Why is supporting the coal industry immoral?

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“The ethical role of corporations is environmental protection.
Therefore, the fossil fuel industry is immoral, and so are the government leaders who continue to support it.”

The effects of climate change are comprehensive. They encompass issues on environment, public health, food security, and even national safety. And by going a little bit further, we can see that is also an issue of morality—or as Pope Francis would put it, our attitude towards nature. But don’t worry; this article isn’t going to be about religion. Your Facebook wall has more than enough about it.

Morality is how we differentiate our decisions, intentions, and actions between those that are generally perceived as good and bad. These perceptions can be derived from a person’s philosophy, religion, or culture and are said to be subjective. But this should not be the case; Morality should be a set of standards that is acceptable to all—in other words, it should be universal.

The burning question has to be asked. Do owners of coal companies and government leaders who support them occupy the moral high ground? You be the judge.

The morality of coal corporations

Should businesses be subject to moral valuation? According to Prof. Leonardo de Castro from the College of Social Science and Philosophy in the University of the Philippines, Diliman, it is meaningful to speak of the morality of businesses because they affect various aspects of life such as our values and well-being. De Castro further argues that business acts have the potential to generate benefits or injuries, violate or respect moral rights, justly or unjustly distribute benefits like wages and burdens like work, and contribute to the environment crisis such as air, water, and land pollutions and the depletion of natural resources.

However, there are also arguments saying that morality carries no weight in the business sphere. De Castro has identified these arguments as (a) The Invisible Hand Argument, (b) The Legal Argument, (c) The Amorality Argument, and (d) The Immorality Argument.

Recall philosopher Adam Smith’s metaphor, the Invisible Hand. It is used to describe how individual efforts may actually benefit the society regardless of the intention. Therefore, even the motive of an act is essentially selfish; such an act will eventually bring about the common good. For example, the owners of a telecommunications company are only after profit, even without the intention of satisfying the need of their customers, are still helping the community by providing a platform for human connectivity.

However, this argument can be held correct only when the business caters to the basic needs of man like food, shelter, and education. Selling of illegal drugs and prostitution will in no way bring any good to the society in general. Now, think about a giant coal-mining corporation that not only destroys nature but as well pose threats to human health.

The Legal Argument, on the other hand, argues that in the business world, morality should be out of the equation, as the laws implemented by the government are sufficient. Following this train of thought, any business is morally upright unless it violates the constitution. This logic appears to be flawed because it equates legality to morality—obviously a false equivalency. Note that abortion is still legal in some countries, as slavery was once considered lawful in the past. It is also worth mentioning that the Aquino administration has approved the building of more than 50 coal power plants in 2015, despite strong opposition from different environmental groups.

Third is the Amorality Argument, which asserts that all business activities are amoral or having no moral value. Notice how a magician deceives her audience when doing a trick. Although trickery and deception are key factors of a “good” or a “bad” magic show, it has nothing to do with morality. However, what this argument fails to consider is that unlike a magic show, people affected by business activities do not have the freedom to engage in or disengage from it at any time upon their will. Consider TV commercials that use deceptive marketing techniques. Consumers may not always know if they really get what is advertised. Another example is how some of our government leaders keep on selling the idea that we need coal to meet the country’s energy requirements. If out top-rank officials continue to say that investing in coal is good and that it will not have significant impact to the environment, then people under them will be less worried of the threatening impacts of climate change.

The fourth and last argument is called the Immorality Argument. It goes with the notion that all businesses are naturally immoral and are driven by greed. What if fails to take into account is that an action can have more than one motive. An act can be both selfish and beneficial to the society at the same time, as explained in the first argument. For example, a solar company can be driven by profit, but they can help reduce carbon emissions by providing an alternative source of energy other than coal.
Break free from fossil fuels, occupy the moral high ground

The Aquino administration continues to believe that renewable resources are simply not enough to meet the country’s growing energy demands. It made a firm stand that investing in coal is essential to fuel our emerging economy and propel industrial growth.

The sad truth, however, is that ecosystems in the planet will continue to flourish—perhaps at a much better rate—without humans. They can thrive and function well without us, but we cannot survive without the presence of a viable ecological unit. In terms of priority, the society comes only second to a well-functioning ecosystem. We cannot mistake modernization for quality of life. We cannot truly achieve economic growth at the expense of a healthy, livable planet.

The ethical role of corporations is environmental protection. Therefore, the fossil fuel industry is immoral, so are the government leaders who continue to support it.

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About Roy Joseph Roberto

Roy Joseph Roberto is a Climate Tracker of the Adopt a Negotiator Project. He is currently part of BREAK FREE!, a worldwide online writing campaign against fossil fuels.

21 Comments on “Why is supporting the coal industry immoral?”

  1. The demand for energy is completely dependent on the ‘volume’ of ones population. Ergo, the lower the population, the lesser/lower demand.

    In overwhelming religious countries this demand also becomes a religious issue.

    When I have less customers, I can only exert less pollution.

    So I can understand that no PH president (or contender for the position) will ever speak the famous words “stop procreating bec you are ruining your own country”.
    Saying such things will NOT make him popular.

    1. Mr. Haighton, the Philippine’s population growth is already slowing down. The reduction in demand will come in time, unless of course, a persons demand for energy, per person, increases. i.e., our population may have halved, but then again, each person demands 3 times more energy, thus, the Philippines would still be in an even greater deficit. I know that you are ideologically motivated in saying that, but I would nevertheless agree that population is a factor in this deficit, but I will never claim that it is the only factor as your comment seems to suggest.

      In any case, I’m already convinced that the solution to the Philippine’s population problem is not to prevent more births, that’s going down anyway. My solution would be to reduce the existing adult population of the Philippines. There should be penal colonies in the West Philippine Sea, work them to death on a reclamation project, and the systematic execution of criminals, invalids and homosexuals. DU30 is my President!

      1. Mr. O’Rosary,
        Your suggetion reminds me of what Stalin did in his days and what Hitler did in his days.
        I think that my new suggestion is much cheaper. I hear frequently (here) that we must help the people in need: the needy ones. When we all stop doing that they are more or less left behind. Dont you think that will teach them a lesson fast? Hopefully that will make them think twice with what they do bec they dont get any help anymore.

        “I still live (with my 6 kids) by the grace of the help of others.”

        Helping others is just a metaphor of dole outs only it sounds more civilized. Its another manner/way of keeping my hands up and in the end, nothing will change. I do not learn to take the full responsibility of my actions (bec I know somebody will help me).

        Dont you think the day I realize that nobody will help me anymore, it will work as/like a wake up call?

  2. Mr. Roberto,
    I have a personal question/dilemma for you and I am very serious about my question/dilemma.

    I am single, not married and without kids (as are many of my fellow Dutch male and female ‘brothers & sisters’.

    A fact of life is that one day, I will die. And without any kids, why should I worry about this planet earth?
    This does NOT mean, that I will do everything to ruin this planet. In contrast, I am doing everything to make my stay here as comfortable as possible (sponsoring and buying solar panels and sponsoring wind energy, driving a hybrid car).
    (BTW: my country is about to close all coal mines or plants/factories that work solely on coal).
    But why should I worry about what comes after me (I am dead by then)?
    Do I need to be/feel responsible & accountable for other parents’ kids?

    1. I’m also without children as I have eyes to see in what sorry ass state this planet is. I do not worry about anyone’s children either. Not my problem.

      If it all goes to hell and the eco systems will collapse worldwide I will think about children and contemplate what they taste like.

      “Sorry, little Mickey should not have stepped onto my property.”

  3. Man made global climate change is a hoax, scam and a fraud. There is no reputable evidence it exists. There has been no global warming where the models claim there should be.

  4. I believe in protecting this Planet Earth. It is our Home; and is the only Home we can give to future generations.

    Aquino may had been in cahoots with the coal industry businesses.

    The only solution is: generate your own energy source/electricity, thru: solar or wind turbine. Solar Panels can be installed on your roof. The Wind Turbine , can be installed on your Yard. Germany has the advanced solar energy technology. They do generate solar energy by forming cooperatives. Denmark has the advanced Wind Turbine technology.

    I have seen good Wind Turbine fields, in Canada. They are very efficient. They are clean; and Earth Friendly.

    Aquino and his business cahoots are amoral people. They never care on the environment. They are only thinking of themselves; and their profits. Taking morality with them; is like talking to a wall…

    1. Toro,
      “… and is the only home we can give to future generations.”
      I disagree with you. We are already busy to find other planets where we can live. So we have another seperation between rich and poor. The poor ones have to stay on earth while the rich can go ‘upstairs'(to that other planet).

      1. @Robert Heighten:

        We are still far from finding a habitable Planet, that has the atmosphere and environment of Planet Earth. Maybe, in the next century…we will be all gone by then…

      1. Most of the European countries are depending on solar and wind turbine energies. They did not go bankrupt.

        It is in the management, and operation issue, that these U.S.companies became bankrupt. Any business that is mismanaged will soon be bankrupt.

        1. The European companies are highly successful subsidized.

          They lose money as the cost is more than traditional sources.

          Even China is dropping out.

  5. Question, why not use nuclear power and just finish all this debate. It is reliable and very cost efficient? Oh wait that is right no one wants a nuclear power plant in the area where they live. By the way the wind turbines in the West Texas area of the USA has worked also. Solar power has also worked in some areas of the USA. All the things named above have worked the problem comes with mismanagement. So we must chose a way to power the Philippines that will have people afraid to mismanaged or corrupt. That is nuclear power, no one is stupid enough to steal funds or mismanage an nuclear reactor.

    1. >> no one is stupid enough to steal funds or mismanage an nuclear reactor.

      Um… William. This is the Philippines we’re talking about. People will steal anything that isn’t nailed down. They’ll take a bit longer if it IS nailed down. Public officials will happily betray their own country, or see it disappear in the cloud of radioactive dust, if they think they might get rich in the process.

  6. Roy, while I agree with your conclusions, you spend too long getting there. Supporting coal projects is immoral in the Philippines because (a) it delivers nothing of value and (b) most of the funds end up being stolen. From the ordinary man’s point of view, the arguments against it have nothing to do with the environment. He doesn’t care about the environment anyway. You only have to look at the Pasig river to see that.

    The Philippines has an extremely diffuse population. Power stations (of any kind) work ONLY in urbanized societies with a high level of competence in public institutions. They are useless anywhere else.

    If you want people to treasure their environment, you have to frame it in terms of money. Most people don’t understand any other measure of value, especially in the Philippines. Power sources like solar pay for themselves VERY quickly in the provinces, where blackouts are normal, power prices are high, and cable reach is limited.

  7. The issue of whether or not, global warming is caused by man; or, whether or not the phenomenon is attributable to a naturally atmospheric cycle cannot bother me, because neither side can win. Each side have equally strong arguments; both have impressive proponents, (until, perhaps, yet another suspect.. livestock ¬†farming.. gains more notoriety). What I have a problem with is the writer’s extravagant presumption that man’s existence.. his very reason for being, is secondary.. even subordinate to nature’s ecosystem. To my mind, the objective from the outset was to strike a beneficial balance.. a symbiosis.. between man and his environment. And, isn’t ‘man’ totally equipped to find a way to do and promote this?¬†

    Sent from my iPad

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