that place to take action which will maximize our leverage on the course of human history.
Environmentalists often describe population as a "global" problem with a "global solution" meaning no one in particular is responsible for any piece of it because we're all responsible for it -- therefore no one ends up being responsible for any of it. This is dysfunction masquerading as a high moral plane.
...this is the speech pattern of dysfunctional groups - avoiding or minimizing the "pink elephant" in the living room at all costs, and exhausting themselves in a flurry of chatter around peripheral matters. We have agitated and deluded ourselves with the illusion that we are being overwhelmed by many many problems, when in fact, we have primarily only one.
We will not build sustainability by turning ourselves into a multilingual regional mass. In a mass we are too numerous and too diverse to have meaningful conversation. We have tough choices before us, and these choices will not be reduced to neat little slogans for mass consumption. Sustainability will require exceptionally thoughtful discussion and most important: group cohesion. If we destroy group cohesion, we destroy our ability to act intelligently.
...running from the problems in your native land is no longer a solution, that the world, and even America, has limits. We do not have a plan for saving the world, and it is time we told people the truth. That illusion must end. The behavior, the thinking patterns, and the expectations of 6 billion people must radically change, and they must change very very soon.

Read the entire talk: Finding the Trimtab.

Population, immigration, and global ethics

The talk Population, immigration, and global ethics, was presented by Jonette Christian on October 9, 1999 at the Aspen Institute, Aspen Colorado, during the Myth of Sustainable Growth conference. This, too, is an insightful and moving presentation, explaining the dysfunctionality of our society that refuses to examine the multiple and significant impacts of mass immigration. Excerpts follow:


Congress remains indifferent...and our government continues to force us to accept millions and millions of new citizens. Our media colludes with this policy by minimizing impartial debate and withholding an enormous amount of information about what is happening to this nation due to our immigration laws.
Denying, obfuscating, and minimizing population growth... is a hate crime against future generations-and it must end.
The hubris that we are here to save the world is based on a grossly exaggerated view of ourselves, and it is a very dangerous piece of folly. Ultimately the world must save itself, and it is a cruel hoax to promote the fantasy that we will take in the world's huddled masses, because we won't and we can't.


Read the entire talk Population, immigration, and global ethics.


A Moral Code for a Finite World

"A Moral Code for a Finite World", By Herschel Elliott and Richard D. Lamm


Today, our standard of living, our economic system, and the political stability of our planet all require the increasing use of energy and natural resources. In addition, much of our political, economic, and social thinking assumes a continuous expansion of economic activity, with little or no restraint on our use of resources. We all feel entitled to grow richer every year. Social justice requires an expanding pie to share with those who are less fortunate. Progress is growth; the economies of developed nations require steady increases in consumption.
Every environment is finite. At a certain point, the members of an increasing population become so crowded that they stop benefiting each other; by damaging the environment that supports everyone, by limiting the space available to each person, and by increasing the amount of waste and pollution, their activity begins to cause harm... And if the population continues to expand, its material demands may so severely damage the environment as to cause a tragedy of the commons -- the collapse of both environment and society.
Moral codes, no matter how logical and well reasoned, and human rights, no matter how compassionate, must make sense within the limitations of the ecosystem; we cannot disregard the factual consequences of our ethics. If acting morally compromises the ecosystem, then moral behavior must be rethought. Ethics cannot demand a level of resource use that the ecosystem cannot tolerate.
The consequences of human behavior change as the population grows. Most human activities have a point of moral reversal, before which they may cause great benefit and little harm, but after which they may cause so much harm as to overwhelm their benefits.
Unlike current ethics, the ethics of the commons builds on the assumption of impending scarcity... Indeed, in a finite world full of mutually dependent beings, you never can do just one thing. Conditions of crowding and scarcity can cause moral acts to change from beneficial to harmful, or even disastrous; acts that once were moral can become immoral.
Most important, the ethics of the commons must prevent a downward spiral to scarcity. One of its first principles is that the human population must reach and maintain a stable state -- a state in which population growth does not slowly but inexorably diminish the quality of, and even the prospect for, human life. Another principle is that human exploitation of natural resources must remain safely below the maximum levels that a healthy and resilient ecosystem can sustain.

Read the entire article A Moral Code for a Finite World.