SUMMARY

This chapter has particularly pointed out that action addressing environmental problems is dependent not only on knowledge about them but on the values we place on the environment and our attitudes towards it. Assessments of environmental value and appropriate attitudes can be developed from the following:

• The perspectives of balance, interdependence and unity in the natural world generated by the underlying science.

• A recognition - some would argue suggested by the science - that humans have a special place in the Universe, which in turn implies that humans have special responsibilities with respect to the natural world.

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janerio in 1992 (also known as the 'Earth Summit') resulted in several declarations, agendas and conventions, which formed the framework for the Kyoto Protocol of 1997.

• A recognition that to damage the environment or to fail to care for it is to do wrong.

• An interpretation of human responsibility in terms of stewardship of the Earth based on 'shared' values, generally recognised by human communities, that strives for equity and justice as between different human communities and different generations.

• A recognition of the importance of the cultural and religious basis for the principles of stewardship - humans as 'gardeners' of the Earth is suggested as a 'model' of such stewardship.

• The moral imperative for the sharing of wealth and skills based on recognition of the wealth created in developed countries through the availability of cheap fossil fuel energy and the damage caused by fossil fuel burning that falls disproportionately on developing countries that in their turn need to develop.

• A recognition that, just as the totality of damage to the environment is the sum of the damage done by a large number of individuals, the totality of action to address environmental problems is the sum of a large number of individual actions to which we can all contribute.47

The pursuit of many of these issues and their practical outworking involves the principle of sustainable development to which I shall return in later chapters (Chapter 9, page 272 and Chapter 12, page 393).

Finally, let me recall some words of Thomas Huxley, an eminent biologist from the nineteenth century, who emphasised the importance in the scientific enterprise of 'humility before the facts'. An attitude of humility is also one that lies at the heart of responsible stewardship of the Earth.

In the next chapter we shall reflect on the uncertainties associated with the science of global warming and consider how they can be taken into account in addressing the imperative for action. For instance, should action be taken now or should we wait until the uncertainties are less before deciding on the right action to take?

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