Socio-economic fairness or social justice has a clear ethical component. The lifestyles of the richest and poorest members of the human family pose the greatest threat to the integrity of our Earth's life support systems, but for different reasons. The wealthiest consume vastly more than their fair share of resources, more than the planet can provide for everyone. The poorest third of human society, those living on less than $2 per day, have no alternative but to use resources in a short-sighted way. An example would be cutting down trees for firewood before they are able to grow to their full height. The wealthiest countries have the capacity to make choices for a more sustainable lifestyle, while the poorest members of the human family generally do not. An ethical approach to sustainability suggests that society has an obligation to restrain wasteful uses of resources among the affluent, but it also has a special obligation to foster economic development for the poorest of the poor, all while maintaining environmental resource protection. The social equity dimension suggests that sustainable development is an inherent moral good, but its consequences are likely to be ethically positive as well.
Sustainability extends ethical concern to future generations. Human society now consumes natural resources faster than they can be replenished, and this is compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Current and future generations are inheriting a world that is biologically impoverished, has fewer resources, and suffers from more pollution than ever before. Sustainability challenges present day humans to consider the well-being of future generations, to view their needs as worthy of our moral concern. Modern humans are not accustomed to considering future generations, but the power of our markets and technologies threaten their quality of life. We can express a moral concern for the future by restraining our consumption of non-renewable resources today. Note that some resources, such as minerals, are essentially finite and are deemed nonrenewable. Other renewable resources, such as wind and plants, because they draw their energy from the sun, can be managed to provide a continuous source of goods.
● How should science, religion, and ethics relate to each other? Should their relationship be antagonistic or can they work together?
● Do ethics pertain only to the way that we ought to treat individuals?
● Or only to the way that we ought to treat human beings, both individually and in groups or institutions?
● Do we have duties of justice to the earth itself?
● Do we consider the protection of the natural world to be an essential aspect of what it means to be a person of good character?
● How should business and ecological ethics be in dialogue with one another?
● Is profit maximization necessarily incompatible with the full range of ecological values that ought to inform business conduct?