Lifeboat Ethics

Garret Hardin’s essay titled “Lifeboat Ethics” brings his arguments on how the population increase, food insecurity, and environmental degradation have become the world’s big problem. The author explains how environmentalists have made efforts to explain the importance of the earth to people trying to make them understand the importance of preserving it. He says that the earth has been viewed as a spaceship where people share the available resources. The spaceship lacks the right captain who can direct its course and its ethics have been confused with those of a lifeboat, hence more harm to the environment. The purpose of Hardin’s essay is to enlighten the reader on how the world has taken wrong decisions in the hope of saving the poor people but the results have always been negative for the environment, and the paper will try to give a summary of main points.

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The author says that if the world is divided into the rich and poor nations, then a larger part of it is poor. He compares the rich people to those in a lifeboat with the poor people moving around it in the ocean hoping to get help from the occupants of the boat. In an attempt to help these people, the author uses the example of a lifeboat that has fifty occupants and extra space to accommodate ten more. The dilemma of who to help among 100 needy people comes into play, and every decision made has a consequence. The author gives a solution to this dilemma that if the people in the boat have to survive, then they have to avoid adding more people to the boat.  However, he understands that this makes some people feel guilty.

The real life solutions to hunger and overpopulation that the world faces today should be solved without the feeling of guilt. The author points out that the ethics of safety used in the lifeboat are seen to be worse when the difference in reproduction between rich and poor countries is taken into account. He uses an example of the US population growth rate and those of other six developing countries and notes that in 87 years, the US population will have doubled while that of the other countries will have increased eight times.

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If resources have to be shared according to the needs, then it should be understood that the size of the population plays a key role. The author asserts that a catastrophe, which he refers to as ‘the tragedy of the commons’, will be created if the ethic of sharing is used in such a situation. If people are allowed to use property without restriction, then they fail to realize the need to protect it. People take the available resources for granted and the increasing population is likely to worsen the rate of pollution. Therefore, it is important to put in place a good system that can protect the environment.

The author explains the creation of the world food bank, where countries contribute food services depending on their abilities and subsequently receive help according to their level of need. This proposal received immense support from all over the world. However, he believes that such an initiative has created more harm than good because it has made the poor nations lazy to create their own means of combating emergencies, making them rely on such aids. This is because the rich nations would always deposit more and withdraw less since they have better resilience to emergencies.

The author believes that if there is no food sharing system, the population in the poor and rich nations will stabilize. Due to the mistrust witnessed in the past foreign aid, a current approach that focuses on advice and technology importation instead of food has been developed. The author, however, believes that this does not solve the problem of environmental resources but rather enhances population increase and subsequently causes environmental destruction.

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In conclusion, the author takes a bold step to advise the poor nations that it is important to have emergency strategies that help in building resilience and stop depending on other nations. Such strategies help the nations to have self-discipline where population growth is strictly regulated and environmental conservation becomes sustainable.

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