The Moral Obligations of Humans and the Environment

Colleen Conway


Pablo Picasso once stated “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” A highly developed cerebral cortex sets the human species high above all other known species on the planet Earth. Our astounding creativity has not only allowed us to adapt to our environment, but to completely change it to fit our needs. Humans have mastered the use of tools, constructed complex buildings, invented countless types of technology, learned to cure disease, traveled outside of earth, and evolved into independent thought. But despite the advancements, is the human race truly as spectacular as we make it out to be? It is possible that our progress, though powerful, has in some ways been foolish in nature. Humans may be the only species to evolve at such a significant rate, but we are also the only species that has managed to destroy our own habitat as well as those of other animals. Humans should hold a moral obligation to protect the earth and all of its resources. Based on the extreme increase of pollution and man made waste in the past few hundred years, the state of the earth will only continue to deteriorate. In order to attempt to reverse these negative effects of human influence, the population as a whole must partake in a paradigm shift, holding responsibility and changing the general attitude towards the importance of the environment.

It is easy to look at the world today and see just some of the ways that humans have affected the earth; unfortunately, the damage lies far deeper than buildings and hotels. The Industrial Revolution, beginning in the 1800s, started what would be the most harmful effects of human existence. Sewage, along with fertilizer from lawns, farms, and golf courses, led to a large unbalance in the Nitrogen Cycle (Cummings). An excess of nitrogen in the environment causes heavy algae growth in water which not only deprives deeper water plants from sunlight but decreases the oxygen levels in water which eventually suffocates the fish living in it. Chemicals released into the air from factories cause acid rain and polluted air, which can be toxic to life. Carbon Dioxide levels in the earth’s atmosphere began to skyrocket with the revolution due to the increased burning of fossil fuels required to sustain the booming human population (Cummings).

Humans also introduced invasive species to native populations sometimes resulting in devastating effects to the native species. According to the Global Invasive Species Database, the third most invasive species in the world is the Acridotheres tristis, also known as the common Myna Bird. This bird poses a huge threat to indigenous birds because it preys on their eggs and chicks (Global). Another invasive species, the Ardisia elliptica tree, was once used as an ornamental plant but quickly lost control and began to take over many other landscapes (Global). Humans have carelessly wiped out entire forests in order to build cities or freeways, completely destroying the habitats of all other animals that had previously lived there. These examples of human foolishness only help to predict the ominous future that lies ahead if we continue to selfishly treat our planet like the very trash we throw on it. As Knute Nelson once said, “You must not forget that you have been given worldy means to use and employ against human arrogance and wrong” (Nelson).   

Every human should hold a moral obligation to protect the earth. There have been multiple environmentally beneficial laws passed such as the Clean Air Act of 1970, which helps to control air pollution by toughening standards on industrial waste, the Clean Water Act of 1972, which regulates controls on toxic pollutants released into bodies of water, and the Montreal Protocol, which is an international agreement signed by over 150 countries to limit the production of substances harmful to the ozone layer (Natural). However, there is much more to making a change than relying on the government, or even relying on the United States. Fixing the Earth’s condition must be a collaborative effort of the majority of people on the planet. If, for example, the United States of America is able to drastically reduce reliance on the burning of fossil fuels and other harmful practices, yet China increases that reliance, no progress will be made. People need to want to change their ways to save the planet. Yet the most important thing to change may very well be the attitude we have towards the earth, its resources, and the effort it takes to reverse the damage.

Unfortunately, when trying to emphasize the importance of sustainability, statistics about CO2 levels and ozone depletions are often used; however, these tactics will generally only be understood by educated adults. These numbers that are thrown around in news papers and in brief television documentaries are hardly acknowledged by most of the population. Unless someone feels morally tied to something, or emotionally tied, they aren’t likely to truly care about it. Why would someone put effort into sustainability if they received no gratification, even emotionally, from it?

People don’t care about numbers, but show someone a video of a baby polar bear drowning because global warming has melted the ice it lives on and suddenly they become emotionally attached. They feel guilty the next time they unnecessarily drive their car somewhere or don’t recycle, because they think of that poor baby polar bear, struggling to survive because of something the human population caused. Therefore, pulling on the populations pathos is an effective way to make at least a slight change

The fate of the earth’s future depends on the actions of the generations to come. It is crucial to begin to teach the importance of sustainability to kids at a young age. The Natural Resources Defense Council has an entire online web page dedicated to various programs and kid-friendly resources to help kids understand environmental issues (Natural). If we can get kids excited about sustainability, maybe they can influence their parents to be more eco-friendly. Although we must make drastic changes in order to truly reverse the effects of global warming and pollution, the small things, such as recycling and driving less could prove to be small steps in the right direction, if enough of the population participates. Kids that grow up in an environmentally conscious household, may also tend to lead a “green” lifestyle as adults. This chain reaction could, over time, slowly reduce the negative effects that humans have on the planet.

            In a powerful statement made by Lynette Fromme, “Most individuals have always thought themselves not big or significant enough to have an effect on the whole planet, a notion which conversely made them think they could afford big arrogance and big greed over its resources” (Fromme). The human perspective focuses on the near future within their lifespan rather than realizing the long-term consequences that result from their carelessness. If the human race is able to make this necessary change fast enough, it is possible that some of the extreme damage done to the earth can be reversed. Sustainability offers this change while still allowing society to advance and continue moving forward.  










Works Cited

Cummings, Benjamin. Human Impact on the Environment. Pearson Education, 2007. Print. 3 Oct. 2012. <;

Fromme, Lynette. Brainy Quote. Book Rags Media Network, 2012. Web. 2 Oct. 2012. <;

Global Invasive Species Database. National Biological Information Infrastructure, University of Aukland, 2012. Web. 3 Oct. 2012. <;

National Resources Defense Council. N.P. 2012. Web, 6 Oct. 2012. <> 

Nelson, Knute. Brainy Quote. Book Rags Media Network, 2012. Web. 2 Oct. 2012. <;

Picasso, Pablo. Brainy Quote. Book Rags Media Network, 2012. Web. 2 Oct. 2012. <> 


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