8.7.08

Ethical Dilemma

A few weeks ago I attended Montreal Meeting. One of the messages was from a man whose brother had died several years ago, and this man had helped raise his nephew. The nephew was now in Stockholm and was about to marry - he wanted his uncle there. Sounds easy, right? Well, this man had read an op-ed about how we have our ethical obligations wrong: rather than feeling obligations to our fellow humans, we needed to have more of an obligation to the earth.

In other words, we don't need to attend funerals, weddings, reunions, etc., we need to be better stewards of the earth and lessen our "carbon footprint" and damage to our environment.

A part of me has been silently fuming about this since. Now, I don't deny that there is more that we can do to take care of the environment, and that too many of us take natural resources for granted. But... is his not going to the wedding, an event that means a lot to his nephew, in essence saying that his obligation to the earth is greater than his obligation to his family really the message he wants to send? The airline that flies from Canada to Sweden is not going to cancel its flights because one man decides to stay home. I say "go", because we have an equal obligation to both - buy carbon credits (which are, I think, a scam) if that will assuage your conscience. But go.

There are trade-offs we can, and should, make. Driving slower, for example. Better mileage, use less gas. Recycling. Not buying bottled water. Buying, and using, cloth grocery bags. Shopping less. ALA should change its rules to allow for far more virtual participation, so that not every one on a committee needs to attend two conferences a year - much of the work I do in committees can easily be done on-line, asynchronously. The UN has raised the temperature in its building to 77; more businesses, more houses can do the same.

But sometimes our obligation is to family and to others. Last weekend I traveled to Boston for a meeting of a foundation that my family runs. Now, this isn't one of the great, well-known, well-endowed charitable foundations. As a matter of fact, it's pretty small and it's closing down in a couple of years. But to many of the small charities it helps fund (like this one), the work we do is huge. I'm sure the Trustees could conduct business via conference call, with interested family members dialing in to kibitz as well. Would that be as effective? Would advocacy for new causes (triple negative breast cancer research, for example) happen? Probably not. So I feel comfortable balancing the ethical obligations to earth and humans when I attend the quarterly meetings.

Yes, we do need to do more to care for the earth. But neglecting our family, our fellow humans, in order to do so? Not sure I can do that. Can you?

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