The human causes of global warming are less certain than the eventual depletion of fossil fuels, but the damages predicted to result from uncontrolled warming brought on by fossil fuels are so great that the gamble becomes too great. Only the same intentions as listed above would take this risk with future generations.
The Need for Action
The ethical and social issues at work in the use of fossil fuels and the global warming phenomenon create a clear need for effective action to be taken, and soon. Many scientists believe that it may already be too late to halt the warming trend, let alone reverse it -- the build up of greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has created a situation that is already self-perpetuating, meaning that the warmer temperatures observed over the past century will continue to rise even if all use of fossil fuels and release of greenhouse gases ceased immediately (Ralston 2009). The same is possibly true of peak oil; if we have already passed the point of peak production, there is no going back (Graefe 2009).
Action can still be taken on both fronts, however. In order to create the greatest potential for the survival of the human species, as well as to ensure the security and the sovereignty of the less-developed nations in the world, action must be taken now in the field of renewable energy resources. The advancement of wind and solar technologies will actually provide many under-developed nations an opportunity to generate power and thus increase productivity and development in these nations. As the demand for energy in these countries is also often much lower than in nations with and already-established infrastructure and industrial activities, it is even possible that such nations might be able to produce economic wealth and development through the direct sale of their excess energy from renewable sources to neighboring countries with a demand for energy (Rathore et al. 2009).
In addition to the boon this will provide to under-developed nations and economies, and thus the forestalling and mitigation of disastrous effects from a global shift in energy sources, this will also greatly help the world to reduce its levels of greenhouse gas emissions, thus helping to solve the global warming problem (or at least keeping the warming trend from growing any worse due to human activities). Though the link between the human use of fossil fuels and the established warming trend is not certain, the effects of global warming -- whatever its cause -- are predicted to be disastrous (Ralston 2009). Intervention in this area is needed in order to limit insofar as possible the degree and extent of these effects, again in order to best protect humanity from the results of its own ignorance and shortsightedness when it comes to environmental as well as economic matters.
It is impossible to say with any certainty what the outcome of the increased release of greenhouse gases through the human use of fossil fuels in industry, transportation, and energy production will be in terms of global warming. This does not mean that action is not required, however; though there will necessarily be economic and political ramifications of switching to alternative fuel sources, these pale in comparison to the possible effects of global warming. A logical comparison of the possibilities and probabilities, then, leads to the conclusion that human activity, as a potential cause for global warming and a potential means of mitigating the damages and effects of the warming trend, must be engaged in a manner to combat global warming through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions at the very least. Though this will most likely cause some harm to certain individuals, nations, and corporations in the world in the short-term, the benefits to the rest of human society is much more likely to see large benefits from such a shift.
The utilitarian view that the greatest good for the greatest number of people dictates the proper course of action is not always fully applicable or useful. When it comes to the issue of global warming and the human use of fossil fuels, however, this is the only view that provides a rational assessment of the ethics of the situation. Motive and intention do not matter here, as it is the future generation that will ultimately stand in judgment of our actions now, and they will not be dealing with our intentions but rather with our action's effects. Though these effects cannot truly be known, and are highly uncertain in terms of global warming, our knowledge of the possibilities still demands action.
Graefe, L. (2009). "The peak oil debate." Economic review 94(2), pp. 1-14.
Howard, R. (2009). "Peak oil and strategic wars." Futurist 43(5), pp. 18-21.
Ralston, S. (2009). "Engineering an Artful and Ethical Solution to the Problem of Global Warming." Review of policy research 26(6), pp. 821-37.
Rathore, B.; Kulkarni, A. & Sherasia, N. (2009). "Understanding future changes in snow and glacier melt runoff due to global warming in Wangar Gad basin, India." Research communications 97(7), pp.…