At the most recent “Exploring Ethics” forum hosted by the San Diego Center for Ethics in Science and Technology, Stanley Maloy, dean of San Diego State University’s College of Sciences, discussed the parallels between climate change’s effects on infectious disease and the use of pesticides in Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring.” Highlighted in the discussion was the role and impact that we, as individuals, have on our environment and the factors that influence what we do to contribute to a greener planet.
Every day we make decisions, whether actively or not, which impact those around us, as well as ourselves. We choose to carry reusable grocery bags over plastic, drive a hybrid over a gas-guzzler and support increased environmental protections for our region. We feel good about ourselves for doing our part to protect the environment for future generations.
We all know that we need to contribute what we can to protect our planet’s health. However, there are thresholds that exist for every person, where the benefit of bettering the planet is overcome by other influences. Purchasing organic produce or a fuel-efficient hybrid may be a great way of going green, but financial limitations are often the determining factor in these everyday decisions. Too often, going green is a luxury that many in our society simply cannot afford. Can we really view those who cannot afford to be green as being “eco-enemies?” In addition to these economic limitations, there are also “green thresholds” within communities. For example, here in San Diego County, we are all well aware of the preciousness of our water supply. Part of our attempt to deal with this crisis was a 2007 pilot program aimed to treat wastewater for reuse in our drinking supplies and land irrigation systems. The program was deemed to be more cost-efficient as well as environmentally friendly than our current system.
However, the program was met with overwhelming public scrutiny and disgust, in part due to a suggestive nickname of the program. In essence, as a community we once rejected a viable environmentally sustainable energy source based on a communal threshold. We just don’t want to drink water originating from our wastewater regardless of how it is treated before it lands in our drinking glass. Here’s what’s happening now.