OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Global leaders: Taking action on climate change is a moral responsibility

09/02/2010

CORVALLIS, Ore. – While the scientific and economic evidence for combating environmental destruction may give us compelling reasons for acting, Kathleen Dean Moore argues that there are also powerful moral reasons to act – reasons based on justice, compassion, and care for future generations.

More than 80 global leaders writing on the moral obligation to act to mitigate climate change have contributed to “Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril.” The new collection of essays is edited by Moore, an Oregon State University Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, and Michael P. Nelson of Michigan State University. It will be released Sept. 7.

“The national discourse on climate disruption and other environmental emergencies has centered on the scientific, technological and economic aspects,” Moore said. “But wise moral decisions and personal integrity will be the foundations for moving forward.”

The book features a foreword by Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, who writes, “We are called to understand that climate change is a moral challenge. . . We are called to honor our duties of justice . . . We are called to honor our duties of compassion . . . Climate change is real. It has begun.”

Contributors to the book are politicians, including President Barack Obama and Iran’s first female vice president Massoumeh Ebtekar; writers, including Barbara Kingsolver, Wendell Berry and Daniel Quinn; and religious leaders, including Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama. “Moral Ground” also features essays from journalists, including Thomas Friedman and Alan Weisman.

Many Oregonians speak out on climate ethics in the book, including OSU emeritus professor Marcus Borg, author Brian Doyle, Ursula K. Le Guin, Robert Michael Pyle, and OSU’s Hundere Professor of Religion and Culture Courtney S. Campbell.

Scholars, scientists, business leaders, poets, native wisdom-keepers, and activists from all continents except Antarctica contributed to the volume, which Moore said started as a question she posed to potential authors: “Do we have a moral obligation to the future to leave a world as rich in possibilities as the world we live in?”

The answer, Moore said, was a resounding yes.  Yes, “for the sake of the children.” Yes, “to honor God’s creation.” Yes, “to lead lives of integrity.”  Yes, for 14 different but equally powerful reasons.

Moore’s own essay, “The Call to Forgiveness at the End of the Day, describes watching as the animal life of her neighborhood pond disappears. “How will they forgive us for letting frog-song slip away?” she asks. “When my granddaughter looks back at me, I will be on my knees, begging her to say I did all I could. I didn’t do all I could.”

Moore said they have designed the release of “Moral Ground” to be an opportunity for a national discussion of the moral significance of the environmental crisis. In the fall, the editors will travel to 20 cities to lead town-hall meetings that bring neighbors into conversation about the truly difficult moral questions at the heart of all human-caused environmental emergencies.

“In these times, people are often reluctant to engage in public moral discourse,” Moore said. “We need to rediscover the art of the respectful and constructive exchange of ideas. How do you support your moral beliefs with reasons?”

She added: “The book takes on this challenge, suggesting many reasons to believe we are called to moral action. Each book section offers a different reason, and each ends with a list of actions a person might take in response to that call. We hope that these town halls will inspire a new surge of civil dialogue about our moral responsibilities, and action as well.”

Even as they lead these discussions, Moore and Nelson ask others to prompt similar conversations across the country.  “Moral Ground” provides a richness of ideas from a wide variety of points of view – poet Gary Snyder, Inuit leader Sheila Watt-Cloutier, spiritual leader Thich Naht Hanh, scientists E.O. Wilson and Ming Xu, activists Wangari Maathai and Bill McKibben, scholar and writer Gary Paul Nabhan, and dozens more.

For those who would like to organize discussions and activities in their own communities, the project website, http://www.moralground.com, offers meeting outlines, music, and  essays by leading visionaries David W. Orr, Stephanie Mills, and others.

“Moral Ground” is published by Trinity University Press.  All of the contributors donated their work to the book. Co-editors Moore and Nelson will donate all their royalties to climate action. 

In Oregon, Moore will appear at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Tradeshow in Portland on Oct. 9, and at town hall events at at the Medford Public Library on Oct. 11 and at the Salem Public Library on Oct. 12. More dates will be announced at a later date.